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Book recs: Relax your mind and travel back in time with these suggested reads

Blk + Brwn Bookstore owner,Cori Smith said it took her two days to read the nonfiction book, "When Crack Was King," which tells the story of four people during the Reagan-era war on drugs.
Cori Smith
Blk + Brwn bookstore owner Cori Smith said it took her two days to read the nonfiction book, "When Crack Was King," which tells the story of four characters during the Reagan-era war on drugs.

Books have the ability to take you to another time. This month on Up To Date, author Steve Paul, and BLK + BRWN bookstore owner Cori Smith share the literature that brought them to the 1930s Harlem jazz scene, the 1980s war on drugs, through the twists and turns of the life of a mad genius and more.

Whether it’s on a digital device, audiobook or the good ol’ fashioned page, reading comes with a whole host of benefits. Reading stimulates the mind and provides entertainment, relaxation and all sorts of benefits to the brain and body.

A book about the war on drugs hooked bookstore owner Cori Smith, who said she finished the thick nonficition book in just two days.

Smith and author Steve Paul both enjoyed a fictional murder mystery that takes place in 1972 Pennsylvania, but also dives farther back in time to the 1920s. It tells the story of two marginalized communities working together and creating long-lasting friendships through dark times.

Cori Smith's recommendations

"When Crack Was King" by Donovan X Ramsey. Nonfiction.

In this account of the one of the least-discussed crises to hit our country. Ramsey helps readers see the lasting legacy and aftermath of the crack epidemic while following the lives of four distinct individuals: a politician, a crack addict and sex worker, a child raised by an addicted parent and a member of one of the most notorious drug trafficking outfits. 

"A Little Devil in America" by Hanif Abdurraqib. Nonfiction.

A love letter to performance art and the culture that makes that history all the more important. MacArthur genius and poet Hanif Abdurraqib honors all the different ways Blackness has found home in art. 

"Viper’s Dream" by Jake Lamar. Fiction.

This book transports readers to the 1930s Harlem jazz scene. Clyde "The Viper" Morton makes his way to Harlem from Alabama to pursue a music career; however, his talent doesn't land him the career of his dreams. In one of many plot twists, drug trade becomes a way of life and Clyde must determine when to sacrifice and when to fight.

"Creep: Accusations and Confessions" by Myriam Gurba. Memoir.

A emotional firestorm of a memoir that reaches deep into the toxic traditions that run rampant in the U.S. This book helps readers connect the dots around collective oppression and find our way out. 

"Stumbling Toward the Buddha" by Dawn Downey. Nonfiction

A collection of essays challenging how spirituality shows up in the day-to-day. Downey finds her balance at the intersection of life is messy at every turn, but equally, peace is available at every turn

"The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store" by James McBride. Fiction.

Workers make an unexpected discovery while breaking ground for a new development when they stumble upon two well-kept secrets that have been the bedrock of the small Pennsylvania town Pottstown, and offer a glimpse at how the Black residents and the Jewish residents of Chicken Hill worked together to protect their own. 

Steve Paul's recommendations

"Kingdom Quarterback: Patrick Mahomes, the Kansas City Chiefs, and how a Once Singin’ Cow Town Chased the Ultimate Comeback" by Mark Dent and Rustin Dodd. Biography.

The title is mostly self-explanatory. This is a well-written and fast-paced biography of Mahomes, a football superstar and he’s-everywhere celebrity, wrapped around a history of Kansas City that focuses largely on the legacy of racial segregation and injustice. It sometimes feels like a curious combination, but locals especially will appreciate the effort. Here’s my recent full review at KC Studio magazine

"Cosmic Scholar: The Life and Times of Harry Smith" by John Szwed. Biography.

Biography of a most unusual man who was both a wild, creative genius and ultimately a sad case. Harry Smith was an experimental filmmaker, a painter, an anthropologist and a musicologist who produced the highly influential “Anthology of American Folk Music” in the early 1950s. As a teenager in his native Seattle, he became an expert in the tribal art of the Pacific Northwest. The recording project for the Smithsonian Institution, incorporating music from many remote corners of the country, helped launch what we refer to as the folk-music revival. Smith crossed paths with the Beat poets, the hipster musicians, and the most significant of independent filmmakers, including Maya Deren and Jonas Mekas. For years, he boarded at the famous Chelsea Hotel in New York, then fell into a kind of mental and alcoholic decline.

"Watch Your Language" by Terrance Hayes. Nonfiction.

A meditation on poetry, on history and on writing, with tributes to a pantheon of Black poets including Gwendolyn Brooks, Toi Derricotte and Langston Hughes. Hayes augments the proceedings — including numerous digressions that question aspects of the craft and traditions of poetry — with sketches of many of the poets. An unusual project, but an alluring one, especially for those with an interest in reading and writing poetry.

"Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma" by Claire Dederer. Nonfiction.

The dilemma of the subtitle has to do with how we relate to things we love when their creators have been accused of horrendous or at least horrible behavior. It covers filmmakers such as Roman Polanski and Woody Allen, the composer Richard Wagner (and other famous anti-Semites), the writer Doris Lessing and the musician Miles Davis. Dederer questions the behaviors of absent mothers and even herself as she navigates dilemmas about consuming art with a sense of guilt.

Paul, like Smith, recommended "The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store" by James McBride.

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When I host Up To Date each morning at 9, my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. Reach me at steve@kcur.org or on Twitter @stevekraske.
As a producer for Up To Date, my goal is to inform our audience by curating interesting and important conversations with reliable sources and individuals directly affected by a topic or issue. I strive for our program to be a place that hosts impactful conversations, providing our audience with greater knowledge, intrigue, compassion and entertainment. Contact me at elizabeth@kcur.org or on Twitter at @er_bentley_ruiz.
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