There are a lot of anti-racism reading lists floating around the internet, and there are a lot of people interested in buying the books on those lists. This caused a good problem: Black-owned bookstores have been so inundated with anti-racism book orders that they can hardly keep up with the demand. (A few not-so-understanding people actually managed to get upset at Frugal Bookstore, a Black-owned bookshop in Boston, when they didn’t get their new books fast enough for their liking.) It’s important to remember that these bookstores sell plenty of other great books too. Books that ship right away. To help bring attention to those books (and to help you continue to support Black-owned businesses), we reached out to Black-owned bookstores across the country to find out what the owners were reading during this time — and what they think you’d enjoy reading, too.
According to Janifer P. Wilson, founder of Sisters Uptown in New York City, this book is about “the ultimate Renaissance woman. Madam C. J. Walker’s story is a testament to the resilience, the wonder, and the power in each of us — and it is one that should be included in history books today. Against unimaginable odds, Walker did not only build a prosperous beauty empire that made her the first female self-made millionaire in America, but she also wielded her influence and notoriety to fight for Black Americans across the country.”
“When discussing how freedom and equal rights for African-Americans were achieved, we mostly speak of nonviolent civil disobedience,” says Kori Wilson, vice-president and manager of operations at Sisters Uptown. “Unlike most narratives about the Black liberation movements, We Will Shoot Back shines a historical lens on how southern communities also utilized armed self-defense to protect themselves when the federal government refused to. It’s eye-opening and a must-read.”
“I randomly picked up the title pre-COVID and had no idea of the intersectionality between the fictional and reality,” says Khamani Harrison, the CEO of the Key Bookstore in Connecticut, of this postapocalyptic fantasy novel. “King creates a highly contagious virus that begins on a military base and spreads throughout the world. No one is safe.”
This book was written in 1645 and covers martial arts, swordsmanship, and strategy, and it is especially relevant today, Harrison says. “This is really important because sound action requires a plan. A plan should include logic, strategy, and tact. A people ready to take action must be committed to the study.”
This book, which is also being turned into a miniseries on HBO, tells the story of a multigenerational family grappling with racial identity. “We have an event together coming up and I loved The Mothers [Bennett’s debut novel]. Identity is central to the book and the world right now,” says Jeannine A. Cook, the owner of Harriet’s Bookshop in Philadelphia.
“I am thinking a lot about the heinous acts that happen right under our noses in society. What heinous acts are happening that we are missing today? Especially in ‘reform’ schools and prisons,” Cook says. The Nickel Boys is a novel based on a real life about a juvenile reform school that brutalized young boys and was eventually closed down in 2011, after anthropologists at the University of Florida discovered numerous unmarked graves.
“It delivers a prophetic and eerily familiar novel about what it means to be a radically empathetic black woman protagonist in a world that feels like it’s falling apart,” Cook says. “Lauren Olamina is goals.”
“She is a historic heroine. In my mind, her life is the blueprint for freedom fighting. She was a woman who moved through life unable to read or write, yet she was a master strategist,” Cook says. “A nurse. A spy. A general. An entrepreneur. A voting-rights activist. A women’s-rights activist. A wife. An aunt. A friend. What a woman.”
“I read this book over a decade ago and it has stuck with me ever since. The true story of a modern-day slave and an international art dealer, the book shows that we are never really as different from one another as we think,” says Katrina Brooks, the owner of Black Pearl Books. “With a little compassion and grace for one another, we can overcome our own closed minds and open our hearts to love. The same biographical story told from two perspectives allows each character to rest in their own truth. A perfect example of overcoming differences in race, gender, and class.”
“A favorite with our young-adult readers! An exciting, humorous tale with relatable characters. The story explores the feelings of grief, guilt, humiliation, and disappointment from a young person’s perspective,” Brooks says. “When Tristan escapes to another world, he meets West African gods and discovers the stories told by his grandmother were true. As Tristan’s confidence in himself grows, he realizes he’s not as helpless as he thought and that through loss he gained the power to help save another world.”
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