These pandemic years have stolen many things from all of us. For a while, it robbed me of the ability to read books.
My mind, overwhelmed by concern and uncertainty, got flabby and lazy. Skimming articles was routine (Except MLK50 articles. I read every word of those). Binge-watching was all I could muster.
The muscular act of reading and absorbing a great novel, a riveting memoir, a detailed work of history became a struggle. I’d start a book, get a few chapters in, and… my mind would meander. Half-read and dog-eared volumes, the evidence of my limited focus, were scattered around my home.
Yet that also showed some of the old me was there. I still craved those stories. And occasionally, pre-pandemic Adrienne won. One sleepless night, I hungrily plowed through a reader’s copy of “Memphis,” the recently released book by native Tara Stringfellow. The next day felt like a post-Thanksgiving high; I felt fat, slow and happy.
More than two years in, I’m slowly climbing out of that hole, determined to rebuild my mind, my focus, my peace, even as the world gets more chaotic. Books have always been a safe place.
So with Memorial Day weekend as the unofficial start of summer, I’m challenging myself to make it a Well-Read Summer. Over dinner, a friend of mine suggested a framing: Read a book for your brain, a book for your heart and a book for your inner child.
I wanted to explore the idea a bit so I called up Jeremee DeMoir. He’s the owner of DeMoir Books & Things in East Memphis, the city’s newest, if not only, Black-owned bookstore. The pandemic didn’t slow his reading down; in fact, he opened his year-old store in the midst of it. He reads multiple books at a time. He’s read 84 books since January, perhaps a little off-pace to reach his goal of 222 by the end of the year.
Jeremee was game for my conceit, so I asked him for some recommendations. For the brain slot, he suggested “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma” by Bessel van Der Kolk M.D.
“It’s about trauma being a fact of life, and I think, especially for people of color, especially in the South, we go through trauma almost daily,” Jeremee said. The book, he said, defines trauma (a word we both agreed has been abused and misused) and explores what it can look like, how our bodies can manifest trauma, consciously and subconsciously. “It’s super fascinating.”
His “heart” choice is “Feeding the Soul” by Tabitha Brown, which he describes as a memoir with affirmations and vegan recipes.
He chose it for three reasons. One, because it’s a book not filled with trauma, something that can be hard to find in a book that centers the Black community, and it’s spiritually neutral. Second, the vegan recipes take traditional soul food recipes and give them the yummy, home-cooked feeling without the grease and calories that cause the high rates of heart attack and stroke in the Black community. And lastly, “Coming out of the pandemic, we need to reaffirm ourselves as a people and a culture. We have to have reasons to reflect and love on ourselves.” This book, he says, offers that.
Jeremee had two choices for your inner child reading. “You Can Be ABCs” by Memphians Robert Samuel White II and Robert Samuel White III, is an alphabet book of careers, because it lets children know the varied career opportunities out there, and for adults, “It allows you to dream again.”
His other choice was “King and the Dragonflies” by Kacen Callender, about a 12-year-old dealing with grief. “It helps us to realize our kids are people too; they’re going through the same things we are but it looks different,” Jeremee said.
Now I have more books to buy. Here’s my list with books I already own:
Brain: I’ve been curious about the abolition movement. I understand the problems in policing but I want to learn more about what it means to rethink my notions of crime and punishment. So my brain book is “Becoming Abolitionists” by Derecka Purnell.
Heart: “Shine Bright” by Danyel Smith. It’s part biography, part criticism, part memoir and all about celebrating Black women singers. My heart wants to live vicariously through a great singer. My second choice is “How Strange a Season” by Megan Mayhew Bergman. She writes fantastic short stories about women and this one takes on nature too. As an urban kid, strong nature writing thrills me to no end.
Inner Child: A romance because, sadly, I think of happily ever after as a childlike notion. So, after many recommendations, I’m going to dive into “Indigo” by Beverly Jenkins, who is known for her well-researched historical romances.
What about you? I’d love to hear your brain, heart and inner child picks. Send them to me (firstname.lastname@example.org), I’ll share. Maybe at the end of the summer we can talk about how it went, what we felt and what we learned.
I’m ready to take back what’s mine.