Richard II by William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare wrote ten of plays that are fictionalized accounts of real events and people, they are called the “History Plays” and are similar to how we today would watch a biopic. The story is based on truth, but dramatizes and imagines the story in a new (and hopefully) entertaining way. Richard II is one of those History Plays and is the first part in the eight play series that includes Richard II, HenryIV (both parts), Henry V, Henry VI (all three parts), and Richard III.

My expectations were very low for Richard II. I had seen a production years ago in New York City and found it to be very boring, however in reading the play I was thoroughly entertained. To be fair, it is a play about politics and legitimacy of governance. It is a dramatization of a theoretical conversation around who can and should rule the people. Which is to say, it is a lot of talk and not so much action, though the opening scene and the final two acts are pretty engaging. The middle of the play does drag a little, but overall I was engaged.

The language in Richard II is readable, even if Shakespeare is challenging for you, this one is pretty approachable. The characters are straight forward and tell you what they are thinking and planning. The plot is very linear, without the interruption of comedic scenes. Shakespeare utilizes language as a way to differentiate the characters. Richard, speeches are long and languid, he is eloquent and paints pictures of his one psyche through his verse. Bolingbroke is direct in his language, almost polished, and very direct.

If you like reading Shakespeare, I think this is a solid play that leaves the reader with a lot to think about. Its not the greatest ever, but after reading it, I think it is overlooked without reason. Richard II, was a reminder of why I started my #ShakeTheStacks Challenge, so that I could revisit old favorites and find new ones.

If you want more on Richard II I suggest checking out the Lend Me Your Ears podcast hosted by Isaac Butler (hear him on The Short Stacks), who you might know as co-author of TSBC pick, The World Only Spins Forward (listen to the conversation). The podcast takes on six of Shakespeare plays and connects them with current social and political issues.The episode on Richard II is fantastic, especially as a companion piece to reading the play.

Next month for #ShakeTheStacks Challenge, I’ll be reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (December 1, 2000)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy Richard II on Amazon or IndieBound

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The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. 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

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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. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

February 2019 Reading Wrap-Up

Here is what I read for February. My standout by far was Lot by Bryan Washington which comes out in March. Its a collection of short stories, and I just loved it. I wasn’t a huge fan of I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid, but I am looking forward to discussing it on The Stacks as part of The Stacks Book Club in March.

As far as diverse reading, I read a whole bunch of books by queer men, four to be exact, I guess five if you want to included William Shakespeare, but thats a conversation for another day. I didn’t do so well reading women in February, only one book by a woman, possibly an all time low since I started keeping track. Only three of the books I read were by authors of color. I have my work cut out for me in March.

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


February by the Numbers

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

By Women Authors: 1
By Authors of Color: 3
By Queer Authors: 4
Nonfiction Reads: 5
Published in 2019: 4


Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes by Tony Kushner

(Photo: amazon.com)

Arguably one of the definitive plays of modern theatre, Angels in America, is a two part epic about the AIDS crisis in America in the mid 1980’s. The play has been celebrated since it was first produced in 1992, winning the Pulitzer Prize, multiple Tony Awards, and Emmy awards for the 2003 HBO adaptation of the play. The play is a behemoth of the stage and it works on the page as well.

I really enjoyed rereading part one, Millennium Approaches, and it was my first time ever reading part two, Perestroika. Kushner does an amazing job of creating a world and characters and still maintaining the magic of the theatre. The most central idea of the entire play is change over time. How do we change? Can we ever really change? What happens when we do? What happens when we don’t?

Some of the scenes and dialogue are so wild and poetic and at times nonsensical, and it all works. Even when you’re confused or annoyed it works. There is something innately human about the story Kushner tells. If you’ve not read this play, it is worth your time. Or watch the star-studded HBO film. It is a cultural cornerstone, rightfully so, learn about it. Engage with it. Enjoy it.

Four Stars | Theatre Communications Group; 20th Anniversary Edition | December 24, 2013 | 304 Pages | Paperback


Black Is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother’s Time, My Mother’s Time, and Mine by Emily Bernard

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 essays about life in her own Black body, Emily Bernard writes about a random act of violence against her, academia, adopting her children, her relationship to her ancestors, among other things. I found this book to be inconsistent, the earlier essays (especially the first two) clearly had something to say. They were thoughtful and thought provoking. As the book went on, I lost interest in much of Bernard’s writing and couldn’t quiet find the through line.

It is worth noting this is not a book about deep trauma (aside from the first essay) and that is refreshing. Sure, racism and bias play into any work of nonfiction by a Black woman, how could it not, but Bernard is creating something more subtle, explaining a Black experience that we don’t often hear. One of a Black academic in Vermont, born and raised in the South, married to a White man, raising Ethiopian daughters. Black is the Body is the story of that truth. Bernard (and to some extent Knopf) allowing us to read these essays is, in a way, a form of resistance against the tropes of Blackness and the trauma that is associated with skin color.

I would suggest this book to readers who have read many Black nonfiction narratives and who might be interested in something a little different. Though not the best essay collection I’ve read, there is a lot to witness in this writing.

Three Stars | Knopf | January 29, 2019 | 240 Pages | Hardcover


If You’re in My Office, It’s Already Too Late: A Divorce Lawyer’s Guide to Staying Together by James J. Sexton, Esq.

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

A divorce lawyers how-not-to be married. This book is full of advice, and whatever the opposite of advice is, for a happy marriage. Sexton is funny and charming, if not a little focused on gender roles and heteronormative ideas. In his defense (sort of), he deals in the legality of marriage, and until 2015, same sex relationships wasn’t something that he litigating.

I enjoyed If You’re in My Office, It’s Already Too Late, it isn’t ground breaking, but it is exactly what it claims to be, and that is refreshing. It had some interesting and unique advice, like splitting custody of your kids even when you’re married. He also suggests speaking up when you’re unhappy and a lot of other common sense things, that many couples forget to do. Nothing life changing, but certainly helpful. I appreciate that Sexton doesn’t try to be a guru, he just shares what he’s seen, and as far as I can tell from this book, he has seen it all. The book does run a little longer than needed, and gets repetitive by the end.

If you’re looking for ideas on how to be a better partner or spouse, or are considering getting married, I would suggest you check out this book. It is a little different than the normal relationship advice, and goes down pretty easy.

Three Stars | Henry Holt and Co. | April 10, 2018 | 288 Pages | Hardcover
Hear James Sexton on The Stacks discussing his book (Ep. 49) and Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister(Ep. 50), and find a full review of If You’re in My Office, It’s Already Too Late HERE.


I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid

(Photo: amazon.com)

A psychological thriller about a relationship and theories on life and interaction. I don’t want to say much about this book for three reasons: first, we’re doing the book on podcast and we’ll be discussing it in detail, two, its a thriller so I don’t want to spoil anything, three, and most importantly, I’m not sure I understood what happened in this book.

What I will say, is there wasn’t much there for me in this book. I wasn’t wild about the depiction of the female lead, she was passive and demure in a way that was irritating. She continually deferred to the male lead (which is part of the plot) in the face of her own instincts, it wasn’t believable, it was clearly a male fantasy about a “good” woman. While the book is generally tense and a little scary, there wasn’t enough there there, and the ending fell flat for me.

I’ve seen a lot of mixed reviews on this book, and it is entirely possible I missed it. If you do read this book tell me your thoughts, and be sure to tune into the episode where we talk about I’m Thinking of Ending Things, on March 27th.

Two Stars | Gallery/Scout Press; Reprint edition | March 21, 2017 | 240 Pages | Paperback
I’m Thinking of Ending Things is TSBC pick for March 27. You can hear the TSBC episode with Niccole Thurman HERE. Read a full review of I’m Thinking of Ending Things HERE.


I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You: A Letter To My Daughter by David Chariandy

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

In this letter to his teenaged daughter, David Chariandy attempts explain the politics of race as he has experienced them. He discusses his own identity, Black and South Asian from Trinidad, and that of his ancestors in relationship to the world of his daughter. The role of family. What it means to be a person of color in Canada, and what it means to be alive in brown skin.

I most appreciated the conversation between father and daughter which is often overlooked, especially in stories from people of color. While Chariandy doesn’t really delve into gender politics in this book, there is something tender and special about him making the choice to address his daughter (and yes, he has a son, he chose to write to his daughter). Mostly he focuses on what it means to be seen as Black and to have come from so many cultures. Chariandy’s daughter is mixed, as is he, and engaging with the complexity of these truths was where the book was at its best.

While sections of the book were captivating, there were also sections where Chariandy was unable to hold my attention. I appreciated the idea behind the book, but I don’t know that I understood why it needed to be written, or that it has a particularly strong point of view.

Three Stars | Bloomsbury | March 5, 2019 | 96 Pages | Hardcover


Lot by Bryan Washington

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 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 other stories of people from the “lot”.

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. I would find myself smirking at the humor and then feeling gutted a few pages later by the harsh realities of these character’s world. A well rounded collection that really illustrates a time, place, and people.

Some standout stories for me were “Lot”, “Waugh”, and “Congress”, but I would say each story enhances the next. This is a great collection, and its a debut by a 25-year-old. I can not wait for more from Bryan Washington.

Five Stars | Riverhead | March 19, 2019 | 240 Pages | Hardcover


Parkland: Birth of a Movement by Dave Cullen

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

One of my most anticipated reads of 2019, Parkland was not what I was expecting, but it was so well done, it didn’t matter. It should be said, if you’re expecting to read Columbine 2.0 you might feel a little let down. Parkland is about the children who survived the shooting at Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School in February 2018, and the activism work they took on, as leaders of the March for Our Lives Movement.

Cullen is an expert storyteller. His empathy drips off the page and allows you to really see the humanity in people. I have to imagine, as one of his subjects, that empathy is palpable in person as well, I think thats how he gets such in depth looks at people. To think that this book was written and published in less than a year from the date of the shooting is incredible. Cullen chronicles all that the teens went through and accomplished without being too self serious or important. He lends the correct amount of gravity to events and still maintains an air of hope and possibility.

If you’re looking for a book about the mass murder and shooter, Parkland is not your book. There hasn’t been enough time for the comprehensive story on the tragedy in Parkland to come to light, let alone be written (it wasn’t until ten years after the Columbine shooting that Cullen’s book, Columbine came out). If you’re interested in the fight for gun safety laws and the kids that have started to make a difference. Then this book is perfect for you.

Four Stars | Harper | February 12, 2019 | 400 Pages | Hardcover


The Two Gentlemen of Verona by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

One of Shakespeare’s early comedies, The Two Gentlemen of Verona tells the story of two men who love two women, and then that all changes. It is about the conflict between friendship and love and the crazy things people in love will do.

This play is just fine. It is fun to see and pretty boring to read. Neither the plot nor language is particularly exciting. Though this play is a great example of characters changing their minds, which when performed, can be pretty funny. Proteus, one of our gentlemen, falls in and out of love so quickly its hard to keep up. Something that is absolutely thrilling and deeply troubling when you see it on stage, but in writing feels a little manic. There are also two women characters who are smart and loyal and capable, which I always love seeing, especially in classic literature. Without spoiling, I will say the final scene of the play is worth the wait. It brings up ideas of female autonomy, forgiveness, and platonic male love, in a way that leaves the reader with a lot to think about. The ending of this play has been debated by scholars for decades, and there is still so much left undecided.

The Two Gentelmen of Verona is not a great play, its fine. I would say its better on the stage than the page, but if you’re working on reading Shakespeare, its a good place to start as it is an easy read and very digestible.

Three Stars | Penguin Classics; New edition | February 1, 2000 | 92 Pages | Paperback
For a complete review of The Two Gentelmen of Verona click HERE.


When We Rise: My Life in the Movement by Cleve Jones

(Photo: amazon.com)

A memoir of a life committed to fighting for equality, When We Rise is a true ode to the power of resistance and an ode to the Gay Community. The story of San Francisco queer culture is told beautifully by Cleve Jones, a man who was there for so much of it. Jones guides us through the people and places that were pivotal in the movement, like Harvey Milk and Anne Kronenberg and the people that were footnotes of the time like Jim Jones and Anita Bryant. The book is a who’s who of San Francisco and the Gay Community.

This book isn’t all history, it is also hugely about humanity. Jones is known for creating the AIDS Quilt as a way of seeing and acknowledging those who died and making sure they were never forgotten. It is that kind of humanity that is throughout the entire book. Jones celebrates the beauty, power, creativity, and strength of the Gay community throughout this memoir. The love he has for his people is palpable in the book. He doesn’t shy away from talking about the drag queens and the sex and the freedom of the time. There is no shame, only a truthful story of what life was like, once upon a time.

I listened to this book and Jones narrates, and I loved hearing his inflections as he walked us through his life in the movement. I was especially moved as he recounted the utter devastation that AIDS had on his life and his community. If you’re interested in a story of Gay Rights, both history and humanity, told from the perspective of a man who was there, I highly recommend you check out When We Rise.

Four Stars | Hachette Audio | November 29, 2016 | 9 Hours 31 Minutes | Audiobook


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 in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Henry VI Part 3 by William Shakespeare

99FDDE2B-D633-4E55-935F-DFA48A78B68FThis month, I read Henry VI Part 3  for my #ShakeTheStacks Challenge. The book is part three is a four part series that fictionalizes The War of the Roses in medieval England.  If you’ve been following along with my Shakespeare reading you know that I was not a huge fan of Henry VI Part 1 or Part 2however, Part 3 is good.

The first three acts of Henry VI Part 3 are fantastic. The acts are filled with fights over who is heir to the throne, who succeeds who, and how that can all be change. The scenes are smart and occupied with ruthless characters unafraid of hurling insults and doing much worse. Richard (soon to be Richard III) and Queen Margaret stand out as the leaders of their sides, and the most cutting with their words and deeds. As the play moves toward its conclusion there is more focus on preparation for The War of the Roses and less attention to interpersonal fighting. The first part of this play stands out more, for being high stakes and deeply emotional.

I read the majority of this play out loud to myself, and the use of verse drives the speed of this play. There where moments when I heard the words I was saying and got chills from their power. There are a few speeches in this play that truly stand out to me. One is from the elder Edward, Duke of York  (Act I.4), where he mourns the death of his son. There is devastation and curses and deviance and rage. It is a beautiful speech. Another is from Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Act III.2) where he speaks directly to the audience, telling us of his plans to become king. This soliloquy is self loathing mixed with raw ambition. It is masterful and you can’t look away. When done right, it becomes the turning point in the entire play, in the entire tetralogy.

I was less than impressed with the first two parts of this tetralogy, but Henry VI Part 3 did not disappoint, and makes me even more excited to read Richard III next month.

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; Subsequent edition (December 1, 2000)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy Henry VI Part 3 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 participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Henry VI Part 1 by William Shakespeare

A146DD7D-E97E-40CB-8CBE-98228784EA85I’m onto month two of The Shake the Stacks Challenge, my 37 month journey to read the complete works of William Shakespeare. You can read more about the challenge here. I am going in a sort of chronological order, even though the chronology of these plays is widely disputed. I’m using the list from Open Source Shakespeare. This month I took on the first play of Henry the Sixth.

In Henry IV part 1 we are joined into the world of England after the death of Henry V, and the tumult that comes with the changing of kings, the pledging of loyalties, and the battles that surround this type of activity. The play is a major set up for the next three plays that are part of this tetralogy, culminating in Richard III. Which all goes to say, this play is kind of boring. You’re meeting a ton of characters, and then they’re talking about fighting battles, and introducing you to other people and contextualizing relationships. Basically, a lot of talk an not a lot of action.

There is one character of note, who sticks out to me in this one, and thats Joan la Pucelle aka Joan of Arc. Of all the characters in this play she is the one you remember. She leads the French in winning and losing battles against the English. She speaks truth to power, and she fights like hell. We all know what happens in the end. She isa great character in mediocre play.

This play is clearly meant to serve as exposition for the plays that follow, and thats fine, but it also makes for a pretty boring read. I would imagine if you could see all three of the Henry VI plays followed by Richard III this play would be more fun and feel more purposeful. There are some really beautifully written scenes and speeches, but for the most part its all set up, The War of the Roses comes next, and that should be exciting.

If you’re interested in this tetralogy, you should certainly read this play, but as a stand alone piece it doesn’t do much.

  • Paperback: 123 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Subsequent edition (December 1, 2000)
  • 2/5 stars
  • Buy Henry VI Part 1 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 participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

The Shakespeare Challenge — #ShakeTheStacks

EF56F06F-1235-4BBF-ACDD-4FF5EBA340BFLast month I read Othello for the first time in years. I read it to refresh myself on the story in order to discuss Tracy Chevalier’s adaptation New Boy. I was a little nervous to go back to reading Shakespeare, it had been years since I had opened a play by The Bard, despite having studied his work extensively in college. I was shocked at how enjoyable it was, and how rich the text is. The work felt relevant and touches on issues we’re currently discussing as a society. I hadn’t realized how much I had missed his plays, and how exciting it was to read them again.

So I decided that I’m going to commit to reading one Shakespeare play a month for the next 36 months (since I already read Othello). Some of them will be re-reads for me, and there are about 12 I’ve never read. I think it’ll be fun, plus then I can say, I’ve read every Shakespeare play. Who doesn’t love a little literary bragging. Its a long term goal,  and I won’t be done until 2021, which I also like.

I’m calling this challenge #ShakeTheStacks and I would love to have company on this journey weather you want to read the full 37, or just read the handful that are on your list.

I know folks can be intimidated by Shakespeare, myself included. So here are my suggestions on how to make reading Shakespeare a successful endeavor.

  1. Relax. The stuff is complex and thats what makes it everlasting. So if you miss something or don’t quite understand it, thats OK. Keep going, Shakespeare’s characters repeat themselves a lot.
  2. Play the part. These are plays, which means they’re meant to be heard aloud. If you get stuck, try saying the words out loud.
  3. Get into the groove. The verse is written in iambic pentameter, and it is there to help you. Allow yourself to fall into rhythm when you’re reading. Thats Shakespeare’s way of guiding you through, and keeping you on track.
  4. Get good notes. Try to find translations that have notes that make sense to you. I love the Pelican Shakespeare. The notes help but aren’t so long they get in the way.
  5. Read the ending first. Well not actually, but if you do better when you know the plot, go ahead and read a synopsis, so you can really indulge in the language and poetry instead of sifting for clues. Generally if the play is a comedy it will end in a wedding and the tragedies end in death.
  6. Trust yourself. You’re not dumb, and you do understand it. Take the pressure off. Think about how many times you’ve seen a play or movie and missed something, or gotten confused as to what was going on. It happens to us all the time. Don’t let the idea of Shakespeare freak you out.
  7. Enjoy. The whole point is to read something and enjoy it. If you’re not into the play move on. Or better yet, watch a the movie, or listen to a staged reading. Find a way to enjoy the Bard, this isn’t punishment.

Now I just have to figure out which order to read these plays. Do I got with chronological? Alphabetical? By genre? Or mood read? What do you think?

If you’re joining me make sure to tag any posts with #ShakeTheStacks, this way we can keep track of all our Shakespearian progress.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.