February 2019 Reading Wrap-Up

Here is what I read for February. My standout by far was Lot by Bryan Washington which comes out in March. Its a collection of short stories, and I just loved it. I wasn’t a huge fan of I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid, but I am looking forward to discussing it on The Stacks as part of The Stacks Book Club in March.

As far as diverse reading, I read a whole bunch of books by queer men, four to be exact, I guess five if you want to included William Shakespeare, but thats a conversation for another day. I didn’t do so well reading women in February, only one book by a woman, possibly an all time low since I started keeping track. Only three of the books I read were by authors of color. I have my work cut out for me in March.

You can find my reading month by the numbers and short reviews of everything I read below.


February by the Numbers

Total Books Read: 9
Audiobooks: 1
Five Star Reads: 1
DNF Books: 0
Unread Shelf: 1
Books Acquired: 21

By Women Authors: 1
By Authors of Color: 3
By Queer Authors: 4
Nonfiction Reads: 5
Published in 2019: 4

Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes by Tony Kushner

(Photo: amazon.com)

Arguably one of the definitive plays of modern theatre, Angels in America, is a two part epic about the AIDS crisis in America in the mid 1980’s. The play has been celebrated since it was first produced in 1992, winning the Pulitzer Prize, multiple Tony Awards, and Emmy awards for the 2003 HBO adaptation of the play. The play is a behemoth of the stage and it works on the page as well.

I really enjoyed rereading part one, Millennium Approaches, and it was my first time ever reading part two, Perestroika. Kushner does an amazing job of creating a world and characters and still maintaining the magic of the theatre. The most central idea of the entire play is change over time. How do we change? Can we ever really change? What happens when we do? What happens when we don’t?

Some of the scenes and dialogue are so wild and poetic and at times nonsensical, and it all works. Even when you’re confused or annoyed it works. There is something innately human about the story Kushner tells. If you’ve not read this play, it is worth your time. Or watch the star-studded HBO film. It is a cultural cornerstone, rightfully so, learn about it. Engage with it. Enjoy it.

Four Stars | Theatre Communications Group; 20th Anniversary Edition | December 24, 2013 | 304 Pages | Paperback


Black Is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother’s Time, My Mother’s Time, and Mine by Emily Bernard

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

A collection of essays about life in her own Black body, Emily Bernard writes about a random act of violence against her, academia, adopting her children, her relationship to her ancestors, among other things. I found this book to be inconsistent, the earlier essays (especially the first two) clearly had something to say. They were thoughtful and thought provoking. As the book went on, I lost interest in much of Bernard’s writing and couldn’t quiet find the through line.

It is worth noting this is not a book about deep trauma (aside from the first essay) and that is refreshing. Sure, racism and bias play into any work of nonfiction by a Black woman, how could it not, but Bernard is creating something more subtle, explaining a Black experience that we don’t often hear. One of a Black academic in Vermont, born and raised in the South, married to a White man, raising Ethiopian daughters. Black is the Body is the story of that truth. Bernard (and to some extent Knopf) allowing us to read these essays is, in a way, a form of resistance against the tropes of Blackness and the trauma that is associated with skin color.

I would suggest this book to readers who have read many Black nonfiction narratives and who might be interested in something a little different. Though not the best essay collection I’ve read, there is a lot to witness in this writing.

Three Stars | Knopf | January 29, 2019 | 240 Pages | Hardcover


If You’re in My Office, It’s Already Too Late: A Divorce Lawyer’s Guide to Staying Together by James J. Sexton, Esq.

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

A divorce lawyers how-not-to be married. This book is full of advice, and whatever the opposite of advice is, for a happy marriage. Sexton is funny and charming, if not a little focused on gender roles and heteronormative ideas. In his defense (sort of), he deals in the legality of marriage, and until 2015, same sex relationships wasn’t something that he litigating.

I enjoyed If You’re in My Office, It’s Already Too Late, it isn’t ground breaking, but it is exactly what it claims to be, and that is refreshing. It had some interesting and unique advice, like splitting custody of your kids even when you’re married. He also suggests speaking up when you’re unhappy and a lot of other common sense things, that many couples forget to do. Nothing life changing, but certainly helpful. I appreciate that Sexton doesn’t try to be a guru, he just shares what he’s seen, and as far as I can tell from this book, he has seen it all. The book does run a little longer than needed, and gets repetitive by the end.

If you’re looking for ideas on how to be a better partner or spouse, or are considering getting married, I would suggest you check out this book. It is a little different than the normal relationship advice, and goes down pretty easy.

Three Stars | Henry Holt and Co. | April 10, 2018 | 288 Pages | Hardcover


I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid

(Photo: amazon.com)

A psychological thriller about a relationship and theories on life and interaction. I don’t want to say much about this book for three reasons: first, we’re doing the book on podcast and we’ll be discussing it in detail, two, its a thriller so I don’t want to spoil anything, three, and most importantly, I’m not sure I understood what happened in this book.

What I will say, is there wasn’t much there for me in this book. I wasn’t wild about the depiction of the female lead, she was passive and demure in a way that was irritating. She continually deferred to the male lead (which is part of the plot) in the face of her own instincts, it wasn’t believable, it was clearly a male fantasy about a “good” woman. While the book is generally tense and a little scary, there wasn’t enough there there, and the ending fell flat for me.

I’ve seen a lot of mixed reviews on this book, and it is entirely possible I missed it. If you do read this book tell me your thoughts, and be sure to tune into the episode where we talk about I’m Thinking of Ending Things, on March 27th.

Two Stars | Gallery/Scout Press; Reprint edition | March 21, 2017 | 240 Pages | Paperback
I’m Thinking of Ending Things is TSBC pick for March 27. Stay tuned for more content around this book.


I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You: A Letter To My Daughter by David Chariandy

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

In this letter to his teenaged daughter, David Chariandy attempts explain the politics of race as he has experienced them. He discusses his own identity, Black and South Asian from Trinidad, and that of his ancestors in relationship to the world of his daughter. The role of family. What it means to be a person of color in Canada, and what it means to be alive in brown skin.

I most appreciated the conversation between father and daughter which is often overlooked, especially in stories from people of color. While Chariandy doesn’t really delve into gender politics in this book, there is something tender and special about him making the choice to address his daughter (and yes, he has a son, he chose to write to his daughter). Mostly he focuses on what it means to be seen as Black and to have come from so many cultures. Chariandy’s daughter is mixed, as is he, and engaging with the complexity of these truths was where the book was at its best.

While sections of the book were captivating, there were also sections where Chariandy was unable to hold my attention. I appreciated the idea behind the book, but I don’t know that I understood why it needed to be written, or that it has a particularly strong point of view.

Three Stars | Bloomsbury | March 5, 2019 | 96 Pages | Hardcover


Lot by Bryan Washington

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

A collection of short stories about Black and Brown life in a neighborhood in Houston, told all in the first person with differing narrators, this book is a work of creativity and true craft. Unlike most short story collections where there is no sense of progress or growth over time, in Lot, Washington uses one family as our anchor and we get to watch as their lives unfold through alternating stories. That is supplemented with other stories of people from the “lot”.

Washington’s perspective on life and sex and family and gentrification are subtle and smart and really beautiful. The stories are small and intimate. He centers queerness and cultural homophobia in a way that is honest and not preachy. I would find myself smirking at the humor and then feeling gutted a few pages later by the harsh realities of these character’s world. A well rounded collection that really illustrates a time, place, and people.

Some standout stories for me were “Lot”, “Waugh”, and “Congress”, but I would say each story enhances the next. This is a great collection, and its a debut by a 25-year-old. I can not wait for more from Bryan Washington.

Five Stars | Riverhead | March 19, 2019 | 240 Pages | Hardcover


Parkland: Birth of a Movement by Dave Cullen

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
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One of my most anticipated reads of 2019, Parkland was not what I was expecting, but it was so well done, it didn’t matter. It should be said, if you’re expecting to read Columbine 2.0 you might feel a little let down. Parkland is about the children who survived the shooting at Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School in February 2018, and the activism work they took on, as leaders of the March for Our Lives Movement.

Cullen is an expert storyteller. His empathy drips off the page and allows you to really see the humanity in people. I have to imagine, as one of his subjects, that empathy is palpable in person as well, I think thats how he gets such in depth looks at people. To think that this book was written and published in less than a year from the date of the shooting is incredible. Cullen chronicles all that the teens went through and accomplished without being too self serious or important. He lends the correct amount of gravity to events and still maintains an air of hope and possibility.

If you’re looking for a book about the mass murder and shooter, Parkland is not your book. There hasn’t been enough time for the comprehensive story on the tragedy in Parkland to come to light, let alone be written (it wasn’t until ten years after the Columbine shooting that Cullen’s book, Columbine came out). If you’re interested in the fight for gun safety laws and the kids that have started to make a difference. Then this book is perfect for you.

Four Stars | Harper | February 12, 2019 | 400 Pages | Hardcover


The Two Gentlemen of Verona by William Shakespeare

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One of Shakespeare’s early comedies, The Two Gentlemen of Verona tells the story of two men who love two women, and then that all changes. It is about the conflict between friendship and love and the crazy things people in love will do.

This play is just fine. It is fun to see and pretty boring to read. Neither the plot nor language is particularly exciting. Though this play is a great example of characters changing their minds, which when performed, can be pretty funny. Proteus, one of our gentlemen, falls in and out of love so quickly its hard to keep up. Something that is absolutely thrilling and deeply troubling when you see it on stage, but in writing feels a little manic. There are also two women characters who are smart and loyal and capable, which I always love seeing, especially in classic literature. Without spoiling, I will say the final scene of the play is worth the wait. It brings up ideas of female autonomy, forgiveness, and platonic male love, in a way that leaves the reader with a lot to think about. The ending of this play has been debated by scholars for decades, and there is still so much left undecided.

The Two Gentelmen of Verona is not a great play, its fine. I would say its better on the stage than the page, but if you’re working on reading Shakespeare, its a good place to start as it is an easy read and very digestible.

Three Stars | Penguin Classics; New edition | February 1, 2000 | 92 Pages | Paperback


When We Rise: My Life in the Movement by Cleve Jones

(Photo: amazon.com)

A memoir of a life committed to fighting for equality, When We Rise is a true ode to the power of resistance and an ode to the Gay Community. The story of San Francisco queer culture is told beautifully by Cleve Jones, a man who was there for so much of it. Jones guides us through the people and places that were pivotal in the movement, like Harvey Milk and Anne Kronenberg and the people that were footnotes of the time like Jim Jones and Anita Bryant. The book is a who’s who of San Francisco and the Gay Community.

This book isn’t all history, it is also hugely about humanity. Jones is known for creating the AIDS Quilt as a way of seeing and acknowledging those who died and making sure they were never forgotten. It is that kind of humanity that is throughout the entire book. Jones celebrates the beauty, power, creativity, and strength of the Gay community throughout this memoir. The love he has for his people is palpable in the book. He doesn’t shy away from talking about the drag queens and the sex and the freedom of the time. There is no shame, only a truthful story of what life was like, once upon a time.

I listened to this book and Jones narrates, and I loved hearing his inflections as he walked us through his life in the movement. I was especially moved as he recounted the utter devastation that AIDS had on his life and his community. If you’re interested in a story of Gay Rights, both history and humanity, told from the perspective of a man who was there, I highly recommend you check out When We Rise.

Four Stars | Hachette Audio | November 29, 2016 | 9 Hours 31 Minutes | Audiobook


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.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona by William Shakespeare

The Two Gentlemen of Verona is one of Shakespeare earliest comedies, and was the February read for the #ShakeTheStacks Challenge. It is the story of Proteus and Valentine, two young men who are best friends and in love with two different women, Julia and Silvia. As the play goes on, things change, mostly Proteus, and the whole thing goes off the rails. There is crossdressing, a dog, some rebels, love songs, and banishments. Its a whole thing.

This play is not a great read, it is much better on stage. A lot of the humor is physical, revolving around Launce and his dog, Crab. Not to mention Proteus’ change in a allegiance makes most sense when its seen, on the page it feels manic and unfounded.

The women in this play are fiercely loyal and committed to their own happiness. They both are able to express their free will in a way that many women characters are not, even in today’s literature, especially that written by men. Both Julia and Silvia get to be a little mean, which I love. Sure, they’re also a little spoiled, but their hearts are in the right place.

The ending of the play has left scholars stumped/in debate with each other for centuries. The pay off of the complicated and morally troubling ending is really something. Seeing the play (and having been in it, as Silvia), and how each actor plays the ending is really what makes the ending so confounding.

The writing to The Two Gentlemen of Verona is very straight forward, and if you’re new to Shakespeare’s plays it is a great pick. Otherwise, I might not suggest this one. It doesn’t have a ton to say that doesn’t get said better in other plays like A Midsummers Night Dream or As You Like It. The Two Gentlemen of Verona feels like a place that Shakespeare started exploring themes like, loyalty in conflict with love, women dressing up like men, and love triangles gone wrong.

Next month for #ShakeTheStacks Challenge, I’ll be reading Love’s Labour’s Lost.


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.

January 2019 Reading Wrap-Up

Starting this month, I’ll be giving mini reviews for all of my reads each month. For longer reviews on each book check out The Stacks Instagram page. You can also find full length reviews for any books we feature on the show under the Reviews tab and any other reviews I just feel compelled to write. My hope is to streamline my reviews and make them easier for you all to read and enjoy.

I’ll also be giving you my month by the numbers, as a way to give you all a snapshot of what I read, and to hold myself accountable to reading diverse and inclusive books.

January by the Numbers

Total Books Read: 9
Audiobooks: 0
Five Star Reads: 1
DNF Books: 0
Unread Shelf: 9
Books Acquired: 21

By Women Authors: 5
By Authors of Color: 4
By Queer Authors: 0
Nonfiction Reads: 6
Published in 2019: 1

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung

(Photo: amazon.com)

Nicole Chung’s story of her transracial adoption, searching for her birth parents, and becoming a mother come together beautifully in this her memoir, All You Can Ever Know. Chung is vulnerable and honest in a way that is rare, refreshing, and greatly appreciated as a reader. Chung shares her hopes, fears, insecurities, and expectations with her reader as if she is writing in her journal. I was deeply moved in reading this book, and found common ground with Chung when it came to identity, as I am the product of an interracial marriage.

There were pieces to the story that left me wanting more, and I feel a bit selfish to be asking for more from Chung who is so open with her reader. I would have liked more on what parts of her childhood (as a Korean raised by White parents) she is still grappling with as an adult, and how she interacts with the world because of her upbringing.

Overall, this book is very good. Chung is a writer with a gentle touch that packs a lot of power. She is unrelenting in sharing her own thoughts and experiences and for that I am grateful. Also there is Cindy, and I won’t say much, except that I felt so much love and respect for Cindy, and when you read the book, you’ll know. I would suggest this book to people who love a good emotional memoir, people interested in adoption stories, and people who enjoy the active search for identity.

Four Stars | Catapult | October 4, 2018 | 240 Pages | Hardcover
All You Can Ever Know is TSBC pick for February 13. You can hear The Short Stacks with author Nicole Chung HERE, and TSBC episode with Vanessa McGrady HERE.Read a full review of All You Can Ever Know, HERE.


Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

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

A collection of unique and imaginative short stories that provide a commentary on race, violence, consumerism, and survival in America. The writing is at times snarky and smart and then can flip in an instant to be poignant. Some of the stories in Friday Black were pitch perfect and found a great balance between reflection and experience. Some of the other stories never quiet landed with me. The two stories that stand out most (“Zimmer Land” and “Finklestein 5”) deal with the fragility of Black pain and the violence that Black people endure just to live. They comment on events and realities that are part of the American cultural zeitgeist.

I suggest Friday Black to lovers of short stories, racial politics, and people interested in thinking about capitalism in a different way. Warning, there is a lot of (stylized) violence in this book.

Three Stars | Mariner Books | October 23, 2018 | 208 Pages | Paperback
Friday Black is TSBC pick for February 27. Stay tuned for more content around this book.


Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones

(Photo: amazon.com)

A fictionalized look at life in Atlanta during the Atlanta Child Murders as told from the perspective of three fifth graders. In her debut novel, Tayari Jones examines the changing responsibilities for Black children as the move toward adulthood. She engages with the unfortunate truth that Black children are forced to grow up too early, and that they are vulnerable to the world around them. Her characters have to come to terms with their Blackness and what that means to the rest of the world. Jones loves her characters and knows them well, she speaks for them without feeling corny or contrived, and develops them into complex characters. Their youth becomes a filter on which we, the readers, see injustices in their world.

Leaving Atlanta is mostly a character study and a coming of age story. If you love plot and action, and are looking for true crime, this book isn’t that (which is where it missed for me). However, if you love spending time with characters and thinking about the world from different perspectives, check it out. If you’re more interested in the Atlanta Child Murders you might like the Atlanta Monster podcast.

Three Stars | Grand Central Publishing (Reprint Edition) | August 1, 2003 | 272 Pages | Paperback


Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

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An essay collection on feminism and the relationship of women to male entitlement. Rebecca Solnit’s essays are an indictment on how women are seen and treated in The United States. Solnit ranges from snarky to measured, and shows her self as a thought leader in the conversation around certain types of feminism, which is evidenced in my favorite essay “#yesallwomen”. Men Explain Things to Me misses the mark on intersectional feminism completely and makes no space for women of color and queer women. The book was originally published in 2014, and just over four years later it feels dated. I don’t doubt this book was forward thinking at the time of publication, and that Solnit’s own views have evolved in the last five years (this is my first time reading her work). Men Explain Things to Me is a reminder of the kind of feminism that centers White women and that we are, thankfully, moving away from.

While Men Explain Things to Me is a good collection, I wouldn’t suggest reading it, simply because it isn’t speaking to the current moment in the women’s movement. I would confidently recommend Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper (full review here) and Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister (full review here) as better looks at intersectional feminism today.

 Three Stars | Haymarket Books | September 1, 2015 | 176 Pages | Paperback
See my full review of Men Explain Things to Me which you can read HERE.


Rap Dad: A Story of Family and the Subculture That Shaped a Generation by Juan Vidal

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

Juan Vidal shares his own story of growing up, finding his way, and becoming a family man in his memoir Rap Dad. The book is a mix of stories from Vidal’s past, meditations on fatherhood, breaking down the importance of hip-hop culture, and conversations of folks in the Rap world about their own thoughts on fatherhood. The book didn’t always feel cohesive or flow, and I often couldn’t relate to his experiences, but Vidal’s willingness to write and discover in that process is refreshing. He is asking the questions of what it means to be a good parent in this hip-hop generation.

Rap Dad is worth your time. The content is different from most anything I’ve read. Vidal is a unique thinker, a fluid writer, and his lack of pretense is beyond refreshing. He is talking about a subculture, hip-hop heads, we so often ignore, especially in the context of parenting.

Three Stars | Atria | September 25, 2018 | 256 Pages | Hardcover
Rap Dad is TSBC pick for January 30. You can hear The Short Stacks with author Juan Vidal HERE, and TSBC episode with Josh Segarra HERE.Read a full review of Rap Dad, HERE.


Rock Needs River: A Memoir About a Very Open Adoption by Vanessa McGrady

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

In Rock Needs River, Vanessa McGrady shares her journey from deciding she wants to be a mother, to adopting her daughter Grace, to eventually taking in Grace’s homeless birth parents. McGrady navigates the sometimes murky boundaries of open adoption in this book.

What worked in Rock Needs River is that McGrady is clearly only speaking for herself. He triumphs and blunders are clearly her own. She finds a way to be relatable so that you’re rooting for her for get whatever it is she wants and needs, even when she does some pretty questionable things (thinking of a chat room sequence that is painfully cringe worthy). I struggled with McGrady’s sense of privilege when it came to Grace’s birth parents. She wanted them to do what she would do, and those parts feel very entitled and narrow minded. Don’t get me wrong, McGrady is beyond generous with them, but that gets lost in the feeling that McGrady wants her good deed to play out the way she wants it to (with thank you notes). She spends a good chunk of the book projecting her value system on them, and it rubbed me the wrong way.

Overall I enjoyed the book, and I really learned a lot about adoption. If you like a lighter approach to more serious topics this might be a good book for you. If you’re interested in adoption and the ways that life doesn’t always go according to plan, I’d check out Rock Needs River.

Three Stars | Little A | January 1, 2019 | 204 Pages | Hardcover
Hear Vanessa McGrady on The Stacks discussing her book (Ep. 45) and All You Can Ever Know(Ep. 46)


Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

This month for the #ShakeTheStacks challenge I read Romeo and Juliet. The play is the story of two teenaged, star crossed lovers who find each other despite their families’ rivalry.The story is a total cliche now, but of course then you remember Romeo and Juliet was one of the originals.

I loved rereading this play. Shakespeare is interested in the ideas of loyalty and vengeance, individual desire versus communal stability. The play is dealing with these massive ideas and somehow still taking them on with a kind of urgent poetry that is just begging to be said and heard. In reading the play I couldn’t help but fall in love with Juliet. Her speeches are rich and full of so much emotion. I found myself reading them over and over (mostly out loud).

If you like strong characters with a driving plot, don’t be intimidated by Romeo and Juliet. It is a great play, which I’m sure you’ve heard.

Five Stars | Penguin Classics | February 1, 2000 | 128 Pages | Paperback
You can read my full review of  Romeo and Juliet HERE.



Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan

(Photo: amazon.com)

A collection of essays on things that are difficult to say. This book is not what it seems. Corrigan wrote Tell Me More after the passing of her father and dear friend, Lisa. The book ends up being more a response to the loss of her loved ones, an understanding of her own grief, and way to help her (and the reader) move on when things feel devastating. I got so much out of this book, it really connected with me emotionally. While the grief is ever present through out, there are also conversations about knowing your own worth, finding ways to be truly empathetic, and seeking out true love and joy that were valuable. There were times I thought Corrigan got a little cutesy, and didn’t need to, and some of her phrases seem beyond obvious (“Yes” and “No” come to mind), but I don’t think it hurt the book overall. The power of “Onward” was enough for an entire book to ride on.

While it is certainly not “required reading” it is a book that I could see being meaningful to anyone. I would check it out. I am certainly glad I did.

Four Stars | Random House | January 9, 2018 | 240 Pages | Hardcover


The World Only Spins Forward: The Ascent of Angels in America by Isaac Butler and Dan Kois

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

TAn oral history of Tony Kushner’s iconic play Angels in America, The World Only Spins Forward was a surprising delight. For a person who loves the theatre this book was more than I could have imagined. I loved hearing from actors, directors, production teams, and theatre critics as they unpack the significance of one of the great American plays. Hearing thespians expound on the nuances of characters and the importance of lines, or how to an angel should fly, was fulfilling. Using the tradition of oral history as a way for the theatre community to talk about this depiction of HIV and gay experience felt completely spot on. The LGBTQIA+ community kept the memories of their own alive through telling stories, writing plays, and creating the art that lives on and is celebrated today. This book is a little bit of art imitating life (on a few levels). Also, the cover. It is absolutely perfect.

The only thing that was hard for me as a reader was that a lot of references weren’t explained. I spent time googling people and events that I would have loved to hear more about from the people who were telling this story, the interviewees.

I don’t know that this book is for everyone. I think you’d have to be interested in Angels in America or the theatre at the very least. The World Only Spins Forward is total theatre nerd stuff, and as a proud member of that community, it was everything I wanted and more. If you love the theater, and acting, and how plays get made, you must read this one.

Four Stars | Bloomsbury | February 13, 2018 | 448 Pages | Hardcover


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.

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

When I started my #ShakeTheStacks challenge, I have to admit, I was most looking forward to rereading the plays I already knew and love, chief among them, Romeo and Juliet. The play is one of, if not the, most well known of all the Shakespeare plays, and is certainly one of the first people are introduced to.

The story of two teenagers from feuding families who fall in love and make a bunch ill advised decisions that eventually lead to their deaths (thats not a spoiler, its in the prologue, I double checked). The story seems almost cliche, because even if you’ve never read or seen Romeo and Juliet you’re familiar with its components even on the most basic of levels. This is the play responsible for some incredibly famous lines; “parting is such sweet sorrow” and “a plague a both your houses”. Even with all of that, hundreds of years of quoting and adapting and parodying, Romeo and Juliet is profoundly emotional and resonant.

I loved reading this play. I loved saying the words out loud (sometimes acting to myself alone in my bedroom, in the interest of full disclosure). The poetry is vibrant and raw, many of the speeches are begging to be said and heard. The way the speeches and characters are crafted show that Shakespeare too was fascinated by these declarations of love and loyalty and rage and vengeance. The most palpable energy in this play is fear, the unknown. Shakespeare taps into this over and over again as the play unravels. What comes next? Romeo and Juliet reads like a thriller even when the reader (or watcher) knows what comes next.

The characters in this play are all so well written from the Lady Capulet to Paris to Mercutio and even the Prince. Each are unique with strong points of view on their world, they’re never confused for one another. This is the first play in my #ShakeTheStacks challenge where I can say thats true. They have their own speaking patterns, and their own thoughts on life and love. They are also all (except a serving man here or there), crucial to the progress of the play.

My most favorite character is Juliet. She is the moral center of this play. She drives the action and is our guide through Acts 2-4. She constantly asks the question “what is right here?”. She delivers fantastic speeches and grapples with a variety of emotions, allowing the reader (or audience) to see her evolution and her resolve. My favorite of all her monologues comes in Act III, Scene 2: “Shall I speak ill of him that is my husband?” (if you’ve never encountered this text, I suggest you check it out).

I so loved rereading this play. While it isn’t totally faithful to the play, the Romeo + Juliet film by Baz Luhrmann is so good. Claire Danes is an explosive Juliet, and Leonardo DiCaprio is perfect as our aloof and emotional Romeo. And for the most part, the movie stays true to the text, though it does omit a lot. If you have the time read the play and then watch the movie. Neither disappoints.

Next month for #ShakeTheStacks, I’ll be reading The Two Gentlemen of Verona.

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Revised ed. edition (February 1, 2000)
  • 5/5 stars
  • Buy Romeo and Juliet 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 my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare

For the month of December, my Shakespeare read for The #ShakeTheStacks Challenge was, Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare’s first attempt at a tragedy.

Titus Andronicus is a revenge play centered around Titus Andronicus, a Roman General, who is locked in a cycle of personal revenges with Tamora, Queen of the Goths. The play is bloody and brutal, to the point that the first scene includes a handful of murders, one of which is Titus killing his own son. Shakespeare was not going for subtle with this play.

By far the most interesting part of Titus Andronicus centers on the character of Lavinia, Titus’ daughter. I don’t want to give too much away, but the scenes involving Lavinia, are some of the most fantastic scenes. She does not speak, instead the men around her speak at her and for her, and are given a voice when she is not. They must interpret her thoughts and her pain, and it is excruciating to read.While I’m not sure what Shakespeare was sayingabout women in his own time, Lavinia struck a chord with me now, at the end of 2018. I kept thinking of an essay, by Lacy M. Johnson, called “Speak Truth to Power” (which can be found in her amazing book of essays, The Reckonings).

Aaron, the Moor, is another fascinating character to read in modern times. He is Black and is a complete and total villain. He is given little in the way of redemption, and reaffirms his own villainy until the end of the play. I think so much about how this role would have been seen throughout history, this angry, violent, remorseless Black man as the epitome of evil. What kind of actor plays Aaron? Is he a brute? Is he cerebral? Is he ever played by a charming man? Or a light skinned Black man? Or is he always a stereotype of the angry dark Black man? How does this role evolve over time? I could reflect on Aaron (and Lavinia) and how the character functions in this play for a long time.

Titus Andronicus is shockingly easy to understand. While the character’s names are hard to remember, the text itself is accessible (for Shakespeare) in a way previous plays have not been. Its simple really, a play predicated on revenge. The ending of the play is too short, the fallout is too quick. I think thats partially because this is Shakespeare’s first tragedy. I know he gets better at elongating the pain and suffering at the end of his plays.

I really enjoyed Titus Andronicus more than I thought I would. It touches on mercy and justice in a way that I was not expecting, and gave me a lot to think about when it comes to Blackness and the representation of women on stage.


In case you’re reading along with me for The #ShakeTheStacks Challenge, I wanted to give you a heads up to what I’ll be reading in 2019. You don’t have to read along in the same order as me, and you can feel free to join me for one or all. However you decide to do it, my plan is below.


  • Paperback: 107 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Australia; Pelican Shakespeare edition (January 1, 2000)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy Titus Andronicus 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 my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

My 10 Favorite Reads of 2018

First let me say, 2018 was an amazing reading year for me. I read more books than I’ve ever read in a single year. I finished 88 books. I also kept track of everything I read, partially because I love a good spread sheet, and partially to hold myself accountable.

Before I dive into my top 10 books, here is a little breakdown of what I read in 2018.

  • 44/89 books were by authors of color (49%)
  • 48/89 books were by women (54%)
  • 26/89 books were by women of color (29%)
  • 30/89 books were published in 2018 (34%)
  • 60/89 books were acquired by me in 2018 (67%)
  • 50/89 books were nonfiction (56%)

Of all the books I read here is how the star ratings shook out

  • 16/88 books received five stars (18%)
  • 25/88 books received four stars (28%)
  • 31/88 books received three stars (35%)
  • 11/88 books received two stars (13%)
  • 3/88 books received one star (3%)

I love a good stat, and I could break down my reading even more, but I won’t. Instead here are my top 10 favorite reads of 2018 (in alphabetical order), though they weren’t all published this year.


Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou

The true story of biotech company, Theranos its founder Elizabeth Holmes, and the scam they ran on the rest of the world. This book has it all, fraud, threats, billions of dollars, high profile characters, and a cute blonde. If you need a WTF kind of book, Bad Blood is your best bet.
Hear our full discussion of Bad Blood with Nancy Rommelmann on The Stacks, Episode 28 .


The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After by Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil

A unique memoir, of women refugees, set during the Rwandan Genocide that follows Wamariya and her sister Claire as they travel through Africa looking for a way out. Poetic, and with a sense of calm, this book engages with the trauma that was endured and the perspective that it brought.


Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon

An emotional memoir of life as a young Black man in Jackson, Mississippi. Laymon is brutally honest and completely vulnerable as he tells of his own struggles and successes, and he connects his life with a much bigger picture of being Black in America. Laymon’s dedication to the written word and to the power of revision is striking.


Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

A beautiful work of fiction and a modern day retelling of Antigone set against the backdrop of ISIS in Great Britain. This book is an emotional ride with plenty of plot to keep things moving, but still a real strong commitment to developed and complex characters. This book asks the question “who is the bad guy”?
Stay tuned for our conversation of Home Fire on The Stacks Book Club in January.


Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

The story of Ward’s early years told through the deaths of five young Black men in her life over the course of four years. This book is a Black Lives Matter memoir, before we ever had the language of the movement. Ward crafts a story of pain, grief, womanhood, and Blackness, all with in her signature beautiful writing.
Hear The Stacks discussion of Men We Reaped on episode 4, with guest Sarah Fong.


Othello by William Shakespeare

I revisited this play in anticipation of our episode on New Boy by Tracy Chevalier, and was blown away by how good it is. Othello holds up. This is story of racism, jealousy, entitlement, and sexism. Aside from the language the play, it easily could have been written today. There are scenes in Othello where I found my self in tears simply reading the words. I know Shakespeare is intimidating but I found this to be more accessible than I thought, and it was the spark for my #ShakeTheStacks Challenge.


The Reckonings by Lacy M. Johnson

A collection of beautifully written and incredibly thought provoking essays on justice, revenge, mercy, and responsibility. These essays discuss the most complex and challenging topics of the current moment, from Whiteness to the environment, from terrorism to rape culture. Though they seem like they shouldn’t be placed next to each other, yet it works perfectly. Johnson is a force when it comes to the written word. A true artist, asking questions and leaving room for her reader to find the answers.


Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

If you want to learn about racism and racist ideas and the history of those traditions in America, this is your book. Kendi writes accessibly and in great detail about the power struggle between racists and anti-racists and those in between (assimilationists). He chronicles racist thinking in American life and doesn’t let racism off the hook as simply being ignorant. I still find myself thinking about this book as I watch the world unfold around me.


There There by Tommy Orange

A fantastic novel centered around a big powwow in Oakland, CA. This book is told from many perspectives, and has a cast of dynamic characters. Orange does an amazing job of sharing some of the experiences of urban Native American life, without being preachy or leaning into cliches. The writing is great and the characters are diverse and engaging, plus the plot is suspenseful and keeps you tuned in until the very end.


Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed

I never thought I would love an advice book so much, but Tiny Beautiful Things is more than just advice. Strayed is the perfect mix of compassionate and curt. She tells it like it is, and weaves her own stories into her sage words. Sometimes she delivers a warm embrace, sometimes she takes you down a peg, but mostly she does both, and it is perfect. I know this is the kind of book I will return to when I just want someone to tell me about myself.


Thats all from me, but please share your favorite books you read in 2018 in the comments below, and I look forward to reading more great books with all of you in 2019.


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

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

The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare

696DE5D5-9E54-4A03-BA88-36EE192E3792The next play up in the #ShakeTheStacks challenge is a relatively well known play The Taming of  the Shrew. While most people might not even know they known The Taming of the Shrew, you might be familiar with the plot as it is been adapted into famous movies and musicals (Kiss Me KateTen Things I Hate About You, and Deliver Us From Eva are all adaptations of this play). There is also a famous version of the play with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton (Taming of the Shrew film)

If you’re not familiar with the adaptations or the play itself, the general premise is that a father won’t allow his younger, prettier, more sought after daughter Bianca to get married until her older sister, Katherine (Kate) is married off first. However, Kate is a strong willed woman who intimidates mostly everyone. I won’t give away much more. The play is presented as a comedy and has a lot of mistaken identity and subplots that Shakespeare plays are known for, but its actually pretty dark.

I was in a production of this play in 2007, and I liked it fine when I was in it. I feel similarly about the play over a decade later. The show is fine, its not particularly funny, more silly, but there are some great verbal sparring scenes between the clowns in the show. In this rereading of The Taming of the Shrew I found there to be a nuanced conversation about what it means to be a wife and a bystander in the face of domestic abuse.

Many people have said this play is sexist. Even the title implies that Kate is a wild woman (shrew) who needs to be tamed. Sure, that is sexist. I found in reading the play, Kate was not the villain, her suitor Petruchio was. He manipulates Kate into submission. He is both physically and emotionally abusive, using starvation, exhaustion and embarrassment to control her.

I would love to see a production of this play that doesn’t settle into the comedy and absurdity of the play, but really presents a man who uses torture techniques to control his wife. And more than that, the people around him allow it to happen, from his servants to his new father-in-law. We  all watch as a man destroys the spirit and will of his wife, for no other reason than his own ego and own control. That is the play that Shakespeare wrote, or at least how I read it.

If you’ve not read this play, it is just fine. There are some great scenes and speeches and then there is a lot of fluff. The Taming of the Shrew isn’t all together anything special, but it is searching around a much bigger question of women and control, something I know Shakespeare deals with in his future plays. Plays I’m ver excited to get to as I continue to #ShakeTheStacks. Next Up, Titus Andronicus, I hope you’ll be reading along with me.

  • Paperback: 113 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reissue edition (December 1, 2000)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy The Taming of the Shrew 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 my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

 

Richard III by William Shakespeare

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Henry VI Part 3 by William Shakespeare

99FDDE2B-D633-4E55-935F-DFA48A78B68FThis month, I read Henry VI Part 3  for my #ShakeTheStacks Challenge. The book is part three is a four part series that fictionalizes The War of the Roses in medieval England.  If you’ve been following along with my Shakespeare reading you know that I was not a huge fan of Henry VI Part 1 or Part 2however, Part 3 is good.

The first three acts of Henry VI Part 3 are fantastic. The acts are filled with fights over who is heir to the throne, who succeeds who, and how that can all be change. The scenes are smart and occupied with ruthless characters unafraid of hurling insults and doing much worse. Richard (soon to be Richard III) and Queen Margaret stand out as the leaders of their sides, and the most cutting with their words and deeds. As the play moves toward its conclusion there is more focus on preparation for The War of the Roses and less attention to interpersonal fighting. The first part of this play stands out more, for being high stakes and deeply emotional.

I read the majority of this play out loud to myself, and the use of verse drives the speed of this play. There where moments when I heard the words I was saying and got chills from their power. There are a few speeches in this play that truly stand out to me. One is from the elder Edward, Duke of York  (Act I.4), where he mourns the death of his son. There is devastation and curses and deviance and rage. It is a beautiful speech. Another is from Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Act III.2) where he speaks directly to the audience, telling us of his plans to become king. This soliloquy is self loathing mixed with raw ambition. It is masterful and you can’t look away. When done right, it becomes the turning point in the entire play, in the entire tetralogy.

I was less than impressed with the first two parts of this tetralogy, but Henry VI Part 3 did not disappoint, and makes me even more excited to read Richard III next month.

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; Subsequent edition (December 1, 2000)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy Henry VI Part 3 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 my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Henry VI Part 2 by William Shakespeare

4D9EB7E2-D692-4C3B-B298-41F3BF217869It is time for the August installment of #ShakeTheStacks. This month I read, the second book in the War of the Roses tetralogy, Henry VI Part 2This play sets up the reader nicely for the action of the war itself, and the fall out that is, Richard III.

I have to admit, this is not my favorite Shakespeare play, not even close. The history plays can fall victim of having too many characters, and trying to cram in too much action, Henry VI Part 2, is no exception. There are very few scenes that illicit any emotional response. The play is mostly just a really long prologue for whats to come. It is in both plot and function the set up to the war. Quiet literally picking sides and getting the troops lined up.

My favorite character in the tetrology is Queen Margaret, she is the only chracter present in all four of the plays, and she is a force that shakes up the stage from the moment she enters at the end of Henry VI Part 1 through to her last scene in Act 4 of Richard III. She is smart and politically savvy. She is not afraid of any man, and doesn’t back down from a fight. She also has a soft side, which is seen in my favorite scene from this play, Act III Scene 2. I won’t give anything away, but it is between the Queen and Suffolk, and its tender and tense and romantic and all the things. Not what you expect to find in Shakespearean history play, however they all have these scenes. This kind of scene is what makes Shakespeare one of the best. Intimate scenes between the most rich and powerful people that are explosive.

Again, like with my review for Henry VI Part 1, I don’t know that I would suggest you read this play or see a production of it on its own. I think its best as part of the four play series. Like any good TV show, you want to know how it plays out, not just watch one episode.

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Subsequent edition (December 1, 2000)
  • 2/5 stars
  • BuyHenry VI Part 2, 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 my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.