Last year, 35% of web users worldwide reported they were reading more during the pandemic. And 14% said they were reading significantly more. But those statistics, gathered by the editing and proofreading service Global English Editing, probably don’t surprise you. Most likely, you found yourself reading a lot more last year, too.
As we slowly start to get back to meeting friends for lunch and brunch or dinner and drinks, reading should continue to be a favorite pastime. Reading isn’t just about staving off boredom. Studies have shown that reading can boost brain function and prevent cognitive decline as you age. Reading can improve your vocabulary, your mood and even your ability to empathize with others. Reading can also lower stress, blood pressure and heart rate. To keep you ready to read, we turned to the owners of some of our favorite Birmingham bookstores to find out what books they’ve been into and what they plan to read this spring. You’ll definitely want to add these suggestions to your TBR stack.
What BHM Bookstore Owners are Reading This Spring
Jonathan & Meredith Robinson of Little Professor Bookshop
Jonathan and Meredith Robinson took over the Little Professor Bookshop in February of 2020. A Homewood area staple for more than 47 years, Little Professor keeps going strong.
Jonathan opts for books that make him better at the many roles he steps into on any given day. “Many of these make me think critically about what it means to be a better husband, father, friend and business owner, all in the pursuit of a balanced, but full, life,” he says of his reading list. That list includes Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study by George E. Vaillant, which explores an 80-year longitudinal study at Harvard on how to build a happy life.
Jonathan doesn’t read a lot of fiction, but Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders also made the cut. Jonathan describes this father-son story featuring Abraham Lincoln as “a bit trippy, but full of humanism and feelings of loss, love and life.”
Fascinated with the cost of greatness, Jonathan was also drawn to The Cost of These Dreams: Sports Stories and Other Serious Business by Wright Thompson. “The book looks at the human side of Jordan, Tiger, Urban Meyer and more,” he says. “It’s a fun, quick sports read.”
Like much of America, Jonathan has also been reading Barack Obama’s A Promised Land. “It’s one of our most consistent bestsellers,” Jonathan says. “I was eager to dig into this one.”
You might be surprised to find an independent business owner reading about Walmart, but Sam Walton’s Made in America also grabbed Jonathan’s attention. “Love ’em or hate ’em, Walmart created big-box, consolidated discounting, which inevitably led to Amazon,” he says. Of course, he hopes for more shoppers to return to Main Street retail and show locally owned shops some love.
If you’re looking for books for your little ones, Meredith has you covered. “With three young kids of our own, picture books are among my favorites to shelve in the shop, particularly those with thoughtful messaging and captivating illustrations,” Meredith says. Her recommendations include The World Needs Who You Were Made to Be by Joanna Gaines and Julianna Swaney, Escape Goat by Ann Patchett and Robin Preiss Glasser, Trying by Kobi Yamada and Elise Hurst, and Oona by Kelly DiPucchio and Raissa Figueroa. “These are a few that my kids and I are loving right now with themes of creativity, meaning, honesty, resilience and problem solving,” she says.
Kristen Iskandrian, Laura Cotten & Elizabeth Goodrich of Thank You Books
Kristen Iskandrian, co-owner of Thank You Books in Crestwood, says her reading has been “all over the place” lately. “I’m reading a lot of books at once right now,” she says. Perhaps that’s why she’s so excited about Kaitlyn Greenidge’s sophomore novel, Libertie, which is out March 30. “It’s many stories at once — a coming-of-age, a mother-daughter saga, and a testament to the power and burden of legacy,” she says of this work of historical fiction set in Reconstruction-era Brooklyn. “Libertie, born free, and deeply artistic, is the daughter of a much lighter-skinned Black doctor, who expects that Libertie will follow in her footsteps,” Kristen says. “There is also a streak of magical realism that made me think of Toni Morrison in its deftness.”
Laura Cotten recommends you grab Liv Stratman’s Cheat Day, due out May 25. “Cheat Day follows Kit, an avid reader managing a bakery in her native Brooklyn, and in it, Kit narrates a season from Valentine’s to Easter during which she is overly faithful to a super, super strict diet and not so fidelitous to her husband,” she says. “I’m awed by Liv’s ability to write so clearly, honestly and wisely about the quiet crisis, Kit’s desire both to explode and preserve her lifestyle.”
Elizabeth Goodrich is reading local. “It’s a great spring for Birmingham authors,” she says. On the top of her stack is John Archibald’s Shaking the Gates of Hell. “I always appreciated his writing for The Birmingham News and AL.com, and this is a memoir about growing up as the kid of a Methodist preacher who was trying to be faithful but not willing to take many risks during the civil rights movement,” she says. “I’m also excited about Gin Phillips’ Family Law and Lori Nichols’ beautiful children’s book The Light in Me Sees the Light in You.”
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Cal Morris of Church Street Coffee & Books
If you’re a fan of non-fiction, you need to check out Cal Morris’ reading list. One book he recommends is The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X by Les Payne. After reading How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, Cal became intrigued by the differences between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. “In The Dead Are Arising, it is fascinating to see how Malcolm’s childhood helped shape him into the force he became,” Cal says.
Cal is also eager to learn more about the late Congressman John Lewis and his civil rights activism. “I am going to read His Truth Is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope by Jon Meacham to inform myself more on a different approach,” Cal says.
Other books on his radar include Malcolm Gladwell’s The Bomber Mafia: A Dream, a Temptation, and the Longest Night of the Second World War. “I love his ‘Revisionist History’ podcast and now he is bringing that into a book form,” Cal says.
Because fiction can also shed light on the truth, Cal has some novels in his reading queue, including Patricia Lockwood’s No One Is Talking About This, a genre-defying read that follows a woman grappling with social media stardom and staying grounded in real life. “Trying to navigate kids and technology has been very trying,” Cal says. “I look forward to reading her observations on its effects.”
He also plans to read Jhumpa Lahiri’s Whereabouts, which is set to be released on April 27. “Her writing style I have always loved,” Cal says. “It feels like poetry to me.”
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Jim Reed of Jim Reed Books
As an author himself, Jim Reed, of Jim Reed Books, knows the value of not just reading good books, but rereading them, too. Lately, he’s been revisiting the classics like Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. “It’s not just a book about a whale,” Jim says. “It’s about how people interact with each other and the idea of chasing something for all the wrong reasons, which we all do. And it presents the idea of what it would be like to chase the right thing.”
Jim has also recently reread H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds and The Time Machine and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. If you watched the Netflix mini-series “The Queen’s Gambit,” you need to pay homage to Walter Tevis, who wrote the novel that inspired the show. “This man is somebody to go back and study,” Jim says. Three of Walter’s six novels were adapted into major films: The Hustler, The Color of Money and The Man Who Fell to Earth.
But the book Jim returns to again and again is Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. “He knows how to tell the truth through fantasy and how to make you feel fantastic about the truth,” Jim says of the author. Jim says he keeps a copy of Dandelion Wine in his truck, and if he’s waiting in a drive-thru line, he’ll pick up the book, read a passage, and instantly find himself missing his childhood and thinking about things of the past he should have appreciated more. “The kind of writer that can capture you like that is special,” he says. The message Jim says he finds in Dandelion Wine and many of Ray Bradbury’s works is this: “We have beautiful things inside us and sometimes they come out and we have ugly things inside us and sometimes they come out. But all in all, it’s a life worth living.”
We hope you’ve found a new book to read this spring!
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