It’s a baby step, but a baby step in the right direction: Right now, American readers are more interested in combatting racism than in literary escapism.
After two weeks dominating books sales at the No. 1 spot on USA TODAY’s Best-Selling Books List, the shiny new “Hunger Games” prequel “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” has been dethroned. The crown was claimed not by a hot new thriller or dishy celebrity memoir, but by a nearly two-year-old book.
That seems impossible until you read the title of the book: “White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism,” by Robin DiAngelo.
Since the death of George Floyd on May 25, sales of books on race and racism have skyrocketed. Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died after a white police officer in Minneapolis knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes while Floyd pleaded that he could not breathe.
This week, after over two weeks of mass protests prompted by Floyd's death around the country, anti-racist literature and books about race make up half of the Top 10 of USA TODAY’s Best-Selling Books List. Those titles include:
“White Fragility,” by Robin DiAngelo at No. 1
“How to Be an Antiracist,” by Ibram X. Kendi at No. 3
“So You Want to Talk About Race,” by Ijeoma Oluo at No. 4
“Me and White Supremacy,” by Layla F. Saad at No. 5
“Between the World and Me,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates at No. 8
Chris Jackson, Kendi’s editor on “How to be an Antiracist” and editor-in-chief of One World publishing, has this to say about the book’s strengths in a comment to USA TODAY: "It’s a book that doesn’t just describe the problem, but offers tools for working through it – not in a facile way, either. It’s steeped in Dr. Kendi’s rigorous scholarship but its lessons draw from his powerful personal account of struggling imperfectly toward antiracist thought and action."
First-time authors to the list with anti-racist books include Richard Rothstein with “The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America,” Beverly Daniel Tatum with “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” and Bakari Sellers with “My Vanishing Country."
In fiction, Brit Bennett’s “The Vanishing Half,” a novel by that deals with themes of racism and colorism (and received a ★★★½ out of four review from USA TODAY), debuted on the list at No. 14. Longtime luminaries like Toni Morrison (“The Bluest Eye”) and James Baldwin (“The Fire Next Time”) also made appearances on the list.
Physical copies might be hard to find
Major national booksellers, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble, have sold out of print editions of several popular titles online, including “How to Be an Antiracist.”
“Our customers responded immediately and in large numbers to this current moment, with books on race and antiracism jumping to the top of our bestseller list,” reads a Barnes & Noble company statement. “We were heartened to see the surge in sales of these books in response to the news and we are working hard to replenish any print editions that are sold out.” Barnes & Noble is also curating lists of books for further insight on race and justice that can be found on BN.com.
The national bookselling chain has also voiced its support of the Black Lives Matter movement in a separate company statement. "Books are a conduit for learning, growing and providing insight into the lives and thoughts of those we may not know… but with whom we may discover we share much in common,” the statement reads.
While demand swells, publishers are working hard to get more print editions out. Sourcebooks, the publisher of Saad's “Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor,” was in the middle of a new printing for the book when demand hit. Since last week, the book shot up from No. 83 to No. 5 on USA TODAY’s Best-Selling Books List.
So then how do I get books about race right now?
First, check with your local indie bookseller.
If they and the major chains are sold out and you don't want to wait to get your hands on physical copies of best-selling anti-racist books, your best bet is to go digital.
If you don't have access to a pricey e-reader, don't fret. Major distributors of e-books, including Google, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Apple, offer ways to download an e-book through apps on your smartphone.
Both digital and audiobooks can also be purchased through many independent booksellers, as well.
In addition, library apps, such as Libby, are an additional avenue to access the books, though there may be long waits there, as well.
Contributing: Mary Cadden, Jenny Cohen
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Anti-racist books dominate best-seller list amid George Floyd protests