July 2019 Reading Wrap Up

As this year has been progressing my reading has been slowing down in a major way. I only made it through seven books in July. I need to read at least eight books a month to hit my goal for 100 books in 2019, so I’ve got to pick it back up in August.

As far as what I read, I really enjoyed everything and the content was very diverse for women in business to forensic investigations. I think the two books thats really stood out were We Live for the We by Dani McClain and The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander. Both books were read for the podcast, and I’m very grateful to Dani McClain for bringing them into my life. I also loved Michelle Obama’s memoir, though that was to be expected. She is such an inspirational woman.

July by the Numbers

Total Books Read: 7
Audiobooks: 2
Five Star Reads: 0
Unread Shelf: 2
Books Acquired: 23

By Women Authors: 4
By Authors of Color: 3
By Queer Authors: 0
Nonfiction Reads: 6
Published in 2019: 1


Becoming by Michelle Obama

(Photo: amazon.com)

There is no doubt Michelle Obama is a national treasure and getting to hear about her life in her own words was such a wonderful experience. This memoir spans her childhood through the end of her husband, Barack Obama’s, presidency. She shares the ways her mother helped to shape her into the woman she is now, and she shares the ways she is shaping her own daughters. I was especially taken with the parts of the book in which we got an inside look at moments we had only seen through the media (the killing of Osama Bin Laden or when she touched The Queen).

The one place I wanted more from this book was when it came to what Michelle has learned and seen with her inside access to America. She and her family experienced so much racism and hatred from large swaths of the country, what did those experiences say to her about America? What did her inside access to the rich and famous say about income inequality? What has she seen that the rest of us could never fully understand? I just wished Michelle Obama was more candid in her observations about America. This was minor compared with how much I loved the book and her story and how much I felt inspired by her as a Black woman.

Four Stars | Random House Audio | November 13, 2018 | 19 Hours 3 Minutes | Audiobook | Purchase on IndieBound


How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman, M.D.

(Photo: amazon.com)

An inside look at how doctors approach their patients and their work. This book answers questions about why a doctor might miss a diagnosis, or opt out of administering a test. It also looks at how patients can guide their doctors in the right direction within their interactions, and how they can help them to think differently about their presenting symptoms.

Overall I liked this book, though at times, I drifted in and out of paying attention as git repetitive in sections. The earlier chapters were more enjoyable as a lot of the information was new. I wished Groopman had taken more time to look at the factors that play into our implicit biases like race and class. That could have made for a more full and nuanced book that could help change the way doctors and patients interact.

Three Stars | Tantor Audio | March 28, 2007 | 10 Hours 27 Minutes | Audiobook | Purchase on IndieBound


The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist: A True Story of Injustice in the American South by Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington

(Photo: amazon.com)

A deep dive into the forensics and death industry and the corruption that lives just below the surface. This book is a jaw dropper, it will make you think about the systems that are in place in America and how they play into a history of racism that has led to the imprisonment of a disproportionate number of Black and Brown men.

I really enjoyed learning about this small part of the criminal justice system. The book is extremely well researched and reported and the stories in it are nearly unbelievable. I wished the authors had been more clear in linking the history of death investigation to the story they tell of one coroner and one forensic “expert”. There are missing links in this book that could round out the story telling. Overall it is interesting and opens the readers eyes to so much corruption. It almost feels like a gateway book into deeper dives into how forensics play a role in wrongful convictions and more.

Three Stars | PublicAffairs: 1st edition | February 27, 2018 | 416 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
Listen to Radley Balko on The Short Stacks now, click HERE.


The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander

(Photo: amazon.com)

The sudden death of her husband leads Elizabeth Alexander to reflect on life and love in this gorgeous memoir. Full of the kinds of observations about what it means to truly live a full life and what it means to be a part of a community, and a family.

I was shocked by how much I enjoyed this book. It is just beautiful. Alexander is a skilled poet and she seamlessly transitions her writing from verse to prose in this memoir. The book has a sense of deep pain but also extreme lightness. For anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one this book speaks to the magic that is inherent in that pain.

Four Stars | Grand Central Publishing; Reprint edition | September 6, 2016 | 240 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

The Merchant of Venice is one of William Shakespeare’s more famous plays and is best known for being the play about “the Jew” but little more is said about this extremely complex and nuanced play. I was so glad to actually get a chance to reread it and attempt to examine the layers in this story.

In The Merchant of Venice, Shylock, the Jew, lends out money and it isn’t repaid per the terms of the loan, and Shylock is ready to collect on the debt he is owed (pound of flesh anyone?). However once it turns out that he plans to fully collect everyone becomes incredulous and begs him to show a little mercy and compassion. This is an extremely common narrative in today’s society. After the murder of nine Black people at a church in Charleston, SC there was an immediate cry for the Black community to forgive the White Supremacist who murder these innocent people. We even saw the Black President of The United States, Barack Obama, sing “Amazing Grace” in his eulogy. This cry for mercy and forgiveness is often asked of “the other”.

There is a lot more that could be said about The Merchant of Venice, so far in my journey through Shakespeare’s cannon (#ShakeTheStacks Challenge) it feels like the most layered play. It feels urgent and painful and unfortunately more timely than I would like.

Four Stars | Penguin Classics | August 1, 2008 | 103 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


We Live for the We: The Political Power of Black Motherhood by Dani McClain

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

A book that looks at the many elements of mothering for Black women. The book moves between McClain’s personal doubts and questions and her reporting on how other mothers are doing the work to raise their children in progressive and engaged ways.

I didn’t think I would connect with this book as someone who isn’t a mother, and yet, I was moved deeply by it. We Live for the We is a great reminder that the work of parenting and mothering is not only for those who have birthed or adopted children, but also to the friends and relatives who help shape those young lives. The book takes on a variety of topics that intersect and build off one another, things like pregnancy, children’s bodies, education, and activism. There is a lot in this book that is important for those who parent of all races, but especially for Black mothers.

Four Stars | Bold Type Books | April 2, 2019 | 272 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
Hear our conversation with Dani McClain on The Stacks HERE


WorkParty: How to Create & Cultivate the Career of Your Dreams by Jaclyn Johnson

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

Jaclyn Johnson (of Create & Cultivate fame) knows her stuff. She is a smart woman with a lot of insight and a very clear voice and point of view. I didn’t always like her writing style (a little too casual and filled with hashtags and pop culture references), and wonder if it will age well over time, but I appreciated much of what she had to say. She has great advice, like be a pleasure to work with, we are our reputations, and much more. She’s not rewriting the business world, but she is making it more approachable and accessible for young female entrepreneurs.

One place Johnson could have elevated WorkParty was by choosing to be more intersectional in her approach. She has centered her own story so much she doesn’t leave room to discuss Black and Brown women, people who are gender non-conforming, women who have disabilities, women who come from lower socio-economic groups and all the hurdles that these communities have to overcome just to get a seat at the table.

Overall I was surprised in the best ways by this book. There is certainly advice I will take with me as I grow as a business woman running The Stacks.

Three Stars | Gallery Books: Reprint Edition | March 5, 2019 | 256 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound
We discuss WorkParty on The Stacks Book Club, you can hear that conversation by clicking 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.

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

In her debut novel, Miracle Creek, Angie Kim tells a story that is complex and layered, the way life tends to be. The story; a fire in a Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) chamber, which is owned by a Korean immigrant family in a mostly White area, kills two people. We enter the book on day one of the trial, and we’re tasked with sorting through the stories and emotions to figure out who set the fire, and why.

Angie Kim was once a trial lawyer and it shows. The best scenes in this book are the ones in the courtroom. They move with dexterity and never feel slow and clunky, in fact, I wanted more trial scenes, and I wanted them to last longer. When Kim was interviewed on The Short Stacks, she mentioned how when writing these scenes she felt an ease of writing that she didn’t always feel in other sections. I think that can be felt in the reading of the exchanges in the courtroom.

When it comes to power dynamics Kim does a fantastic job of keeping the reader in a suspended state, constantly trying to figure out who is on top. This is played out through race, gender, language, education levels, age, and so much more. It is really impressive and subtle. Kim manipulates (in a good way) scenes from different perspectives to give situations that seemed black and white, depth, and areas of grey.

Another element of this story that is powerful is the guilt and anxiety that many of the parents feel. So much of this book centers around children with disabilities (mostly Autism) and the parent’s own fears and hopes become paramount to the story. When we are asked to hear out these mothers as human, and not just chauffeurs to and from HBOT therapy, we see a full and nuanced picture of the challenges of parenthood, especially when that parenting comes with the fear of your child being left behind. There is a lot of vulnerability that we rarely see or discuss when it comes to parenting for fear of judgement. One scene in particular is a standout when it comes to the things parents think, but never say.

There is another side of this conversation where I think Miracle Creek misses the mark. In addition to the parental anxiety, there is the sense that the only way to release that anxiety is to “fix” the child. While thats a common way people think about disability, it isn’t based in reality. Most people who are disabled and/or who have developmental challenges are fully who they are. There is no fixing, no matter how badly a parent may want their child to be seen as “normal”. The idea that a child is exactly who they are and that that is ok, is barely present in this story. The only time this perspective is shared is by the mostly two dimensional protestors, that are portrayed as the villains of this story (not a spoiler). In a story with so many points of view (the chapters are broken up by changing narrators), it would have been easy to include a voice that contradicts or challenges the parents whose children are in HBOT and other therapies.

This book takes on a lot of complex issues, and while I really enjoyed reading Miracle Creek, there were places where I wished Kim had dug deeper or found more nuanced ways to discuss topics that are very layered and not so easy to discuss.

We read Miracle Creek for The Stacks Book Club and you can hear that conversation by clicking the link below.

Ep.68 Miracle Creek by Angie Kim — The Stacks Book Club (Rachel Overvoll)

If you’ve read this book I’d love to hear your thoughts, share them in the comments below.

  • Hardcover: 368
  • PublisherSarah Crichton Books (April 16, 2019)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy Miracle Creek 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.

Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson

A collection of short stories about drifters, drug addicts and life on the margins. Jesus’ Son 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 really didn’t care about the characters in this book. The stories were fine and interesting, but overall, I wasn’t interested in what happened to them. Part of it is that this book feels overwhelmingly White and male. The point of view, the insights, and the issues all felt like shock and awe for White people, but missed the fact that many Black and Brown people are constantly living at the margins without as much sympathy, let alone books devoted to the quirk of their day to day lives.

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 singularity.

Jesus’ Son is a well crafted collection, sparse in words but big in feeling. Johnson is a fantastic writer with a unique style. He creates short sentences that pack a huge punch. While there were moments of great emotional resonance, this book wasn’t for me, in the end, I just didn’t care about the people in the stories.

I know many people consider this book to be a modern classic, and one of the greatest books of the last few decades. I am not one of those people. Author Dave Cullen (Columbine, Parkland) however is, and you can hear us discuss this book on the podcast:

Ep.66 Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson — The Stacks Book Club (Dave Cullen)

If you’ve read this book and enjoyed it, I’d love to hear your thoughts, share them in the comments below.

  • Paperback: 133
  • PublisherPicador; First edition (February 17, 2009)
  • 2/5 stars
  • Buy Jesus’ Son 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.

June 2019 Reading Wrap Up

June was a fun month where I got to attend Book Con in NYC and meet up with many awesome authors, publishers, and bookish friends. I also collected some awesome books, including my favorite read of the month, How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones. I can’t reccomend this memoir more, and it comes out in October, trust me you want to be on team pre-order. Get your copy now!

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.


June by the Numbers

Total Books Read: 8
Audiobooks: 1
Five Star Reads: 1
Unread Shelf: 2
Books Acquired: 20

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


Finding Feminism by Rachel Overvoll

(Photo: amazon.com)

In her first book Rachel Overvoll examines her childhood in a fundamentalist Evangelical family and the events that led her away from her religious past and toward a life of liberation and empowerment. Overvoll is very vulnerable and shares her past sexual assaults, her abusive relationships, and the social conditioning that led her into depression and self loathing.

To be perfectly frank, the writing in this book is just okay, but the content is compelling. A more skilled writer could have created a more emotional narrative, but Overvoll isn’t that, she is a person who wanted to tell her own story, which is to be commended. Its a quick read and gives the reader plenty to think about.

Two Stars | Peacock Proud Press; 1st edition | April 21, 2019 | 198 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound
Hear our conversation with Rachel Overvoll on the Stacks HERE


How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones

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

A stunning memoir about finding ones self at the intersection of sexuality and race. Saeed Jones shares his coming of age and his questioning of his identity and belonging and it is incredible to read. Jones’ use of prose and poetry is effortless and serves the story and creates a piece that is as enjoyable to read as it is painful.

I learned a lot about the ways we get in the way of young queer people’s, especially of color, exploration of their identities. In How We Fight for Our Lives I was able to understand the types of violence both physical and emotional, that often accompany the shame and fear about living as one’s true self. I loved this book. Saeed Jones is a force.

Five Stars | Simon & Schuster | October 8, 2019 | 198 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


How We Fight White Supremacy by Akiba Solomon and Kenrya Rankin

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

This book is a collection of essays, poems, playlists, interviews, comics, and art pieces all answering the question “how do you fight White supremacy?”. A unique and inclusive work, How We Fight White Supremacy, does a fantastic job of showing the diversity and vastness of Black resistance.

What I loved most about this book is how dynamic it is. Akiba Solomon and Kenrya Rankin have done a fantastic job of finding unique and differing voices within the Black community. The commitment to showing the vastness of Black experience pays off in a book that is not about any one thing, and yet still remains connected to the central idea of fighting White supremacy. From comedian to survivalist to author to Black Lives Matter co-founders, this book proves the point that Black people are not and have never been a monolith.

Four Stars | Bold Type Books | March 26, 2019 | 304 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound
Hear our conversation with Akiba Solomon & Kenrya Rankin on The Short Stacks HERE


I Can’t Date Jesus by Michael Arceneaux

(Photo: amazon.com)

In his memoir that is sort of funny and also very authentic, Michael Arceneaux explores his relationship to his identity as a Black gay man and how it relates to his upbringing in Houston and in the Catholic church.

There really aren’t a lot of books about coming of age and living as a Black gay man that aren’t seeped in the exploitation of trauma. This book finds a way to be honest and truthful and deal with painful family dynamics and still keep its sense of humor. I hope this book can open doors for other queer authors to share their stories in ways that we don’t often get to see. Arceneaux is a vibrant personality and it shines throughout the book. Also, he loves Beyonce and I can’t find any fault in that.

Three Stars | Atria Books | July 24, 2018 | 256 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


King John by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

One of the things I’m learning with my #ShaketheStacks journey through all of William Shakespeare’s plays is that, most of his plays that are obscure, are obscure for a reason, they aren’t that good. That is certainly the case with King John.

As with many of the other history plays, King John mostly revolves around the throne and who has the rightful claim to the power that it holds. There are really only so many ways you can tell that story, and in King John it is done in a way that feels remedial and lacks creativity and excitement. Plus, the full title of the play gives away the ending, which isn’t so bad, but in this case it feels like a trek to get there, and it fizzles out when you do.

Two Stars | Penguin Classics; Reprint edition | August 2000 | 118 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

(Photo: amazon.com)

A literary courtroom drama about a horrible accident at a medical facility that kills two people. This book is compelling from the start, a total who-done it mystery.

Angie Kim was once a trial lawyer and it shows. The scenes in the courtroom are amazing, they are vibrant and feel like you’re reading an episode of Law and Order. Kim is ambitious in including many different facets of life in this book. She draws from her own experience as a lawyer, an immigrant, and a mother which helps make these different parts of book feel full. Autism plays a huge part in this book and I didn’t find those characters to be fully explored or the different points of view to be shared as completely. Overall I really enjoyed reading this book and think it is well executed, I look forward to what comes next from Angie Kim.

Four Stars | Sarah Crichton Books | April 16, 2019 | 368 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
Hear our conversation with Angie Kim on The Short Stacks HERE and The Stacks Book Club discussion of the book HERE


The Honey Bus by Meredith May

(Photo: amazon.com)

A coming of age story of young girl trying to find her place in a family with a distant abusive mother. Mereidth May turns to her bee keeping grandfather as a role model and teacher. The book uses bees as a metaphor for May’s life.

This is a sweet story, but lacked any real emotional connection for me. This book feels very much life a YA story, and leaves a lot of the complexity out. I loved the sections with the bees, and learning about how they function as part of the hive were by far the most engaging sections of the book. Her grandfather was such a lovable figure and his passion for bees was the main saving grace of this story.

Two Stars | Park Row; Original edition | April 2, 2019 | 336 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


White Rage by Carol Anderson

(Photo: amazon.com)

A detailed look at the many ways the racial divide has been widened by White supremacy and the fear of advancement from Black people. This book is extremely well researched and full of detailed analysis of court cases, contemporaneous quotations, and more.

This book is extremely powerful and lays our the many ways Black people have been denied rights in America. Not just small individual acts of violence, but over reaching policies that are violent in their own ways. Policies that strip agency and access from Black Americans. White people have a long history of responding to Black advancement through these types of policies and Anderson lays out this history from Reconstruction to President Obama. This book is a clear indictment on the obvious and biased ways White people have made the playing field unleveled in order to get ahead. I certainly felt more equipped to understand the many injustices we see in America today, and this book is a wonderful companion to Anderson’s most recent book, One Person, No Vote. I will say this book is extremely dense, even if it is short, and take a lot of focus to unpack the facts, figures, quotes, and historical accounts. Thats not to deter anyone, rather to prepare you to make enough time to fully understand the work.

Three Stars | Bloomsbury USA; Reprint edition | September 5, 2017 | 304 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


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

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 A Bound Woman is a Dangerous Thing from the publisher. For more information click here.

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.

Throughout the book, Hill connects her poems to the history of the women’s lives through prose. I found these introductions to be extremely helpful in contextualizing her poetry. While I didn’t always connect with the poems, I was able to understand the stories being told which enhanced my experience. Poetry can be so personal, having the historical details allowed me to have thoughts about the work even if the poem didn’t speak to me.

Not all the women in the book are famous women. One section of A Bound Woman is a Dangerous Thing focuses on women from another book, Colored Amazons by Kali N. Gross. These women, have also been incarcerated, victimized, abused and in some cases killed, like their more famous counterparts in this book. They serve as a reminder that not only Harriet Tubman or Assata Shakur have had their humanity stolen away, but rather that their more notorious incarcerations are part of a long line of locking away Black women.

If the struggle and power of Black women interests you, this is a book for you. If you are working on reading more poetry, this is a great place to start, especially because the context Hill gives her readers allows for more understanding. Certainly parts of this book are a challenge to read, don’t shy away from that. The emotional responses are intentionally evoked by Hill. The discomfort is part of the story.

Listen to DaMaris B. Hill discuss this book, and much more on The Stacks

  • Hardcover: 192
  • PublisherBloomsbury Publishing (January 15, 2019)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy A Bound Woman is a Dangerous Thing 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.

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.

Richard II by William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare wrote ten of plays that are fictionalized accounts of real events and people, they are called the “History Plays” and are similar to how we today would watch a biopic. The story is based on truth, but dramatizes and imagines the story in a new (and hopefully) entertaining way. Richard II is one of those History Plays and is the first part in the eight play series that includes Richard II, HenryIV (both parts), Henry V, Henry VI (all three parts), and Richard III.

My expectations were very low for Richard II. I had seen a production years ago in New York City and found it to be very boring, however in reading the play I was thoroughly entertained. To be fair, it is a play about politics and legitimacy of governance. It is a dramatization of a theoretical conversation around who can and should rule the people. Which is to say, it is a lot of talk and not so much action, though the opening scene and the final two acts are pretty engaging. The middle of the play does drag a little, but overall I was engaged.

The language in Richard II is readable, even if Shakespeare is challenging for you, this one is pretty approachable. The characters are straight forward and tell you what they are thinking and planning. The plot is very linear, without the interruption of comedic scenes. Shakespeare utilizes language as a way to differentiate the characters. Richard, speeches are long and languid, he is eloquent and paints pictures of his one psyche through his verse. Bolingbroke is direct in his language, almost polished, and very direct.

If you like reading Shakespeare, I think this is a solid play that leaves the reader with a lot to think about. Its not the greatest ever, but after reading it, I think it is overlooked without reason. Richard II, was a reminder of why I started my #ShakeTheStacks Challenge, so that I could revisit old favorites and find new ones.

If you want more on Richard II I suggest checking out the Lend Me Your Ears podcast hosted by Isaac Butler (hear him on The Short Stacks), who you might know as co-author of TSBC pick, The World Only Spins Forward (listen to the conversation). The podcast takes on six of Shakespeare plays and connects them with current social and political issues.The episode on Richard II is fantastic, especially as a companion piece to reading the play.

Next month for #ShakeTheStacks Challenge, I’ll be reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (December 1, 2000)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy Richard II on Amazon or IndieBound

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

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

Wild Beauty: New and Selected Poems by Ntozke Shange

Wild Beauty is a compilation of poetry from one of America’s most iconic poets, Ntozake Shange. These poems span decades of her work, from her first choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf through to previously unpublished poems that deal with modern events like The Pulse Nightclub Shooting. Shange’s themes of beauty, home, pain, empowerment, joy, and the African Diaspora are all present throughout the book.

Wild Beauty is one of my first attempts at reading a collection of poetry, and I’m glad that I was able to read this book in conjunction with The Stacks Book Club with author, poet and performance artist, Gabrielle Civil. We talk about the anxieties around reading poetry and what makes a poem “good” and what it means to “get it”. All of which I found truly helpful in my own journey into reading poetry.

My biggest take away from our conversation and this book, is that I like poems that are referential to events and people. I like to know the context of the poem. I respond to poems that tell stories and engage with history and the world as I have seen it. Those poems exist in this book, poems like “Crack Annie”, “Dressing Our Wounds in Warm Clothes”, and “Ode to Orlando” all stuck with me because I was able to find common experience and understanding with Shange.

I didn’t like every poem in this book. Many were hard to get through or engage with. Sometimes that was because the phonetic spelling Shange uses through out her work, was distracting at times, though at other times it was powerful. (I should also note each poem in this collection was translated into Spanish as well). Sometimes I couldn’t figure out where Shange was coming from. I’ve learned, that that is totally ok. I’ve learned that just because a poem doesn’t work for me in the moment doesn’t mean it won’t work for me in a year. I also learned, that just because I don’t like a poem doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with me or the poem. We’re just in two different places.

I don’t know that I can recommend any book of poetry to anyone. It seems to me to be very personal. Though, I do know I recommend you check out my conversation with Gabrielle, as it is useful to anyone who loves poetry, or anyone who is hoping to add poetry to their reading life.

Hear Gabrielle Civil on The Stacks and then hear Gabrielle discussing poetry and Wild Beauty for The Stacks Book Club

  • Hardcover: 288
  • Publisher37 Ink; Bilingual edition (November 14, 2017)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy Wild Beauty 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.

Women Talking by Miriam Toews

The Stacks received Women Talking from the publisher. For more information click here.

Women Talking is just that, a book about women talking, it is also so much more. Between 2005-2009 women in a Mennonite community in Bolivia were drugged and raped by a group of men in their colony, Women Talking is inspired by these events, and imagines a secret meeting between eight women and one man (their note taker, and our narrator) in a barn on the colony where they debate their options. Do they stay and fight or leave their home?

What is remarkable about this book is Toews’ ability to present multiple nuanced arguments for both staying and leaving, and never fully force us to pick one. She allows her reader space to understand the many sides without asking us to make the ultimate value judgement on what is right and wrong. What is the thing that must be done. Which, in a piece about rape and violation, seems like the most obvious choice, but going against that impulse is what keeps Women Talking interesting instead of predictable. She gives her characters the contradiction we so often resist in ourselves and those around us. She gives her characters the permission to be right and wrong in the same breath.

Toews is a professional writer, and it shows in the book. Her use of craft and nuance and the patience within the story make for an emotional (if not anxious) read. You’re never quite sure where she is taking you. She infuses Women Talking with the humor that is real and truthful in the face of trauma, but she does not shy away from the brutal unexpected pain that is also true when one is faced with the realization that they never have been, nor never will be safe. She complicates all of this by giving us a male narrator who is non-threat to the women. He is an interpreter for us and for the women, it is a layer that is practical and provoking.

Women Talking feels like a long conversation, a debate, a back and forth that never fully settles. Mostly this feels intentional, but there is a part of the book that feels safe in the unanswerable questions. Toews allows her readers to come to their own thoughts, but that also allows the reader to hide in their own biases. It is easy to be on the side of the women in the story, and it is easy to say these acts are heinous, but there is never a true call to respond, there is never a true call to react. Women Talking lacks the potency to make a point that feels somewhere out of reach. I am not sure what the take away from this story was, perhaps just that pain is part of life and we must carry on and find the joy in these things. Or maybe, that we all have the power to make choices for ourselves. These messages are true, but not particularly potent or urgent in this moment, or in the scope of the story.

Overall I enjoyed reading this book though I felt slightly underwhelmed when it was all said and done. I loved reading Toews’ story and her thinking and sensing her mulling over the questions she was asking through her characters. I’m not sure if she, or we, or they, every get to the answers, and perhaps none of us ever will.

Click here to hear Miriam Toews on The Short Stacks discussing Women Talking and more.

  • Hardcover: 240
  • PublisherBloomsbury Publishing (April 2, 2019)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy Women Talking 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.

Experiments in Joy by Gabrielle Civil

The Stacks received Experiments in Joy from the publisher. For more information click here.

To be perfectly honest I’d never heard of a performance memoir before I read Experiments in Joy, the second book by author and artist Gabrielle Civil. I was only nudged to pick up this book after booking Civil as a guest on The Stacks. In the case of Experiments in Joy, a performance memoir is a mix of letters, conversations, performance notes, photos, stage directions, criticism, and poetry to tell a fractured story of Civil’s life as an artist. It covers a handful of her performance pieces and gives them a fuller context than simply seeing the piece live.

I’ve never read anything like this book, and as a reader I oscillated between enjoying Civil’s process and being annoyed at having to read descriptions of things I would much rather be watching. The how of these pieces coming together was much more interesting to me than the actual what (think excerpts of scripts) that was sprinkled through out.

Civil is very honest and open with her audience, allowing us to read intimate letters from past collaborators and lovers. She shares insecurities in her own work and confronts her process head on. She also shares her joy and anxieties, her successes and reflections.You get to know her, and like her, through her process. This isn’t the kind of memoir where you hear about Civil’s childhood (at least not too much). It is more a memoir of the work itself as opposed to the person, though those things become inextricably linked when dealing with performance art.

Like in a collection of poems, some sections resonated with me and sparked interest, others were mere blips on my radar as I read toward the end of the book. I think that is ok. It doesn’t all have to land, and the sections can be read alone or in the context of the entire book.

If you’re an artist or someone who likes to grapple with the art of creation this book might spark something in you. If you’ve heard Gabrielle on The Stacks, you might likewise be intrigued to read this book. Hearing her speak about this book, and her first book Swallow the Fish, made me understand her work and the genre of Performance Memoir a lot better.

  • Paperback: 276
  • PublisherCivil Coping Mechanisms (February 15, 2019)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy Experiments in Joy 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.