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.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Lucky Man by Jamel Brinkley

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

I had heard so many amazing things about A Lucky Man from a variety of people and when I saw it long-listed for The National Book Award, I had to pick it up and start reading.

More about A Lucky Man

In the nine expansive stories ofA Lucky Man, fathers and sons attempt to salvage relationships with friends and family members and confront mistakes made in the past. An imaginative young boy from the Bronx goes swimming with his group from day camp at a backyard pool in the suburbs, and faces the effects of power and privilege in ways he can barely grasp. A pair of college boys on the prowl follow two girls home from a party and have to own the uncomfortable truth of their desires. And at a capoeira conference, two brothers grapple with how to tell the story of their family, caught in the dance of their painful, fractured history.

Jamel Brinkley’s stories, in a debut that announces the arrival of a significant new voice, reflect the tenderness and vulnerability of black men and boys whose hopes sometimes betray them, especially in a world shaped by race, gender, and class―where luck may be the greatest fiction of all.


When you encounter a writer that takes the path less traveled, sometimes the work can feel overwrought and self-important. You sense the labor that went into being clever or different, as if the author is showing off how unique their thinking is compared to everyone around them. That is not the case with Jamel Brinkley and A Lucky Man. Brinkley instead proves himself to be authentically singular with these stories. His characters and events feel fresh and effortless, as if there was no other thing in the world for him to do but write these stories.

I have not read many short story collections and I think there is certainly a muscle needed to switch ones mind quickly between stories, a muscle that allows you to move on seamlessly from one set of characters to the next. I have still yet to develop that muscle. That being said, these stories are strong on their own, they are vulnerable and rich, and tell of life as a Black man in ways I’ve never seen depicted. There are no two dimensional characters in this book, there are no stereotypes. Everyone is layered and nuanced in a way that left me wanting more from many of the stories. I could easily imagine many being turned into movies. Brinkley obviously loves his characters, at times I felt that there is no way he created these people out of thin air, they felt like his loved ones, his real life friends and family somehow turned into fiction. I have no idea if that is true or not, but either way, you could feel the deep connection Brinkley has to the people in his book.

I often struggled transitioning between stories, and sometimes felt like too little happened. I felt unfulfilled. Sometimes so little happened I have forgotten what happened at all. This book is all suspense and sometimes there wasn’t enough payoff. I felt disconnected from the emotion of some of the stories. However, for a debut collection, I am thrilled to see what will come next as I thoroughly enjoyed the process of reading this book, even if it doesn’t stick with me down the road.

My personal favorite stories were “A Family” and “Everything the Mouth Eats”. This book has received much praise from critics and readers alike, I would not hesitate to recommend this book to you.

  • Hardcover: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press; First Edition, First Printing edition (May 1, 2018)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy on A Lucky Man Amazon

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Richard III by William Shakespeare

8853EBC9-8629-4FB1-B2FF-2C6E331176EEThis month, for the #ShaketheStacks challenge I read one of my most favorite Shakespeare plays, Richard III. It is the fourth and final part of the Henry VI tetralogy. For as much as I enjoyed Henry VI Part III Richard III is leaps and bounds better.

In this final chapter of the bloody war of the roses, the House of Plantagenet finally ascends the throne, putting our anti-hero, Richard, a stones throw from the throne. This play chronicles Richard’s assent from Richard Duke of Gloucester to King Richard III. It is full of blood and lies and fantastic wit and dialogue. Richard has all the things you want from a bad guy, he is clearly the smartest and most detestable person in the room. I won’t give anything away, but he is delightfully terrible.

I was lucky enough to be in two different productions of Richard III, and grew to learn about the text intimately. Shakespeare layers so much in each line, drawing back to the three previous plays, and verbal sparring that is thrilling to read, let alone watch. As with all his plays, Shakespeare has a point of view on what we’re watching. He centers the play around a corrupt ruler and his unchecked power and entitlement, not to mention his deep seated misogyny. Sound familiar? Richard III still holding up hundreds of years later.

My favorite scene in the play encapsulates all that is good (not morally) in Richard III, Act IV Scene 4. The scene is led by the women of the play, of which there are four insanely amazing independent and vibrant women characters, and it weaves from cursing to courting to sorrow and rage. The scene is dynamic and is the one moment when truth is spoken to power. It is powerful and exciting and smart. A total force that sucks the air out of the room, weather you’re reading or watching the play.

If you’ve yet to read this play, you should. Or better yet go see a production or watch the film. If I’m ranking Shakespeare’s plays it is in my top five (so far, but if I’m being honest I haven’t read them all yet).

Next month I leave the histories behind and read The Taming of the Shrew. I hope you’ll read it with me.

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reissue edition (June 13, 2017)
  • 5/5 stars
  • Buy Richard III on Amazon

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