How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt

B2D1793F-316A-4CBD-BCD7-10949229785BAs we approach the midterm elections in the United States, I have been increasingly anxious about the state of the nation and what our future holds. Reading How Democracies Die for The Stacks Book Club was a helpful way for me to process what my anxiety is rooted in. I talk about the book on the podcast with Harris Cohn, and you can hear the full conversation here. No need to worry, there are no spoilers on the episode.

Here is a little more about How Democracies Die

Donald Trump’s presidency has raised a question that many of us never thought we’d be asking: Is our democracy in danger? Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt have spent more than twenty years studying the breakdown of democracies in Europe and Latin America, and they believe the answer is yes. Democracy no longer ends with a bang—in a revolution or military coup—but with a whimper: the slow, steady weakening of critical institutions, such as the judiciary and the press, and the gradual erosion of long-standing political norms. The good news is that there are several exit ramps on the road to authoritarianism. The bad news is that, by electing Trump, we have already passed the first one. 

Drawing on decades of research and a wide range of historical and global examples, from 1930s Europe to contemporary Hungary, Turkey, and Venezuela, to the American South during Jim Crow, Levitsky and Ziblatt show how democracies die—and how ours can be saved.

I really enjoyed this book. I felt like I was learning so much as I read it. It breaks down differences between autocracies and democracies, it explains how democracies sustain themselves, and what institutions and norms preserve our democracy. The book is crash course in what makes our country run smoothly, and how those things can be eroded. I honestly couldn’t believe how little I know and how little I understand about the equilibrium of governments, both here in the US and abroad.

As the book dives deeper into the issues we’re facing in The United States Levitsky and Ziblatt do not shy away from institutional racism that has allowed America to stay a democracy. They call out the Southern Democrats disenfranchisement and remind us that Northerns were willing to look away while these suppression tactics were enacted. Better to preserve White rule, they thought, than to disturb the comfort Southern Democrats had due to the laws built to exclude Black Americans from participating in the democracy. Often times in books like this, the author won’t call out racism, instead they dance around the issue and find other euphemisms to explain what is going on. Not here. Ziblatt and Levitsky are upfront with the role that racism played and is still playing in our democracy.

This book doesn’t place blame completely on Donald Trump or any one person, but rather shows how certain actions (think the heist of Merrick Garland’s seat on The Supreme Court) have lead us in the direction where our country’s foundation is at risk. There is fair blame placed on both parties, but the authors seem to think the Republicans have been particularly cavalier and destructive with their power.

How Democracies Die ends by presenting a few options that The United States has to prevent a slip into an autocracy. They suggest solutions for both the Republicans and Democrats. They also caution that most countries that have fallen to a dictator had to hit rock bottom, before they could move toward democracy. It remains unclear if America, and her politicians, have the humility to compromise and move forward for the better of the country. I certainly hope so. Either way, I think you should check out this book. It is smart and if nothing else you will learn something. I would even say you will learn many things. It is worth your time.

Don’t forget to listen the The Stacks with Harris Cohn discussing How Democracies Die.

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Crown (January 16, 2018)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy on How Democracies Die 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.

 

Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittney Cooper

ADA6ECB3-A56D-4D66-BBDE-E73C105136E8I requested this audiobook from my library months ago, I forgot about it. Then I got an email saying it was on my phone, and I’m so happy that I did.

A little more about Eloquent Rage

So what if it’s true that Black women are mad as hell? They have the right to be. In the Black feminist tradition of Audre Lorde, Brittney Cooper reminds us that anger is a powerful source of energy that can give us the strength to keep on fighting.

Far too often, Black women’s anger has been caricatured into an ugly and destructive force that threatens the civility and social fabric of American democracy. But Cooper shows us that there is more to the story than that. Black women’s eloquent rage is what makes Serena Williams such a powerful tennis player. It’s what makes Beyoncé’s girl power anthems resonate so hard. It’s what makes Michelle Obama an icon.

In Brittney Cooper’s world, neither mean girls nor fuckboys ever win. But homegirls emerge as heroes. This book argues that ultimately feminism, friendship, and faith in one’s own superpowers are all we really need to turn things right side up again.


Brittney Cooper has made the case that she is the smartest (and most articulate) person in the room, especially when it comes to Black Feminism. Eloquent Rage is a force of passion, intelligence, history, and of corse, rage, and it totally works. Cooper’s points are razor sharp, and she walks us through her thinking time and time again.

Eloquent Rage is committed to Black Girl Feminism. It centers women of color. Dr. Cooper comes back to Black women over and over again in this book, even when she leaves them to discuss Hilary Clinton or Black fathers. When she strays to follow a line of thinking, she always comes back to the intersectional point of Black women. She is never distracted or dissuaded.

I am struck by how smart Cooper is. Not because she holds her intelligence over the reader, but because she is able to distill complex ideas down to a place where any reader can hear her and understand her. That is not easy, and Cooper does it with, what feels like, ease. She takes feminist theory and transcribes it over Michelle Obama’s ponytail, or Beyonce’s song “Formation”. She dissects the bible’s thoughts on sex along side her own grandmother’s thoughts on sex. Only someone with a strong hold on the theories behind Black feminism and the depth of mind to grapple with these theories could create such a complex, and yet still simple book. She hits the pains and pleasures of being a Black woman on the head. It was wonderful to see my life and struggles reflected in Cooper’s writing.

There were moments in this book where Cooper lost me. Not because I couldn’t understand what she was saying, but more because I couldn’t always follow how she got there. And to be fair, I listened to this book as an audiobook, so some of the lack of comprehension could be blamed on focus and not flow. Dr. Cooper narrates the book, and she does a wonderful job. Its not too familiar and not too academic. Again, she strikes the perfect balance.

I can not suggest this book more to anyone interested in intersectional feminism. I can not suggest this book more to anyone interested in feminism, period. You’ll walk away feeling like you have a new and deep understanding of what life for Black women is like, even if you already are a Black woman.

  • Audiobook: 6 hours and 57 minutes
  • Publisher: Macmillan Audio (February 19, 2018)
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (February 20, 2018)
  • 5/5 stars
  • Buy on Eloquent Rage 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.

21 Reasons Why I Read Authors of Color

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This post was inspired by Diana from the Words Between Worlds Book Club, she asked me to write a guest post about why I read books by authors of color.

I am a reader.

I read for a lot of reasons, mostly to learn about people and places. I read to learn about things I’ve never heard of, and to read about things I’m obsessed with. I read a lot of nonfiction. I love nonfiction. I like the idea of truth and reality, and I know I’ll never fully get either.

Here is a list of some of the reasons why I read books by authors of color. Not that I, or anyone, need a reason. I want to note that while I do read the work of people of color to challenge the narratives that are presented by White authors, I also read authors of color without any relationship to White people. For me, these books exist in their own right and I read them for that reason alone. Reading authors of color is not always a conscious act of resistance. The list below has my reasons and then books that match those reasons. There are many books I love missing from this list, mostly because there are too many books by people of color that are absolutely amazing, and also because many of the books I love are out on loan and I needed a good stack for this picture. I’m just keeping it real.

And before I get too carried away, let me just say, I have a lot of work to do in diversifying my own reading. As a Black woman I skew toward Black authors. I am working on reading more authors who don’t look like me. I could always do a little better. So know that I am a work in progress.

Ok here goes….

WHY I READ BOOKS BY AUTHORS OF COLOR

  1. Because people of color exist. Their stories exists, their experiences exist, and I choose to bear witness.
  2. I like to learn about people who are different than me. I have only lived one life, and I want to know about how other people have lived theirs.
  3. As a reminder that while we are different from each other, we are also more similar than we know.
  4. I want to learn about systemic racism so I can fight against it. People of color do a better job documenting and calling out the work of White supremacy. Often times bringing to the forefront theory I didn’t know, and explaining racism in a new way.
  5. To get intersectional. To learn about life from the cross section of race and any given issue, from gender studies to the environment. Intersectionality is important and is best understood by those who reside in the intersection.
  6. I love learning about history from a lens that is other than White and male.
  7. To learn about a topic that the White community is unwilling to look at, weather it be because White people are implicated, or White autors do not care to explore.
  8. Because representation matters, and so many people have been erased, books give them back their voices.
  9. To hear a good story.
  10. To laugh.
  11. To cry.
  12. To get really angry.
  13. To read an award winning book
  14. Because you don’t have to be White to write a great American novel.
  15. I read books my friends recommend to me. My friends read authors of color. My friends are cool and super smart.
  16. As a Black person, I want to learn about where I came from.
  17. As a Black person, I want to learn about the leaders who have fought for my rights.
  18. As a Black person, I want to learn about people who look like me. To see their struggles and their successes. To remind myself that I can never “turn off” or “take a break” from my Blackness, no matter what.
  19. To read books that teach me how to advocate for people who can not always advocate for themselves.
  20. To learn about a place I’ve never been, a place I hope to go to, a place I’ve always loved. To see the world.
  21. I know that my money speaks for me, and that in buying books by authors of color I am saying that these stories have value and worth. I am saying I support these stories and I support these authors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is just twenty-one reasons why. I could go on and on. Mostly, and this is the really important one, I read books by authors of color because I can, and because they are really fucking good.


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.

One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy by Carol Anderson

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

This is the kind of book that is also on my radar, political, racial, and nonfiction, yes please. To move it to the top of my my read list, all I needed to see was that it was long-listed for the National Book Award. So I picked it up, and read it in about two sittings.

Here is more on this book

With One Person, No Vote, she chronicles a related history: the rollbacks to African American participation in the vote since the 2013 Supreme Court decision that eviscerated the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Known as the Shelby ruling, this decision effectively allowed districts with a demonstrated history of racial discrimination to change voting requirements without approval from the Department of Justice.

Focusing on the aftermath of Shelby, Anderson follows the astonishing story of government-dictated racial discrimination unfolding before our very eyes as more and more states adopt voter suppression laws. In gripping, enlightening detail she explains how voter suppression works, from photo ID requirements to gerrymandering to poll closures. And with vivid characters, she explores the resistance: the organizing, activism, and court battles to restore the basic right to vote to all Americans as the nation gears up for the 2018 midterm elections.


If you’re not familiar with voter suppression and the ways that it has been enacted in the past and continues to be used today, this book will feel like a whole new world opening up in front of you. If you have read about disenfranchisement of Black and Brown voters, along with those of the poor, young, and elderly, this book will sum up most of what you already know. Either way, this book provides a detailed account of these tactics, and clearly lays out facts versus fiction around voter fraud. It is smart and specific, if not a little dry.

The most powerful thing this book does is erase the narrative that many people of color, poor people, elderly people, etc. do not vote because they do not care. Anderson lays out the obstacles that have been placed in these voters’ way. She describes what people face just to get registered, and what more lays in their way of getting to the polls. She explains that many of these new barriers to voting have sprung up since 2013 and using the voter turnout from Obama’s elections (2008 and 2012) vs 2016 are disingenuous and place unfair blame on Black people’s “apathy” and not the systemic suppression of the Black vote. Dispelling this myth was powerful, and needed, especially as we approach the 2018 midterm election.

In One Person, No Vote, Anderson is relentless in hammering home just how many voter laws have been passed that are racist, but more than that, extremely deliberate. The voter ID laws, redistricting, and reduced early voting, voter roll purging, and more are all targeting specific racial and demographic groups with surgical precision. Anderson does not allow us to forget that for one second. She does not feel the need to give credence to fabricated claims of voter fraud, instead she choses to debunk these theories, and call them outright lies.

Toward the end of the book, Anderson takes us through the election of Doug Jones in Alabama, and the work that was done by Black organizers and political organizations to re-enfranchise voters who had been taken off voter rolls, who had been told they couldn’t vote, and who didn’t have rides to the polls. She explains to us the ins and outs of their playbook that took voter disenfranchisement head on. It is powerful and gives hope, but not hope without a lot of hard work and good organizing.

There is a lot of information in this book, and while the book itself is short, it is written a very straight forward non-fiction style. I appreciated her directness and ability to draw straight lines between actions and fallout. White supremacy functions within the confines of American law, and it functions in the shadows. Anderson shines bright lights on the White supremacist agenda of stealing votes. I suggest you read this book.

  • Hardcover: 228 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing; First Edition edition (September 11, 2018)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy One Person, No Vote on Amazon

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

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

Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America by James Forman Jr.

E4FA3654-5315-4685-8748-2A65FF1D6F41Every year I try to read at least one or two Pulitzer Prize winners, while I generally don’t enjoy the fiction books for a myriad of reasons, I have found some of my favorite nonfiction books have won or been short listed for the Pulitzer (Blood in the Water by Heather Ann Thompson, sticks out a recent favorite). It was a no brainer to pick up Locking Up Our Own, it won the Pulitzer in 2018 for general nonfiction, and had a subject matter that excited me.

Here is a little more about this book

Former public defender James Forman, Jr. is a leading critic of mass incarceration and its disproportionate impact on people of color. In Locking Up Our Own, he seeks to understand the war on crime that began in the 1970s and why it was supported by many African American leaders in the nation’s urban centers.

Forman shows us that the first substantial cohort of black mayors, judges, and police chiefs took office amid a surge in crime and drug addiction. Many prominent black officials, including Washington, D.C. mayor Marion Barry and federal prosecutor Eric Holder, feared that the gains of the civil rights movement were being undermined by lawlessness―and thus embraced tough-on-crime measures, including longer sentences and aggressive police tactics. In the face of skyrocketing murder rates and the proliferation of open-air drug markets, they believed they had no choice. But the policies they adopted would have devastating consequences for residents of poor black neighborhoods.


This is a smart and thoughtful book. It highlights the role Black politicians, officials, and community members have had on mass incarceration. I appreciated Forman’s in depth look at this small and specific group of people. There are many nuances and subtleties in the giant machine that is the prison industrial complex, and this book zeros in on one of those nooks, especially from the vantage point of a defense lawyer.

The book mostly focuses on Washington DC (a majority Black city), and places a lot of blame on Black leaders, which Forman explains in detail. However, found myself questioning how different these laws were in other cities with large Black populations and White elected officials. A lot of the blame is laid at the feet of the African Americans who run DC, but it isn’t clear if this is unique to DC. If these trends were seen nationwide, including cities with few Black leaders, the case made against the Black leaders in DC is significantly diminished. I didn’t feel that I understood if the movement toward stricter laws was truly being led by Black folks, or if it was more a national trend in cities with large Black populations. Said another way, sure, Eric Holder enacted harsh search and seizure initiatives in DC, but was this any different than stop and frisk in Giuliani’s New York? This makes a huge difference in the argument, and these questions were left unanswered.

The writing style of Locking Up Our Own was mostly straight forward, nothing particularly fancy or noteworthy. Forman does include the cases of his past clients to connect the laws in theory to the lives they affected in practice. This didn’t feel like a priority for the book, but rather an after thought, and therefore these stories fell flat. They functioned more like interludes than anything else.

I enjoyed learning about the role that Black people have played in the mass incarceration crisis, even if it wasn’t clear if they were following trends versus creating a road map for The United States. I appreciated a much more subtle look at something that has become a topic that engenders a lot of debate.

If you find nonfiction to be a little dry, this isn’t the nonfiction book for you, I might suggest Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, because it has a much more human element (thought it is more focused on death penalty law). I would suggest you read this book if you’re like nonfiction, even when it is not story based, and are well versed in mass incarceration. It is a great compliment to The New Jim Crow  by Michelle Alexander.

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • PublisherFarrar, Straus and Giroux; Reprint edition (February 6, 2018)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy Locking Up Our Own on Amazon

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

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

The Stacks Books Club – November Books

D379018B-E470-4A23-8C9E-742736251730I am thrilled to announce the two books we will be reading in November as part of The Stacks Book Club. Both books are written by women, and tell the stories of women. While their subjects are wildly different, the books both discuss family, abuse, and identity.

The first book we’re reading in November is To The Bridge by Nancy Rommelmann. To The Bridge tells the true story of Amanda Stott-Smith, a mother who dropped her two young children off a bridge in Portland, OR. Through investigative journalism, the book tries to answer the questions of why and how something like this could happen. We will read and discuss To The Bridge  on November 7th.

Then on November 21st, we will discuss an American classic, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. In Morrison’s first novel, we examine our obsessions with beauty and conformity through the eyes of a young Black girl, Pecola Breedlove. The Bluest Eye asks powerful questions about race, gender, and class, and is a testament to Morrison’s artful skill as one of America’s greatest writers.

As with all our TSBC books, we want to hear from you. If you’re reading along, send over your thoughts or questions so we can have the conversations you want to hear. 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 November books on Amazon:

If you want to have input on future books we discuss on this show, become a member of The Stacks Pack by clicking here.


The Stacks received To The Bridge 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.

All Day: A Year of Love and Survival Teaching Incarcerated Kids at Rikers Island by Liza Jessie Peterson

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I picked this book up as part of a buddy read on #bookstagram. A buddy read is basically a one off book club, you all read the book and then discuss it (through video chat). All Day was the third book I’ve read with this group, and was our first miss, but it led to some great conversations. Before I dive in here is a little more about All Day.

 

Told with equal parts raw honesty and unbridled compassion, ALL DAY recounts a year in Liza Jessie Peterson’s classroom at Island Academy, the high school for inmates detained at New York City’s Rikers Island. A poet and actress who had done occasional workshops at the correctional facility, Peterson was ill-prepared for a full-time stint teaching in the GED program for the incarcerated youths. For the first time faced with full days teaching the rambunctious, hyper, and fragile adolescent inmates, “Ms. P” comes to understand the essence of her predominantly Black and Latino students as she attempts not only to educate them, but to instill them with a sense of self-worth long stripped from their lives.

All Day was a total miss. A book about incarcerated juveniles at Rikers Island and their teacher sounds like it would be a gripping and compelling narrative, Peterson, however, does not deliver. The book is mostly focused on Peterson and her thoughts and struggles, though she never gets vulnerable enough for us to fully see her. She puts up the front of a tough woman, but we never get to see her softer side. She barely shares with us information about her students and their lives and how they got to Rikers (however the few moments she does are great). Peterson mistakes the readers interest in what it is like to be a teacher at a jail, for what its like to be her. I did not care about her as the star of this story, I wanted to know about the boys, their lives, their struggles, and the battles they fight daily to survive. I felt most connected to the book when the boys were centered.

The writing is not great. The style is very casual, using a lot of slang. Peterson is making a point to her reader, that she is in fact a Black woman. Something that no one questions. She has insecurities around her own control and status, and they come across through out the book, both expressly and through inference. The book goes on too long and Peterson loses focus, drifting from subject to subject without any real points to be made. She retells the same stories over and over and tries to turn this book into a sort of comedy, relaying jokes and quippy interchanges between her and her students. Most of this is not funny, and makes little sense in the context of the book.

Peterson herself traffics in prejudices throughout the book. While she doesn’t say it expressly, the way she talks about the boys who come from single parent homes, how she dismisses their learning disabilities, and the words she uses to describe them are problematic and damaging. There is very little empathy toward them and their situation. She perpetuates stereotypes about Black and Latino youths, and even allows her own intuitions to be bases for condemnation. All Day was published by a very conservative publisher (Center Street), and this anti-Black lean allowed the publisher to get credit for a Black narrative by a Black female author, and still push forward damaging ideas about Black and Brown youth to their audiences.

I would not recommend you read this book. There is much better content (books, films, and TV) that captures the experiences of life as an incarcerated youth, and that of the people who work with them. All Day is self serving and has a conservative lean that is troubling and damaging.

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Center Street (April 18, 2017)
  • 1/5 stars
  • Buy All Day on Amazon

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

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

Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America by Beth Macy

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

When I heard about Dopesick by Beth Macy, I was so excited. This is the kind of book I just love, investigative journalism meets profiles of drug abusers meets cover up by big business, meets politics meets the healthcare system meets current events. This book has all the things I love reading about. If you’re not familiar with this book here is a quick blurb:

Beth Macy takes us into the epicenter of America’s twenty-plus year struggle with opioid addiction. From distressed small communities in Central Appalachia to wealthy suburbs; from disparate cities to once-idyllic farm towns; it’s a heartbreaking trajectory that illustrates how this national crisis has persisted for so long and become so firmly entrenched.

Beginning with a single dealer who lands in a small Virginia town and sets about turning high school football stars into heroin overdose statistics, Macy endeavors to answer a grieving mother’s question-why her only son died-and comes away with a harrowing story of greed and need. From the introduction of OxyContin in 1996, Macy parses how America embraced a medical culture where over treatment with painkillers became the norm. In some of the same distressed communities featured in her bestselling book Factory Man, the unemployed use painkillers both to numb the pain of joblessness and pay their bills, while privileged teens trade pills in cul-de-sacs, and even high school standouts fall prey to prostitution, jail, and death.

This book is telling the story of the heroin/opiate addiction that runs rampant in this country, and in this book specifically in Virginia. It is a compassionate look at the individual lives touched by these drugs and a also a searing indictment on the big pharma companies and government agencies that allowed it to get out of control. I think this book is important in the stories it tells, and only wish that other drug addicts and families got the same compassion and understanding the the victims of the opioid epidemic invariably seem to get.

Macy’s writing style is verbose to say the least, there are sentences that are filled with so many commas and dashes that I found myself having to reread them to figure out what she was talking about. As far as investigative journalism goes, this style is not what you tend to see. Macy inserts herself in the book, which is a trend I’ve noticed in two other works of investigative journalism published this year (Bad Blood by John Carreyrou and To The Bridge by Nancy Rommelmann). I don’t feel that Macy needed to be an outright voice in this book, nor do I understand her choice to be one. It didn’t take away from Dopesick, nor did it add anything.

I learned a lot about OxyContin, heroin, methadone, fentanyl, a slew of other opiate drugs and the effects they have on a human body while reading Dopesick. I found myself constantly looking up from the book and asking my husband (who is a doctor) if he knew this or that, if he’d ever prescribed OxyContin, if he’d dealt with babies born addicted to opiates. The book excited my love of learning. Like most addictions, the stigma around heroin/opiate use prevents a lot of information from getting out to the world, and Macy’s work exposes the dark secrets we don’t hear about. Like the mother who takes the doors of the hinges to prevent her son from doing drugs in the house. All the things that people who aren’t connected to this kind of addiction would never see.

Macy is thorough in her research and reporting on this drug crisis. Her politics and perspectives are very much present in the book, and she even shares some of her opinions point blank (around drug treatment policy, the current President and his administration). I wish she would have pushed back on some of the racism and racial double standards we find through out the book and on the topic of drug use in America, in general. There was certainly more room for questioning and dissecting the politics around a book like this. Why is the main drug dealer in this story Black? Why is he described as a predator?

As I read the book, I kept asking myself, if we know that drug addiction alters brains, and changes humans, how come we’re only willing to extend the benefit of understanding to White kids and their families? Where are the compassionate profiles that examine addiction in theBlack and Brown communities? The book isn’t to blame for this, but it does highlight the second chances that White heroin addicts are given by law enforcement, the courts, doctors, and the community at large. That is what frustrates me most about the opioid epidemic and the way it has been prioritized in American political and popular culture.

Overall I suggest this book, if you’re OK with some of the more graphic and emotional details that come with drug addiction and overdoses. The book is a pretty heavy read, and the subject is upsetting. There is a lot to learn from reading this book. Trigger warning for those who are dealing with opiate addiction in their own life in any capacity.

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1st Edition edition (August 7, 2018)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy Dopesick on Amazon

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

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

Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights by Kenji Yoshino

A0C03263-3AE9-4F0F-8046-13CEA93858A3I am lucky to have really smart and interesting friends, and they often share smart and interesting books with me. Thats how Covering found its way into my life. Here is a little more about this book:

Everyone covers. To cover is to downplay a disfavored trait so as to blend into the mainstream. Because all of us possess stigmatized attributes, we all encounter pressure to cover in our daily lives. Racial minorities are pressed to “act white” by changing their names, languages, or cultural practices. Women are told to “play like men” at work. Gays are asked not to engage in public displays of same-sex affection. The devout are instructed to minimize expressions of faith, and individuals with disabilities are urged to conceal the paraphernalia that permit them to function. Given its pervasiveness, we may experience this pressure to be a simple fact of social life.

Against conventional understanding, Kenji Yoshino argues that the work of American civil rights law will not be complete until it attends to the harms of coerced conformity. Though we have come to some consensus against penalizing people for differences based on race, sex, sexual orientation, religion, and disability, we still routinely deny equal treatment to people who refuse to downplay differences along these lines. 

At the same time, Yoshino is responsive to the American exasperation with identity politics, which often seems like an endless parade of groups asking for state and social solicitude. He observes that the ubiquity of covering provides an opportunity to lift civil rights into a higher, more universal register. Since we all experience the covering demand, we can all make common cause around a new civil rights paradigm based on our desire for authenticity—a desire that brings us together rather than driving us apart.

There are books that come into your life and change the way you understand your own identity and place in society. For me, this is one of those books. I have always been familiar with the concepts of passing, code switching, and assimilation, but had never heard of covering until starting this book. Yoshino does a masterful job of articulating the subtleties and nuances of covering. He clearly explains and gives examples to illustrate what it is, how it functions, and why it can be harmful (and at times helpful).

Something that makes this book unique is that Yoshino mixes his own personal stories of covering, both with his identtity as a homosexual and a Japanese American, with case law from his life as a law professor at Yale. We see covering as both something specific to the author and a much bigger part of the national conversation. While this book is focused on American law and experiences, it is easy to see that covering can be universal. While I generally dislike when an author of nonfiction tries to incorporate memoir, I think for the purposes of this book, it really works. The writing is so smart and nuanced, the parallels to his private life and the world of the courts seem well matched.

It is refreshing to watch as someone work through complicated issues of sexuality, race, gender, ableness etc., with a sense of compassion and a rigorous commitment to critical thinking. One particularly wonderful moment comes up during his discussion on the demands of covering as it pertains to women. Yoshino checks his own privilege and lens of maleness, pulling back to note how he may miss covering demands that women face. This self-awareness gave me as a reader an even deeper confidence in his point of view.

The book does lose some of it’s clarity toward the end as Yoshino looks toward the future of civil rights. He gets caught up a little in that vision, and I could have done without a lot of the ending. I understand why he speculated, but I’m not sure it was needed. This book was published in 2006, and so with 12 years of knowledge that Yoshino didn’t have at the time about the United States, some of his predictions felt wildly and naively optimistic (but I again have the luxury of hindsight).

Covering  is not a definitive text on assimilation or discrimination, it is more of a starter kit for anyone interested in understanding the more subtle world of marginalized people and the behaviors they exhibit to get by. While there are times that Yoshino seems to be flexing his massive vocabulary muscle, for the most part this is a straightforward and accessible read. There is a lot to learn from this book. I would suggest it to folks who are interested in human behavior as it pertains to discrimination and civil rights. This is great option, for teenagers going off to college or starting work after high school.

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (January 17, 2006)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy Covering on Amazon

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

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

The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner

IMG_7843On this week of The Stacks podcast, we discussed The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner. Our guest for this episode The Stacks Book Club was Becca Tobin, actress best known for her work on Glee, and co-host of Lady Gang podcast. You can listen to our full conversation about The Mars Room right here.

If you’ve not yet heard of the The Mars Room here is a little more information for you.

It’s 2003 and Romy Hall is at the start of two consecutive life sentences at Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility, deep in California’s Central Valley. Outside is the world from which she has been severed: the San Francisco of her youth and her young son, Jackson. Inside is a new reality: thousands of women hustling for the bare essentials needed to survive; the bluffing and pageantry and casual acts of violence by guards and prisoners alike; and the deadpan absurdities of institutional living, which Kushner evokes with great humor and precision.

This book is a bleak examination of lives in proximity to incarceration. While the book mostly centers on Romy and her experiences, we do have other narrators, and other characters who steal our focus for moments throughout the book. The Mars Room feels like a much darker and less “entertaining” look at the prison system than what you might be familiar with from a show like Orange is the New Black (Netflix). One of the things I appreciated most with this book was how dark Kushner was willing to go. She romanticizes nothing. It is all bleak and full of despair. I find that choice to be a strong and refreshing choice.

Throughout the book we meet a lot of flawed and interesting and dynamic characters. People who have been dealt shitty hands and lived hard lives and yet have perspective and depth and hope, and sometimes, though not enough, humor. Through these people Kushner asks us to question our own relationship to the incarcerated, our own thoughts on gender identity, racism, and sexual assault, the power of institutions and more. There are moments in this book where Kushner gets caught up in showing us her point of view, that the book does become a little preachy. Kushner uses characters as devices to make larger points, which leads to some characters being full and dynamic and some feeling like they are just there to prove a point (Romy’s son Jackson comes to mind here).

A major problem with this book has to do with Kushner’s choice of featured characters. While she does include Latina and Black characters in secondary roles, none of the featured narrators are people of color, despite there being ample space to allow for their perspectives. In a book about incarceration, our central character is a pretty white woman. This type of whitewashing of a predominately Black and brown space is irritating at best, and something more cynical at worst.

When faced with the choice to leave the reader with hope or not, Kushner mostly choses not. I respect that. I think we are constantly looking for a silver lining, and sometimes when we strip that false hope away we see a picture of reality that can also be comforting. This book addresses this head on. If the reality of hopelessness that so many people live with scares you, or turns you off, this book isn’t for you, and thats OK. Aside from major issues of representation, I enjoyed this book and suggest it to those who are not faint of heart.

Don’t forget to listen the The Stacks with Becca Tobin discussing The Mars Room.

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; First Edition Limited Issue edition (May 1, 2018)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy The Mars Room on Amazon

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

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