But readers have moved on to other pressing concerns. This week, the best-selling books are mostly about race and racism.
There have been plenty of recent articles about our collective need to find escape from our chaotic reality through lighthearted books. And yet there’s also a large contingent that is instead confronting an urgent issue head-on, snapping up books such as “White Fragility,” by Robin DiAngelo; “So You Want to Talk About Race,” by Ijeoma Oluo; and “The New Jim Crow,” by Michelle Alexander.
The uptick in interest clearly correlates to the widespread demonstrations that have followed the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis. According to data from the D.C. Public Library, 22 people put a hold on the e-book version of Ibram X. Kendi’s “How to Be an Antiracist” between May 1 and May 14; during the second half of the month, however, 364 people put a hold on the book — and most of those occurred after Floyd’s May 25 killing. The large increase in interest for that book, as well as “White Fragility” and “Me and White Supremacy,” by Layla F. Saad, among others, prompted the library to offer unlimited access to select e-books about race. There is no longer a delay for readers who want to check out “Why We Can’t Wait,” by Martin Luther King Jr., and “Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements,” by Charlene Carruthers, as well as other meditations on race and racism.
“D.C. Public Library is seeking to help residents better understand racism in its less obvious but no less damaging forms,” Richard Reyes-Gavilan, the library system’s executive director, said in a statement. “Real change can occur only when we are honest about the ways our behaviors and beliefs support racism in our society.”
One of the books that will be readily available is “White Fragility,” which was published in 2018 by Beacon Press, a small nonprofit in Boston. It has become the fastest-selling book in Beacon’s 166-year history. On Monday, “White Fragility” sold more copies than it typically does in a month — bringing the total to 750,000 copies in all formats.
“As publishing professionals, we are proud to be part of its success,” associate director of publicity Caitlin Meyer said, “but we wish the country did not need it as much as it does right now.”
Meanwhile, “How to Be an Antiracist” got its 13th printing this week. Kendi has been a leading commentator on race in America; last week, he testified before Congress about the impact of the coronavirus on communities of color. A professor of history and international relations at American University in Washington, D.C., Kendi won a National Book Award in 2016 for “Stamped from the Beginning,” which Jason Reynolds adapted for YA readers in a version called “Stamped,” which is No. 1 on the New York Times YA bestseller list. On June 16, Kendi will release a board book called “AntiRacist Baby,” illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky. The book is already a presale bestseller.
The trend has also extended to audiobooks. At Libro.fm, the audiobook seller used by many indie bookstores, Tuesday was the biggest sales day in the company’s history — and every title on its top 10 list addressed race and racism.