books & the literary community as healing

Alright, friends. Here I am after QUITE the absence, and for that I am sorry. It’s totally not that there haven’t been July events to keep you aware of or awesome June events to talk about (because there have been! I have so much to catch up on), but that I think it’s not secret July has been a total shitstorm in our country.

The day after Philando Castile was shot and killed, I decided to take a break from speaking my own voice out into the social media depths and simply share those voices which haven’t been feeling heard. I received some backlash, I solidified some viewpoints, I worked up the courage to share controversial content for what I believe in, and I got to know myself a bit better.

My desire is not for this blog to cover that content. Not because I don’t believe in speaking up, but simply because I don’t want to alienate anyone who loves books or calls Minnesota home, and also because I don’t think my voice, as a white woman, is so very different. I’m learning that the best thing I can do right now is support, learn, and assist those who’s voices need to be heard right now.

I AM going to plug what I’ve been reading and plan to read, of course, and coincidentally that covers the turmoil the nation has been experiencing. I think readers have a big responsibility right now to read and, at least for those of us who don’t experience racism good timeday to day, educate themselves and open up their minds to the voices and experiences of their neighbors, friends, coworkers, and fellow citizens.

MPR last week published a GREAT piece about how books about racial studies or by people of color are flying off the shelves of our local Minneapolis/St. Paul bookstores. I can testify that I’ve sold at least one copy a day of Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and I watched A Good Time for the Truth (by local, Minnesotan authors, which is what I’m reading now!) sell out before the weekend of July 9-10. I believe strongly in the power of that book:

The impact of “A Good Time for the Truth” is different, though, Zumberge said, because it’s local.

The book “is the experiences of people of color who live in this state. You cannot say ‘Oh, it’s not us,'” Zumberge said.

“I’m glad that people are turning to bookstores,” [Martin of Common Good Books] said. “Because it’s what bookstores are really good at: Helping understand the world around us.” (Read the whole piece here).

I echo that statement, which is why I see the literary community as a place for healing.

I had the privilege of experiencing that directly last Monday evening at Subtext Books. I heard word that there’d be a discussion of A Good Time for the Truth with editor Sun Yung Shin, and so my partner and I went even though I had only read the first two chapters at that point. We were a big taken aback that it wasn’t a regular event but rather an intimate book club of around 25 people, but we stayed and listened to a wonderful discussion about the influence of the book and the courage of the writers who have shared pieces inside.

Sun Yung Shin spoke about how the anthology came about, how she wanted an anthology including many different viewpoints and representations of different races, and that it was important for it to be a creative piece. Those of us there agreed–the stories really are so well written you feel as if you are friends with the writer and listening face to face. In that way, the stories are that much more real and influential. They cannot be ignored. 

I have more notes from that discussion that I’d love to share some other time, but it’s important that I say we all agreed that reading matters. Our discussion leader asked the question: is reading enough?

The unanimous conclusion was yes. Reading is important, and it does make a difference. If just one person’s mind is changed and they tell their friends, that’s a difference. If one of those people becomes an activist or has influence where some laws could be changed, that’s definitely a difference. And so on.

If you’re a reader who wants to make a difference but perhaps doesn’t know how, or doesn’t know where to start, or wants to know which books could be deemed most important right now, here’s a list of books Writers of Color Say We Should All Read Now. This list is so, so good because I don’t think any one person could have come up with all these important works. I’m a bookseller and I didn’t even know about most of them (partly because our sections on racial, gender, women’s, and LGBTQIA+ studies are always going fast! An awesome problem to have). blues vision

I would also like to spotlight Blues Vision: African American Writing from Minnesota from the list, another anthology on race also published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press last year. I’ve sold books for well-attended readings from this anthology at the Loft and always been sad I couldn’t listen in from my book table. If there are more events like this, you can bet I’ll do my best to be there.

Don’t minimize the influence you could have. Read these books. Share them with people, and start seeing the literary community as a place of discussion, healing, and beauty.

Do you agree that books and the literary community can be a place of healing? Where have you see this for yourself? Do you have books you would recommend strongly at this period in time? I’d love to start a discussion on this! 

 

 

 

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