Ep. 92 Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li — The Stacks Book Club (Vanessa Hua)

It is a brand new year, and a we’ve got a brand new episode of The Stacks!
We’ve brought back Vanessa Hua (A River of Stars) to discuss Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li, a novel about a family restaurant and the drama that comes along with it. We talk about how books are edited and streamlined, immigrants working in food industries, and what it means to be authentic.
There are spoilers on this episode.

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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 indie, you can shop through IndieBound.

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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 — January 2020

A brand new year (and decade) is just around the corner, and we’re looking forward to reading some fantastic books to kick the year off right. January 2020, is one of those rare three book months around here and we’re celebrating with three books that are completely different from one another. Variety is the spice of life, so let’s live a little!

First up, on the first day of the year, January 1st, we’re reading Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li. This novel tells the story of the inner workings of a family run Chinese restaurant and all the people who make the Duck Palace run, that is until disaster strikes. Li’s novel is a little fun, a little who-done-it, and a whole lot about what it means to be family.

Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool is economist Emily Oster’s look into the studies that inform parenting decisions and fuel “mommy wars”. Oster challenges conventional wisdom using data points and cost-benefit analysis, and gives parents the freedom to decide what is best for their families. This is certainly a book about parenting, but more than that it is a book about how we can make better decisions for our lives. We will read this book on January 15th.

Our final book for the month will be Jia Tolentino’s essay collection Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion. The book is a series of essays that get at what it is to be alive right now. It is questions, contradictions, observations, and insights into the moment as explained by one of this generation’s greatest thinkers. The essays examine life on the internet, “difficult women”, and the art of the scam. It is a challenging and insightful read that we’re discussing on January 29th.

As always, we want to hear from you, so please reach out with your thoughts, questions, and things you want to hear discussed on the podcast. You can email us at thestackswithtraci@gmail.com, comment on this post, or reach out through Instagram @thestackspod.

Order your copies of our January books on 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 received a copy of Cribsheet and Trick Mirror from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 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.

October Reading Wrap-Up 2019

October was my best reading month so far in 2019. Not only did I read the most books I’ve read in a month (eleven), but I also had the most five star reads (three). I did have a few two star reads, which is never fun, but you can’t win them all. The stand outs this month were Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds, Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson, and Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat. Read below for mini-reviews of everything I read in October.

October by the Numbers

Total Books Read: 11
Audiobooks: 2
Five Star Reads: 3
Unread Shelf: 1
Books Acquired: 26

By Women Authors: 5
By Authors of Color: 10
By Queer Authors: 2
Nonfiction Reads: 3
Published in 2019: 6

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

(Photo: amazon.com)

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 book is the best coming of age story I’ve ever read. She nails what it feels like to be Black and young and fearless and terrified and longing and female and free. Woodson understands what it means to be searching and to be found. The complexities of getting older are handled with care but without any sense of preciousness. And she does all of this in less than 200 pages. That kind of brevity is rare, and a sign of true mastery.

The love between August and her three friends speaks powerfully to beauty of Black female friendships. At times it took my breath away. There is an ease to Woodson’s writing that makes these young women come to life wholly and authentically. She doesn’t attempt to smooth over the traumas or stifle the triumphs Instead there is a reality filled with pain and heartbreak, and with so much joy.

Five Stars | Amistad | May 30, 2017| 192 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


A River of Stars by Vanessa Hua

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

Two pregnant women living in a secret maternity home in Los Angeles decide to escape north to San Francisco and raise their children free of constraint and expectation of their Chinese families in this novel.

First off, Hua is a really beautiful writer, she balances her sentences between art and information in a way that is enjoyable to read. The truth is, I just couldn’t connect with the story. I liked the lead characters and the plot moved, but nothing grabbed me. I didn’t feel that I had a stake in what happened to the people in this story one way or the other. I did listen to this book on audio, and its possible that the narrator was what didn’t work for me. All of this is to say, if you like novels about unconventional women who blaze their own trails, this might be a book for you.

Two Stars | Random House Audio | August 14, 2018 | 10 Hours 54 Minutes | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Black Card by Chris L. Terry

(Photo: amazon.com)

In this lightly satirical novel we follow our narrator as tries to get back his Black card, that’s been revoked. If you’re looking for comparison, this book felt like the mixed kids version of the TV show Atlanta. It’s funny, a little surreal, and sometimes felt smarter/more clever than me.

Overall I liked it. Terry is clearly a creative thinker and grappling with what it is to be mixed, and how that relates to both Blackness and Whiteness, and why that matters. I love seeing stories told about being more than one thing when it comes to race and ethnicity, because there are so many of us mixed kids out there (not just Black and White, but all sorts of combinations).

Three Stars | Catapult | August 13, 2019 | 272 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
Hear our conversation with Chris L. Terry on The Stacks HERE.


Henry V by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

Henry V, a play you might not know, but you’ve probably heard a few famous lines from.
“Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more”
“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers”
The play follows Henry, the new king, as he grapples with the responsibility of going to war, and what that says about him as a leader and as a man.

While I’m pretty over stories about Kings contemplating and ultimately going to war, I did get a lot out of this play. Henry has some wonderful speeches and meditates on some pretty heady stuff. This play got me thinking a lot about the responsibility of our leaders to the people versus the well being of the nation versus their own lust for power and legacy. It asks questions of who has blood on their hands? Is it the soldiers or the king that sends them to war? It all feels topical given what is going on in the world.

As a reader I loved reading the monologues from King Henry, but other parts fell flat, like the comedic bar scenes. There’s also a pretty spectacular courting scene in the play’s final act that shows how lacking in humanity our king is when he’s faced with courting (or conquering) a woman.

Three Stars | Pelican Shakespeare | September 1, 1999 | 121 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds

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 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.

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 their trauma. The characters are full of life and joy and they are impossible to forget. Its also worth noting, Reynolds can write! His prose are rich without being over worked. He doesn’t preach to his audience, he sees his reader and shares with them. As someone who doesn’t read YA or middle grade books, Look Both Ways was a welcome surprise that brought me to life as a reader and reminded me of goodness. It is a favorite read of 2019 for sure!

Five Stars | Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books | October 8, 2019 | 208 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Movies (and Other Things) by Shea Serrano

(Photo: amazon.com)

Shea Serrano is hilarious and so smart. In his book Movies (and Other Things) he asks questions about movies and then answers them. It sounds like a pretty straight forward concept, but the genius in Shea Serrano is that he finds new and exciting ways to look at movies and the world. He opens up the conversation around movies so that you feel like you’re debating with your friend, and challenging yourself to see movies differently.

This book is laugh out loud funny. Not just the ideas behind it, but there are sentences that are so accurate you can’t help but laugh. Its not all funny (mostly it is) there is a little more going on in this one, for instance, the chapter on Selena talks about what it means to be Mexican American and the struggles of being two things at once. Of course, Serrano infuses his signature voice and his humor, but its more than that, trust me.

The only complaint I have about this book is that if you don’t know the movies or the genre, it can be a little harder to engage with certain chapters. Gangster movies aren’t my thing, so I felt a little lost when looking at the quintessential gangster movie scenes. Overall, if you like movies, you’ll get a kick out of this book.

Four Stars | Twelve Books | October 8, 2019 | 256 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li

(Photo: amazon.com)

The story of the Han family and their Chinese restaurant, The Beijing Duck House. When there is a fire that sets the restaurant a blaze the world of the Han family and their employees is shaken up and we’re left to sort the pieces.

This one wasn’t for me. It was too long and felt repetitive. I wasn’t excited by the characters or the plot, but rather felt like I was just going through the motions to get to the end of the book. There were some cute moments, and one scene at the end that was wonderful, but overall this wasn’t something that I enjoyed reading. I do think, however, this books would make a fantastic movie, in fact the whole time I was reading it I was wishing the movie already existed. The nuances of family drama might translate better to the screen, and certainly the food would be more appetizing that way.

Two Stars | Picador | June 19, 2018 | 304 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

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

The story of one Black family through time and place. We start in 2001 at 16 year old Melody’s coming of age ceremony and then unwrap the layers that make her family fragmented, strong, unique, and whole.

Woodson understands and articulates what it means to be Black and female in America, and this book puts her ability on display. She captures the delicious subtleties of life. In Red at the Bone we see class and race and gender norms and sexuality and so much humanity, and we get to see it all through the beautiful prose of Woodson. Woodson who is a master of brevity that lands a punch. I’m not sure this specific story will stick with me in five years, but I know that the feeling of reading Jacqueline Woodson will never fade.

Four Stars | Riverhead Books | September 17, 2019 | 208 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking by Samin Nosrat

(Photo: amazon.com)

We don’t normally read and review cookbooks around here, but we also are willing to try anything once, and I’m so glad we did. Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is a cookbook about the elements that make up everything we eat. Nosrat breaks it all down in the first 200 pages of the book, explaining each element and how to use it, and then give us 200+ pages of basic recipes to practice our skills.

This book is simply fantastic! I like to cook, but often feel I don’t know how to without detailed instructions. I find myself glued to my recipes and in a mild state of anxiety when trying something new. This book gives anyone the tools to make choices about how to cook and how to improvise. Its empowering. I would be remiss not to mentions the gorgeous illustrations from Wendy McNaughton. I can honestly say this is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever owned.

Three Stars | Houghton Mifflin Harcourt | October 22, 2019 | 480 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
We discuss Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat on The Stacks Book Club, you can hear that conversation by clicking HERE.


Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell

(Photo: amazon.com)

A look at why humans are so bad at understanding and engaging with “strangers”. This book is deeply flawed and highly problematic. I found the arguments made to be harmful and irresponsible. In the past I’ve considered myself a Gladwell fan (I’ve read all his books and listened to his podcast) but this book feels like he’s reached his own tipping point, it is Gladwell for Gladwell’s sake.

One glaring is that there is no clear definition of the word “stranger”. We’re led through stories of people meeting for the first time and then of colleagues who’ve worked together for decades, and both are treated the same, we’re told they’re strangers. That can’t be.

Gladwell is a gifted storyteller (which is made all the more clear through his fantastic narration of the audiobook) and is known for making compelling arguments. Our understanding of who he is helps as he shifts from interesting scientific studies to unsubstantiated claims without batting an eye. He is riding on intellectual credit, but the arguments are weak at best when we look at them more deeply.

The most offensive piece of this book is his unwillingness to take power, sexism, and racism into account when discussing people and events like Larry Nassar, The Stanford Rape Case, and Sandra Bland. Instead of discussing racism and race he opts to discuss “misunderstanding”. Instead of discussing the power dynamics of sexual assault he expounds the harms of binge drinking, but nothing of misogyny. It’s a big mess, and he should’ve done better.

The book feels like an attempt to be both relevant and placate people who are tired of “identity politics”. He moves from one hot button issue to the next without any subtlety or nuance. He is name dropping iconic incidents to insure buzz for the book, instead of crafting compelling arguments that stand up to scrutiny. This book was enraging and irresponsible.

Two Stars | Hachette Audio | September 10, 2019 | 8 Hours 42 Minutes | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin

(Photo: amazon.com)

This satirical novel takes place in the near-future American South where Black people are caged in ghettos, and there are experimental treatments that will “demelanize” the black out of people (if you can afford it). It is in this world, where we find our narrator, a Black man, his White wife, and his mixed son.

More than anything else, while reading this book I kept thinking to myself, “Maurice Carlos Ruffin” is a smart person. His writing left me feeling taken care of, and I trusted that he had put thought into this world. That’s not to say that I always felt connected, or that I liked everything in this book, or that I didn’t think it could be cut down by at least 70 pages. I felt those things, and that I was reading the words of a smart and thoughtful author. My biggest issue with the book is that I wanted more world building. I wanted to know how America got to where it was when the reader shows up. I felt there were details missing that I wanted to know. Overall the book is thought provoking and examines race in a way that we so rarely see in literature these days.

Three Stars | One World | January 29, 2019 | 336 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
We discuss We Cast a Shadow on The Stacks Book Club, you can hear that conversation by clicking HERE. You can also hear author, Maurice Carlos Ruffin on The Short Stacks 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.

Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson

A collection of short stories about drifters, drug addicts and life on the margins. Jesus’ Son is both about the falling down and the getting back up of life. Before we recognized the opioid crisis as a crisis and before we sympathized with addicts, Jesus’ Son gave a human perspective to those that suffer from addiction. The book feels ahead of its time in this way.

I really didn’t care about the characters in this book. The stories were fine and interesting, but overall, I wasn’t interested in what happened to them. Part of it is that this book feels overwhelmingly White and male. The point of view, the insights, and the issues all felt like shock and awe for White people, but missed the fact that many Black and Brown people are constantly living at the margins without as much sympathy, let alone books devoted to the quirk of their day to day lives.

I couldn’t help but see Johnson’s ability to tell this story as a part of his own privilege. He gets to tell the stories of this specific group of users, instead of having to be responsible for all people who have ever been addicted. It is a great thing for an artist to be able to do, though I wonder if a Black author’s work would have been granted that kind of singularity.

Jesus’ Son is a well crafted collection, sparse in words but big in feeling. Johnson is a fantastic writer with a unique style. He creates short sentences that pack a huge punch. While there were moments of great emotional resonance, this book wasn’t for me, in the end, I just didn’t care about the people in the stories.

I know many people consider this book to be a modern classic, and one of the greatest books of the last few decades. I am not one of those people. Author Dave Cullen (Columbine, Parkland) however is, and you can hear us discuss this book on the podcast:

Ep.66 Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson — The Stacks Book Club (Dave Cullen)

If you’ve read this book and enjoyed it, I’d love to hear your thoughts, share them in the comments below.

  • Paperback: 133
  • PublisherPicador; First edition (February 17, 2009)
  • 2/5 stars
  • Buy Jesus’ Son 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.

The Stacks Book Club — July 2019 Books

The time has come to announce our July books for The Stacks Book Club. This month there are three books, lucky you, and they are all very different from one another.

First up, on July 3rd, we’re reading a backlist short story collection called Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson. The stories in this book, which came out in 1992, follow addicts, hustlers, and lost souls as they navigate life and death, rock bottom and redemption.

Then on July 17th, as voted by our Stacks Pack, we’ll be reading Miracle Creek by Angie Kim. This novel is a contemporary version of the tried and true courtroom drama. It has added elements of the obligations of parenthood and the stigma of being an outsider. It is both a page turner and an in depth look at humanity.

Lastly, on July 31st we’re talking about turning dreams into careers with WorkParty: How to Create & Cultivate the Career of Your Dreams by Jaclyn Johnson. In this book, Johnson, the founder of Create and Cultivate, offers a rallying cry for a new generation of women who are looking to redefine working on their own terms.

As always, we want to hear from you, so please reach out with your thoughts, questions, and things you want to hear discussed 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 June books on 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.

April 2019 Reading Wrap Up

April was not my best reading month as far as content. I liked a lot of what I read, but I really didn’t love anything. I reread Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things and still found it excellent, but it wasn’t as thrilling as the first time around. I loved Fatimah Asghar’s poetry collection If They Come for Us, and was happy too participate in reading poems as part of National Poetry Month.I enjoyed mostly what I read all month, but was never really blown away.

You can find my reading month by the numbers and short reviews of everything I read below, and check out reviews of all of these books over on The Stacks Instagram


April by the Numbers

Total Books Read: 10
Audiobooks: 1
Five Star Reads: 2
Unread Shelf: 1
Books Acquired: 37

By Women Authors: 6
By Authors of Color: 6
By Queer Authors: 2
Nonfiction Reads: 7
Published in 2019: 4


A Bound Woman Is a Dangerous Thing: The Incarceration of African American Women from Harriet Tubman to Sandra Bland by DaMaris B. Hill

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

In her collection of poetry that covers the history of incarceration of Black women in America, DaMaris Hill crafts poems that highlight the pain of being a Black woman and the undeniable strength that comes along with it. She tells of some of the most famous women of the Diaspora as well as many women whose stories were nearly lost to history.

The collection is both poems and small bits of historical context that allow the reader to get a deeper understanding of the poetry. I really enjoyed the contextual bits of this book. Not all of the poems resonated with me, some were too fare removed from the context given. I also found some to be extremely powerful. The section on Assata Shakur was my favorite.

Three Stars | Bloomsbury Publishing | January 15, 2019 | 192 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
DaMaris Hill is our guest on The Stacks, hear that conversation now, by clicking HERE.


Beloved by Toni Morrison

(Photo: amazon.com)

Every once in a while I will read a book that I can appreicate for its artistic beauty and masterful use of themes, language, and characters. I will be impressed by the dialogue and wowed by the sheer craft of the thing. And despite all of the beauty and skill, I won’t really like the book. That was the case for me with Beloved, Toni Morrison’s most famous and well regarded book. Its not that I didn’t think the book was spectacular, its just that it wasn’t for me. When I say a book is “too fiction-y” this book is a prime example.

If you’re not familiar with the book, it is the story of a runaway slave woman, Sethe, and her life as she lives free in Ohio mixed with the haunting of her past on the plantation and the early days of freedom. It is supernatural and haunting, and contains so many layers. I didn’t love the book, but I look forward to talking about it on The Stacks Book Club on May 22. I have a hunch that every time I discuss and dissect the book I will like it more and more. Toni Morrison’s works have a funny way of always having more to give.

Three Stars | Plume; Reprint edition | October 1, 1998 |275 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound
We discuss Beloved in depth on The Stacks Book Club, you can hear that episode HERE


If They Come for Us by Fatimah Asghar

(Photo: amazon.com)

A collection of poetry about violence, race, gender, and mortality both in a cultural sense and in the more intimate context of what it means to be alive and human. These poems are so smart and tough and vibrant and some are funny and snarky in the best ways.

What I appreciate in these poems beyond the craft itself is that the content ties in the historical and deeply personal. Asghar talks about being an orphan along side the fracturing of India and Pakistan. She takes the many parts of her identity and reflects them back to her audience. She reminds us all of the pain and joy in the world to which we must bear witness.

Five Stars | One World Books | August 7, 2018 | 128 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson

(Photo: amazon.com)

A collection of short stories about drifters, drug addicts and life on the margins. It is both about the falling down and the getting back up of life. Before we recognized the opioid crisis as a crisis and before we sympathized with addicts, Jesus’ Son gave a human perspective to those that suffer from addiction. The book feels ahead of its time in this way. I couldn’t help but see Johnson’s ability to tell this story as a part of his own privilege. He gets to tell the stories of this specific group of users, instead of having to be responsible for all people who have ever been addicted. It is a great thing for an artist to be able to do, though I wonder if a Black author’s work would have been granted that kind of specificity.

Jesus’ Son is a well crafted collection, sparse in words but big in feeling. Johnson is fantastic at all the twists and the short sentences that pack a huge punch. While there were moments of great emotional resonance, this one wasn’t for me, in the end, I just didn’t care about the people in the stories.

Two Stars | Picador | Febbruary 17, 2009 | 133 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound
We discuss Jesus’ Son in depth on The Stacks Book Club, you can hear that episode HERE


Richard II by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

This month for the #ShakeTheStacks Challenge I read Richard II. It looks at the reign and fall of King Richard II, and is a glimpse into the fragility of power and the necessity of legitimacy. This play has the potential to be boring, however Shakespeare crafts dynamic characters who use their speech as a way to influence and persuade. I was particularly struck by the diversity in oratory style between Bolingbroke and Richard. Both men attempt to convince those around them to follow their lead, and both do it in drastically different ways. I found a couple of Richard’s speeches to be some of Shakespeare’s most beautiful. On top of the beauty, the play is easy to read and understand, which isn’t always the case for The Bard.

Richard II is an engaging and thrilling read. It is a play about politics and legitimacy. It feels especially relevant in today’s climate. What does it take to overthrow the leader? It is a dramatization of a theoretical question of who has the will of the people. The play is more cerebral than action packed, but it works beautifully and leaves the reader with much to think about.

Three Stars | Penguin Classics; reprint edition | December 1, 2000 | 160 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom

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

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 in this moment in The United States.Thick is effortless in its ability to move between ideas of intersectionality, the art of “the turn” is perfected in these pages. As the collection goes on the essays build on each other and deepen the readers understanding of Cottom and the work she has dedicated her life to. It is because of this depth that the second half of the book really stood out for me.

Some of Thick was challenging to read. I often had to go back and reread sentences and passages because I found myself lost in her arguments. That is less a criticism and more an observation about the style of the book. 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.

Five Stars | The New Press | January 8, 2019 | 224 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation by Robert W. Fieseler

(Photo: amazon.com)

In June 1973, there was a fire at the Up Stairs Lounge, a gay bar in New Orleans that left 32 people dead. This tragedy was barely acknowledged when it happened and has since, been largely lost to history. In his book, Tinderbox, Robert Fieseler attempts to shed light on the events of June 24, 1973, and the connect those events with the early days of the Gay Liberation Movement.

Tinderbox functions on two levels, one the story of the fire and the people and city directly involved, and two the story of the movement that was connected to it. The true crime part of this book is fantastic. In particular, the pages where Fieseler describes the fire itself were vivid and horrifying. The history of the movement falls a little flatter, the connection feels forced. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and if you like true crime, you will too, even if some sections are not as good as the rest.

Three Stars | Liveright | June 5, 2018 | 384 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
Hear Robert W. Fieseler on The Short Stacks HERE, and hear our in depth discussion of Tinderbox on The Stacks HERE.


Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed

(Photo: amazon.com)

A reread of one of my favorite books from last year (you can find my first review here). Cheryl Strayed’s advice column from her days at The Rumpus strikes all the right chords. I love this book. I don’t know how else to say it. It is full of reminders and suggestions on how to live life a little better. Its not polite or even precious, its more in your face. Its the kind of book that opens you up a little bit. Thats what makes it so great. Strayed even says, most of the time you know what you must do, this book, like her advice, is just a nudge in the right direction.

Five Stars | Vintage; Original edition | July 10, 2012 | 368 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound
Tune into the The Stacks Book Club conversation of Tiny Beautiful Things HERE .


The Truths We Hold: An American Journey by Kamala Harris

(Photo: amazon.com)

The Truths We Hold is part of a tradition of books for future presidential candidates, they almost all have them. One part memoir, one part policy platform, and one part resume. These books aren’t particularly insightful, though they are a glimpse into the candidate on their very best days (even the bad ones are good or have packaged lessons to take away). Barack Obama famously wrote The Audacity of Hope on the eve of his candidacy, and that book gave America a glimpse into the changes Obama wanted to make in this country. Likewise Harris lays out the things she has achieved as prosecutor and attorney general, and the direction she thinks America should go. It is all well written and readable, but it is all so safe. I understand why, but I wish there was another way. I will wait and read her tell all after she is president.

The final section of the book are the truths she lives by, and aside from learning about her courtship with her husband, this is the best part of the book. Its a little insight into how she ticks. It should also be said, she reads her book and does a fantastic job. Her charisma shines through, and if nothing else, you finish the book and really like the woman.

Three Stars | Penguin Audio | January 8, 2019 | 9 hours and 26 minutes | Audiobook | Listen Through Libro.Fm


What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker: A Memoir in Essays by Damon Young

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

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker is the exact book you might expect from Damon Young, of Very Smart Brothas. It is smart and funny, and yet it still makes you think. The book is dynamic and covers a range of topics from what is a “good dude” to Black anxiety, to gentrification, homophobia, to name a few. The book is good, though some of the essays are stronger than others, and sometimes thats frustrating.

There are four essays that really stand out, and whats interesting is they all have a common thread: Women. Each one of these essays (about his controversial piece on rape on VSB, his wife, his mother, and his daughter) is vulnerable but still maintains the style that Young is known for. There is an ease to his voice though saying the hard things, admitting fault, calling out his own privilege, and taking others to task must have been extremely challenging. There is a humility to these essays that allows them to soar above the rest. The book is worth a read, even if at times I found Young to be reaching for a laugh when he didn’t need one. His story is enough.

Three Stars | Ecco | March 26, 2019 | 320 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
Hear our conversation with Damon Young on the Short Stacks HERE


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March 2019 Reading Wrap-Up

March was all about the backlist. I went on an amazing vacation and took a bunch of books I had been wanting to read for a long time, and I read them! What a treat. I really enjoyed almost everything I read in March. My stand out was Assata by Assata Shakur and the low-light was Love’s Labour’s Lost by William Shakespeare. What were your favorites this month? Also worth noting, I read my first books on a Kindle, and I survived.

You can find my reading month by the numbers and short reviews of everything I read below.


March by the Numbers

Total Books Read: 10
Audiobooks: 1
E-Books: 2
Five Star Reads: 1
Unread Shelf: 6
Books Acquired: 12

By Women Authors: 6
By Authors of Color: 3
By Queer Authors: 1
Nonfiction Reads: 8
Published in 2019: 2


Assata: An Autobiography by Asssata Shakur

(Photo: amazon.com)

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.

If nothing else, Assata is a reminder of the struggle for Black equality that has spanned centuries, and the lengths the American government will go to stifle that quest. Racism, abuse, torture, and human rights violations are all part of Assata’s story, and the story of this struggle. She exposes corruption in the criminal justice system and even in The Black Panther Party. She is unapologetic and easy to connect with. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about a figure I had heard of, but really knew so little about, though there were times I’d wished she was more forthcoming with her own revolutionary activities, and the reasons why she might have been targeted by the police. The fact that this book is still so relevant over 30 years after it’s publication is a reminder of how much work needs to be done. I highly suggest this book for people who love a good memoir and people interested in the history of social justice movements, though I caution there are very graphic scenes of abuse through out the book.

Five Stars | Lawrence Hill Books | November 1, 2001 | 320 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Experiments in Joy by Gabrielle Civil

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

A book unlike anything I’ver ever read, Experiments in Joy mixes the genre of memoir with the artist’s performance notes, letters, and cultural criticism into a book that encapsulates both the artist and the art. Civil is a performance artist, professor, and poet, and this book is a reflection on some of her pieces and her way of seeing the world and her place in it. In addition to Civil’s own words, there are conversations and letters from her collaborators and reviewers to deepen the readers understanding of the work.

I didn’t always connect with the book, but I felt deeply that the context given helped me to better understand Civil as a creative and an activist. The book is truly a glimpse at how one creates. The sections in which she gave context before or after laying out the performance pieces were my favorite along with the book reviews. To understand how the artist works and why is captivating for me and brought the performance notes to life. Civil is a beautiful writer, and her letters especially show her skills. For any lover of the arts this book as a unique look into process over product.

Three Stars | Civil Coping Mechanisms | February 15, 2019 | 276 Pages | Paperback |Purchase on IndieBound
Hear Gabrielle Civil on The Stacks discussing her book (Ep. 55) and Wild Beauty by Ntozake Shange (Ep. 56), and find a full review of Experiments in Joy HERE.


Hiroshima Nagasaki: The Real Story of the Atomic Bombings and Their Aftermath by Paul Ham

(Photo: amazon.com)

Paul Ham uses contemporaneous documents, reflections after the fact, and critical thinking in Hiroshima Nagasakito take down the conventional thinking about the use of nuclear weapons on Japan in 1945. This book is a fantastic work of nonfiction and does a great job of analyzing and deconstructing these acts of extreme violence

For 60+ years America has pushed a narrative about the “need” to drop an atomic bomb on a civilian target in order to avenge Pearl Harbor and/or to prevent “millions” of future US casualties. This book looks deeper into that idea and debunks much of reasoning that was flawed and so easily accepted by Americans and all of history. If you love history, politics, and smart writing, I would highly recommend Hiroshima Nagasaki. Though this book can be dense at parts (especially the first 100 pages) and lacks a real introduction for those not familiar with this moment in time, Ham’s writing is extremely readable. He mixes politics with humanity and covers many facets of these bombings its not all Harry Truman, it is also very much about the victims. I learned a lot about World War II, and was able to see the political maneuvering that America took part in that led to hundreds of thousands of deaths.

Four Stars | Picador; Reprint edition | August 4, 2015 | 641 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain

(Photo: amazon.com)

A vivid look at the culinary industry from the perspective of chef, Anthony Bourdain. This book is part memoir and part expose in which Bourdain shares what to never order from a restaurant and what the kitchen thinks of people who order a well done steak. It is an approachable book and an easy read.

Throughout Kitchen Confidential Bourdain seems hell bent on shocking his reader. He loves talking about sex, blood, and drugs. Its a little over played and can be cringeworthy at moments. There also seems to be a little self-congratulation around his relationships with his Latinx coworkers/employees. I was not familiar with Bourdain in life, and since his passing I am just barely more informed on his life and contributions. There was little sentimentality for me in reading this work and much of my criticisms come from who he presents himself as in this book, a bit of a know it all. Though I will say, his heart and passion come through loud and clear and I loved those moments of the book most.

I enjoyed reading this book, but 20 years after its first publication, I don’t know if the tone and approach stand the test of time. If you love Bourdain or want something a little rough and tumble you might really enjoy this one.

Three Stars | Bloomsbury USA; 1 edition | December 10, 2008 | 321 Pages | E-Book |Purchase on IndieBound


Love’s Labour’s Lost by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

In Love’s Labour’s Lost we meet a King and his male courtiers who take a pledge to become celibate, but then, of course, they meet some women and fall in love. The show revolves around the men trying to secretly get the women to love them despite the oath. While most of Shakespeare’s comedies are trivial, this one is nonsensical. There is a lot of disguise and mix ups that are confusing to read and not particularly necessary or interesting.

The only part of this play that I found remotely intriguing is the ending, in which the women finally get some power and put their feet down. I don’t want to spoil it, but it is a twist and makes some interesting points about duty over desire and the idea of reciprocity in relationships.

I wouldn’t suggest this play to anyone, but it might be more fun to see than read. The language is confusing and the there really isn’t much action at all.

One Stars | Penguin Classics; Reprint edition | June 5, 2000 | 160 Pages | Paperback |Purchase on IndieBound


New Erotica for Feminists: Satirical Fantasies of Love, Lust, and Equal Pay by Caitlin Kunkel, Brooke Preston, Fiona Taylor, Carrie Wittmer

(Photo: amazon.com)

A book of quippy erotic fantasies of women being treated equal, or better than equal, to men. A world in which Ruth Bader Ginsburg is immortal, and Juliet tells Romeo off for being so love sick. While the idea is fun and smart, the execution left me wanting more.

The best and most effective satire calls out inequality by speaking truth to power and by forcing the audience to question their own complicity in the power structure. This book fails to do that. It seems to be content just being cute. It relies on the “erotica” to do a lot of the heavy lifting. The authors attempt to address intersectionality in the introduction, but then spend the rest of the book trivializing the aggression of men instead of addressing it head on. The book fits nicely into the White capitalist patriarchy as a piece of protest, meaning it is a safe way for women to vent without really forcing a deeper discussion at the issues at play.

If you’re looking for a light palate cleanser, this is might be a good choice, plus you can read it in about 90 minutes, but if you want something more biting I think there are other books to go to.

Two Stars | Plume | November 13, 2018 | 160 Pages | Paperback |Purchase on IndieBound


People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo–and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up by Richard Lloyd Parry

(Photo: amazon.com)

A true crime story about a White British woman who goes missing in Tokyo in 2000 and all that unfolds there after. The book looks at the crime, the family and their grief, the media and their coverage, and the police and their ability to figure out what happened.

What makes such a solid work of true crime is that the author, a journalist, is weaving many elements of this story together in an extremely readable way. The writing is no frills, but the story is full of surprises and is totally engaging. Parry is, for the most part, objective and helps the reader understand the cultural differences that makes this case unique . Plus the story itself is captivating, the book is over 400 pages but you want to read it in one sitting. I loved the commentary on race, class, culture, and gender throughout the book and would have liked even more. Getting to understand a criminal justice system that is so different than my own (that of The United States) was fascinating. Parry does a great job as our guide into a world I’d never known. If you like true crime, you’ll enjoy this book, though be warned there are trigger warnings for sexual assault and violence.

Four Stars | Farrar, Straus & Giroux; Reprint edition | May 22, 2012 | 454 Pages | Paperback |Purchase on IndieBound


White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin Diangelo

(Photo: amazon.com)

To articulate the fragility and toxicity of Whiteness to White people is one the the greatest challenges of anti-racism work, and in White Fragility Robin DiAngelo does just that methodically. This book is a take down of racist ideas and the entrenched denial around White supremacy.

White Fragility is admittedly written for White people by a White woman. DiAngelo is very clear in that, though, as a Black woman I found a lot of valuable insights in both how I can do better as I work toward anti racism and how I can approach uncomfortable situations with White people. I was able to understand the socialization of White people better, and to understand the tactics used to reinforce racism in our society.

This book is a great tool in any anti-racist’s tool box, along side one of my all time favorites, Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi. If you’re serious about the work this book helps to explain one road block that is often encountered, White Fragility.

Four Stars | Beacon Press | June 26, 2018 | 6 Hours 12 Minutes | Audiobook |Purchase on IndieBound


Wild Beauty: New and Selected Poems by Ntozake Shange

(Photo: amazon.com)

Reading Wild Beauty, was a new experience for me. I am familiar with Shange’s play, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, but had never read a poetry collection until now. I enjoyed some of the poems and others I didn’t resonate with. Her style is rough and evocative and at times even felt like a call to action.

These poems are a look at the career of Shange as they span 40 years of her work. I started to notice which ones were from older collections and which were more recent. As with any collection some of the material connected with me and some didn’t. There were poems where I was stunned by the story, or moved by the language. There were also poems that I would zone out and have to read over and over and still felt like I missed the message. For someone who is new to poetry, I enjoyed this collection and I am really looking forward to discussing it on The Stacks on April 24th.

Three Stars | Atria / 37 INK; Bilingual edition | November 17, 2017 | 288 Pages | Hardcover |Purchase on IndieBound
Wild Beauty is TSBC pick for April 24. You can hear the TSBC episode with Gabrielle Civil HERE. Read a full review of Wild BeautyHERE.


Women Talking by Miriam Toews

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

One night eight Mennonite women gather to discuss their options and response to the repeated drugging and sexual assaults of themselves, their daughters, and the other women in their community. The book is written from as notes taken during these meetings and is inspired by true events.

Women Talking is a lot of just that, women talking. It is theoretical and examines the ideas of loyalty, faith, and safety. It is a feminist text in that it explores the equality of women and their rights to be alive and to have a say in their own lives. I really enjoyed the writing. I was hooked early and wanted to know what would happen in the end. I also found the use of the minutes to be irritating at times because it was a lot of back and forth interpreted by our scribe/narrator (who is a man, which added an element of conflict).

If you like fiction thats a little different, if you’re interested in religious communities and the role that women play in conservative spaces, this book is a great selection. Women Talking has been compared to Handmaid’s Tale which makes a lot of sense, but neglects the fact that Women Talking is based on true events (the assaults not the meeting) which makes it that much more devastating.

Three Stars | Bloomsbury Publishing | April 2, 2019 | 240 Pages | Hardcover |Purchase on IndieBound
You can hear more from Miriam Toews about her process on Episode 11 of The Short Stacks.


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.