July 15, 2016
Following shootings, a surge in sales of books on race in the Twin Cities
by Kait Howard
As the people of the Twin Cities grapple with the police shooting of Philandro Castile outside of St. Paul, together with the shootings in Baton Rouge and Dallas, some seem to be looking to books to understand the broader context of racial injustice in America.
Minnesota Public Radio’s Tracy Mumford reports that bookstores in the Twin Cities have seen a surge in sales of books about the oppression of African Americans in the past week. In interviews at a number of stores in the region, booksellers reported selling out of titles including Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between The World And Me, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric, and Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, all stylistically disparate works on race that have already had significant success.
At Magers & Quinn in Minneapolis, for example, Coates’s book sold “even faster than expected” last week, while Common Good in St. Paul sold through its stock of Alexander’s four-year-old examination of the prison-industrial complex. Common Good also apparently sold out of A Good Time for the Truth, “a collection highlighting the experiences of 16 Minnesotans of color.” Other stores in the region all reported seeing increased sales of one or more of these books.
Meanwhile, today the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s Laurie Hertzel ran a list of recommended reading on racial injustice, selected by writers, artists, and teachers of color living in the Twin Cities. Here Coates and Rankine appear alongside classics like James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time and The Autobiography of Malcolm X, as well as more scholarly titles like Cedric Robinson’s Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition.
“How does one culture understand another culture?” writes Hertzel. “[B]ooks…might help bridge that gap.” Whatever you think of the sentiment, it’s clear that understanding the history of black oppression in America is a kind of first step, something to do when one is at a complete loss for what to do (as so many of us are). The more jaded among us might worry that people are buying these books out of vanity, an impulse that mistakes making a purchase for making a difference. But while it might be a bit strange to contemplate the book business turning a profit from the upheaval surrounding ongoing violence, didn’t most of us go into publishing (or bookselling) because—at least in our best moments—we wanted to help people access knowledge, and make a living too?
As Common Good’s Martin Schmutterer told Mumford, “It’s what bookstores are really good at: Helping understand the world around us.”
Kait Howard was a publicist at Melville House.