November Reading Wrap-Up 2019

I am over here reeling, because the end of November means we’re almost at the end of the year, where has the time gone? I read seven books this month, and they were, for the most part, pretty good books. Nothing out of this world, but nothing terrible. My standout was my re-read of Tell Me How it Ends by Valeria Luiselli, if you haven’t read this one you should, you really should. Below you can see mini-reviews of everything I read in November.

November by the Numbers

Total Books Read: 7
Audiobooks: 0
Five Star Reads: 1
Unread Shelf: 0
Books Acquired: 15

By Women Authors: 6
By Authors of Color: 3
By Queer Authors: 0
Nonfiction Reads: 5
Published in 2019: 3

Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool by Emily Oster

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

A data driven look at the questions of parenting. Emily Oster uses studies to help parents answer questions about breastfedding, day care, screen time, and more. It is a rational way to think about decision making, especially the kind that can feel very emotional.

I really enjoyed reading this book. The first half was particularly interesting as the topics tackled and the data provided really showed clear benefits and risks with certain parenting behavior (co-sleeping, breastfeeding etc). I loved how Oster reminds her reader that they need to look at what works best for their life, and I found that to be applicable even for things outside of parenting. If you are a parent of small children (or expecting), this book might be really helpful to remind you that you’re in control and your happiness matters.

Three Stars | Penguin Press | April 23, 2019 | 352 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Girl Boner: The Good Girl’s Guide to Sexual Empowerment by August McLaughlin

(Photo: amazon.com)

Girl Boner is a podcast, a book, a general vibe, and a guide to sexual empowerment. McLaughlin uses the pages of this book to talk about all kinds of sex and how people who identify as women can embrace their sexuality without shame or fear.

I found this book to be inclusive in the best possible ways. I loved reading stories of sex workers along side the stories of women unhappy in their marriages next to advice on sex positions. McLaughlin makes a point of embracing the many forms of gender and sexual expression including trauma and mental health. She teaches her readers a lot along the way, though the book feels long winded in some sections. Girl Boner is sex positivity at its most accessible and basic, and that kind of writing around sex is rare, even in 2019. This one is refreshing and worth your time (and all you male identifying folks, there is something in here for you too).

Three Stars | Amberjack Publishing | August 7, 2018 | 368 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

Much Ado About Nothing is a romantic comedy with a darker side, as most of Shakespeare’s comedies tend to be. It is a fun play if you want it to be, but it can also be troubling. I enjoyed reading this one, though I thought the plot was a little sparse overall.

The idea of female reputation and purity is a huge theme throughout and feels relevant today. The way the women are discussed and shamed throughout the book felt like any given day on twitter. I was also shocked how little the main love interests, Beatrice and Benedick, actually interact with one another. All in all this was a fun little read though I imagine it will also be easily forgotten.

Three Stars | Pelican Shakespeare | September 1, 1999 | 98 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions by Valeria Luiselli

(Photo: amazon.com)

A powerful and emotional look at unaccompanied children coming to America. The book is short and so well crafted you leave it feeling full, if not sliightly devasted for hte plight of these children.

Luiselli is brilliant in how she tells this story, weaving together the children’s experiences with her own as their interpreter. She also layers the policy and politics in The United States that have landed us in this crisis. I can not recommend this book more highly, now more than ever.

Five Stars | Coffee House Press | April 4, 2017 | 128 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound
We discuss Tell Me How It Ends on The Stacks Book Club, you can hear that conversation by clicking HERE.


The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

(Photo: amazon.com)

My first experience in romance, aside from Fifty Shades of Grey, and I didn’t hate it. I actually rather enjoyed reading a book that felt like an escape from all the news and terrible things that happen in the world. That is not to say this book didn’t have some pretty toxic masculinity and a glaring lack of diversity. It just didn’t feel like watching an impeachment hearing, so it was a welcome relief.

The book is fun even though the plot is very thin and the characters are tropes. The sex is not gratuitous, its also not that frequent. I enjoyed the book and would consider reading more romance, because the experience of fully checking out while reading was enjoyable, even if the content was just okay.

Three Stars | William Morrow Paperbacks | August 6, 2016 | 384 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


The Wrong End of the Table: A Mostly Comic Memoir of a Muslim Arab American Woman Just Trying to Fit in by Ayser Salman

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

A comedic memoir about migrating from Iraq as a child and growing up different in America. Salman explores her childhood culture clashes, finding feminism, and eventually her struggles as an adult with love and life. It’s a book about where you fit in.

This is a fun one. The tone is very sarcastic and casual, and the pages are adorned with an abundance of footnotes chiming in with jokes and asides. Though there was some serious stuff in the book as well. Overall, I would’ve liked more reflection on her growth, as the book reads as a bunch of antidotal stories versus a clear narrative of who Salman is now. It felt at times as if she was holding back or worried about saying too much, or disrupting the conventionally accepted idea of a model immigrant.

Two Stars | Skyhorse Publishing | March 5, 2019 | 288 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound
Hear our conversation with Ayser Salman on The Stacks HERE.


Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino

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

A collection of essays about what its like to be alive, and young, and female, in America in 2019. This book is super specific and in that it feels extremely relevant to this exact moment in time. It is a time capsule of what it feels like to be a millennial.

Tolentino is a great writer, though some of the essays feel can read as slightly over worked and tedious, and her arguments have dexterity. She opens up conversations on difficult women, marriage, optimization, and scammers in a way only a person of this moment could. She understand the levels and layers to these nuanced topics and works her way through, bringing us along with her. I didn’t love all the essays (the first few felt particularly slow to me), but by the end I was all in on Tolentio and Trick Mirror.

Four Stars | Random House | August 6, 2019 | 320 Pages | Hardcover | 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.

The Stacks Book Club — January 2020

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

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

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

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

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

Order your copies of our January books on Amazon or IndieBound:


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

The Stacks received a copy of Cribsheet and Trick Mirror from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.

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

Ep. 78 Educated by Tara Westover — The Stacks Book Club (Sarah Enni)

We are talking about Educated by Tara Westover on The Stacks Book Club today. Author and podcast host Sarah Enni helps us break down why this story became a mega-bestseller and why its the book that everyone is still talking about. We also debate the role of fact versus memory in memoir, and what this book means in the current political climate.
There are spoilers on this episode.

LISTEN NOW

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Everything we talk about on today’s episode can be found below in the show notes. If you’d like to support your local indie, you can shop through IndieBound.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 67E32D92-0D04-4D1F-8750-0D72F0BC1A30.jpg

Connect with Sarah:Website | Instagram | Twitter | First Draft Website | First Draft Instagram | First Draft Twitter

Connect with The Stacks: Instagram | Twitter | Facebook |Apple Podcasts |The Stacks on PodcastOne | Goodreads | Patreon

Support The Stacks

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.

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

August 2019 Reading Wrap-Up

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

August by the Numbers

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

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


Educated by Tara Westover

(Photo: amazon.com)

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

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

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


Henry IV Part 1 by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

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

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


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

(Photo: amazon.com)

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

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

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


Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

(Photo: amazon.com)

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

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

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

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


The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

(Photo: amazon.com)

Historical fiction at its best. The Nickel Boys is inspired by a real life nightmare of a reform school, and follows two fictional characters who grapple with the horrors they experience, the friendships they create, and the prejudice they face as young Black men in Jim Crow Florida.

Colson Whitehead is a professional writer of the finest caliber. He is exacting and precise. There is not a word wasted in this book. There are no 10 page expositions, instead you get a paragraph or two that drops you right in the scene or gets at essence of the person. A true economy of language. The best part is, the book doesn’t feel unfinished, at 215 pages, it’s just right.

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

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


Safe House by Heather John Fogarty

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

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

Unpublished Manuscript | 314 Pages | Kindle


Tell Me Everything by Sarah Enni

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

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

Tell Me Everything takes on a lot of the tough questions about social media and being present in life versus our online personas. It looks at homosexuality, activism, consumer’s rights, and a lot of other relevant topics. While I enjoyed reading the book, I always felt ahead of the story, which I often do when I read YA. I would be very interested in what a 13-year old might think of the ideas and topics Enni brings up.
Three Stars | Point| February 26, 2019 | 288 Pages| Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
Hear our conversation with Sarah Enni on The Stacks HERE.


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

The Stacks Book Club — September 2019

The time has come to announce our books for September in The Stacks Book Club, and I am so excited for our picks! We’ve got one modern day classic from 2005, and one book that has been on the tops of all the lists since its release in early 2018.

First up, on September 11th, we’re reading Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. This modern classic is the story of three friends from boarding school who are reconnected as young adults and attempt to piece together the meaning of their childhood and their existence. This novel is beautiful writing, suspenseful plot, and compelling characters all in one.

Then on September 25th we’re reading one of 2018’s best selling books, Educated by Tara Westover. An unforgettable memoir about Westover’s childhood where she was kept out of school by her survivalist parents and then goes on to earn a PhD from Cambridge University. This book is not to be missed.

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:


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. 64 The Unwinding of the Miracle by Julie Yip-Williams — The Stacks Book Club (Lori Gottlieb)

New York Times Best Selling author Lori Gottlieb (Maybe You Should Talk to Someone) is back to discuss The Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything That Comes After by Julie Yip-Williams for The Stacks Book Club. The book provides the reader with a range of emotions as it navigates Yip-Williams’ terminal cancer diagnosis and struggle to die with grace. We discuss our aversion to not having the answers, bucket lists, and how we, as a society, talk about and treat people living with and dying from cancer.
There are no spoilers on today’s episode.

LISTEN NOW

Apple Podcasts | Spotify | PodcastOne | Google | Android

Everything we talk about on today’s episode can be found below in the show notes. If you’d like to support your local indie, you can shop through IndieBound.

Connect with Lori: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

Connect with The Stacks: Instagram | Twitter | Facebook |Apple Podcasts |The Stacks on PodcastOne | Goodreads | Patreon

Support The Stacks

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.

Audible– to get your FREE audiobook download and FREE 30 day trial go to audibletrial.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 — June 2019 Books

Its time! Our June book announcement. This month we’ve selected two nonfiction books, one, the rediscovering a long forgotten fire, the other a memoir about facing death.

In honor of LGBTQIA+ Pride month, we’re reading Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation by Robert W. Fieseler, on June 5th. This book chronicles an arson fire in a gay bar, The Upstairs Lounge, in June 1973 in New Orleans. This fire took the lives of 32 people and then was largely forgotten. Tinderbox examines this painful moment in history; the fire, the victims, the police response, and the social and political attitudes of the time.

On June 19th we’re reading The Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything That Comes After by Julie Yip-Williams. Born blind in Vietnam, Julie Yip-William and her family flee to America, where she has surgery that gives her back partial sight. As the years progress Yip-Williams becomes a lawyer, a wife, and a mother. Then at 37, she is diagnosed with terminal cancer. This book is her reckoning. It explores life through the prism of death.

As with all our TSBC books, we want to hear from you, so if you’ve got thoughts or questions send them our way, they might even get featured on the show! You can email us at thestackswithtraci@gmail.com, comment on this post, or reach out to us through our Instagram @thestackspod.

Order your copies of our June books on Amazon or IndieBound:

  • Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation by Robert W. Fieseler (Amazon | IndieBound)
  • The Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything That Comes After by Julie Yip-Williams (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.

April 2019 Reading Wrap Up

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

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


April by the Numbers

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Beloved by Toni Morrison

(Photo: amazon.com)

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

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

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


If They Come for Us by Fatimah Asghar

(Photo: amazon.com)

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

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

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


Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson

(Photo: amazon.com)

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

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

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


Richard II by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

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

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

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


Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom

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

A collection of essays that are at once smart, funny, and truly thought provoking. Cottom is one of the most critical and nuanced thinkers on race and gender in this moment in The United States.Thick is effortless in its ability to move between ideas of intersectionality, the art of “the turn” is perfected in these pages. As the collection goes on the essays build on each other and deepen the readers understanding of Cottom and the work she has dedicated her life to. It is because of this depth that the second half of the book really stood out for me.

Some of Thick was challenging to read. I often had to go back and reread sentences and passages because I found myself lost in her arguments. That is less a criticism and more an observation about the style of the book. I applaud Cottom for not making her work small to accommodate her reader. Her writing is too important for that. Go read Thick. You will learn things, you will connect dots you never knew you could. It is powerful and empowering.

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


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

(Photo: amazon.com)

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

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

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


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

(Photo: amazon.com)

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

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


The Truths We Hold: An American Journey by Kamala Harris

(Photo: amazon.com)

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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.

January 2019 Reading Wrap-Up

Starting this month, I’ll be giving mini reviews for all of my reads each month. For longer reviews on each book check out The Stacks Instagram page. You can also find full length reviews for any books we feature on the show under the Reviews tab and any other reviews I just feel compelled to write. My hope is to streamline my reviews and make them easier for you all to read and enjoy.

I’ll also be giving you my month by the numbers, as a way to give you all a snapshot of what I read, and to hold myself accountable to reading diverse and inclusive books.

January by the Numbers

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

By Women Authors: 5
By Authors of Color: 4
By Queer Authors: 0
Nonfiction Reads: 6
Published in 2019: 1

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung

(Photo: amazon.com)

Nicole Chung’s story of her transracial adoption, searching for her birth parents, and becoming a mother come together beautifully in this her memoir, All You Can Ever Know. Chung is vulnerable and honest in a way that is rare, refreshing, and greatly appreciated as a reader. Chung shares her hopes, fears, insecurities, and expectations with her reader as if she is writing in her journal. I was deeply moved in reading this book, and found common ground with Chung when it came to identity, as I am the product of an interracial marriage.

There were pieces to the story that left me wanting more, and I feel a bit selfish to be asking for more from Chung who is so open with her reader. I would have liked more on what parts of her childhood (as a Korean raised by White parents) she is still grappling with as an adult, and how she interacts with the world because of her upbringing.

Overall, this book is very good. Chung is a writer with a gentle touch that packs a lot of power. She is unrelenting in sharing her own thoughts and experiences and for that I am grateful. Also there is Cindy, and I won’t say much, except that I felt so much love and respect for Cindy, and when you read the book, you’ll know. I would suggest this book to people who love a good emotional memoir, people interested in adoption stories, and people who enjoy the active search for identity.

Four Stars | Catapult | October 4, 2018 | 240 Pages | Hardcover
All You Can Ever Know is TSBC pick for February 13. You can hear The Short Stacks with author Nicole Chung HERE, and TSBC episode with Vanessa McGrady HERE.Read a full review of All You Can Ever Know, HERE.


Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

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

A collection of unique and imaginative short stories that provide a commentary on race, violence, consumerism, and survival in America. The writing is at times snarky and smart and then can flip in an instant to be poignant. Some of the stories in Friday Black were pitch perfect and found a great balance between reflection and experience. Some of the other stories never quiet landed with me. The two stories that stand out most (“Zimmer Land” and “Finklestein 5”) deal with the fragility of Black pain and the violence that Black people endure just to live. They comment on events and realities that are part of the American cultural zeitgeist.

I suggest Friday Black to lovers of short stories, racial politics, and people interested in thinking about capitalism in a different way. Warning, there is a lot of (stylized) violence in this book.

Three Stars | Mariner Books | October 23, 2018 | 208 Pages | Paperback
Friday Black is TSBC pick for February 27. Stay tuned for more content around this book. You can hear The Short Stacks with author Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah HERE, and TSBC episode with Wade Allain-Marcus HERE.Read a full review ofFriday Black, HERE.


Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones

(Photo: amazon.com)

A fictionalized look at life in Atlanta during the Atlanta Child Murders as told from the perspective of three fifth graders. In her debut novel, Tayari Jones examines the changing responsibilities for Black children as the move toward adulthood. She engages with the unfortunate truth that Black children are forced to grow up too early, and that they are vulnerable to the world around them. Her characters have to come to terms with their Blackness and what that means to the rest of the world. Jones loves her characters and knows them well, she speaks for them without feeling corny or contrived, and develops them into complex characters. Their youth becomes a filter on which we, the readers, see injustices in their world.

Leaving Atlanta is mostly a character study and a coming of age story. If you love plot and action, and are looking for true crime, this book isn’t that (which is where it missed for me). However, if you love spending time with characters and thinking about the world from different perspectives, check it out. If you’re more interested in the Atlanta Child Murders you might like the Atlanta Monster podcast.

Three Stars | Grand Central Publishing (Reprint Edition) | August 1, 2003 | 272 Pages | Paperback


Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

(Photo: amazon.com)

An essay collection on feminism and the relationship of women to male entitlement. Rebecca Solnit’s essays are an indictment on how women are seen and treated in The United States. Solnit ranges from snarky to measured, and shows her self as a thought leader in the conversation around certain types of feminism, which is evidenced in my favorite essay “#yesallwomen”. Men Explain Things to Me misses the mark on intersectional feminism completely and makes no space for women of color and queer women. The book was originally published in 2014, and just over four years later it feels dated. I don’t doubt this book was forward thinking at the time of publication, and that Solnit’s own views have evolved in the last five years (this is my first time reading her work). Men Explain Things to Me is a reminder of the kind of feminism that centers White women and that we are, thankfully, moving away from.

While Men Explain Things to Me is a good collection, I wouldn’t suggest reading it, simply because it isn’t speaking to the current moment in the women’s movement. I would confidently recommend Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper (full review here) and Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister (full review here) as better looks at intersectional feminism today.

 Three Stars | Haymarket Books | September 1, 2015 | 176 Pages | Paperback
See my full review of Men Explain Things to Me which you can read HERE.


Rap Dad: A Story of Family and the Subculture That Shaped a Generation by Juan Vidal

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

Juan Vidal shares his own story of growing up, finding his way, and becoming a family man in his memoir Rap Dad. The book is a mix of stories from Vidal’s past, meditations on fatherhood, breaking down the importance of hip-hop culture, and conversations of folks in the Rap world about their own thoughts on fatherhood. The book didn’t always feel cohesive or flow, and I often couldn’t relate to his experiences, but Vidal’s willingness to write and discover in that process is refreshing. He is asking the questions of what it means to be a good parent in this hip-hop generation.

Rap Dad is worth your time. The content is different from most anything I’ve read. Vidal is a unique thinker, a fluid writer, and his lack of pretense is beyond refreshing. He is talking about a subculture, hip-hop heads, we so often ignore, especially in the context of parenting.

Three Stars | Atria | September 25, 2018 | 256 Pages | Hardcover
Rap Dad is TSBC pick for January 30. You can hear The Short Stacks with author Juan Vidal HERE, and TSBC episode with Josh Segarra HERE.Read a full review of Rap Dad, HERE.


Rock Needs River: A Memoir About a Very Open Adoption by Vanessa McGrady

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

In Rock Needs River, Vanessa McGrady shares her journey from deciding she wants to be a mother, to adopting her daughter Grace, to eventually taking in Grace’s homeless birth parents. McGrady navigates the sometimes murky boundaries of open adoption in this book.

What worked in Rock Needs River is that McGrady is clearly only speaking for herself. He triumphs and blunders are clearly her own. She finds a way to be relatable so that you’re rooting for her for get whatever it is she wants and needs, even when she does some pretty questionable things (thinking of a chat room sequence that is painfully cringe worthy). I struggled with McGrady’s sense of privilege when it came to Grace’s birth parents. She wanted them to do what she would do, and those parts feel very entitled and narrow minded. Don’t get me wrong, McGrady is beyond generous with them, but that gets lost in the feeling that McGrady wants her good deed to play out the way she wants it to (with thank you notes). She spends a good chunk of the book projecting her value system on them, and it rubbed me the wrong way.

Overall I enjoyed the book, and I really learned a lot about adoption. If you like a lighter approach to more serious topics this might be a good book for you. If you’re interested in adoption and the ways that life doesn’t always go according to plan, I’d check out Rock Needs River.

Three Stars | Little A | January 1, 2019 | 204 Pages | Hardcover
Hear Vanessa McGrady on The Stacks discussing her book (Ep. 45) and All You Can Ever Know(Ep. 46), and find a full review of Rock Needs River HERE.


Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

This month for the #ShakeTheStacks challenge I read Romeo and Juliet. The play is the story of two teenaged, star crossed lovers who find each other despite their families’ rivalry.The story is a total cliche now, but of course then you remember Romeo and Juliet was one of the originals.

I loved rereading this play. Shakespeare is interested in the ideas of loyalty and vengeance, individual desire versus communal stability. The play is dealing with these massive ideas and somehow still taking them on with a kind of urgent poetry that is just begging to be said and heard. In reading the play I couldn’t help but fall in love with Juliet. Her speeches are rich and full of so much emotion. I found myself reading them over and over (mostly out loud).

If you like strong characters with a driving plot, don’t be intimidated by Romeo and Juliet. It is a great play, which I’m sure you’ve heard.

Five Stars | Penguin Classics | February 1, 2000 | 128 Pages | Paperback
You can read my full review of  Romeo and Juliet HERE.



Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan

(Photo: amazon.com)

A collection of essays on things that are difficult to say. This book is not what it seems. Corrigan wrote Tell Me More after the passing of her father and dear friend, Lisa. The book ends up being more a response to the loss of her loved ones, an understanding of her own grief, and way to help her (and the reader) move on when things feel devastating. I got so much out of this book, it really connected with me emotionally. While the grief is ever present through out, there are also conversations about knowing your own worth, finding ways to be truly empathetic, and seeking out true love and joy that were valuable. There were times I thought Corrigan got a little cutesy, and didn’t need to, and some of her phrases seem beyond obvious (“Yes” and “No” come to mind), but I don’t think it hurt the book overall. The power of “Onward” was enough for an entire book to ride on.

While it is certainly not “required reading” it is a book that I could see being meaningful to anyone. I would check it out. I am certainly glad I did.

Four Stars | Random House | January 9, 2018 | 240 Pages | Hardcover


The World Only Spins Forward: The Ascent of Angels in America by Isaac Butler and Dan Kois

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

TAn oral history of Tony Kushner’s iconic play Angels in America, The World Only Spins Forward was a surprising delight. For a person who loves the theatre this book was more than I could have imagined. I loved hearing from actors, directors, production teams, and theatre critics as they unpack the significance of one of the great American plays. Hearing thespians expound on the nuances of characters and the importance of lines, or how to an angel should fly, was fulfilling. Using the tradition of oral history as a way for the theatre community to talk about this depiction of HIV and gay experience felt completely spot on. The LGBTQIA+ community kept the memories of their own alive through telling stories, writing plays, and creating the art that lives on and is celebrated today. This book is a little bit of art imitating life (on a few levels). Also, the cover. It is absolutely perfect.

The only thing that was hard for me as a reader was that a lot of references weren’t explained. I spent time googling people and events that I would have loved to hear more about from the people who were telling this story, the interviewees.

I don’t know that this book is for everyone. I think you’d have to be interested in Angels in America or the theatre at the very least. The World Only Spins Forward is total theatre nerd stuff, and as a proud member of that community, it was everything I wanted and more. If you love the theater, and acting, and how plays get made, you must read this one.

Four Stars | Bloomsbury | February 13, 2018 | 448 Pages | Hardcover


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.

Open City by Teju Cole

Open City was The Stacks Book Club pick this week on the podcast. We discussed the book with actor Behzad Dabu (How to Get Away with Murder, The Chi). If you want to hear that full episode, click here, but be warned there are spoilers (though I don’t think there is much to spoil in this book).

For more on Open City read here: 

A haunting novel about identity, dislocation, and history, Teju Cole’s Open City is a profound work by an important new author who has much to say about our country and our world.

Along the streets of Manhattan, a young Nigerian doctor named Julius wanders, reflecting on his relationships, his recent breakup with his girlfriend, his present, his past. He encounters people from different cultures and classes who will provide insight on his journey—which takes him to Brussels, to the Nigeria of his youth, and into the most unrecognizable facets of his own soul.


In Open City we are paired with a protagonist, Julius, that is our guide, though we never get to know him well enough to care for him. He feels a little unreliable, but mostly, just aloof. He is constantly musing about the world around him, his place in it, what all of that means. He examines art and trauma and humanity and more, through out the course of this book, and because of his thinking, we too are asked to go reflect along with Julius. There is no real plot in the book. It starts, things happen to Julius, he goes on a trip, he meets new people, but mostly life happens and Julius moves forward, and then the book ends.  

What I appreciated most about this book was the variety of issues that Cole asks his readers to engage with. We reflect on the Holocaust, and classical music, on 9/11 and shoe shining. There is a variety of consciousness that Cole presents and that is refreshing. He doesn’t do any deep dives into any one thing, instead, like many people, he scratches the surface of what is in the zeitgeist. In presenting this variety of topics for reflection, Cole brings up some of the most controversial and provocative issues, but right as the thinking gets good and complex he changes the subject. It can feel frustrating, but it also allows the reader to do some reflecting on their own. I also think, Cole is grappling with many of these ideas himself. 

There were times the book felt disjointed. The chapter breaks made no sense. The dialogue was presented without punctuation or paragraph breaks. As soon as a character would start discussing a topic, like Israel and its relationship to Palestine, the subject would abruptly change. The book left me wanting more. It also left me with a lot to think about.

Open City felt like Cole’s musings on life and the futility of life. Things happen and we try to engage and then at some point we carry on. It is simple really, but leads to a sort of frustrating book with beautiful prose. Something that is lovely and also boring and then ugly and then interesting, and then its all over. Perhaps a metaphor for life?

I enjoyed reading this book overall. There were moments I was bored. There were also moments that filled me with energy as I allowed myself to consider things that I had previously taken for granted, for example the role of political parties in The United States. If you’re someone who likes philosophical conversations about hot button issues, this might be a nice pick for you. But be warned, very little happens.

Don’t forget to listen to the The Stacks with Behzad Dabu discussing Open City

  • Paperback: 259 pages
  • PublisherRandom House Trade Paperbacks; 1 edition (January 17, 2012)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy onOpen City Amazon

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