The Short Stacks 27: Shea Serrano//Movies (and Other Things)

Shea Serrano is a three-time New York Times best selling author, whose most recent book Movies (and Other Things) is a collection of illustrated essays answering all the questions you didn’t know you needed answered when it comes to movies…and other things. We talk about Shea’s unconventional start as a writer, what his kids think of his work, and what its like working with illustrator Arturo Torres.
There are no spoilers in 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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 191102_serrano_heist_arturo_torres.jpg
Art from Movies (and Other Things) – Arturo Torres

Connect with Shea: Twitter | Instagram | Website

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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. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect opinions on books and products. 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 in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect opinions on books and products. 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 this 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. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Ladies Who Punch: The Explosive Inside Story of “The View” by Ramin Setoodeh

Ladies Who Punch is great fun. Its the kind of book that takes on pop culture in a smart way, but doesn’t take itself too seriously. The author, Ramin Setoodeh, is a journalist and a fan of The View and it comes through in the way the book is crafted and the details he shares with the reader.

As fan of The View myself, getting to revisit the history of the show I loved for years was a joy. Hearing how and why Barbara Walters started the show, and how it was cast was interesting and added so much to my understanding of the show itself. I also loved thinking back on major moments like Rosie O’Donnell’s take down of Donald Trump, and her fight with Elisabeth Hasselbeck. Not to mention Whoopi and her own dramatic moments. There is so much history from the show crammed into this book.

What impressed me most about this book is how Ladies Who Punch also is a commentary about women in entertainment. The View has been a staple of daytime TV for over 20 seasons and doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Setoodeh looks at how the lack of respect given to The View comes from a sexist media that covers the co-hosts and their “cat fights” as something less than the arguments we might see on CNN or MSNBC.

The main frame for the book is the 2016 election, not only because of what a shock it was and how incredibly transformative that moment was in America. But more because both Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump were recurring guests on The View and their stories are deeply rooted in the success of the show, just as the show’s success is connected to them. The use of this event as a catalyst to tell the story roots Ladies Who Punch in something more than just a behind the scenes look at a successful TV program, but rather cements it in the moment of American culture.

If you’re not a fan of The View this book might not be as resonant for you, though I think it is still a good book. But if you identify as a fan of the show, this book is a must read. It gets into the nitty gritty of famous moments and feuds and spotlights all the ladies you love to hate.

To hear more about this Ladies Who Punch from the author himself, check out Ramin Setoodeh on The Short Stacks.

  • Hardcover: 336
  • PublisherThomas Dunne Books; April 2, 2019
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy Ladies Who Punch 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 in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

August 2019 Reading Wrap-Up

I’m still reading slowly but surely over here. I finished seven books in August, and I’m pretty happy with what I read. You’ll be shocked to see that our of the seven books only three were nonfiction. The standouts for the month were The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead, and my re-read of Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. Fiction. Fiction. Fiction.

August by the Numbers

Total Books Read: 7
Audiobooks: 1
Five Star Reads: 2
Unread Shelf: 0
Books Acquired: 28

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


Educated by Tara Westover

(Photo: amazon.com)

In her memoir about growing up in a fundamentalist Mormon family, Tara Westover shares about her childhood, the abuses she suffered, and the reasons she felt motivated to leave home and understand the world for herself.

I enjoyed parts of this book, though I found the hype to be far beyond what this book was able to deliver. It is no doubt impressive what Westover has been able to accomplish in her life. I found the writing to be distant and that she was unwilling to allow the reader into her deeper thoughts and reflections. For example, there is a part of the book that deals with Tara and her brother and the use of “nigger” as a racial slur. She discusses this event, but never reckons with the internalized racism she has been raised with, or how that may have presented itself in her life away from the mountain in Idaho. I had these same thoughts when it came to other women she encounters, especially those outside of Mormonism, not to mention her relationship to pop culture and politics. I found that some things, the abuses she suffered, were discussed to excess, and some things were glazed over. What Westover chose to focus on didn’t match what I was most interested in.

Three Stars | Random House | February 20, 2018 | 352 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
We discuss Educated on The Stacks Book Club, you can hear that conversation by clicking HERE.


Henry IV Part 1 by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

A Shakespeare play about a King trying to prove his legitimacy and his son who is young and still wants to reap the benefits of being a prince. That is of course until there is war to be had. This play is one of Shakespeare’s plays that reminds me why people hate Shakespeare. It was boring and didn’t really speak to me on any larger level. Its a lot about loyalty and duty and not much more. I have been loving my #ShakeTheStacks Challenge, but this was the first month I thought about quitting.

One Stars | Penguin Classics | February 1, 2000 | 160 Pages | Kindle | Purchase on IndieBound


Ladies Who Punch: The Explosive Inside Story of “The View” by Ramin Setoodeh

(Photo: amazon.com)

Great fun! I loved listening to this audiobook that takes us behind the scenes at The View. The author reads the book and his love of the ladies comes through, he is a fan who used his skills as a journalist to get access and ask the right questions.

No this book isn’t life changing, but it is a good time and really sheds light on a TV institution that doesn’t often get the respect it deserves (mostly because its a show made by and staring women of varying ages). However, Setoodeh takes the time to contextualize the show and the co-hosts in the greater American pop culture canon and show how important it has been culturally and politically. The book isn’t all gossip and cat fights, instead we get a sense of how and why it was crafted and what sort of impact that has had on women in politics and power. The 2016 election plays a prominent role in the book as do both Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump. Ladies Who Punch is smart and fun, which is often hard to do. If you’re on the fence, I suggest the audiobook, it is super entertaining and feels almost like a podcast.

Four Stars | Macmillan Audio | April 2, 2019 | 9 Hours 23 Minutes | Audiobook | Purchase on IndieBound
Listen to Ramin Setoodeh discus his book on The Short Stacks now, click HERE.


Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

(Photo: amazon.com)

I was thrilled to finally revisit this modern classic I read over a decade ago. Truth be told I couldn’t really remember what happened, I just remembered loving it and feeling deeply moved.

Now, reading the book years later for The Stacks podcast, I was able to think about this book in a new way. There is a lot to spoil, so I won’t say much here (though we will spoil it on the episode, out September 11th), except that the writing holds up and the story is still as moving as I remember. Though the fact that it is an allegory for so much in today’s culture and our history felt brand new to me, in the best ways.

The start of the book was a little slow for me, but once we got moving, I was hooked as I had been in my first reading. And while I knew what happened in the end, the twists still got to me. This is Science Fiction written as Literary Fiction. It is a coming of age story that ties into a devastating critique of humanity and morality. It is so good, and the feelings this book evokes stay with you.

Five Stars | Vintage | March 14, 2006 | 288 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound
We discuss Never Let Me Go on The Stacks Book Club, you can hear that conversation by clicking HERE.


The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

(Photo: amazon.com)

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. There are no 10 page expositions, instead you get a paragraph or two that drops you right in the scene or gets at essence of the person. A true economy of language. The best part is, the book doesn’t feel unfinished, at 215 pages, it’s just right.

The Nickel Boys asks the reader to face some horrific truths about the realities of these reform schools. However we’re not given time to dwell in this pain. The book moves forward guided by two young men, Elwood and Turner, who are the heart of this story. I felt as if I knew them as soon as I met them.

Five Stars | Double Day | July 16, 2019 | 224 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Safe House by Heather John Fogarty

This isn’t a real review, but more a major preview. I was asked by the author, Heather John Fogarty, to read her manuscript of her first novel Safe House. It was a really exciting task and a great honor. So much so, I went ahead a bought my first ever e-reader to get it done.

I will wait to discuss the book and what I thought of it until it is a real published book in the world, so stay tuned.

Unpublished Manuscript | 314 Pages | Kindle


Tell Me Everything by Sarah Enni

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

A young adult book that explores the powers and pitfalls of social media and privacy, by following one girl, Ivy, and her relationship to a new app called VEIL.

Tell Me Everything takes on a lot of the tough questions about social media and being present in life versus our online personas. It looks at homosexuality, activism, consumer’s rights, and a lot of other relevant topics. While I enjoyed reading the book, I always felt ahead of the story, which I often do when I read YA. I would be very interested in what a 13-year old might think of the ideas and topics Enni brings up.
Three Stars | Point| February 26, 2019 | 288 Pages| Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
Hear our conversation with Sarah Enni on The 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. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

She Begat This: 20 Years of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill by Joan Morgan

In the year that we celebrate the 20th anniversary of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill by Lauryn Hill, Joan Morgan put together a book that reflects on the importance and influence of this iconic album.

Here is more about She Begat This

Released in 1998, Lauryn Hill’s first solo album is often cited by music critics as one of the most important recordings in modern history. Artists from Beyoncé to Nicki Minaj to Janelle Monáe have claimed it as an inspiration, and it was recently included in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress, as well as named the second greatest album by a woman in history by NPR (right behind Joni Mitchell’s Blue).

Award-winning feminist author and journalist Joan Morgan delivers an expansive, in-depth, and heartfelt analysis of the album and its enduring place in pop culture. She Begat This is both an indelible portrait of a magical moment when a young, fierce, and determined singer-rapper-songwriter made music history and a crucial work of scholarship, perfect for longtime hip-hop fans and a new generation of fans just discovering this album.

Here is what this book isn’t, a song by song dissection of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Not even close. If you want that, you should check out the Dissect Podcast, Season 4, a which is exactly that, and it is pretty great. Instead, this book is a conversation about the importance and influence of Hill and her album. What it meant in 1998 for a young Black woman to leave her group, and go out into the world, pregnant and powerful, and sing her face off. The book also looks at what it meant for that same woman to age and evolve and struggle. She Begat This engages with the comparisons to Nina Simone and the widely (and I think unfairly) criticized Lauryn Hill: MTV Unplugged No 2.0. Effectively the book tries to put Lauryn Hill in context of the 90’s and also the doors she opened for artists, especially Black women, since.

Morgan rounds up women thought leaders in hip-hop culture and feminism to discuss the album with her, from Dream Hampton to Lyneé Denise and more. These women share their opinions on the music, the moment, and the movement. Sometimes these opinions conflict and that allows the book to be a subtle exploration, instead of a singular coronation. There is both praise and criticism which exemplifies the vastness of Black womanhood in art and the world.

One part of the book that was particularly insightful and powerful, and something I wish was more consistently throughout, was when Morgan explained the importance of Lauryn Hill and her pregnancy in the age of Bill Clinton. Morgan explains not only the similarity between Hill’s relationships with Wyclef Jean and Rohan Marley and the Clinton/Lewinsky affair, but also the importance of Hill’s choice to keep her child in the face of Clinton’s crime bill that wreaked havoc on Black families, placing an extreme burden on Black women. This section is exceptional. I only wished there was more of this kind of comparison throughout the entire book.

Sometimes Morgan and the other women interviewed overstate the importance of this album. Not that the album isn’t iconic, but that these women were overly attached to the album and biased. They take claim and ownership over feminism that had started long before 1998 and continued much later. Perhaps a little too personal at times. It is clear Morgan respects Hill’s work professionally, but also has deep connections to it personally. That muddies the waters of the book, a little.

I listened to She Begat This as an audiobook, and found it a little challenging to know if Morgan was saying things or if she was quoting other women she consulted, I enjoyed the narrator but sometimes found myself confused.

If you love The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill this is a quick and interesting look at the album and the woman and her place in the cultural zeitgeist. It is a simple idea, and I wish there were more books that did this with the icon albums. I personally can not wait to read the one that comes out in 18 years about Lemonade by Beyoncé.

  • Audiobook: 3 hours and 55 minutes
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Atria / 37 INK (August 7, 2018)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy on She Begat This Amazon

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.

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 my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell

7796075C-DD3E-4D0A-8259-4C8E5A469D83I’ve been lying to the world. I’ve been proudly boasting that I love Malcolm Gladwell and that I’ve read all his books, and that he’s just the best. Turns out, thats a lie. I thought I had read all his books, but I had never actually read his first book, The Tipping Point. It has been a point of shame for me, I felt a little depressed that I wasn’t as much of a super fan of his work as I thought. But now, I can go back to my unabashed bragging about my love for Mr. Gladwell, because I have finally read The Tipping Point.

If you’re not familiar, here is more about The Tipping Point

The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire. Just as a single sick person can start an epidemic of the flu, so too can a small but precisely targeted push cause a fashion trend, the popularity of a new product, or a drop in the crime rate. This widely acclaimed bestseller, in which Malcolm Gladwell explores and brilliantly illuminates the tipping point phenomenon, is already changing the way people throughout the world think about selling products and disseminating ideas.


Malcolm Gladwell is a thinker. Sure we all think, but we’re not all professional thinkers. His brand is his thought process; critical, obscure, individual. He has become known for taking an idea we think we understand, and flipping it on it’s head. Showing us the complexities of life, and often time the simplicity of it as well. The Tipping Point is his first book, and is perfectly in line with Gladwell’s brand and subsequent books, and podcast, Revisionist History.

I really enjoyed this book. Gladwell takes his time explaining his points, without laboring any one idea to death. The book is the right length, long enough to make sure you understand what a tipping point is, and how it works, but not so long that you’re skipping ahead because you’ve got it already. This is hard to do. Many books make a point early on, and work through it so many times it becomes redundant and stale. Gladwell uses a variety of examples, from crime in NYC to Hushpuppy shoes, to Divine Secrets of the Ya-ya Sisterhood, to illustrate his points, and this variety keeps the reader interested and engaged.

The later edition of The Tipping Point has an afterword that shows how ahead of conventional thinking Gladwell is. In the afterward written in 2002, a few years after the original book (2000) Gladwell makes a few predictions about the future as he sees it. One thing he discusses is school shootings as an emerging epidemic afflicting American teens, all before many of the most notorious school shootings of the last 20 years. He also forecasts a growing apathy toward email, and how we will become immune to the power of email, which of course in 2018 is expressly clear. Gladwell’s thinking is ahead of his time.

There were moments where Gladwell lost me in his train of thought. I wasn’t sure what point he was making, or the difference between certain categorizations he had laid out (i.e. maven vs sales person), or the connection between two seemingly unrelated topics. This happened a few times throughout the book and I had to go back and draw the connections in a second (or sometimes third) pass.

I listened to the audiobook of The Tipping Point with Gladwell narrating, which is well done. While he isn’t as animated as as he is on his podcast, you can hear his passion for the work he has done. He is convincing and clear. I also happen to enjoy the smooth sound of his voice. But again, I am huge Gladwell fangirl.

I recommend this book. I recommend just about everything Malcolm Gladwell does. Have I mentioned how much I love and admire his work? I don’t always agree with him, but I appreciate his thinking and his ability to shift the way I think and perceive the world around me. He is a provocateur in the best way.

  • Audiobook: 8 hours and 33 minutes
  • Publisher: Hachette Audio (December 31, 2006)
  • Paperback: 301 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books (January 7, 2002)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy on The Tipping Point Amazon

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.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer

5DF10CBB-A65E-4C65-B6E5-F119B079DA59.JPGI have been fascinated with murders and murderers for as long as I can remember. I’ve also always been a big reader, and when you put those two things together, true crime and reading, you invariably get to The Executioner’s Song. It is an eleven hundred page true crime classic. And so after ten years, I finally decided to check this off the big book bucket list.

Here is more about The Executioner’s Song:

Arguably the greatest book from America’s most heroically ambitious writer,The Executioner’s Song follows the short, blighted life of Gary Gilmore who became famous after he robbed two men in 1976 and killed them in cold blood. After being tried and convicted, he immediately insisted on being executed for his crime. To do so, he fought a system that seemed intent on keeping him alive long after it had sentenced him to death. And that fight for the right to die is what made him famous.

Mailer tells not only Gilmore’s story, but those of the men and women caught in the web of his life and drawn into his procession toward the firing squad. All with implacable authority, steely compassion, and a restraint that evokes the parched landscape and stern theology of Gilmore’s Utah.The Executioner’s Song is a trip down the wrong side of the tracks to the deepest source of American loneliness and violence. It is a towering achievement-impossible to put down, impossible to forget.


Normally when I read a book, I feel pretty confident in my review. I sit down to write it, and out comes my thoughts. I may stop and start a little, but with The Executioner’s Song I am about 4-5 attempts in and still feeling unsure of where I stand. Part of my struggle is coming from the fact that there is just so much book, so many ideas to unpack and feelings to sort through. Another part is because I do not want to spoil anything, even though you could easily spoil so much by looking up Gary Gilmore on wikipedia. So here goes my attempt to explain my thoughts without out giving away too much…

This is the kind of book that haunts you, not because of what happens in it, but because of how it all unravels. I didn’t love the book. It never fully hooked me, but I have found myself thinking about the people involved in Gilmore’s life and death a lot since I finished it. There were moments of suspense that I thoroughly enjoyed, and then sections that felt endless. There were people I loved in one section of the book, and then was hoping they’d be leaving the story a hundred pages later. While I never fully understood why so many people rave about this book, I suspect it has to do with the way Mailer is able to give his characters room to transform in front of the readers eyes. These people feel full and complete, no one is without dimension. Mailer’s writing style is impressive and specific and lacks any frills. It is direct, like the people you find in the book.

A tale of White toxic masculinity told by a toxic White man, The Executioner’s Song can be rage inducing. I felt myself feeling sorry for a murderer and domestic abuser in one moment and then feeling furious at the author for presenting the story in that way. Giving Gilmore so much room to garner sympathies when he really behaves disgustingly through out. Despite his deep flaws, Mailer does find humanity in Gilmore. He also finds the humanity in the kind of world where a Gary Gilmore could be created. I don’t disagree with Mailer that part of Gilmore was cultivated during his time in prison, however the compassion that Mailer asks us to show to Gilmore was often times more than I could bear.

There are no answers in this book. I am okay with that. Conversations around incarceration and murder and class and relationships are seldom clear cut. Mailer throws all his research your way, and more or less asks you to sift through it. He may guide you, or allow his characters to sway you, but in the end you’ll take from this book whatever you need.

One of the big topics of debate revolves around capital punishment, not only if its a good idea or not, but how someone is sentenced for death and how that process progresses. Forty-plus years later, this part of the book feels more current than it should. We get a view of the death penalty debate from many sides. We see how death row works, how the appeals process functions, we even get a good look at the media frenzy behind high profile criminal cases. In the end, I found myself asking over and over, what is the point? Is the world really any better off with Gilmore dead?

In the end I am glad I read this book. I didn’t love it, but I appreciated it, not only as a piece of writing but as a glimpse into a moment in time. After spending the better part of a month reading through this book, it was not the greatest thing that ever happened to me, but I did have major moments of shock and awe. It is an incredible feat of journalism and story telling, and it is an exceptional commentary on the death penalty and the humanity of criminals. I can recognize the greatness in The Executioner’s Song theoretically, but I could never fully feel the power that many others have experienced in reading the book.

  • Hardcover: 1136 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; Reprint edition (May 8, 2012)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy on The Executioner’s Song Amazon

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.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Vulgar Favors: The Assassination of Gianni Versace by Maureen Orth

IMG_5910.JPGI talked extensively aboutVulgar Favors: The Assassination of Gianni Versace by Maureen Orth with Tony nominated choreographer Sam Pinkleton, on an episode of The Stacks podcast. You can hear us discuss and sort through the many layers of this book there.

If you aren’t familiar with the story of serial killer Andrew Cunanan and his crimes, here is a little more about this book.

On July 15, 1997, Gianni Versace was shot and killed on the steps of his Miami Beach mansion by serial killer Andrew Cunanan. But months before Versace’s murder, award-winning journalist Maureen Orth was already investigating a major story on Cunanan for Vanity Fair. Culled from interviews with more than four hundred people and insights gleaned from thousands of pages of police reports, Vulgar Favors tells the complete story of Andrew Cunanan, his unwitting victims, and the moneyed world in which they lived . . . and died. Orth reveals how Cunanan met Versace, and why police and the FBI repeatedly failed to catch him. Here is a gripping odyssey that races across America—from California’s wealthy gay underworld to modest Midwestern homes of families mourning the loss of their sons to South Beach and its unapologetic decadence. Vulgar Favors is at once a masterwork of investigative journalism and a riveting account of a sociopath, his crimes, and the mysteries he left along the way.

There are parts of this book that are interesting and fascinating. There are whole sections and chapters that I couldn’t stop reading. Orth’s ability to paint the scene of Cunanan’s life and more specifically his crimes, are some of the best parts of this book. I had a hard time sleeping thinking about hist first murder. It is about as haunting as they come.

Where I struggled with this book, and ultimately what turned me away from it, was Orth’s contextualizing of the story. Orth’s tone is intolerant at best, and outwardly homophobic at worst. She has a disdain for Cunanan, which of course makes sense, but she also judges those people in his world. And his world is that of gay men in the 1990’s. I can’t help but think that the “vulgar” in the title is directed at the Cunanan and his community. She discusses sex, drugs, and lifestyle as if this community is synonymous with all gay people all over. Its generalization at its worst. If you’d never met a gay person, you might think that all they did was pay each other for sex and snort (or swallow) meth.

Vulgar Favors is a book about a man who is obsessed with lies and celebrity and Orth gets wrapped up in that herself. She name drops through out, and forces connections where none exist. Her sources, and she has a whole lot, can feel a little unreliable, who doesn’t want to distance themselves from a man who killed five people, before then killing himself?

The story is multilayered and entertaining, but Orth can’t resist turning it into spectacle. She draws conclusions and connects dots that just might not be there. Vulgar Favors is full of contradictions and hearsay. While I enjoyed the book for what it is, if you read it, read it as a period piece from 1999, and not historical fact. Its a reminder of how people felt about homosexuality not too long ago. Its a reminder of different era of technology and media. You can also watch the FX Series The Assassination of Gianni Versace; American Crime Story and be just as entertained and not feel quite as icky.

If you do read this book, which is just fine, I would love to hear your thoughts.

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam; Reprint edition (October 3, 2017)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy Vulgar Favors on Amazon

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