Ep. 84 We Cast A Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin– The Stacks Book Club (Chris L. Terry)

The Stacks Book Club is tackling a post-post racial satirical novel this week in our reading of We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin. To help us discuss what that even means, and what makes a satire work, and so much more is author Chris L. Terry (Black Card).
There are minor spoilers on this 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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is D6589D48-19E3-4087-8EB0-3B275579C712.jpg

Connect with Chris: Instagram | 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.

The Short Stacks 25: Maurice Carlos Ruffin//We Cast a Shadow

Maurice Carlos Ruffin is the author of We Cast a Shadow, and joins The Short Stacks to tell us about his process in writing this satirical, speculative fiction novel. We get to talk about what music fueled this novel, how his hometown of New Orleans figures into his work, and how he finds balance between being a writer and lawyer.
There are no spoilers in this 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 independent bookstore, you can shop through IndieBound.

Connect with Maurice: Twitter | 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 received All This Could be Yours from the publisher. For more information click 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.

Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Paperback: 208
  • PublisherMariner Books; First Edition edition (October 23, 2018)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy Friday Black on Amazon

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

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

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.

#diversiFIVEbooks Round Up

70F30DF8-45D8-4F42-BEA5-255411607B13Its been one month since the start of the #diversiFIVEbooks challenge to bring a little more diversity to the online book community. You can read all about that here.

I wanted to give you all a round up of the books that were mentioned in the last month. This way you can add them to your physical or online to be read list, or just have them all in one place.

The list is organized by prompt. Which means if a book was listed in different categories it will show up twice. If a book was listed more than once in the same category, I will also note that as well. However once in the prompt they’re not organized at all.

If you’ve yet to participate, go join in the fun on your Instagram. And make sure you’re listening to The Stacks Podcast to hear how our guests answer their own #diversiFIVEboooks challenge.

Now on to the round up, be fair warned, its whole lot of books. Enjoy!

A book you loved before you joined Instagram/Bookstagram

A book you love by an author from a different ethnicity than you

A book you’re excited to read by or about people of color

A book you love that you rarely see on Instagram/Bookstagram

A book in a genre you don’t normally read that you ended up loving (and the genre it comes from)

I hope this insanely rich and diverse list inspires you when you need it most. I know I’m looking forward to reading many of these books. If you do pick any of these up let me know what you think.

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.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

IMG_4493This book is very special to me, as it is the very first book we covered on the podcast, as part of The Stacks Book Club (TSBC). You can hear my conversation about this book, with my guest, Dallas Lopez here on the second episode of The Stacks.

If you’re not familiar with this book here is a little blurb about Hamid’s work:

In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair, and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through. . . .

There is something so unique and moving about this book. I noticed it right away. The first sentence of this book is powerful, and yet still tender. Hamid crafts his sentences to unfold in front of your very eyes. You think you know here he is going, and yet still you never quite see the end of the sentence coming. At the risk of sounding cliche, the writing in this book is beautiful. It is a thread that is present throughout the book, and is what gives this book its heart.

The premise of Exit West is genius. Following two young refugees who have recently come together is unique. This is not the story of the family of five picking up and leaving home. This book allowed me to think about migrants we rarely think of, young lovers. Those deciding to make a go of it. It gave a new face to the struggle for freedom and equality.

While I did feel the book was full of amazing ideas, and it forced me to confront so many stereotypes and so much of who I would like to think I would be in the face of a crisis. The book doesn’t do much in the way of plot. It is mostly there to stir up ideas. To ask us questions. To reflect a certain version of the world and to see how we respond.

The last fifth of the book fizzled out a bit for me. I wanted so much for the end of this book to be as spectacular and emotional as where it started, and it didn’t deliver in that. I have come to think though, that my desire for an explosive ending says more about me than the book. Hamid carefully crafted this story, and he made sure the ending fit the larger metaphor he was sharing with his readers. I was just too caught up to see it at first. The more I think about this book the more I have come to love the ending.

I really enjoyed this book. It was special and magical and gorgeous and maybe even a little bit sexy. I would suggest it for just about anyone, in fact I did, thats why it was my very first TSBC pick.

If you’ve read the book, I’d love to hear what you think of it. If you’ve listened to the podcast, I’d love to hear your thoughts on our conversation.

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; First Edition edition (March 7, 2017)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy Exit West on Amazon

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.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

E685FB9E-B8BD-4102-8343-3F3BD1CA6661I went into this book with high expectations. I had seen it all over the internet and some friends were excited about it, too. I purposely did not read anything about the book, and only knew what I gathered from #bookstagram posts. I knew it was a sci-fi book. I knew it was “mind-blowing”. For those of you who aren’t super familiar with this book, here is a little more about it:

“Are you happy with your life?”

Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious.

Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits.

Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”

In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.
Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.

If we’re being honest, even that blurb doesn’t tell you much about the book. The main thing this book has going for it, is suspense. For the majority of the book you have no clue where its going, and what is coming next. You root for Jason to find out whats going on, and you keep rooting for him as the book unfolds. Sure. The book moves fast enough that you don’t even really have time to decide if you care about Jason. Which, by the end I discovered, I didn’t. I did however want the book to be over, with about 75 pages left. I didn’t care how it ended, I just wanted to know how it ended.

I found this book to be cheap and easy. The writing style is so simple, Crouch barely forms complete sentences. I paused my reading a quarter of the way through to see if this book was Young Adult, because it lacked so much nuance (which I don’t mean as a dig at YA, since some YA books are amazing and subtle). Crouch shies away from developing any of the characters, aside from perhaps Jason. He fares the best, which is good for the reader, since we’re stuck with him the whole time.

Another let down in this book was that it just wasn’t original. Sure this exact story has never been told, but the idea that the choices we make could change our whole trajectory is as old as regret itself. Movies like Sliding Doors or Groundhog Day could fit into this genre. There was a lack of specificity in this book, so the characters and story fell flat. It seemed like a prototype of a genre, verses an actual novel.

I know that I am an outlier on this book and lots of people loved this one. So you might like it too. Its an easy read, and its clever in theory. If you enjoy a light suspenseful book, this could work for you. If you’ve read this one, I’d love to hear what you thought in the comments below.

  • Paperback: 406 pages
  • Publisher: Pan Books (August 24, 2017)
  • 2/5 stars
  • Buy Dark Matter on Amazon

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.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

FBEB5A70-AF55-4009-8948-134E77329E23.JPG

The truth is I had picked up this book two years ago and got 30 pages in and just wasn’t that into it. After hearing about how great it was from a bunch of people, I decided to give it a second chance. This time though, I did it as an audio book. My first audio book in years, and my first ever not on a long road trip. I’m really glad I came back to this book.

If you’re not familiar with this story here is a little more about Station Eleven

One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time—from the actor’s early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as The Travelling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains—this suspenseful, elegiac novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor’s first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet. Sometimes terrifying, sometimes tender, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

This is one of those books that will stay with you. It is a realistic and bleak examination of the apocalypse. It’s the end of the world, but without any special effects, zombies, or sci-fi. You’re left with only the realization that the world you once knew is gone, and you still must carry on. What does that look like? What does that mean? Station Eleven is the story of humanity in decline, and then whatever happens after that. Survival. Remembrance. Creation.

Mandel is skillful and deliberate in the telling of this story.  Instead of allowing the audience to escape from the horrors of life-after-pandemic by inundating us with images of death and despair, Mandel forces us to confront these terrifying moments one by one. She is sensitive to the time it takes to process these nightmares, and gently guides the reader through. She weaves the different stories together by dangling details that then become strands carried on throughout the book. Mandel’s writing moves the reader through space and time seamlessly.  There is an ease to her prose and she is delicate with the emotions she brings to the surface. It is a balance between the supremely bleak and the surprisingly hopeful.

Considering how deliberate and crafted this book is, the ending left a lot to be desired. I won’t be spoiling anything here, but I will say, it ties up a little too nicely. Toward the end, Station Eleven veers into the precious which up until this point, Mandel really has fought against. Its clean and neat, in a way post-apocalypse shouldn’t be. I won’t say more.

Since I listened to this book it is worth talking about the narrator, Kirsten Potter. She was fantastic. Her ability to shift between characters without being too over the top was greatly appreciated. She was a perfect compliment to the language and helped to articulate the struggle of the characters and the desperation of the time.

I would cosign anyone who wanted to read this book, but would highly recommend it to those who love speculative fiction, dystopian societies, or stories that weave many character together. This is a solid book with a lot to reflect on. I did not want the story to end.

  • Audio CD: 10 hours 41 minutes
  • Publisher: Random House Audio; Unabridged edition (September 9, 2014)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy Station Eleven in print or audio on Amazon

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.