Dear Reader: Optimism is Often My State of Mind

Optimism is often my state of mind. Yet at this moment, with our country feeling like it is on fire, unraveling, or at a minimum disorienting, it is a heavier lift to be optimistic. But try this.

In our history there have been events of monumental upheaval and progress. They tend to follow periods of enormous damage or loss or an incremental jump in understanding. Each piece of progress isn’t enough but provides some forward momentum. The interest in revitalizing health care policies as we experience the pandemic, the size and sturdiness of the protests responding to the inhumane death of George Floyd, the enthusiasm to learn more about the history of racism and the roles we play in perpetuating or eliminating racism, and the degree to which neighbors are reaching out to neighbors, informs my optimism and provides a shred of hopefulness that we are at another inflection point.
In that frame my note to you today is guided by one of my favorite quotes from E.B. White: I arise in the morning torn between a desire to save the world and a desire to savor the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.
Our goal, as always, is to provide you opportunities for both the saving and the savoring. Without further ado:
Books for Kids

With the incredible support from many of you, the extraordinary commitment of Senator Chris Murphy and Kenny Curran from the Senator's office, and the indispensable wisdom and work of Read to Grow Executive Director Suzannah Holsenbeck, along with an army of volunteers, we have distributed over 30,000 books to kids in New Haven, Bridgeport, and Norwalk. In addition, we will be distributing almost another 10,000 books in Waterbury and Middletown in the coming weeks. 
To remind all of us what this actually looks like, Suzannah, Senator Murphy, and I went to Cesar A. Batalla School in Bridgeport (one of the distribution sites) to help hand out books. Watching kids wide-eyed and excited at the prospect of picking out two books from a table loaded with books was a reminder of the power and joy of this simple paper over board gift, an entry point for exploring other worlds, finding comfort, and most significantly, learning.
Being there conjured up a happy memory. In 1954, for my fifth birthday, my parents (relatively new to the United States and with pretty limited resources) splurged and gave me a gift that has defined me: two Golden Books, Lady and the Tramp (the movie was issued that year also) and The Poky Little Puppy. I believe they were 25 cents each. The sensation of sitting on the bed I shared with my sister and opening those books and turning those pages felt luxurious and thrilling. That same sensation has lingered each and every time I open a book. There is that moment of discovery, of adventure, a moment truly to savor.
This is the dream, that the 10,000 or 12,000 children bringing these books home will also open them and experience the thrill, the joy of the stories, the possibility of adventure, of recognition, of comfort that will reinforce their curiosity and energize their learning; their moment to savor!
Books of Note

Last week, we sent out a reading list in response to the surge of the Black Lives Matter movement. Here are the books that I have loved and learned from. Some I read years ago and they have, as Italo Calvino said, rearranged my brain. Others are new and smart and enlightening in a more provocative way.

for historical perspective:

Narrative of Sojourner Truth by Sojourner Truth

Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight

Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America by James Forman, Jr. 

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations About Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum, PhD 

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson


memoir and essay:

Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

Survival Math: Notes on an All-American Family by Mitchell S. Jackson

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf by Ntozake Shange



The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates


contemporary non-fiction:

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award Winning Stamped from the Beginning by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi  (for young readers)

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi


Reading is, of course, just the beginning. Ibram X. Kendi, the author of How to Be an Antiracistwrites most eloquently of the possibility:

And an antiracist America is sure to come. No power lasts forever. There will come a time when Americans will realize that the only thing wrong with Black people is they they think something is wrong with Black people. There will come a time when racist ideas will no longer obstruct us from seeing the complete and utter abnormality of racial disparities. There will come a time when we will love humanity, when we will gain the courage to fight for an equitable society for our beloved humanity, knowing, intelligently, that when we fight for humanity, we are fighting for ourselves. There will come a time. Maybe, just maybe, that time is now.
We can be a part of this. Yes, we can strive to savor and save. Let's hope Mr. Kendi is right—now is the time.

See you in the store,

Roxanne J. Coady
RJ Julia Booksellers
Copyright © 2020 RJ Julia Booksellers. All rights reserved.

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