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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Hardcover: 336
  • PublisherThomas Dunne Books; April 2, 2019
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy Ladies Who Punch Amazon or IndieBound

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

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

August 2019 Reading Wrap-Up

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

August by the Numbers

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

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


Educated by Tara Westover

(Photo: amazon.com)

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

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

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


Henry IV Part 1 by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

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

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


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

(Photo: amazon.com)

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

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

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


Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

(Photo: amazon.com)

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

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

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

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


The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

(Photo: amazon.com)

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

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

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

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


Safe House by Heather John Fogarty

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

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

Unpublished Manuscript | 314 Pages | Kindle


Tell Me Everything by Sarah Enni

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

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

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


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

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.

S.O.B.E.R. by Anita Baglaneas Devlin and Michael Devlin Jr.

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

A co-authored memoir about addiction and recovery as told by mother and son, S.O.B.E.R. is one of the most unique reading experiences I’ve had. To hear the story of addiction from the standpoint of the person addicted and the family that is supporting and struggling along side him. The Devlin’s are honest and very straight forward in telling their story, and you can hear more of that story on The Short Stacks with Anita Devlin.

The writing in S.O.B.E.R. is simple and is mostly concerned with story telling, which feels 100% right for this personal memoir told by two non-writers. There are parts where they stray from the story to reference an event that is never picked back up, and there are moments that could use more intimacy and detail. The story is compelling, but the book would have benefited from an editor to guide the story in a more deliberate way.

If you or a loved one are dealing with addiction I think the story the Devlin family shares could be helpful, as is Anita’s website. It is their own story and is not concerned with universality. It is just one version of how addiction plays out. It is worth noting this book came out in 2015, and in the last four years there have been many more books, films, and TV shows to deal with the struggles of families dealing with addiction, and making S.O.B.E.R. feel like common knowledge, but at the time this book was more unique. Check out S.O.B.E.R. if you’re interested in addiction stories that involve family and recovery.

To hear more about the Devlin’s and Anita’s journey since the book was published on The Short Stacks with Anita Devlin.

  • Paperback: 246 pages
  • PublisherAnita Devlin (January 14, 2015)
  • 2/5 stars
  • Buy on S.O.B.E.R. Amazon

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

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

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz

Our first book for The Stacks Book Club of 2019, The Four Agreements a bestselling self-help classic. I was lucky enough to have lover of self-help books and celebrity trainer Alec Penix, join me for this discussion. If you’ve yet to listen, check it out here.

For reference The Four Agreements are:

  • Be impeccable with your word
  • Do not take anything personal
  • Do not make assumptions
  • Always do your best

There is a lot to be said for The Four Agreements honestly, if more people lived by the agreements, we would have a more empathetic and communicative society. If people really were true to the spirit of these agreements, to the people around them and to themselves, we would have a healthier world. If you take the agreements at face value, they’re wonderful and easy to remember and implement. However, nothing is ever as easy as it seems, and there are a lot of complex elements at play when we talk about human interaction. This is where the book misses the mark.

Ruiz is very cut and dry and comes across someone who is oblivious to the nuances of life. He makes a lot of assumptions about the people reading this book (which, is a no-no). There is a ton of victim shaming throughout the book. For example, he makes the point that we only take as much abuse as we think we deserve. This very well may be true for people who have horrible bosses or have mooching friends. However, this logic doesn’t hold up when we think of the child who is molested by their parent, or the mother torn from her child at the border of The United States. Do we value these people who have been victimized? Should they have demanded better for themselves? And to whom should they make such demands? The power dynamics of life are not always as clear cut as Mr. Ruiz says, and his saying it, offended me.

If you’re looking for some concepts to help you in your dealings with yourself and others, especially at the start of a new year, this could be a good book for you, but be careful not to take everything Ruiz says to heart. He too is only human, and has work to do on himself as well.

Don’t forget to listen to the The Stacks with Alec Penix discussing The Four Agreements.

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • PublisherAmber-Allen Publishing (November 7, 1997)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy onThe Four Agreements Amazon

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

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

Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon

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

This was possibly my most anticipated read of the year. I knew of Kiese Laymon’s essays, but had never read any of his books, and many people that I trust ad respect have nothing but the highest praise for him. So, I was eager to read his “American Memoir”.

Here is more about Heavy

In Heavy, Laymon writes eloquently and honestly about growing up a hard-headed black son to a complicated and brilliant black mother in Jackson, Mississippi. From his early experiences of sexual violence, to his suspension from college, to his trek to New York as a young college professor, Laymon charts his complex relationship with his mother, grandmother, anorexia, obesity, sex, writing, and ultimately gambling. By attempting to name secrets and lies he and his mother spent a lifetime avoiding, Laymon asks himself, his mother, his nation, and us to confront the terrifying possibility that few in this nation actually know how to responsibly love, and even fewer want to live under the weight of actually becoming free.


Complexity and vulnerability course through the pages of Heavy. Kiese Laymon never strays from a commitment to tell the truth of his story. As we read on, we understand his truth is painful. We learn how Laymon got to be the thorough, confrontational, relentless man that is writing this memoir. He allows himself to unfold page by page, until you feel as if you might actually know this man. Of course you don’t, but his brutal honesty gives a seeming closeness or understanding.

Laymon is a beautiful writer. He captures feelings and emotions in short and specific sentences. He creates worlds and moments with his words. In Heavy Laymon shows how his mother shapes him as a man, and also as a writer, and more importantly a thinker. In all of these things, her influence is not always positive, but it is obviously formative. She is herself a Black thought leader and academic who forces Laymon to confront the need to be excellent from a young age. We also watch as people come into Laymon’s life and influence his mind and his body. Quiet literally shaping him. We learn of his deep commitment to revision. We see how that compulsion towards excellence is pathological and often times destructive.

I knew very little about Laymon when I started reading, and within a few pages I understood that what I was reading was different than other memoirs. It was at once personal and a social commentary. Laymon would expose personal secrets, and also institutional deficiences. Heavy is a deeply intimate account of one man and his relationship to his own identity, and an examination of America and her relationship to her citizens. Racism, discipline, addiction, education, beauty standards and more are unpacked in Laymon’s memoir.

I was beyond impressed with this book.. I learned a lot and felt the wind knocked out of my sails at times. I have been calling it “Coates-ian” (a reference to author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates), except more intimate, more vulnerable, and less of a reflection on the broader racial questions of our time, more an examination of how one experience is inclusive of the larger picture. There have been some amazing reviews of Heavy, and I highly suggest one by Saeed Jones in The New York Times, Jones beautifully expresses the struggle for excellence and what that means for Laymon and all of us. Before I unequivocally suggest to you to read this book, I want to note there are some very graphic scenes of a child abuse in this book, and while that can be triggering for many, it is an important part of Laymon’s history. I couldn’t imagine this book without those scenes. Now, here it comes, go read this book.

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • PublisherScribner; First Edition edition (October 16, 2018)
  • 5/5 stars
  • Buy on Heavy Amazon

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

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

Black No More by George S. Schuyler


54CDB2F3-2C1C-4FB6-A29C-9B96A70731DEI picked up Black No More as part of a book club read with my all Black online book club. I wasn’t familiar with the book, and had only barely even heard of the the title, but was excited to read a satire written by a Black man from the 1930’s.

More information on Black No More

It’s New Year’s Day 1933 in New York City, and Max Disher, a young black man, has just found out that a certain Dr. Junius Crookman has discovered a mysterious process that allows people to bleach their skin white—a new way to “solve the American race problem.” Max leaps at the opportunity, and after a brief stay at the Crookman Sanitarium, he becomes Matthew Fisher, a white man who is able to attain everything he has ever wanted: money, power, good liquor, and the white woman who rejected him when he was black.

Lampooning myths of white supremacy and racial purity and caricaturing prominent African American leaders like W. E. B. Du Bois, Madam C. J. Walker, and Marcus Garvey, Black No More is a masterwork of speculative fiction and a hilarious satire of America’s obsession with race.


This book, like so many classic books that discuss the Black experience in The United States, feels relevant today. Schuyler uses Black No More to eviscerate Black and White people, intellectuals and hate leaders alike. He doesn’t hold back on bringing everyone to task. Depending on your own perspective on the world, this book could be interpreted in many different ways.

What I appreciated most about this book was that Schuyler seemed to have no fear about how the book would be received. If he did, he didn’t let that stop him. He created characters that mocked well known Black thought leaders (W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey and more) and reduced the KKK to a complete scam. He minimized Black identity to something akin to crabs climbing out of a barrel, and showed that White people just need someone to kick around. He showed the American propensity toward violence, and the shame that so many people carry around due to their family’s history.

What I didn’t like about the book was the tone. It felt old-timey. It read like something from days gone by, and that took me out of the story. The jokes didn’t land. The writing felt dated. I never laughed out loud, and mostly felt detached from the work itself. I wondered if that had to do with the era, or with the genre, as I do not read satire often.

When I read classics, I save the introduction for after I’ve completed the text. In the case of Black No More, the introduction is by author Danzy Senna (Caucasia, New People), a mixed race woman who is very fair and often presumed white. She does an excellent job with the forward, and helped me put the book in context. It was worth it to go back and read her words.

In the end, I am glad I read this book. I haven’t read much from the 1930’s and Schuyler paints a searing picture of race in America that is prescient beyond belief. The book is a great work of speculative fiction, even if the satire didn’t work for me. I would love to see this book turned into a film, does anyone have Ava DuVernay’s number?

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher:Penguin Classics (January 16, 2018)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy on Black No More Amazon

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

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

The Ensemble by Aja Gabel

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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 not the kind of book I normally pick up. It is character driven literary fiction, about a topic I have little to no interest in, classical music. But, because the author Aja Gabel was going to be a guest on the podcast (listen to our conversation here), I read The Ensemble and it is proof that I know nothing about my own reading taste.

Here is more information on The Ensemble

Brit is the second violinist, a beautiful and quiet orphan; on the viola is Henry, a prodigy who’s always had it easy; the cellist is Daniel, the oldest and an angry skeptic who sleeps around; and on first violin is Jana, their flinty, resilient leader. Together, they are the Van Ness Quartet. After the group’s youthful, rocky start, they experience devastating failure and wild success, heartbreak and marriage, triumph and loss, betrayal and enduring loyalty. They are always tied to each other – by career, by the intensity of their art, by the secrets they carry, by choosing each other over and over again.


The Ensemble isn’t real life, its stylized life, life the way you wish it played out. Gabel’s characters say all the things you wish you’d thought to say in a fight, or right before a kiss, or in the throws of grief. They say what you wish you’d thought to say if you weren’t so overwhelmed. Jana, Brit, Henry, and Daniel aren’t common they’re normal with a splash of special. They are precise and piercing. Even their missteps are admirable and attractive. The Ensemble is reality plus. I couldn’t help but think what a great TV show this book would make, filled with gorgeous musicians, emotional outbursts, and a soundtrack that mixes Beethoven with acoustic Prince covers. Shonda Rhymes wishes she wrote this book, it is Grey’s Anatomy but with a string quartet. I mean all of this with such high praise. Sometimes reality isn’t enough. Sometimes you want to be around the beautiful people and watch them be sort of perfect, in failure and success.

Gabel knows her characters. She writes their relationships with a confidence you only gain from knowledge. She understands everyones weaknesses and motivations, who they are, and why. The dialogue and inner monologues are fantastic. She knows how to push their buttons how to turn them on, what makes them tick. As moments unfold, they feel right, I never once thought “Jana would never say that”, because of course she would say that. That is just so Jana.

The plot, which is minimal, doesn’t have its own life. It is the character I am missing in the book. I don’t know that Gabel cares to give us much plot, instead we get glimpses of our quartet. It could be any moment, and Gabel picked this one, and here we are. Sure some are major life moments, but some others feel small and benign. The plot feels a little but like an afterthought in this book. It wasn’t the focus and it wasn’t complex. The book doesn’t really have a start or a finish, we just stop getting invited back. This is the kind of book that many people love, character driven, a study of relationships. And for that, it is done extremely well. I would have loved more events. More action. More.

Oh, and then there is the music. Exactly as it should be. In the background, and sometimes loud and mostly soft and just right.

The Ensemble is simultaneously intimate and vast, with rich writing and complex characters. This book centers the realities of life, but with style. I’m glad I read this book. I never felt Gabel was trying to teach me anything, she didn’t attempt to change the way I see the world. Instead she wrote a beautiful small book about relationships and humanity, and gave them the best words to say, and let me do my thing.

If characters and life and small moments excite you. This is your book. Even if they don’t you still might enjoy this book. It has a magic to it, mostly its simple. What a refreshing thing to be in 2018.

To learn more about Aja and hear her on The Stacks click here.

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • PublisherRiverhead Books; First Edition, First Printing edition (May 15, 2018)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy on The Ensemble Amazon

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

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

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

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Reading The Bluest Eye for The Stacks Book Club was my first time ever reading the work of Toni Morrison. I knew it would be great, simply because so many people told me so, but getting a chance to read her words for myself, I now understand. You can listen to my conversation with Renée Hicks (founder of Book Girl Magic) about The Bluest Eye right here on The Stacks.

Here is more about The Bluest Eye

Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl, prays every day for beauty. Mocked by other children for the dark skin, curly hair, and brown eyes that set her apart, she yearns for normalcy, for the blond hair and blue eyes that she believes will allow her to finally fit in.Yet as her dream grows more fervent, her life slowly starts to disintegrate in the face of adversity and strife. A powerful examination of our obsession with beauty and conformity, Toni Morrison’s virtuosic first novel asks powerful questions about race, class, and gender with the subtlety and grace that have always characterized her writing.


Morrison does an expert job of writing about the darkest parts of our humanity. The book is haunting. Her characters are real and simple and purely themselves, for better or worse. She uses her words to make sure we never look away, that we examine the humanity of these characters. She finds our own vulnerabilities and uses them, forcing the reader to confront pain and trauma in a three dimensional way. To extend our sympathy to the abusers and the abused. Even when it feels impossible.

As we follow the life of our protagonist, a young dark-skinned Black girl named Pecola Breedlove, we see the world she sees, and we flashback to how her 1940s Ohio world was created. Morrison is brilliant in setting the scene as we think it should be, and then showing how it really is, how we got here, and why it is more complicated than we could have imagined.

The Bluest Eye takes on much that ails our society. The book confronts racism, colorism, beauty, sexism, sexuality, sexual abuse, trauma, rage, toxic masculinity, and more. Instead of looking at each idea as an isolated problem, she folds everything together and dares us to unpack the mess. To see that none of these isms or societal failures works on its own, but rather that they are entangled. While the story itself is painful and bleak, Morrison’s writing makes it palatable, something her readers are willing to stick with and sift through.

I could have read more of this book, but Morrison says what she needs to say in about 200 pages. She is specific and direct. There is no extra fluff. She doesn’t give us time to wallow. That directness enhances the book. She shows us the evils of humanity, the tender moments of kindness and never allows one to take on more weight than the other. Never allows us to pick sides. We just have to keep moving forward.

This is Morrison’s first novel, she wrote it at age 39, which is hard to believe, but then again seems right. This book is a force of a debut and while I did sometimes find myself confused, especially during the ending, I was engrossed with her language and her characters. You can feel that there is room for growth in The Bluest Eye, which says more about Morrison’s potential to be one of the greats than anything else. For many authors, this would be their top, this would be the best they could do. I look forward to reading more Toni Morrison, and I am so glad I finally got started reading her at all.

Don’t forget to listen the The Stacks with Renée Hicks discussing The Bluest Eye

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (May 8, 2007)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy on The Bluest Eye Amazon

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

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

 

The Other Side: A Memoir by Lacy M. Johnson

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

I picked up this book, The Other Side, so I could read the semi-prequel of The Reckonings. I wanted to get a sense of Lacy M. Johnson before I read her newest book. It wasn’t quiet accidental, but it was certainly not planned. This book turned out to be one of the best surprises of my year.

Here is more about The Other Side

Lacy Johnson bangs on the glass doors of a sleepy local police station in the middle of the night. Her feet are bare; her body is bruised and bloody; U-bolts dangle from her wrists. She has escaped, but not unscathed. The Other Side is the haunting account of a first passionate and then abusive relationship; the events leading to Johnson’s kidnapping, rape, and imprisonment; her dramatic escape; and her hard-fought struggle to recover. At once thrilling, terrifying, harrowing, and hopeful, The Other Side offers more than just a true crime record. In language both stark and poetic, Johnson weaves together a richly personal narrative with police and FBI reports, psychological records, and neurological experiments, delivering a raw and unforgettable story of trauma and transformation.


So what do you make of a book about a violent rape and kidnapping? Aside from that it is terrible and horrible and a total nightmare? What do you do with this traumatic story? If you’re Lacy M. Johnson, you turn it into a powerful reflection on relationships, memory, body, self, motherhood, growth, vengeance. You turn it into art. That sounds corny. The Other Side is not. It is a dynamic book that leans into to the complexity and contradictions of trauma.

Lacy M. Johnson is the kind of writer that makes words make sense. Her use of language moved me as a reader, it felt specific, and like every word was in place, without feeling overworked or tedious. Johnson writes freely and with purpose. The book is poetic in one moment and clinical in the next. There is a quiet balance to this book.

If I learned anything from this book, it is that memory and truth are often at odds with each other. Not in a linear way. In a way that involves layers of memory and truth mixing with one another and turning muddy. That some memories are strong and wrong, and others are faint and almost unknowable. That the brain fills in the gaps and creates a narrative. The story. The story as we have come to know it. Our truth. What Johnson points out, and doesn’t want us to forget, is that this truth, this story, is just one version. That we all have our own story, and the people around us have their own. That these versions, these truths, all exist in the world at once. That none of this is real or true, not completely. That is terrifying and comforting at once. The Other Side is a memoir that grapples with these types of ideas, The Other Side is an outstanding book.

The Other Side is triggering (rape, emotional abuse, physical abuse). You should be fully aware before you pick it up. That being said, this book handles the trauma with dignity. It is not sensational. Johnson is unique in her experiences and never once attempts to turn her journey into anything universal. It is this specificity that keeps The Other Side from feeling common or precious. That is extremely clear from the first pages of this book. It holds true through the end, and even into the notes section (of which I read every word, I simply didn’t want this book to end) where Johnson mixes science and poetry.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, the fluidity of language, the self reflection, the pain and the calm. I know it could be an extremely tough read for many people. If you can, read this book, it is worth reading. It is worth thinking about. It is worth your time.

  • Paperback: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Tin House Books; 1 edition (July 15, 2014)
  • 5/5 stars
  • Buy on The Other Side 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.