Fall reading recommendations from Atlanta bookseller and ArtsATL journalist
As we approach the winter season, reading remains a perfect indoor activity while cozied up with a mug of something warm, and books always make great holiday gifts. The fall months also herald a major publishing season, with new works by writers coming out en masse, ready to fill shelves. “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes was joined by Gail O’Neill, journalist, and editor of ArtsATL, and Bunnie Hilliard, owner of Brave and Kind Bookshop in Decatur to talk books, and what particular new writings they’re looking forward to this season.
You can hear Hilliard and O’Neill’s full “Fall Reading Recommendation” list online or through the “City Lights” podcast. We highlighted some of their selections below:
“Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” by Isabel Wilkerson
“It feels redundant to say Isabel Wilkerson’s ‘Caste,’ because I feel like everyone has read it, or everyone should have read it…. The fact that Oprah Winfrey gifted this book to, I think, every senator and every governor and hundreds of legislators, says a lot about the importance of the conversation that needs to be happening – not only on a personal level, but on a legislative level,” said O’Neill.
She later added, “I’ve heard Isabel say that everything she does, everything she writes, is rooted in love. She is a humanist first and foremost. She’s beloved wherever she goes around the world, and she’s optimistic about humanity. She is optimistic that our better angels can rise to the top, if only we will allow them.”
“Ways to Make Sunshine“ by Renée Watson
“It is very comparable to Judy Blume in its wit and delight, and stories of just what you’d experience as an eight-year-old riding her bike and making new friends, and attempting to face some of the challenges that children face in life and in school,” said Hilliard. “For children of color to see themselves in books in an affirming way, it just really speaks to their esteem and points them in a direction of hope.”
“Surviving the White Gaze“ by Rebecca Carroll
“’Surviving the White Gaze’ is a memoir. She identifies as African-American, but she is bi-racial. She was given up for adoption at birth, adopted by a white couple, and they raised her in New Hampshire, in rural New Hampshire, where she was the only person of color in her family, only person of color in her neighborhood, and in fact in her whole town,” said O’Neill.
“Palimpsest: Documents From a Korean Adoption“ by Lisa Wool-Rim Sjöblom
“This is the first time I’ve read a graphic memoir, and I really enjoyed it. [It’s] written by a young woman who was given up for adoption in Korea and raised in Stockholm by a Swedish family,” said O’Neill. Referring to both ‘Palimpsest’ and the above memoir ‘Surviving the White Gaze,’ O’Neill added, “The most important point, for me, was that most of my reading to this point in my life about adoption, has been written by people who have adopted children, as opposed to written by people who are adoptees, or people who gave up children for adoption. So it just exploded my notions about what adoption is, what all of the moving parts are, and the complications for… the adoptees, in particular, adoptees in trans-racial adoptions.”
“Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, Volume 4: Black Girl Magic” edited by Lilly Workneh, Foreward Cashawn Thompson
“It’s a hundred barrier-breaking Black women and girls, and they include such icons as Ava DuVernay, and Stacey Abrams, and Naomi Osaka and many others who will speak to our generation currently, and generations to come, and parents alike,” said Hilliard. “I really enjoy sharing books that I think are just as happy and hopeful for children, and inspiring for the grownups who read with them and to them, as well.”
“David Driskell: Icons of Nature and History” by Julie McGee and Jessica May
“You talk about a man who is so beloved – he was a scholar, an artist, a curator, an educator. I’m looking at this beautiful coffee table book right now, and just the saturated colors, his optimistic palette, puts a smile on my face,” said O’Neill.
“He was born to sharecroppers in Eatonton, Georgia in 1931. That’s Alice Walker’s hometown. This is a man who never let the prevailing laws and restrictions curtail his human potential as an artist, and who he was meant to be. So there’s that,” O’Neill said. “I think if a man like that was able to overcome the circumstances and not lose hope, in 1931 in Jim Crowe Georgia, who are we to lose hope in the face of a pandemic, when we have science on our side, and knowledge on our side?”
“Stacey’s Extraordinary Words“ by Stacey Abrams (out on Dec. 28)
“Stacey Abrams has penned her first picture book… [She] is near and dear to our hearts. She’s definitely a hometown hero,” said Hilliard. “Stacey’s Extraordinary Words is about a little girl, who is Stacey, who loves words and finds delight, and revels in them. She loves funny words and silly words, complex and big words. She revels in words like ‘dither’ and ‘persnickety,’ and they tickle her, and me as well…. When her teacher chooses her to compete in a local spelling bee, she finds herself less excited than she thought she’d be, needing the courage to speak up.”
“She’s just a wonderful storyteller and reporter. But she cast her eye on food, which is her primary love. She says, ‘Cooking is the sixth love language,’” said O’Neill. “She’s not a snob, so whether she’s dining in a five-star restaurant, or a hole-in-the-wall, or little taqueria, she gives the same respect to the preparation, to the people that are preparing the meals – her acknowledgment of the loving hands and what it takes to do it.”
“Santa in the City“ by Tiffany Jackson
“I truly believe it’s a holiday gift that families will enjoy for years to come,” said Hilliard. “It is about Deja, and she is worried that Santa might not be able to visit her after all. She’s a city kid, born and raised in Brooklyn, and lives in an apartment as many New Yorkers do. So she doesn’t have a chimney for him to come down. She says none of the parking spots on her block could fit a sleigh, let alone eight reindeer. And so with a little help from her family, her mom and her community, and Santa himself, Deja discovers that the Christmas spirit is alive and well in her city.”
“[It is] essential reading for anyone who is trying to understand what it means to be othered,” said O’Neill. “Anjali’s mother is European. Her father is Indian. She was born and raised in the U.S. She’s constantly asked ‘What are you?’ and ‘Where are you from?’ as if she is not American. And so the idea of a very young person trying to reconcile this man-made construct of race, and to claim a racial identity when she doesn’t even know what it means, is really very sobering for the adult reader.”