Black Joy

Get lit(erature) in this Black bookstore | Black Joy – December 10, 2021

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Letting my imagination run wild is one activity I miss most about childhood.

There would be many ways I would let my creativity roam free, be it world building with my favorite toys or just chilling on the couch trying my hand at role-playing games like Final Fantasy. I still dabble in video games, but a pastime I wish I could get back into is reading.

As a child, I didn’t have much of a say on where I could or could not go. But reading gave me the ability to have an adventure I could control. I read all types of genres, but fantasy books were more my vibe. After reading a couple of pages, I would narrate my own story in my head. I would become a village nobody who suddenly obtains a mystical power that can slay the dragons terrorizing her land.

My love of reading inspired me to be a writer. Seeing the injustices of the world inspired me to be a journalist. I’m seven years into a career where I write about social justice issues like racism, homophobia and the like.

They do say the pen is mightier than a sword. Guess there’s more than one way to slay dragons. 😉

So this week is for those who find sanctuary in bookstores or libraries. If you know someone like that in your circle or family, consider forwarding this edition of Black Joy to them.

Let’s get cozy and get lit on a story about a Black-owned bookstore.

— Starr

For the love of reading

Reading isn’t just a hobby for VaLinda Miller. It’s a passion project to make books and a sense of community more accessible to all.

VaLinda’s love of reading was fostered by her grandmother, Virginia, who grew up in Athens, Ga., at a time when Black people weren’t allowed to use libraries. Virginia raised her granddaughter in Washington, D.C., to be an avid reader by taking her to the local library three times a week. As VaLinda became older, she found herself devouring any novel she could get her hands on. Books became VaLinda’s doorway into another universe while she was living in the hood.

“When you see so much violence and poverty, books were my way of cutting that off and thinking into another world,” VaLinda said. “Even now, when I’m working and the job gets a little stressed out, I will go into my world. As my grandmother used to say to me, ‘Linda, I need you to always be in your world.’”

Now 60-year-old VaLinda owns South Carolina’s only Black-owned, brick-and-mortar bookstore, Turning Page Bookshop. From romance novels to murder mysteries, VaLinda helps customers find their next escape on her shelves. She plays her part in helping increase the state’s literacy rates by giving away books to children. VaLinda also wants Turning Page to be a community space where customers can enjoy knitting clubs, poetry readings or where senior citizens can take all the time they need to figure out how to work the internet and social media.

VaLinda says independently owned bookstores are struggling because of Amazon. But Amazon can’t compete with the communal atmosphere of a library or a locally owned bookstore like Turning Page, according to VaLinda.

“Amazon does not sell conversation,” she said “It doesn’t sell to senior citizens who want to have somebody to talk to because they’re either living in a (nursing) home or the kids are grown and gone or they didn’t have any kids. Bookstores are places where you can go sit down and talk to the bookseller, or somebody else can walk in there and say, ‘You know, you should read that book.’ It’s human interaction.”

VaLinda hopes to open five more Turning Page bookstores in the next two years. She’s very strategic about her dream, too. She wants to put the stores in places without public libraries. She wants children to be closer to a safe space where they can grow their love of reading and have a good time.

“I want to open up a bookstore, where a kid comes in there with their allowance money of only five dollars, and I want to sell a book to them for three,” she said. “I want the kids to come in there and go home and say, ‘Oh, Miss VaLinda was in the store dressed up like a book witch today…. Miss VaLinda had cookies and milk and got us a Santa Claus in there to read books to us.’”

“I may not make the biggest profit on Earth, but kids got books in their hands,” she said.

Tips for your #bookgoals

Is adulting getting in the way of your book goals? Work, childcare and other to-dos of the day can make it hard to find time to read. Don’t worry. VaLinda got you with some tips to reignite your love of reading.

  • Use your ears instead of your eyes: Audiobooks are a good option for busy bodies who can’t seem to find a minute here or there to get cozy and open a book. You can listen to your next novel during your commute or while doing chores around the house. Turning Page does have an audiobook option for $14 a month.
  • Pick up an old friend: Was there a certain book you loved to read when you were younger? Just like rewatching your favorite show, you can reread a book. VaLinda said it can be a nostalgic experience. “Do you remember what you were doing during that time period?’” VaLinda said. “You may think, ‘I remember I had my first boyfriend.’ Or ‘I had just had just entered college.’”
  • Test out the book first: It’s hard to read a book you don’t like. So while you’re checking out your local bookstore or library, know that you don’t have to purchase the first book that catches your eye. Test it out first by reading the first 10-15 pages. That’s how you know if it is the book for you or not. “You know how you go into a restaurant and you get the appetizer? The book is the appetizer,” she said. “It should only take you 10 minutes. If you really go like, ‘What!?’ then you will know that that’s the book for you to try.”

Still not lit enough? Here’s some more book-related content for you to check out:

Stay well read and continue to spread your Black joy. See ya’ next time!

The Reckon Report.
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