My 10 Favorite Reads of 2019

Putting together a list of favorite reads is always so fun and so tough for me. I read over 100 books this year, so narrowing it all down is a great way to reflect on what I learned and how I’ve changed in the last 365 days.

I did keep track of everything I read. Mostly because I’m a huge nerd and love a good spreadsheet, but also because I like to stay accountable to my reading goals.

Before I dive into my top 10 books, here is a little breakdown of what I read in 2018. I read a total of 101 books, exactly ONE book over my goal.

  • 49 were by authors of color (49%)
  • 54 books were by women (54%)
  • 31 books were by women of color (31%)
  • 40 books were published in 2019 (40%)
  • 62 books were acquired by me in 2019 (62%)
  • 61 books were nonfiction (61%)

Of the 101 books I read here is how the star ratings shook out

  • 17 books received five stars (17%)
  • 23 books received four stars (23%)
  • 45 books received three stars (45%)
  • 14 books received two stars (14%)
  • 2 books received one star (2%)

I love a good stat, and I could break down my reading even more, but I won’t. Instead here are my top 10 favorite reads of 2019 (in alphabetical order), though they weren’t all published this year.


Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson (2016)

The story of August, a twelve year old Black girl navigating a new life in Brooklyn. She moves north, with her father and brother, after her mother’s death. It’s the story of August growing up, finding new friends, and creating space her own space in the world.

This is one of the best coming of age stories I’ve ever read. The characters as vibrant and live in the space of confidence and insecurity that is so common for teenagers. She understands what it means to be lost and then found. She captures so much in this book, and does it all in less than 200 pages. That kind of brevity is rare, and a sign of true mastery.

Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur (1987)

In the story of her life, Assata Shakur lets her reader in on her childhood, her relationship with the Black Liberation Movement, and her arrest and imprisonment. The prose are conversational and the content is enraging and devastating. Not only is this book a look back at the past, it is also a very clear indictment on the current state of affairs in The United States.

I loved that Shakur wasn’t presenting an objective history, but rather a deeply personal and emotionally charged retelling of her life. You can feel her passion and her rage in every sentence, and it is beautiful.


How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

The books is part memoir and part guide to identifying and combatting racist ideas in ourselves and in our culture. Kendi’s main premise is that there is no such thing as a “not racist” person, instead there are only racists thoughts and actions, and antiracist thoughts and actions, and these two things can live simultaneously in any human, even Kendi himself.

This was one of my most anticipated books for 2019, and it did not disappoint. Kendi is able to make combatting racism approachable. Most Americans can read this book and find ways to reflect on their own contributions to racism and their own role in changing the system. I also loved getting to see a more personal side of Kendi, a man I admire greatly.


How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones

A stunning memoir about finding ones self at the intersection of sexuality and race. Saeed Jones shares his coming of age and his questioning of his identity and belonging and it is incredible to read. Jones’ use of prose and poetry is effortless and serves the story and creates a piece that is as enjoyable to read as it is painful.

I learned a lot about the ways we get in the way of young queer people’s, especially of color, exploration of their identities. In How We Fight for Our Lives I was able to understand the types of violence both physical and emotional, that often accompany the shame and fear about living as one’s true self. I loved this book. Saeed Jones is a force.


Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds

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A collection of short stories of middle school kids walking home from school. The stories are all unique and individual, but they intersect with the other stories in one way or another. It is a beautiful book about the few minutes a day kids are left unsupervised and get to experience the world on their own.

This book was the biggest surprise for me this year. Admittedly middle grade short stories isn’t a genre I’d think I’d like, and yet here we are. Something that Jason Reynolds is able to do with Look Both Ways is see the humanity in his characters. These kids have all had experiences that have shaped them, some more traumatic than others, but he finds a way to present this without making the kids into their trauma. The characters are full of life and joy and they are impossible to forget. Its also worth noting, Reynolds can write!


Lot by Bryan Washington

A collection of short stories about Black and Brown life in a neighborhood in Houston, told all in the first person with differing narrators, this book is a work of creativity and true craft. Unlike most short story collections where there is no sense of progress or growth over time, in Lot, Washington uses one family as our anchor and we get to watch as their lives unfold through alternating stories. That is supplemented with a cast of characters from the”lot” and their lives.

Washington’s perspective on life and sex and family and gentrification are subtle and smart and really beautiful. The stories are small and intimate. He centers queerness and cultural homophobia in a way that is honest and not preachy. Some standout stories for me were “Lot”, “Waugh”, and “Congress”, but I would say each story enhances the next.

Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan

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A collection of essays on things that are difficult to say. This book is not what it seems. Corrigan wrote Tell Me More after the passing of her father and dear friend, Lisa. The book ends up being more a response to the loss of her loved ones, an understanding of her own grief, and way to help her (and the reader) move on when things feel devastating.

I loved this book. I got so much out of it and wept openly in sections. While the grief is ever present through out, there are also conversations about knowing your own worth, finding ways to be truly empathetic, and seeking out true love and joy that were valuable.


The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

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Historical fiction at its best. The Nickel Boys is inspired by a real life nightmare of a reform school, and follows two fictional characters who grapple with the horrors they experience, the friendships they create, and the prejudice they face as young Black men in Jim Crow Florida.

Colson Whitehead is a professional writer of the finest caliber. He is exacting and precise. There is not a word wasted in this book. You get to know the characters and feel for them deeply. The way this story unfolds is near perfection.


The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett M. Graff

A beautifully told oral history of the events of September 11, 2001 as told by the people who lived the day. The accounts range from employees who went to work in the World Trade Center to the Vice President tucked away in a bunker, to a mother who gave birth on that fateful day, to worried family members whose loved ones were aboard hijacked planes. This book encapsulates the emotions and voices of a nation in fear, and without any answers.

What this book does best is connect the reader to the anxiety of that day. It is an extremely emotional book and there were times in my reading where I could feel my heart rate quicken as I turned each page. More than any event this book is about the feelings. We all know what happened that day, but this book will live on as a document of what it felt like to live through this historic event.


Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom

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A collection of essays that are at once smart, funny, and truly thought provoking. Cottom is one of the most critical and nuanced thinkers on race and gender, and she centers the experience of Black women consistently in her work. Thick is effortless in its ability to move between ideas of intersectionality, the art of “the turn” is perfected in these pages.

I loved how I felt challenged in reading this book. I didn’t always understand what Cottom was saying on the first read, and was forced to go back and grapple with the work. I applaud Cottom for not making her work small to accommodate her reader. Her writing is too important for that. Go read Thick. You will learn things, you will connect dots you never knew you could. It is powerful and empowering.


To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.

September Reading Wrap-Up 2019

September was a surprising month for me, I read a lot of books that are outside of my normal reading habits (think family dramas and YA), but overall I enjoyed what I read. I also am back into a reading groove and took on ten books this month, up from seven the previous two months. The standout reads for me this month were The Sixth Man and The Only Plane in the Sky. I certainly fell short in reading down some of my unread shelf, but I think that will be the case for the remainder of the year. You can’t do it all.

September by the Numbers

Total Books Read: 10
Audiobooks: 2
Five Star Reads: 2
Unread Shelf: 0
Books Acquired: 31

By Women Authors: 5
By Authors of Color: 3
By Queer Authors: 0
Nonfiction Reads: 7
Published in 2019: 6


All This Could be Yours by Jami Attenberg

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

You’ve heard this story before: the not so beloved patriarch suffers a heart attack, and his family is then thrown into turmoil as they contemplate what his life and death meant. There are family secrets, resentment, and of course opportunities for redemption.

While the story itself feels little cliched, the writing is pretty fantastic. I wasn’t surprised by anything that happened, but was moved by the way Attenberg crafted her sentences. Everything in this book is solid and made for an enjoyable reading experience, even if I couldn’t quite find an emotional attachment to the characters.

Three Stars | Houghton Mifflin Harcourt | October 22, 2019 | 127 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Chase Darkness with Me: How One True-Crime Writer Started Solving Murders by Billy Jensen

(Photo: amazon.com)

Billy Jensen’a book is at once about his own personal journey into solving crime and about some of the stories of the crimes he’s helped to solve. There is also a large section of this book that covers Michelle McNamara and how it came to be that Jensen helped to finish her book I’ll be Gone in the Dark. Aside from The Golden State Killer, this book is a look into some lesser known stories of murder and that is a welcome treat.

I mostly wished this book was edited better and cut down. It was repetitive and lacked direction. I enjoyed hearing about crimes I didn’t know, and found Jensen to be a likable guide through this world of true crime. I especially appreciated how he took time to focus on the victims and their families. There are a lot of questions about the morality of crowd sourcing crime solving that I wished was debated more in depth, weather that be DNA services or social media posts about potential criminals. This book had a strong base but lacked the depth that was required to really give it lasting impact.

Two Stars | Source Books | August 13, 2019 | 336 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
We discuss Chase Darkness with Me on The Stacks Book Club, you can hear that conversation by clicking HERE.


Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side by Eve L. Ewing

(Photo: amazon.com)

A chronicle of the school closings on Chicago’s South Side that disproportionately effect Black and Brown communities. Eve Ewing was educated in these schools and uses her unique perspective and her skills as a journalist to provide a personal and well argued case against these racist school closings.

Ewing is able to convey a lot of history without making the book feel to dry (or long), and gives context to school closings dating back to The Great Migration. She illustrates how these closings are a direct attack on Black History. What was missing for me was the context of how school systems (charter vs. public) really operate. The book is deeply rooted in Chicago, and there is a gap between that and what the book is saying about school closings as a whole.

Three Stars | University of Chicago Press | October 5, 2018 | 240 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Henry IV Part 2 by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

This month’s selection for #ShakeTheStacks left a lot to be desired. I struggled with this play as there is very little action and I didn’t care about the characters. The eroding friendship between Falstaff and Prince Hal only works if you buy into them in Henry IV Part 1 which, I didn’t. Therefore this second part of the trilogy was mostly me trudging through in the hopes that Henry V will be better.

Two Stars | Penguin Classics | February 1, 200 | 127 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

(Photo: amazon.com)

A YA novel in verse about a young man contemplating avenging his brother’s murder. This book could have been preachy or seemed condescending but Reynolds finds a way to create an emotional story for younger readers that is grounded and truthful, which works for readers of all ages.

In addition to Reynolds finding ways to speak to his audience without talking down to them, Long Way Down confronts issues with an easiness that doesn’t feel like Reynolds is trying hard to be cool or relevant. This book is ultimately about masculinity and the ways in which Black boys and men are expected to behave when it comes to violence, grief, and family. Reynolds expertly weaves the content of this book with the form and structure he has chosen to tell this story.

Four Stars | Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books | April 2, 2019 | 336 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Mother Winter by Sophia Shalmiyev

(Photo: amazon.com)

An examination of motherhood through memoir. Sophia Shalmiyev looks at her own life growing up in Russia with her father, and uses the absence of her mother as a driving force throughout her life and her narrative.

This book is fragmeted and poetic, and Shalmiyev uses women from art and culture to paint a larger narrtive. We follow along with Shalmiyev’s life and the greater commentary of what it means to be a motherless daughter, and a eventually a to become a mother herself.

I’m not sure I fully understood this book, but I could feel that its was cathartic and crafted beautifully even if my own connection to it felt distant.

Three Stars | Simon & Schuster Audio | February 12, 2019 | 5 Hours 38 Minutes | Audiobook | Purchase on IndieBound


The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

(Photo: amazon.com)

Four young siblings visit a fortune teller who shares with each of them the date of their deaths, from then on we watch the Gold siblings live. We follow them across the country through time and see how their looming fates effect their relationships and choices.

I was impressed by the sheer amount of research that Chloe Benjamin clearly did to tell this story, from 1980’s San Francisco to the inner workings of the magic scene to aging research on monkeys. This book has range. I also enjoyed waiting to see if and how all the pieces played out, and while that novelty wore off about 3/4 through the book, I stayed more connected and entertained than I thought I would going in. The writing was strong and overall the book is good, if not slightly overworked. You’re left to think about the decisions we make and how much we are in control, and thats something worth contemplating.

Three Stars | G.P. Putnam’s Sons | February 5, 2019 | 368 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound
We discuss The Immortalists on The Stacks Book Club, you can hear that conversation by clicking HERE. You can also hear author, Chloe Benjamin on The Short Stacks HERE.


The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett M. Graff

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

A beautifully told oral history of the events of September 11, 2001 as told by the people who lived the day. The accounts range from employees who went to work in the World Trade Center to the Vice President tucked away in a bunker, to a mother who gave birth on that fateful day, to worried family members whose loved ones were aboard hijacked planes. This book encapsulates the emotions and voices of a nation in fear, and without any answers.

What this book does best is connect the reader to the anxiety of that day. It is an extremely emotional book and there were times in my reading where I could feel my heart rate quicken as I turned each page. More than any event this book is about the feelings. We all know what happened that day, but this book will live on as a document of what it felt like to live through this historic event.

Five Stars | Avid Reader Press | September 10, 2019 | 512 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
Listen to Garrett M. Graff on The Short Stacks now, click HERE.


The Sixth Man by Andre Iguodala

(Photo: amazon.com)

I wasn’t expecting much from this athlete memoir, and thats coming from a huge Warriors fan, but this book was way more than I expected, in all the best ways. In all honesty, if you’re not a big sports fan, this book might not be for you, but if you like basketball at all (and maybe even just sports in general) I would suggest you pick up this book. I would be remiss not to mention that the reader of this audiobook is extraordinary. Perhaps one of the best audiobooks I’ve listened to.

Andre Iguodala has been part of basketball for long enough to have learned a lot. He finds ways to weave his own perspective on basketball with his experiences. He talks about paying college athletes in relationship to his time at the University of Arizona. He touches on racist owner mentalities, double consciousness, and the biases of referees and coaches. The book couples the social justice issues with his insights into playing basketball, being successful, and his myriad of teammates (many of whom are household names).While I would have loved to know more about his personal life (his wife and son), I wasn’t bothered that those parts of himself were kept private.

Five Stars | Penguin Audio | June 25, 2019 | 7 Hours 8 Minutes | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

The idea of this book is stellar, follow three women around and find out about their sexual lives and desires. Focus on the women, recreate their world on the page, explain what makes them tick, and use them to explain something greater about women and sex. Unfortunately, this book didn’t deliver on that promise, instead it focused on women who were in relationships with men that were manipulative in the best case and resulted in sexual assault and rape in the worst.

Something that was missing from Three Women was Taddeo taking a stand and saying something about the women and the work she had done. There was no reflection in this book and no greater points were made. Instead we were presented with information without any attempt to make sense of it. A sex positive book about women’s desires and what that says about 2019 would’ve been a fantastic read, but this book was not that at all. It also should be stated that all three of the women used in this book were White, able bodied, and cisgender. There was no diversity which doesn’t help Taddeo’s attempt to extrapolate some larger point about “women”.

Two Stars | Avid Reader Press | July 9, 2019 | 320 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.

The Short Stacks 21: Garrett M. Graff//The Only Plane in the Sky

Today on The Short Stacks we have author and journalist, Garrett M. Graff, whose newest book is The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 is a detailed look at the events of September 11, 2001 as told by the people who lived it. Garrett tells us about the process of creating a cohesive narrative from hundreds of interviews, and what he learned about a day that has been etched in the collective American memory.
There are no spoilers in this episode.

LISTEN NOW

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Everything we talk about on today’s episode can be found below in the show notes. If you’d like to support your local independent bookstore, you can shop through IndieBound.

Connect with Garrett: Twitter | Website | Facebook

Connect with The Stacks: Instagram | Twitter | Facebook |Apple Podcasts |The Stacks on PodcastOne | Goodreads | Patreon

Support The Stacks

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

Audible– to get your FREE audiobook download and FREE 30 day trial go to audibletrial.com/thestacks.


The Stacks received The Only Plane in the Sky from the publisher. For more information click here.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.

The World Only Spins Forward: The Ascent of Angels in America by Isaac Butler and Dan Kois

The Stacks received The World Only Spins Forward from the publisher. For more information click here.

To write a book about a play using only the words of other people is a somewhat disjointed prospect, and yet, that is exactly what Isaac Butler and Dan Kois set out to do with The World Only Spins Forward, their oral history of Tony Kushner’s play, Angels in America. It is the six degrees of Tony Kushner game, and it totally works.

As someone who loves the theatre and people who create it out of thin air, The World Only Spins Forward is an inside look at elite theatre creators doing some of their best work. We get to hear from artistic directors, actors, critics, scenic designers and more. The book is a lesson in how much time and effort and failure can go into creating something. It is a book about the artistic process. The World Only Spins Forward is a theatre kids dream, and because Angels in America is what it is, a seminal work of the modern theatre, the book ends up being accessible to the not-so-theatre geeky, too.

For those who don’t know, Angels in America is a two part play that was born in the late 1980’s. Its also known as “that gay play” or “the AIDS play” or some other minimizing or condescending, moniker. It is in truth a play that centers the AIDS crisis and gay characters, and it is, of course, much more. And the journey that the play goes on from its inception to the most recent production on Broadway in 2017 is well documented in The World Only Spins Forward.

Butler and Kois are clever in how they mix the mundane details of the theatre with the political implications of full frontal nudity on stage in 1993. They attempt to make the micro macro, and vice versa. Mostly they succeed, though I could have used more context for the times outside of the life of the play (for example, there is no mention of Magic Johnson’s announcement of his AIDS diagnosis, which happened in 1991). I wanted more on how the artists were grappling with real life, and how real life was allowed into this fantasy world.

To read Meryl Streep and Nathan Lane discuss acting and working with great text is one of the many joys of this book. To read truly creative people talk about their process and the obstacles of creating greatness is inspiring. To recognize the power that a piece of theatre can have on the lives of those who see it, and those tangentially connected to it is moving. The World Only Spins Forward gives its readers these things and more.

We have a lot of content about The World Only Spins Forward on the podcast, listen to the episodes below. Bonus, they are both spoiler free.

  • Hardcover: 448
  • PublisherBloomsbury USA (February 13, 2018)
  • 4/5 stars
  • BuyThe World Only Spins Forward Amazon or IndieBound

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.

Ep. 54 The World Only Spins Forward by Isaac Butler and Dan Kois — The Stacks Book Club (Ben Blacker)

Ben Blacker is back and we’re talking all things theatre and oral history today on The Stacks, as we breakdown The World Only Spins Forward by Isaac Butler and Dan Kois. The book is an oral history of Angels in America, a classic American play about the AIDS crisis by Tony Kushner. We discuss government funded art, human rights, and so much theatre geek goodness. Plus, no spoilers. Listen and enjoy.

Get your copy of The World Only Spins Forward, or any book mentioned on today’s episode, on IndieBound, and support your local bookstore.

Everything we talk about on today’s episode can be found below in the show notes. The Stacks participates in affiliate programs, and shopping through the links below (mostly Amazon) helps support the show, at no cost to you.

Connect with Ben: Ben’s Twitter | Ben’s Instagram | Ben’s Website

Connect with The Stacks: Instagram | The Stacks Website | Facebook | Twitter | Subscribe | Patreon | Goodreads | Traci’s Instagram

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

Sponsors

Audible– to get your FREE audiobook download and FREE 30 day trial go to audibletrial.com/thestacks.


The Stacks received The World Only Spins Forward from the publisher. For more information click here.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.

The Short Stacks 9: Isaac Butler//The World Only Spins Forward

On April 10th, we will be discussing The World Only Spins Forward by Isaac Butler and Dan Kois for The Stacks Book Club. To get you ready for that conversation, we have co-author Isaac Butler on The (not-so) Short Stacks to talk about his background in theatre, how this oral history came to be, the logistics of writing as a duo, and about Isaac’s Shakespeare podcast, Lend Me Your Ears. We cover a lot of ground today, including a detour into the world of chips.

Everything we talk about on today’s episode can be found below in the show notes. The Stacks participates in affiliate programs, and shopping through the links below (mostly Amazon) helps support the show, at no cost to you.

Connect with Isaac: Isaac’s Twitter

Connect with The Stacks: Instagram | The Stacks Website | Facebook | Twitter | Subscribe | Patreon | Goodreads | Traci’s Instagram

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

Sponsors

Audible– to get your FREE audiobook download and FREE 30 day trial go to audibletrial.com/thestacks.


The Stacks received The World Only Spins Forward from the publisher. For more information click here.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.

The Stacks Book Club — April 2019 Books

April marks the one year anniversary of The Stacks podcast being out in the world. Thank you all so much for being a part of this magical and bookish journey. And to show year two we’re ready for anything, we’re tackling two types of books we’ve never done on the show. Oral History and Poetry!

On April 10th we’ll be discussing The World Only Spins Forward:The Ascent of Angels in America by Isaac Butler and Dan Kois. The book is an oral history of Tony Kushner’s groundbreaking play, Angels in America. You hear from the people who created the show, the actors who performed the roles, and the people whose lives were changed because of it.

In honor of National Poetry Month we will be reading the late Ntozake Shange’s collection of poems, Wild Beauty on April 24th. This collection is unique and unapologetic and showcases the beauty and power of women of color. Even after her passing, Shange’s words live on as a testament to her artistry.

As with all our TSBC books, we want to hear from you. Don’t be shy, send over your thoughts and questions so we can be sure to include them on the podcast. You can email us at thestackswithtraci@gmail.com, comment on this post, or reach out to us through our Instagram @thestackspod.

Order your copies of our April books on Amazon:


To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks received The World Only Spins Forwardfree from the publisher. For more information on our commitment to honesty and transparency click here.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.

January 2019 Reading Wrap-Up

Starting this month, I’ll be giving mini reviews for all of my reads each month. For longer reviews on each book check out The Stacks Instagram page. You can also find full length reviews for any books we feature on the show under the Reviews tab and any other reviews I just feel compelled to write. My hope is to streamline my reviews and make them easier for you all to read and enjoy.

I’ll also be giving you my month by the numbers, as a way to give you all a snapshot of what I read, and to hold myself accountable to reading diverse and inclusive books.

January by the Numbers

Total Books Read: 9
Audiobooks: 0
Five Star Reads: 1
DNF Books: 0
Unread Shelf: 9
Books Acquired: 21

By Women Authors: 5
By Authors of Color: 4
By Queer Authors: 0
Nonfiction Reads: 6
Published in 2019: 1

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung

(Photo: amazon.com)

Nicole Chung’s story of her transracial adoption, searching for her birth parents, and becoming a mother come together beautifully in this her memoir, All You Can Ever Know. Chung is vulnerable and honest in a way that is rare, refreshing, and greatly appreciated as a reader. Chung shares her hopes, fears, insecurities, and expectations with her reader as if she is writing in her journal. I was deeply moved in reading this book, and found common ground with Chung when it came to identity, as I am the product of an interracial marriage.

There were pieces to the story that left me wanting more, and I feel a bit selfish to be asking for more from Chung who is so open with her reader. I would have liked more on what parts of her childhood (as a Korean raised by White parents) she is still grappling with as an adult, and how she interacts with the world because of her upbringing.

Overall, this book is very good. Chung is a writer with a gentle touch that packs a lot of power. She is unrelenting in sharing her own thoughts and experiences and for that I am grateful. Also there is Cindy, and I won’t say much, except that I felt so much love and respect for Cindy, and when you read the book, you’ll know. I would suggest this book to people who love a good emotional memoir, people interested in adoption stories, and people who enjoy the active search for identity.

Four Stars | Catapult | October 4, 2018 | 240 Pages | Hardcover
All You Can Ever Know is TSBC pick for February 13. You can hear The Short Stacks with author Nicole Chung HERE, and TSBC episode with Vanessa McGrady HERE.Read a full review of All You Can Ever Know, HERE.


Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

A collection of unique and imaginative short stories that provide a commentary on race, violence, consumerism, and survival in America. The writing is at times snarky and smart and then can flip in an instant to be poignant. Some of the stories in Friday Black were pitch perfect and found a great balance between reflection and experience. Some of the other stories never quiet landed with me. The two stories that stand out most (“Zimmer Land” and “Finklestein 5”) deal with the fragility of Black pain and the violence that Black people endure just to live. They comment on events and realities that are part of the American cultural zeitgeist.

I suggest Friday Black to lovers of short stories, racial politics, and people interested in thinking about capitalism in a different way. Warning, there is a lot of (stylized) violence in this book.

Three Stars | Mariner Books | October 23, 2018 | 208 Pages | Paperback
Friday Black is TSBC pick for February 27. Stay tuned for more content around this book. You can hear The Short Stacks with author Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah HERE, and TSBC episode with Wade Allain-Marcus HERE.Read a full review ofFriday Black, HERE.


Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones

(Photo: amazon.com)

A fictionalized look at life in Atlanta during the Atlanta Child Murders as told from the perspective of three fifth graders. In her debut novel, Tayari Jones examines the changing responsibilities for Black children as the move toward adulthood. She engages with the unfortunate truth that Black children are forced to grow up too early, and that they are vulnerable to the world around them. Her characters have to come to terms with their Blackness and what that means to the rest of the world. Jones loves her characters and knows them well, she speaks for them without feeling corny or contrived, and develops them into complex characters. Their youth becomes a filter on which we, the readers, see injustices in their world.

Leaving Atlanta is mostly a character study and a coming of age story. If you love plot and action, and are looking for true crime, this book isn’t that (which is where it missed for me). However, if you love spending time with characters and thinking about the world from different perspectives, check it out. If you’re more interested in the Atlanta Child Murders you might like the Atlanta Monster podcast.

Three Stars | Grand Central Publishing (Reprint Edition) | August 1, 2003 | 272 Pages | Paperback


Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

(Photo: amazon.com)

An essay collection on feminism and the relationship of women to male entitlement. Rebecca Solnit’s essays are an indictment on how women are seen and treated in The United States. Solnit ranges from snarky to measured, and shows her self as a thought leader in the conversation around certain types of feminism, which is evidenced in my favorite essay “#yesallwomen”. Men Explain Things to Me misses the mark on intersectional feminism completely and makes no space for women of color and queer women. The book was originally published in 2014, and just over four years later it feels dated. I don’t doubt this book was forward thinking at the time of publication, and that Solnit’s own views have evolved in the last five years (this is my first time reading her work). Men Explain Things to Me is a reminder of the kind of feminism that centers White women and that we are, thankfully, moving away from.

While Men Explain Things to Me is a good collection, I wouldn’t suggest reading it, simply because it isn’t speaking to the current moment in the women’s movement. I would confidently recommend Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper (full review here) and Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister (full review here) as better looks at intersectional feminism today.

 Three Stars | Haymarket Books | September 1, 2015 | 176 Pages | Paperback
See my full review of Men Explain Things to Me which you can read HERE.


Rap Dad: A Story of Family and the Subculture That Shaped a Generation by Juan Vidal

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

Juan Vidal shares his own story of growing up, finding his way, and becoming a family man in his memoir Rap Dad. The book is a mix of stories from Vidal’s past, meditations on fatherhood, breaking down the importance of hip-hop culture, and conversations of folks in the Rap world about their own thoughts on fatherhood. The book didn’t always feel cohesive or flow, and I often couldn’t relate to his experiences, but Vidal’s willingness to write and discover in that process is refreshing. He is asking the questions of what it means to be a good parent in this hip-hop generation.

Rap Dad is worth your time. The content is different from most anything I’ve read. Vidal is a unique thinker, a fluid writer, and his lack of pretense is beyond refreshing. He is talking about a subculture, hip-hop heads, we so often ignore, especially in the context of parenting.

Three Stars | Atria | September 25, 2018 | 256 Pages | Hardcover
Rap Dad is TSBC pick for January 30. You can hear The Short Stacks with author Juan Vidal HERE, and TSBC episode with Josh Segarra HERE.Read a full review of Rap Dad, HERE.


Rock Needs River: A Memoir About a Very Open Adoption by Vanessa McGrady

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

In Rock Needs River, Vanessa McGrady shares her journey from deciding she wants to be a mother, to adopting her daughter Grace, to eventually taking in Grace’s homeless birth parents. McGrady navigates the sometimes murky boundaries of open adoption in this book.

What worked in Rock Needs River is that McGrady is clearly only speaking for herself. He triumphs and blunders are clearly her own. She finds a way to be relatable so that you’re rooting for her for get whatever it is she wants and needs, even when she does some pretty questionable things (thinking of a chat room sequence that is painfully cringe worthy). I struggled with McGrady’s sense of privilege when it came to Grace’s birth parents. She wanted them to do what she would do, and those parts feel very entitled and narrow minded. Don’t get me wrong, McGrady is beyond generous with them, but that gets lost in the feeling that McGrady wants her good deed to play out the way she wants it to (with thank you notes). She spends a good chunk of the book projecting her value system on them, and it rubbed me the wrong way.

Overall I enjoyed the book, and I really learned a lot about adoption. If you like a lighter approach to more serious topics this might be a good book for you. If you’re interested in adoption and the ways that life doesn’t always go according to plan, I’d check out Rock Needs River.

Three Stars | Little A | January 1, 2019 | 204 Pages | Hardcover
Hear Vanessa McGrady on The Stacks discussing her book (Ep. 45) and All You Can Ever Know(Ep. 46), and find a full review of Rock Needs River HERE.


Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

This month for the #ShakeTheStacks challenge I read Romeo and Juliet. The play is the story of two teenaged, star crossed lovers who find each other despite their families’ rivalry.The story is a total cliche now, but of course then you remember Romeo and Juliet was one of the originals.

I loved rereading this play. Shakespeare is interested in the ideas of loyalty and vengeance, individual desire versus communal stability. The play is dealing with these massive ideas and somehow still taking them on with a kind of urgent poetry that is just begging to be said and heard. In reading the play I couldn’t help but fall in love with Juliet. Her speeches are rich and full of so much emotion. I found myself reading them over and over (mostly out loud).

If you like strong characters with a driving plot, don’t be intimidated by Romeo and Juliet. It is a great play, which I’m sure you’ve heard.

Five Stars | Penguin Classics | February 1, 2000 | 128 Pages | Paperback
You can read my full review of  Romeo and Juliet HERE.



Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan

(Photo: amazon.com)

A collection of essays on things that are difficult to say. This book is not what it seems. Corrigan wrote Tell Me More after the passing of her father and dear friend, Lisa. The book ends up being more a response to the loss of her loved ones, an understanding of her own grief, and way to help her (and the reader) move on when things feel devastating. I got so much out of this book, it really connected with me emotionally. While the grief is ever present through out, there are also conversations about knowing your own worth, finding ways to be truly empathetic, and seeking out true love and joy that were valuable. There were times I thought Corrigan got a little cutesy, and didn’t need to, and some of her phrases seem beyond obvious (“Yes” and “No” come to mind), but I don’t think it hurt the book overall. The power of “Onward” was enough for an entire book to ride on.

While it is certainly not “required reading” it is a book that I could see being meaningful to anyone. I would check it out. I am certainly glad I did.

Four Stars | Random House | January 9, 2018 | 240 Pages | Hardcover


The World Only Spins Forward: The Ascent of Angels in America by Isaac Butler and Dan Kois

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

TAn oral history of Tony Kushner’s iconic play Angels in America, The World Only Spins Forward was a surprising delight. For a person who loves the theatre this book was more than I could have imagined. I loved hearing from actors, directors, production teams, and theatre critics as they unpack the significance of one of the great American plays. Hearing thespians expound on the nuances of characters and the importance of lines, or how to an angel should fly, was fulfilling. Using the tradition of oral history as a way for the theatre community to talk about this depiction of HIV and gay experience felt completely spot on. The LGBTQIA+ community kept the memories of their own alive through telling stories, writing plays, and creating the art that lives on and is celebrated today. This book is a little bit of art imitating life (on a few levels). Also, the cover. It is absolutely perfect.

The only thing that was hard for me as a reader was that a lot of references weren’t explained. I spent time googling people and events that I would have loved to hear more about from the people who were telling this story, the interviewees.

I don’t know that this book is for everyone. I think you’d have to be interested in Angels in America or the theatre at the very least. The World Only Spins Forward is total theatre nerd stuff, and as a proud member of that community, it was everything I wanted and more. If you love the theater, and acting, and how plays get made, you must read this one.

Four Stars | Bloomsbury | February 13, 2018 | 448 Pages | Hardcover


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