Racism isn’t just a topic in the streets, as St. Louis has joined cities across the nation in marching against police brutality toward people of color. It’s also a topic at bookstores and libraries, as readers increasingly seek out books that examine and critique racism.
That’s true nationally and locally. Nine of the top 10 books on the most recent New York Times’ nonfiction bestseller list were focused on topics related to race. At EyeSeeMe African American Children's Bookstore in University City, sales are up significantly. “We’ve seen an exponential increase in desire for these books,” owner Jeffrey Blair said.
And at Left Bank Books in St. Louis’ Central West End neighborhood, staffers can’t even keep display copies of some books on racism in stock. Bookseller Danielle King says as much as one-third to a half of to-go orders (the shop is still only open for curbside or delivery) include a book about racism or a book centered on the black experience.
“That kind of material is just flying out of our doors,” King said.
On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, Blair and King discussed the surge in interest — and recommended books, along with callers who highlighted books that have changed their perspective on racism.
The guests cautioned that any given book is simply an entry point, not a complete education in and of itself.
“There is no such thing as a single black author that you can read to make you anti-racist,” King said. “There's simply too many varieties of the black experience. And those things are expressed across so many different narrative forms. ... There are too many options to really limit yourself. Come to this knowing this is a lifelong pursuit.”
Among the books recommended by Blair, King and listeners:
- “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates
- “The Fire Next Time” by James Baldwin
- “St. Louis: Disappearing Black Communities” by John A. Wright Sr.
- For a memoir that illuminates one life in the diaspora described by Wright’s book, “The Lost Children of Mill Creek” by Vivian Gibson
- “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America” by Ibram X. Kendi
- “The Warmth of Other Suns” by Isabel Wilkerson
- “From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans” by John Hope Franklin
- For young readers, “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You” by Kendi and Jason Reynolds, “Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky” by Kwame Mbalia and “Ghost Boys” by Jewell Parker Rhodes
- For fiction, “Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston, “Sula” by Toni Morrison, “Kindred” by Octavia Butler and “Brown Girl Dreaming” by Jacqueline Woodson
Blair noted that after the coronavirus shuttered the brick-and-mortar EyeSeeMe store, he and his wife launched a GoFundMe just to stay afloat. They ended up wildly exceeding their goal. And at 6:30 p.m. Friday, they’ll celebrate both Juneteenth and the shop’s fifth anniversary with a family-friendly party in the shop’s parking lot. The community is welcome.
Both EyeSeeMe and Left Bank Books remain closed to shoppers due to the pandemic but continue to fill online orders — many, many books on racism among them.
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.
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