The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

The Merchant of Venice is one of William Shakespeare’s more famous plays and is best known for being the play about “the Jew” but little more is said about this extremely complex and nuanced play. I was so glad to actually get a chance to reread it and attempt to examine the layers in this story.

What is always so powerful to me in the reading and rereading of Shakespeare’s plays is what these stories from hundreds of years ago say about the world we’re living in now. I couldn’t help but draw many connections between the anti-semitism in the play and racism and othering of Black and Brown bodies, and those that practice Judaism and Islam, that has been on full display in The United States in the last few years.

In The Merchant of Venice, Shylock, the Jew, lends out money and it isn’t repaid per the terms of the loan, and Shylock is ready to collect on the debt he is owed (pound of flesh anyone?). However once it turns out that he plans to fully collect everyone becomes incredulous and begs him to show a little mercy and compassion. This is an extremely common narrative in today’s society. After the murder of nine Black people at a church in Charleston, SC there was an immediate cry for the Black community to forgive the White Supremacist who murder these innocent people. We even saw the Black President of The United States, Barack Obama, sing “Amazing Grace” in his eulogy. This cry for mercy and forgiveness is often asked of “the other”.

Shakespeare is essentially asking his audience if it is fair to ask more of the aggrieved if they are outside the systems of power of the given society, weather it be Whiteness, Christian, or male?

He compounds all of this when the person who comes to defend the White Christian patriarchy in The Merchant of Venice is Portia disguised as a young male lawyer. She is the only person clever and even tempered enough to see a way around Shylock’s contract and save the day. Of course its very complicated because her actions essentially lead to humiliation for Shylock, who, while maybe a little rigid (or vidictive), is only following a contract he and his debtor agreed to.

When we talk about the power of the arts to change the world, I think, without sounding too hyperbolic, this play certainly has that ability. It asks the viewer (or reader) to look around and see the hypocrisy that we allow into our everyday life. To see that we are only willing to cling to the rule of law when it serves those in power. When the laws favor the marginalized we see the calls for mercy and forgiveness. We see the vitriolic language of hatred that leads to violence, embarrassment, and more internalized othering of those who are our most vulnerable.

There is a lot more that could be said about The Merchant of Venice, so far in my journey through Shakespeare’s cannon (#ShakeTheStacks Challenge) it feels like the most layered play. It feels urgent and painful and unfortunately more timely than I would like.

If you’ve seen or read this play I would love to hear you thoughts in the comments below.

Next month for #ShakeTheStacks Challenge, I’ll be reading Henry IV Part 1

  • Paperback: 103 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (August 1, 2000)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy The Merchant of Venice 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 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 Stacks Book Club — August 2019 Books

August is just around the corner, which means its time to share out picks for The Stacks Book Club for August. We’ve got two very different (and very good) nonfiction stories for you!

Our first book, for the August 14th, is The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander. In her memoir, Alexander shares what it is like to have loved and lost after the sudden death of her husband. She uses her skills as a poet to tell this beautiful story of love, family, community, grief, and a life well lived. This memoir was touted as Michelle Obama’s favorite book of 2015 and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Then on August 28th, we’re reading The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist: A True Story of Injustice in the American South by Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington. This book might not scream “beach read” but trust us, this book is hard to put down. This true crime story explains how two men in Mississippi could be imprisoned for over 30 years for a crimes they didn’t commit and how the forensic experts who helped convict them have a long history of exploiting the death investigation industry and the racist history of The United States. Hold on, this one is a wild ride.

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 August books on Amazon or IndieBound:

  • The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander (Amazon | IndieBound)
  • The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist by Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington (Amazon | 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.

June 2019 Reading Wrap Up

June was a fun month where I got to attend Book Con in NYC and meet up with many awesome authors, publishers, and bookish friends. I also collected some awesome books, including my favorite read of the month, How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones. I can’t reccomend this memoir more, and it comes out in October, trust me you want to be on team pre-order. Get your copy now!

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.


June by the Numbers

Total Books Read: 8
Audiobooks: 1
Five Star Reads: 1
Unread Shelf: 2
Books Acquired: 20

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


Finding Feminism by Rachel Overvoll

(Photo: amazon.com)

In her first book Rachel Overvoll examines her childhood in a fundamentalist Evangelical family and the events that led her away from her religious past and toward a life of liberation and empowerment. Overvoll is very vulnerable and shares her past sexual assaults, her abusive relationships, and the social conditioning that led her into depression and self loathing.

To be perfectly frank, the writing in this book is just okay, but the content is compelling. A more skilled writer could have created a more emotional narrative, but Overvoll isn’t that, she is a person who wanted to tell her own story, which is to be commended. Its a quick read and gives the reader plenty to think about.

Two Stars | Peacock Proud Press; 1st edition | April 21, 2019 | 198 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound
Hear our conversation with Rachel Overvoll on the Stacks HERE


How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones

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

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

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

Five Stars | Simon & Schuster | October 8, 2019 | 198 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


How We Fight White Supremacy by Akiba Solomon and Kenrya Rankin

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

This book is a collection of essays, poems, playlists, interviews, comics, and art pieces all answering the question “how do you fight White supremacy?”. A unique and inclusive work, How We Fight White Supremacy, does a fantastic job of showing the diversity and vastness of Black resistance.

What I loved most about this book is how dynamic it is. Akiba Solomon and Kenrya Rankin have done a fantastic job of finding unique and differing voices within the Black community. The commitment to showing the vastness of Black experience pays off in a book that is not about any one thing, and yet still remains connected to the central idea of fighting White supremacy. From comedian to survivalist to author to Black Lives Matter co-founders, this book proves the point that Black people are not and have never been a monolith.

Four Stars | Bold Type Books | March 26, 2019 | 304 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound
Hear our conversation with Akiba Solomon & Kenrya Rankin on The Short Stacks HERE


I Can’t Date Jesus by Michael Arceneaux

(Photo: amazon.com)

In his memoir that is sort of funny and also very authentic, Michael Arceneaux explores his relationship to his identity as a Black gay man and how it relates to his upbringing in Houston and in the Catholic church.

There really aren’t a lot of books about coming of age and living as a Black gay man that aren’t seeped in the exploitation of trauma. This book finds a way to be honest and truthful and deal with painful family dynamics and still keep its sense of humor. I hope this book can open doors for other queer authors to share their stories in ways that we don’t often get to see. Arceneaux is a vibrant personality and it shines throughout the book. Also, he loves Beyonce and I can’t find any fault in that.

Three Stars | Atria Books | July 24, 2018 | 256 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


King John by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

One of the things I’m learning with my #ShaketheStacks journey through all of William Shakespeare’s plays is that, most of his plays that are obscure, are obscure for a reason, they aren’t that good. That is certainly the case with King John.

As with many of the other history plays, King John mostly revolves around the throne and who has the rightful claim to the power that it holds. There are really only so many ways you can tell that story, and in King John it is done in a way that feels remedial and lacks creativity and excitement. Plus, the full title of the play gives away the ending, which isn’t so bad, but in this case it feels like a trek to get there, and it fizzles out when you do.

Two Stars | Penguin Classics; Reprint edition | August 2000 | 118 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

(Photo: amazon.com)

A literary courtroom drama about a horrible accident at a medical facility that kills two people. This book is compelling from the start, a total who-done it mystery.

Angie Kim was once a trial lawyer and it shows. The scenes in the courtroom are amazing, they are vibrant and feel like you’re reading an episode of Law and Order. Kim is ambitious in including many different facets of life in this book. She draws from her own experience as a lawyer, an immigrant, and a mother which helps make these different parts of book feel full. Autism plays a huge part in this book and I didn’t find those characters to be fully explored or the different points of view to be shared as completely. Overall I really enjoyed reading this book and think it is well executed, I look forward to what comes next from Angie Kim.

Four Stars | Sarah Crichton Books | April 16, 2019 | 368 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
Hear our conversation with Angie Kim on The Short Stacks HERE and The Stacks Book Club discussion of the book HERE


The Honey Bus by Meredith May

(Photo: amazon.com)

A coming of age story of young girl trying to find her place in a family with a distant abusive mother. Mereidth May turns to her bee keeping grandfather as a role model and teacher. The book uses bees as a metaphor for May’s life.

This is a sweet story, but lacked any real emotional connection for me. This book feels very much life a YA story, and leaves a lot of the complexity out. I loved the sections with the bees, and learning about how they function as part of the hive were by far the most engaging sections of the book. Her grandfather was such a lovable figure and his passion for bees was the main saving grace of this story.

Two Stars | Park Row; Original edition | April 2, 2019 | 336 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


White Rage by Carol Anderson

(Photo: amazon.com)

A detailed look at the many ways the racial divide has been widened by White supremacy and the fear of advancement from Black people. This book is extremely well researched and full of detailed analysis of court cases, contemporaneous quotations, and more.

This book is extremely powerful and lays our the many ways Black people have been denied rights in America. Not just small individual acts of violence, but over reaching policies that are violent in their own ways. Policies that strip agency and access from Black Americans. White people have a long history of responding to Black advancement through these types of policies and Anderson lays out this history from Reconstruction to President Obama. This book is a clear indictment on the obvious and biased ways White people have made the playing field unleveled in order to get ahead. I certainly felt more equipped to understand the many injustices we see in America today, and this book is a wonderful companion to Anderson’s most recent book, One Person, No Vote. I will say this book is extremely dense, even if it is short, and take a lot of focus to unpack the facts, figures, quotes, and historical accounts. Thats not to deter anyone, rather to prepare you to make enough time to fully understand the work.

Three Stars | Bloomsbury USA; Reprint edition | September 5, 2017 | 304 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

May 2019 Reading Wrap Up

May is always such a busy month for me with birthdays, graduations, and holidays, and this May was no different. I enjoyed most everything I read, with Ibram X. Kendi’s forthcoming book, How to Be an Antiracist as my clear favorite.

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.


May by the Numbers

Total Books Read: 8
Audiobooks: 2
Five Star Reads: 1
Unread Shelf: 0
Books Acquired: 26

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


A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

This play is one of Shakespeare’s most famous comedies. A romp involving four sets of characters whose plots intersect and merge in and around a forrest. While this is a fine play to read, it is a great deal of fun to actually see. There is a ton of physical comedy and sight gags, so it doesn’t fully translate to the page.

I personally love the lovers in this play, and to get more specific, the women lovers. Both Helena and Hermia are smart and sassy and tough as nails. They flip on a dime and their speeches are the most visceral of the whole show. I couldn’t help but want to watch the play the whole time I was reading it. If you’ve not read much Shakespeare this is a good one to start with since there is most likely a summer production being put up in a town near you. If not, check out the film, which is star studded and pretty good adaptation.

Four Stars | Penguin Classics; Reprint edition | August 1, 2000 | 352 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


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

A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum

In her debut novel, Etaf Rum sets out to tell the story of three generations of Palestinian women who are pushing up against the expectation of women in their community and their own hopes for their lives. The book tackles issues like abuse, gender roles, obedience, and freedom. And it has all the makings of something powerful, though the execution fell flat. I found the characters (both male and female) to be under developed and the story to be redundant. I never connected to anyone and figured out the ending within the first few pages.

I appreciate Rum and her effort to tell a story about people we rarely see, but the idea was the strongest part of this book, and not the execution. I wished there had been more nuance and complexity in character and plot development and in the writing. The fact that this book was written and published is a good thing, it is bringing more voices to the table, and for that Rum should be applauded.

Two Stars | Harper | March 5, 2019 | 352 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
Hear our conversation with Etaf Rum on the Short Stacks HERE


Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori

(Photo: amazon.com)

This short little novel about a woman in Japan who lives an unconventional life as a worker at a convenience store is totally delightful. Murata asks her reader to chip away at what it means to be and act human? However she doesn’t take herself too seriously, the book is quirky and fun, while still asking huge questions about humanity. I really enjoyed this book and because it is so short you can read it in a day and reflect on the characters for a long while after.

Three Stars | Grove Press (First English Edition) | June 12, 2018 | 176 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

This was one of my most anticipated books for 2019. After reading Kendi’s National Book Award Winning book, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America I knew whatever he wrote next I would need to read, and How to be an Antiracist does not dissapoint. The books is part memoir and part guide to identifying and combatting racist ideas in ourselves and in our culture. Kendi’s main premise is that there is no such thing as a “not racist” person, instead there are only racists thoughts and actions and antiracist thoughts and actions, and these two things can live simultaneously in any human, even Kendi himself.

The book can be read by anyone. Kendi centers his own experiences, thoughts and actions, and uses his racist thinking as a way to connect to his reader. He basically says if I can be racist so can you and in turn we can all be antiracist if we so chose. Kendi takes his experiences and combbines them with more digestable bits of the history that were the majorty of Stamped from the Beginning. If race insterests you even a little, or you feel like you have work to do to embrace antiracism you should check this book out.

Five Stars | One World | August 20, 2019 | 320 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb

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

In Maybe You Should Talk to Someone , Lori Gottlieb shares insights into therapy, she is both the therapist and the patient. The book focuses on five patients, Gottlieb being one of them, and throw us into these sessions and we get to hear what it is like to be on both sides of the couch.

I loved how Lori was able to extrapolate meaning from her sessions and use her patients for proxies for the reader. Two clients really stood out to me, Julie and John, and I won’t say more about either, but their stories were rivietting and a great reminder that everyone is going through something. One thing that Gottlieb doesn through out that is so smart, is that she leaves each section with a bit of a cliffhanger. It simulates what she herfelf must feel when sessions are out of time, just when she is getting somewhere with her clients. I think the book could have benifited from a little more editing because there were times I felt like I was ahead of Gottlieb, and knew what was coming next.

I enjoyed Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. It was a very well crafted book about therapy and life and how we all tell our own stories, to ourselves and the world. If you love memoir and want something with heart but not lacking sense of humor, this book is for you.

Three Stars | Houghton Mifflin Harcourt | April 2, 2019 | 432 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
Hear Lori Gottlieb on The Stacks HERE


Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear by Kim Brooks

(Photo: amazon.com)

When Kim Brooks left her four year old son in car so she could run into target, she wasn’t expecting for a passerby to call the police. But of course, thats exactly what happened, and it set into motion her years long legal battle, and this book. Small Animals is Brooks’ memoir of what happened to her and her family after her “lapse in judgment” and also a look into the broader landscape of modern parenting.

Brooks does a great job researching and presenting not only the state of modern (upper/middle class) parenting, but she also helps her reader understand how we got here. She explains how the need to constantly monitor kids is hurting their autonomy and ability to grow up. She also talks about the amount of anxiety that parents feel now that is exacerbated by social media and mom blogs, and how all that judgement fuels the parent industrial complex. While Brooks does attempt to acknowledge her own White privilege, she doesn’t go far enough in talking about the inequities between White mothers and those Black and Brown mothers who are incarcerated and separated from their children for far less. There is much more to explore at the intersection of race, sex, class, and motherhood.

Despite the omissions, this book is very solid. I enjoyed reading it and I think it makes a great read for parents of young children or those considering becoming parents. Brooks asks us all to look at the sexism and judgement we level against motherhood and the role of women in relationship to children.

Four Stars | Macmillan Publishing | August 21, 2018 | 8 Hours 14 Minutes | Audiobook | Listen Through Libro.Fm


The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker

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

If you’ve ever wondered how you could freshen up your gathering, weather it be a dinner party of a baby shower or a conference, this is a great book for you. Priya Parker has dedicated her life to gatherings and making them resonant and powerful. She shares her triumphs, best practices, and mistakes with her reader in this The Art of Gathering.

Parker states the obvious that we so often take for granted, as well as things that don’t often consider when hosting. One example that sticks out is setting the tone for your gathering. Making sure that your guests know where they are going and why, and no, not just an address. She also suggests that hosts shouldn’t be chill, and that who you keep off the guest list is as important as who you put on it. Parker spends equal time on social gatherings and professional gatherings, and while I didn’t have as much use for the professional gathering ideas, I could still appreciate the lessons. This book really makes you think about the role of gatherings and the roles we play in successful (and unsuccessful) gatherings, and that reflection is well worth it.

Three Stars | Penguin Audio | May 15, 2018 | 9 Hours 21 Minutes | Audiobook | Listen Through Libro.Fm


The Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything that Comes After by Julie Yip-Williams

(Photo: amazon.com)

Julie Yip-Williams is very much the miracle of her own story. She was born blind in 1970’s Vietnam, and then flees to Hong Kong before she arrives in America and receives surgery to help restore her vision, she becomes a lawyer, gets married, and has children. This story is incredible and inspiring and would have been enough for a great memoir, and yet, that is just where this book starts. The real story here, is that in her 30’s Yip-Williams is diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer, and from that devastating diagnosis we get the rest of her story.

What makes this book different from other “death memoirs” is that Yip-Williams is relateabble. She is angry, and sad, and jealous, and hopeful, and messy, and all the things that you’d expect from a person confronting death. She is also funny, thankfully. She is a real and well rounded human who takes to her reader in and treats them as a friend and a confidant, not an audience. I enjoyed this book, but never felt fully connected emotionally. I didn’t have the cathartic cry I expected given the subject matter. There were moments where I felt the pangs of emotion, but I never gave in. I never ugly cried. No matter my reaction, this book very much belongs in the canon of books that deal with confronting what exactly it means to be alive.

Three Stars | Random House | February 5, 2019 | 336 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
We discuss The Unwinding of the Miracle in depth on The Stacks Book Club, you can hear that episode 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.

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved is perhaps the most critically acclaimed book written by one of the most prolific and celebrated authors. It is the story of a woman, Sethe, who escaped slavery, only to be haunted by her past life both on and off the plantation. The book is parts historical fiction and part surreal ghost story. The book has been turned into a film, won a Pulitzer Prize, and continues to be assigned in schools across the country. When we talk about the “great American novel” Beloved makes the list.

There is something funny that happens to books when they’re proceeded with superlatives, they become untouchable and intimidating. A fear creeps in, that the reader won’t understand or appreciate the book, and often that can start long before the reader ever starts reading. That was the case for me when I picked up Beloved for the first time as part of The Stacks Book Club. I was so nervous and intimidated by the book and what I might think of it. Would I “get” it? Would I like it? Would I be moved as so many others had been?

The truth is, my answer was mostly, no. I didn’t really “get” it, I didn’t really like it, and while I was moved by specific scenes and passages, I wasn’t over come by this book. And the more I think about that, the more I think thats allowed.

As I read Beloved I appreciated the skill and mastery of Ms. Morrison. I was impressed by her ability to create layer after layer of meaning in her story. Her ability to write nuance is unmatched in my reading, she understanding of how pain manifests itself in people is art in itself. I read Beloved and understood what makes both Ms. Morrison and the book so great, though I personally was never personally overcome. What I’m learning, especially when it comes to great work, is that both things can be true and live together. There are both technical and emotional components to any good piece of art, and you can appreciate one even if the other doesn’t resonate. These things are not mutually exclusive.

Of all the themes in Beloved, the idea of generational trauma, is what spoke to me most. Morrison connects the years of suffering under chattel slavery to the everyday manifestations of trauma on her characters. She creates characters that are complete with confidence and crazy, which is so very human. Your heart aches for the women in this story, their fear, pain, and rage is deserved, and Morrison never lets you forget that. Weather she is recounting events from years ago or writing dialogue, the trauma in this story is never far from view. It haunts the world of the book.

The book moves between points of view and events without much set up, the years skip around, and sometimes its hard to know exactly where you are in the story. This was challenging for me to connect with, though on a second or third reading, I think this complexity would add so much to my enjoyment of the book. Like in a good scary movie or thriller, Morrison is leaving us Easter eggs to pick up on, only when we’re revisit her novel.

There is a lot to unpack and look into when talking about Beloved it is not an easy read, and the subject matter is not comfortable. This book requires a commitment of the reader. The expectation of greatness from her reader is partly what makes her books so good. Toni Morrison demands you bring your full self to her work, and that you take your time, and if you do, you might just be rewarded with a story that will stay with you for life. This book is worth you time. I can’t promise you’ll like it, but if you read it with an open mind, I think there is much to appreciate about this story.

For a more in depth conversation on Beloved, check out The Stacks Book Club episode with DaMaris B. Hill where we discuss the themes, characters, and social implications of this story.

  • Paperack: 275
  • PublisherPlume (October 1 , 1998)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy Beloved 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.

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 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.

Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

The Stacks received Friday Black from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.

In his debut book, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah has crafted an ambitious and exciting short story collection with, Friday Black. The stories meet at the intersection of race, politics, and capitalism. And just like the range of topics and ideas Adjei-Brenyah addresses with these stories, the genre is likewise ranging and evolving as the collection goes on. The stories of Friday Black are genre-bending and contain elements of surrealism, science fiction, satire, and afrofuturism. Nothing about this collection is easy to define, which of course, is part of the magic.

We discussed Friday Black for The Stacks Book Club with Wade Allain-Marcus, and the conversation is as ranging as the book itself, so please go give it a listen. You can also hear author Adjei-Brenyah as a guest on The Short Stacks talk about how the book came into the world. I found that both of these conversations helped me to form my opinions on this book.

The use of race and violence in this book is genius. We are asked to confront what happens to our society if White capitalist patriarchy is our guiding value. If Black life continues to be made expendable, and if we continue to think that our goodness is tied up in the things we own, where does that path take us?. Friday Black forces us to look at one set of answers to these questions. It is bleak and grotesque in all together terrifying.

The stories that landed most with me were “The Finkelstein 5”, “Zimmerland”, and “Friday Black”. Each one was shocking and smart and violent and thought provoking. They engaged with politics and race as well as engaging with genres and imagery. They felt like anchors for me on my journey through Friday Black.

Friday Black is the kind of story collection that keeps you thinking and working to decipher the many hidden gems and references. I can’t tell you that I “got” all the stories. Some things made little sense to me in the moment, and still remain unclear. However some of the stories have come more into focus as I have time away from the book, and have talked to others about their understandings. The stories feel a little ahead of their time and I wonder how I might feel about Friday Black in 10 or 15 years. I hold out hope that the stories I didn’t quite understand (“The Hospital Where”) will become more clear and more resonant with time.

Adjei-Brenyah uses a lot of satire in this book, and that can often be challenging to decipher, especially in the written word. If you miss the subtleties in the stories, you might just miss the whole point. That rings especially true in the story “Lark Street”, where a young man comes face to face with the twin fetuses that his girlfriend has recently terminated through the use of a morning after pill. If you look at this story out of context, it can feel like a pro-life fable about the autonomy of any form of life. However, in conversation with the other stories, we see a cautionary tale that mocks the idea of embryos being anything other than a collection of cells. That is how these stories work together as a true collection. The topics may vary wildly, but the through line is the tone and the controversial nature of the topics. They all play to the same themes but engage with them on many fronts.

While not every story in the book landed for me, the overall ambition and scope of the project is thrilling. Adjei-Brenyah is debut author with a lot to say, and after reading Friday Black I look forward to whatever is next for him. I hope this project will get produced, as I would love to see the world of Friday Black on the screen.

We have so much more on Friday Blackon the podcast, listen to the episodes below.

  • Paperback: 208
  • PublisherMariner Books; First Edition edition (October 23, 2018)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy Friday Black 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 opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Ep. 41 Comedy, Race, Travel and Books with Tawny Newsome

We are joined by Tawny Newsome, a modern day renaissance woman. Tawny is known for her work as an actress, comedian, and podcaster. She is the co-host of the Yo, is this Racist? podcast, and The Super Group podcast. Tawny talks with us about racism through her lens as a comedian, reading all the travel memoirs (even the bad ones), and what Leonardo Dicaprio movie is also one of her most beloved books. Plus all the book lady comedian memoir recommendations you can handle, so get your TBRs ready.

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.

Books

Everything Else

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

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

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

Sponsors

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

My Mentor Book Club – for 50% off your first month of new nonfiction from My Mentor Book Club go to mymentorbookclub.com/thestacks


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 — February 2019 Books

Its time to announce our February books for The Stacks Book Club. We’re talking about two of the most buzzed about books from debut authors in 2018, one memoir and one short story collection.

Our first book in February is All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung. All You Can Ever Know is a memoir that explores the experience of adoption for one Korean woman. Chung shares about growing up Korean in a white family and town, discovering the truth about her adoption, and her journey to find belonging. We will discuss this book on February 13th.

Then on February 27th, we will discuss Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s short story collection, Friday Black. The stories in Friday Black are a commentary on race and the absurd and unjust circumstances that Black men and women find themselves in in the United States.

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

Order your copies of our February books on Amazon:


The Stacks received Friday Black  free from the publisher. For more information on our commitment to honesty and transparency 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.

The Reckonings by Lacy M. Johnson

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.

After reading Lacy M. Johnson’s memoir, The Other Side I couldn’t wait to dive into this essay collection, that was positioned as a sort of response to her kidnapping and rape that was documented in her memoir. The Reckonings is that response, and it is much more than that as well.

More on The Reckonings

In 2014, Lacy Johnson was giving a reading from The Other Sideher memoir of kidnapping and rape, when a woman asked her what she would like to happen to her rapist. This collection, a meditative extension of that answer, draws from philosophy, art, literature, mythology, anthropology, film, and other fields, as well as Johnson’s personal experience, to consider how our ideas about justice might be expanded beyond vengeance and retribution to include acts of compassion, patience, mercy, and grace.

She grapples with justice and retribution, truth and fairness, and sexual assault and workplace harassment, as well as the broadest societal wrongs: the BP Oil Spill, government malfeasance, police killings. The Reckonings is a powerful and necessary work, ambitious in its scope, which strikes at the heart of our national conversation about the justness of society.


The Reckonings is one of the most powerful books I’ve read. A well crafted meditation on justice and the roles that each of us, as humans and citizens, has in the greater picture and good of society. Johnson is a great thinker, who is subtle with her own intellect. She is wise. She is thoughtful. She is accessible. She sees the world in a more compassionate and realistic way than many. However she never forces her depth on her reader, instead she allows to understand her own processing, peppering her discoveries with “I think”. This isn’t done out of self doubt, but as a way to remember Johnson is trying to figure it all out, and figure out her role in it all.

This book is profound. It has something to say, about joy and health, and access, and vindication, and mercy, and grace, and privilege, and art, and the most base human desires. Johnson leans into the complex nature of sacrifice and healing. Honest and vulnerable each essay is willing to engage with the complexities of society, and in doing so, Johnson has to confront herself. Her biases and what they say about her ability to be compassionate or an ally, or whatever it is that comes up. The Reckonings has so much to say, that when I got to the end of the book, I went ahead and read all of the notes, in full, and then went back and re-read the first two essays. I couldn’t get enough of the words and what they had to say.

There are essays in The Reckonings that range from the Nigerian Girls captured by Boko Haram to Hurricane Harvey, from the justness of the death penalty to the cost of the BP oil spill. The essays seem like they wouldn’t belong in a book together, but somehow as you’re reading them, each one feels like it is in its perfect place. They all build on one another until we come to some resolution. I won’t tell you where that is, but know that it was fulfilling and bleak. The only way this book could have ended.

I think there is something to learn from this book for just about everyone. The writing is beautiful and the content matches. Johnson is a professional writer, something that we often times over look, but The Reckonings reminded me why people dedicate their life to the arts, so that they can create artwork that reminds the rest of us what it means to be alive.

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • PublisherScribner (October 9, 2018)
  • 5/5 stars
  • Buy onThe Reckonings 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.