The Best Things We Read in 2018

Dear Listeners,

Instead of giving you a round up of the “best books” of 2018, I’ve reached out to past guests from the podcast and asked them to share their favorite reads in 2018. I loved talking to this diverse group of humans about reading, hearing their unique perspectives on books and their power to change, inspire, excite, and frustrate, so I decided I’d ask them for more!  Each guest shared with me, in their own words, their favorite book they read in 2018 and one book they hope to get to in 2019. 

Thank you all for listening to the show, and thank you again to this group of amazing humans for sharing their reading life with all of us.

Traci


Alessandra Montalto/The New York Times

Dallas Lopez
Teacher and Law Student 

Moving to Oakland and identifying as an Urban Indian, I was enthralled by the complexity of Tommy Orange’s  There There and how he wove in the stories of multiple characters who all converge into one powerful yet, ironic ending. 
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2019: The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

Dallas was our guest for Episode 1 , and then joined us to discuss Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, Episode 2.


CreditSonny Figueroa/The New York Times

Sarah Fong
PhD Candidate in Ethnic Studies

Zora Neal Hurston’s Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo moved me in a profound way. The Atlantic Slave Trade looms large in US history and yet it often feels as if we know very little about it. This of course is not true as there are many, many studies and stories written about the Middle Passage and the experience of slavery once captives reached the Americas. What is largely absent from the literature on US slavery, however, are the personal stories of those who lived it. Barracoon gifts us a deeply human glimpse of what enslavement meant for one man. In the telling of this story, I was struck by the interactions between Hurston and Kossola. I couldn’t help but wonder what the experience of interviewing Kossola meant for Hurston, and what that can tell us about how the legacy of slavery continues to ramify across generations.
Book(s) I’m looking forward to reading in 2019: How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective edited by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor and  As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom through Radical Resistance by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson

Sarah was our guest on Episode 3 and then returned to discuss Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward, Episode 4.


Chris Maddox
TV Writer

My favorite book I read in 2018 was Mystery in Harare by Dr. M. J. Simms-Maddox. Not only was I trilled to read my grandmother’s second novel within her trilogy, but I also enjoyed learning aspects about Apartheid amidst a page-turning thriller.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2019: Gone So Long by Andre Dubus III

Chris was our guest on Episode 5, and you can hear discuss Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin, Episode 6.


Sam Pinkleton
Director and Choreographer

CreditPatricia Wall/The New York Times

My favorite read of 2018 was Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. Friday Black , is a short story collection that must be read to be believed. He creates totally surreal universes that are more real than real life. This is the kind of book that made me breathless in the first few pages; that gave me that totally rare and specific feeling of knowing you’re reading something for the first time that you’ll carry with you forever.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2019: East of Eden by John Steinbeck

Sam was our guest for Episode 7, and then joined us to discuss Vulgar Favors: The Hunt for Andrew Cunanan, the Man Who Killed Gianni Versace by Maureen Orth, Episode 8.


Vella Lovell
Actress (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend)

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I think my favorite book I read this year was An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. It is the story of a young black couple whose marriage is interrupted in its first year by the young man being falsely accused of rape and imprisoned. It is a harsh, tender, unpredictable story about relationships, the inevitability of change, being black in America, the prison system, and love. Jones is incredibly skilled at left turns, and it is one of those books that completely drew me in. I can’t wait to read whatever she writes next.
Book(s) I’m looking forward to reading in 2019: Swing Time by Zadie Smith and On Beauty by Zadie Smith

Vella was our guest on Episode 9, and returned to discuss New Boy by Tracy Chevalier, Episode 10.


Ross Asdourian
Producer, Author of Broken Bananah: Life, Love, and Sex… Without a Penis

My favorite read of 2018 was The Cannabis Manifesto by Steve DeAngelo. It is to the industry, what the documentary 13th is to incarceration. It’s an intelligent read and great knowledge base for a debate that will only consume more of the country with time. 
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2019: Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood  by Trevor Noah

Ross joined The Stacks for Episode 13, and later discussed The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg, Episode 14.


Lauren Fanella
Reader and Bookstagrammer, @literarylauren_

One of my favorite reads of 2018 was The Hours by Michael Cunningham. He seamlessly weaved the stories of three women living in different places at different times so effortlessly. The writing was beautiful and eloquent with richly drawn characters. This book had such a profound effect on me.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2019: The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh

You can hear Lauren on Episode 15 and then our discussion of Reincarnation Blues by Michael Poore, Episode 16.


Ashley North
Celebrity Stylist and CEO

The book I enjoyed the most this year was Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison. I read it with my girls and it was fun to learn along with them.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2019: Becoming by Michelle Obama

Ashley was our guest on Episode 17, and discussed Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes on Episode 18.


Jay Connor
Writer, Creator and Co-Host of The Extraordinary Negroes Podcast

Alessandra Montalto/The New York Times

My favorite read of 2018 was Kiese Laymon’s Heavy. It’s one of the most emotional journeys I’ve ever experienced while reading a memoir. From it’s deconstruction and examination of the black male body’s place in America to it’s fascination with discovering truth, it’s an exceptional read. 
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2019: What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker by Damon Young

Jay is our guest on Episode 19, and discussed Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Episode 20.


Becca Tobin
Actress (Glee), Co-Host of LadyGang Podcast and TV Show

Favorite book I read this year, Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty. I absolutely loved this read! Moriarty is the same author of another one of my favorite books, (and TV show) Big Little Lies. Her writing is fantastic and this is a very juicy read!!!
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2019: The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner

Becca was our guest on Episode 21, and returned to talk about The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner, Episode 22.


Jo Piazza
Author of Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win, and host of Committed podcast

I usually HATE short story collections. I feel like they’re usually just a big MFA masturbation, but I still think about every single story in Florida by Lauren Groff. I couldn’t wait to get to the next one and I have gifted it to at least 15 people.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2019: Becoming by Michelle Obama

You can hear Jo on Episode 23, and our conversation about Motherhood by Sheila Heti on Episode 24.


Zeke Smith
Writer, Activist

My favorite read of 2018 was The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin. It’s a (light) fantasy romp with elves and goblins, diplomats and spies. Part graphic novel, part prose, Brangwain plays with point of view in a way that challenges perceptions of politics, friendship, and diplomacy. 
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2019: Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States by Samantha Allen

You can hear Zeke on Episode 25, and our discussion of Less by Andrew Sean Greer, Episode 26


Nancy Rommelmann
Author of To The Bridge: A True Story of Motherhood and Murder

My favorite book of 2018 — which I had the delight of discussing with Traci on The Stacks! — was Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, by John Carreyrou. It’s a masterful portrait of a charming sociopath/narcissist/whatever you want to call Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of the “is there really anything here but hype?” blood-testing company Theranos. A friend recently told me that Carreyrou is his neighbor so you might be in for some real-life fan-girling from me in 2019.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2019: Panic Attack: Young Radicals in the Age of Trump by Robby Soave

Nancy was our guest on Episode 27, and discussed her favorite read of the year Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou on Episode 28.


Harris Cohn
Community Organizer and Activist

My favorite read of 2018 was Give Us the Ballot:The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America by Ari Berman.  It’s about the history of voting rights in America.  Makes me want to go hit the streets and make our country better!
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2019: Becoming by Michelle Obama

Harris was our guest on Episode 29, and returned to discuss How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, Episode 30.


Heather John Fogarty
Journalist

Patricia Wall/The New York Times

It’s been years since I’ve read a novel as beautifully written as The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner, which centers around a woman incarcerated in a California prison. It’s as bleak as it is beautiful, offering grittier snap shots of San Francisco and Los Angeles while also exploring the women’s prison system. I found myself rereading paragraphs just because the writing was so incredible. 
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2019: The Source of Self-Regard by Toni Morrison

You can hear Heather on Episode 31, and our conversation of To The Bridge:A True Story of Motherhood and Murder by Nancy Rommelmann on Episode 32.


Reneé Hicks
Founder of Book Girl Magic

My favorite read of 2018 was Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittney Cooper. It is such an empowering book for black women (and probably all women) to read. Cooper reminds us that being angry isn’t necessarily a bad thing, that we should never settle for less than we deserve and that our “rage” is our superpower. OWN IT!
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2019: The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory

Reneé was our guest on Episode 33, and discussed The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison on Episode 34.


Aja Gabel
Author of The Ensemble

Alessandra Montalto/The New York Times

My favorite read of 2018 was Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado. This collection of surreal feminist stories is the Joy Williams/George Saunders mashup of your dreams.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2019: Exhalation by Ted Chiang

You can hear Aja on Episode 35, and our discussion of If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim on Episode 36.


Traci Thomas
Host of The Stacks

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward is a haunting memoir that has stuck with me throughout the year. Ward’s account of life in rural Mississippi set against the backdrop of the deaths of five young Black men in her life who died over four consecutive years. Ward’s writing is fantastic, and her story is as devastating as it is empowering, and what it all says about Black life in America is powerful beyond measure. A Black Lives Matter memoir, before we had the hashtag.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2019: How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

You can find Traci on all of The Stacks episodes.


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

To the Bridge: A True Story of Motherhood and Murder by Nancy Rommelmann

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

A friend who recommends you books that you love is a rare and valuable friend. I am lucky to have such friends, who tell me what to read, and rarely lead me astray. I came to To The Bridge by Nancy Rommelmann through one of these friends, my book recommending savant Heather John Fogarty. Heather told me about the book months before it came out, even before I had created The Stacks. She knew it was my kind of book. So once I decided to start the podcast, it seemed obvious Heather would be a guest and we would discuss it for The Stacks Book Club. That episode is out now, and you can listen to it here.

Here is more about To The Bridge

On May 23, 2009, Amanda Stott-Smith drove to the middle of the Sellwood Bridge in Portland, Oregon, and dropped her two children into the Willamette River. Forty minutes later, rescuers found the body of four-year-old Eldon. Miraculously, his seven-year-old sister, Trinity, was saved. As the public cried out for blood, Amanda was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to thirty-five years in prison.

Embarking on a seven-year quest for the truth, Rommelmann traced the roots of Amanda’s fury and desperation through thousands of pages of records, withheld documents, meetings with lawyers and convicts, and interviews with friends and family who felt shocked, confused, and emotionally swindled by a woman whose entire life was now defined by an unspeakable crime. At the heart of that crime: a tempestuous marriage, a family on the fast track to self-destruction, and a myriad of secrets and lies as dark and turbulent as the Willamette River.


Nancy Rommelmann has crafted a layered and nuanced book with To The Bridge. She never falls into the trap of trying to make the book easy or clear. She presents her investigation and trusts that we, the readers, are smart enough to draw our own conclusions. For me, the conclusions were less obvious than I would have hoped, they were complex and often times contradictory, they came out of the work Rommelmann had done.

Where this book soars is in Rommelmann’s ability to sift through all the information she’d gathered. She is our guide into the world of this toxic relationship, between Amanda Stott-Smith and her estranged husband Jason Smith, and while she is somewhat objective, she also becomes a subject of her own writing. She is a character in this book.  At first Rommelmann’s pressence in the book threw me off, I was not excited about author and subject in a non-memoir type of true crime book. However in the end it didn’t bother me at all. I maybe even liked it a little, it helped me to understand this rocky landscape more clearly.

This is one of those books that you think you know how it is going to go, and if I’m being honest nothing really surprised me. Sure, there were details I didn’t guess, but mostly the story of sociopaths follows a pattern and this book just highlights those patterns. We all know that something is wrong if a mother is killing her children. However in To The Bridge we are not forced to read a sensational account of the events that led Stott-Smith to the bridge. Instead Rommelmann affords her subjects dignity and autonomy, and ultimately asks us to hold them accountable.

There are certainly things I wished would have been presented more expressly in the book. I would have appreciated if Rommelmann gave me the answers. I would have loved to know exactly what Amanda was thinking when she dropped her kids off the Sellwood bridge that night. But, To The Bridge can not definitively answer that question for me. I don’t even know is Amanda herself could answer for certain. What I respect about this book is that Rommelmann investigates to try to find out why, and then she shows us her work. She doesn’t shy away from the messy realities of the toxicity of Amanda and Jason’s marriage and she doesn’t let those around them off the hook for their complacency. I would love final answers, but that is not how life works. Things can get complicated, and this book leans into that complexity, it doesn’t attempt to smooth ir out.

If you like investigative journalism, if you like uncovering the story beneath the story, then this is a book for you. It moves fast, and is an easy read even though the subject matter is anything but. If you are a sensitive reader or are triggered by domestic abuse and child abuse then I would suggest you prepare yourself for this book, or set it aside for another time.

Don’t forget to listen the The Stacks with Heather John Fogarty discussing To The Bridge.

  • Hardcover: 303 pages
  • Publisher: Little A (July 1, 2018)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy on To The Bridge 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.

Ep. 32 To The Bridge by Nancy Rommelmann — The Stacks Book Club

cropped-TheStacks_logo_final.jpgWhen a mother, Amanda Stott-Smith, throws her two young children off of a bridge, one journalist tries to understand why. That is the premise of Nancy Rommelmann’s true crime book, To The Bridge. This week, for The Stacks Book Club, we discuss this haunting book with journalist Heather John Fogarty. While the story of Stott-Smith and her children is true, if you’re not familiar with the events there will be some spoilers on this week’s episode.

You can find everything we talk about this week in the show notes below. By shopping through the links you help support The Stacks, at no cost to you. Shop on Amazon and iTunes.

Connect with Heather: Heather’s Website|Heather’s Instagram

Connect with The Stacks: Instagram|The Stacks Website|Facebook|Twitter|Subscribe|Patreon|Goodreads|Traci’s Instagram

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.

Sponsors

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

My Mentor Book Club – for 50% off your first month of new nonfiction from My Mentor Book Club go to mymentorbookclub.com/thestacks


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.

Ep. 27 Talking Investigative Journalism with Nancy Rommelmann

cropped-TheStacks_logo_final.jpgThis week we are joined by author and journalist, Nancy Rommelmann. Nancy talks to us about her newest book To The Bridge: A True Story of Motherhood and Murder, her process as an investigative journalist, and about the time she traveled to see John Wayne Gacy on death row.

You can find everything we talk about this week in the show notes below. By shopping through the links you help support The Stacks, at no cost to you. Shop on Amazon and iTunes.

BOOKS

EVERYTHING ELSE

Connect with Nancy: Nancy’s Instagram|Nancy’s Twitter|Nancy’s Website

Connect with The Stacks: Instagram|The Stacks Website|Facebook|Twitter|Subscribe|Patreon|Goodreads|Traci’s Instagram

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.

Sponsors

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

My Mentor Book Club – for 50% off your first month of new nonfiction from My Mentor Book Club go to mymentorbookclub.com/thestacks


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 Stacks Books Club – November Books

D379018B-E470-4A23-8C9E-742736251730I am thrilled to announce the two books we will be reading in November as part of The Stacks Book Club. Both books are written by women, and tell the stories of women. While their subjects are wildly different, the books both discuss family, abuse, and identity.

The first book we’re reading in November is To The Bridge by Nancy Rommelmann. To The Bridge tells the true story of Amanda Stott-Smith, a mother who dropped her two young children off a bridge in Portland, OR. Through investigative journalism, the book tries to answer the questions of why and how something like this could happen. We will read and discuss To The Bridge  on November 7th.

Then on November 21st, we will discuss an American classic, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. In Morrison’s first novel, we examine our obsessions with beauty and conformity through the eyes of a young Black girl, Pecola Breedlove. The Bluest Eye asks powerful questions about race, gender, and class, and is a testament to Morrison’s artful skill as one of America’s greatest writers.

As with all our TSBC books, we want to hear from you. If you’re reading along, send over your thoughts or questions so we can have the conversations you want to hear. You can email us at thestackswithtraci@gmail.com, comment on this post, or reach out to us through our Instagram @thestackspod.

Order your copies of our November books on Amazon:

If you want to have input on future books we discuss on this show, become a member of The Stacks Pack by clicking here.


The Stacks received To The Bridge free from the publisher. For more information on our commitment to honesty and transparency click here.

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