People aren’t just marching to support change in racial attitudes. They’re doing their homework.
In the weeks since George Floyd’s terrible death, books about race and racism have surged onto national bestseller lists, and bookstores around Tampa Bay report that such books are flying off the shelves here.
Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, published in 2018 by the small, nonprofit Beacon Press, has become that publisher’s bestselling book ever, with 750,000 copies.
How to Be an Antiracist, by scholar, commentator and former University of Florida professor Ibram X. Kendi, has gone to its 13th printing. Two other books by him, the National Book Award winner Stamped From the Beginning and the YA adaptation Stamped, are in top 10 lists as well. A board book on which he collaborated with illustrator Ashley Lukashevsky, AntiRacist Baby, will be released June 16 and is a presale bestseller.
Other books surging in sales include Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want Talk About Race and Layla F. Saad’s Me and White Supremacy.
On the latest New York Times nonfiction bestseller lists, books about race occupy three of the top 10 spots on the combined (print and e-book) list and five on the paperback list. At online booksellers on Tuesday, those books held six of the 10 overall bestseller slots at Amazon and nine out of 10 at Barnes & Noble. Several of them were listed as out of stock. The top 10 list at Audible, the largest audiobook retailer, included six books about race. At Libro.fm, the audiobook store used by many indie booksellers, all of the top 10 bestsellers were books related to race.
Alsace Walentine, owner of Tombolo Books in St. Petersburg, said in an email, “White Fragility was one of our top 10 bestsellers before we even opened the brick and mortar store, a testament to the eagerness of St. Pete’s residents to learn about antiracism.” That book is now the shop’s No. 2 bestseller, with Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist and Stamped in the Nos. 1 and 3 slots.
Tombolo recently opened for appointment shopping, in addition to online and curbside pickup sales.
“The phone has been ringing off of the hook for these books,” Walentine said. “It seems that every online order is for at least one of these books, many are for all three! As soon as we get a shipment in they sell out.” She said that several history books about the local black community by Rosalie Peck and Jon Wilson are also in high demand.
At the Oxford Exchange bookstore in Tampa, director Laura Taylor wrote that books about race and racism are “having a huge spike! We sold through the signed copies we had of Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist and Stamped, as well as the YA edition he wrote with Jason Reynolds. We hosted Kendi back in November, so we did have some stock left from the event.”
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Taylor said they are waiting for more copies of White Fragility and So You Want to Talk About Race. Fiction by black writers is also selling well: “The Vanishing Half, which we featured in our signed first edition club, is doing really well, and Such a Fun Age and The Nickel Boys.”
Since Oxford Exchange reopened to shoppers and diners, Taylor said, “Book sales have definitely been up for us.” Known before the pandemic for its active schedule of author appearances, the store will host its first live event in several months on June 16, with Linda Bond (the pen name of local TV newscaster Linda Hurtado) talking about her novel Flatline.
Melanie Cade at Tampa’s Mojo Books & Records says that store is also seeing a demand for books about race. “We’re definitely seeing people come in or contact us regarding the titles circulating in the more popular antiracist reading lists. Significantly more than ever before.” Several titles have sold out and are now being restocked.
The store, which is open with social distancing, sells both new and used books. Cade said, "We’re also seeing increased interest in African American studies, sociology titles related to race, African history, and fiction from black authors.
“Before, we were lucky if one person per day asked where our African American studies section is located. Yesterday, I had several inquiries, and the section had browsers through much of the day.”