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Book Finds: Summer reads you can take into fall


Whether you read every book on your summer list or missed the reading-at-the-beach season altogether, here are some titles that are good any time.

The official summer reading season might be over, but there are still warm days left and plenty of great titles to read.

BLK & BRWN bookstore owner Cori Smith and Kansas City author Steve Paul prove it with these suggestions.

Cori Smith's recommendations

Children’s Fiction:

  • "Our Gift Grace" (self-published) by Dayonne Richardson: This Kansas City author writes about a little girl named Grace, who becomes an example of kindness and appreciation towards the inner-self and others.


  • "The Afrominimalist’s Guide to Living with Less" (Simon & Schuster) by Christine Platt: The author dives into how childhood experiences and expectations manifest into adult lives and the line between needs and wants.
  • "The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love" (Simon & Schuster) by bell hooks: This book serves to provide men space to be loving, as the author acknowledges the ways men and women perpetuate the patriarchy (especially when they benefit from it).


  • "Scenes From My Life" (Penguin Random House) by Michael K. Williams: A deeply personal reflection of the life of the late Emmy-nominated actor Michael K. Williams, known for "Lovecraft Country," "The Wire" and "Boardwalk Empire." Williams mirrors the trials and tribulations of his life with the victories and activism that grew from the lessons he learned as an actor.
  • "All Boys Aren’t Blue" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) by George M. Johnson: A New York Times best-seller, this part memoir, part manifesto explores the author’s upbringing and experience growing up as gay Black man.
  • "Blindsided: Essays from the Only Black Woman in the Room" (Pathless Land Press) by Dawn Downey: As she tells of microaggressions, author Dawn Downey reflects on the many times she has found herself to be the only person of color in the room.

Adult Nonfiction:

  • "The Intersectional Environmentalist" (Little, Brown) by Leah Thomas: Author and activist Leah Thomas breaks down what exactly is an intersectional environmentalist, and why it is important to note how environmental crises impact marginalized people harder, longer and more negatively than any other people.


  • "Arsenic and Adobo" (Penguin Random House) by Mia P. Manansala: Food, culture and a series of murders impact main character Lila Macapagal’s family-owned restaurant.
  • "Bloodchild and Other Stories" (Seven Stories Press) by Octavia E. Butler: Standing as a perfect first read for those interested in Octavia Butler’s work, this collection of essays and short stories ranges from alien takeovers to what problem would we fix if we could play God.

Classic Fiction:

  • "Their Eyes Were Watching God" (J. B. Lippincott) by Zora Neale Hurston: First published in 1937, this novel tells the story of character Janie Crawford, seeking to find her own definition of love in a time where marriage was a matter of transaction. As a young girl she is arranged to marry and soon begins her journey to finding true love and defining womanhood for herself.

Steve Paul's recommendations


  • "River of the Gods: Genius, Courage, and Betrayal in the Search for the Source of the Nile" (Doubleday) by Candice Millard: Very popular and supremely accomplished local author with a global following. Her books transport us into far-flung corners of history by focusing on highly dramatic episodes in the lives of fascinating people. In this case we journey with her and British explorers into the wild and often catastrophic scientific expeditions in search of the source of the Nile River in Africa.


  • "Victory Is Assured: Uncollected Writings" (Liveright) by Stanley Crouch: Crouch, a prominent cultural critic who died in 2020, wrote voraciously and pugnaciously about jazz, politics, race and the movies. The author of a significant biography of Charlie Parker, Crouch was a serious champion of Kansas City jazz, who once wrote, “A good number of our myths are as porous as Swiss cheese … but there is no more deservedly mythic city in the jazz story than Kansas City, Missouri.”
  • "Why Bob Dylan Matters" (Dey St./William Morrow) by Richard F. Thomas: For me at least this has been something like the year of Bob Dylan. This is one of many recent books on the octogenarian pop superstar, but it carries some weight given the author’s status as a classics scholar at Harvard. Thomas gives us an approachable collection of essays about Dylan’s work, which serve to celebrate and justify Dylan’s Nobel Prize for literature. And coming soon, the Dylan world is eager to see Dylan’s own first book in about 20 years. Called "The Philosophy of Modern Song" and coming out in November, it’s a collection of essays about a surprising array of pop music of the last 70 or so years.


  • "Was It Worth It?" (Patagonia) by Douglas Peacock: Another book that asks us to connect deeply with the planet and wildlife is this collection of essays and travel reports by a devoted chronicler of the natural world, especially the desert southwest, northern Mexico and Yellowstone, where Peacock has tracked grizzly bears for nearly a half century. After serving in the Vietnam War, Peacock became a great friend of the writer and desert sage Edward Abbey, who turned him into George Washington Hayduke, the eco-activist character at the heart of Abbey’s famous novel "The Monkey Wrench Gang."
  • "Also a Poet: Frank O’Hara, My Father, and Me" (Grove Press) by Ada Calhoun: Charming portrait of New York literati, the art world of 1960s and ‘70s, and Calhoun’s own dysfunctional family. Calhoun’s father, the New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl, once attempted to write a biography of poet Frank O’Hara. He was stopped in his tracks by a family roadblock. After a fire destroyed her parents’ apartment a few years ago, Calhoun found her father’s interview tapes and tried to pick up the biographer’s trail.


  • "Janis: Her Life and Music" (Simon & Schuster) by Holly George-Warren: Highly readable biography of the short and tragic life of rock superstar Janis Joplin.
  • "Burning Man: The Trials of D.H. Lawrence" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) by Frances Wilson: This book happened to win the Plutarch Prize, or best of the year, from Biographers International Organization, whose board I happen to sit on. Lawrence, of course, was author of several notable and sometimes controversially racy novels, including "Women in Love," "Sons and Lovers," and "Lady Chatterley’s Lover" (a new adaptation of which is soon to be a Netflix release in theaters and online). For literary readers it’s a fascinating and insightful account of Lawrence’s wild array of work and often awkward life.


  • "Azabu Getaway" (Raked Gravel Press) by Michael Pronko: The author is a Kansas Citian who has long lived and taught English and American literature in Tokyo. This is the fifth of his series of crime novels featuring Detective Hiroshi, who becomes embroiled in captivating and complex cases often involving corporate misdeeds and cultural collisions in modern-day Tokyo. This book actually was published on Sept. 10, so I’ve only just begun reading it, but I recently plowed through the audio version of the previous novel in his series, "Tokyo Zangyo." Pronko does for Tokyo what Michael Connelly does for Los Angeles.
  • "Harlem Shuffle" (Doubleday) by Colson Whitehead: Not a conventional mystery novel per se, more a literary portrait of the Black cultural landscape of New York in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The novel’s central character owns a furniture store and gets involved in some risky business. Whitehead spoke last spring in Lawrence and read from a sequel that’s scheduled to come out next year.
  • "Detransition, Baby" (Penguin Random House) by Torrey Peters: Winner of this year’s PEN/Hemingway award for a first novel, the book takes us into the very contemporary world of gender fluidity. The story involves a transgender couple, a straight woman, and a pregnancy. Fascinating and achingly human.


  • "Collected Poems" (Library of America) by Gary Snyder: A great American poet and Zen teacher whose many books stretch from his Beat associations of the early 1950s to today and are now available in a single volume. At a time when only now are many people becoming increasingly conscious of “climate change,” Snyder has provided an essential voice for the earth and wild nature for nearly seven decades.
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