Book Discoveries: Summer Reads You Can Take in the Fall | KCUR 89.3

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

BLK & BRWN bookstore owner Corey Smith and author of Kansas City Steve Paul Prove it with these suggestions.

Corey Smith’s recommendations

Children’s imagination:

  • “Blessing Our Gift” (self-published) by Dion Richardson: The writer of this book in Kansas City writes about a young girl named Grace, who becomes an example of kindness and appreciation toward her inner self and others.

Self help:

  • “A guide for people of African descent to living with little” (Simon & Schuster) Written by Kristen Platt: The author delves into how childhood experiences and expectations appear in adult life and the line between needs and desires.
  • “The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love” (Simon & Schuster) by bell hook: This book serves to provide a space for men to be loving, as the author acknowledges the ways in which men and women perpetuate patriarchy (especially when they benefit from it).


  • “Scenes from My Life” (Penguin Random House) by Michael K. Williams: A deep personal reflection on the life of the late Michael K. Williams reflects the trials and tribulations of his life through the triumphs and activism that grew out of the lessons he learned as an actor.
  • “All Boys Are Not Blue” (Farrar, Straus, Giroux) by George M. Johnson: A New York Times bestseller, this memoir, part manifesto explores the author’s upbringing and the experience of growing up as a gay black man.
  • Blindsided: Essays from the Only Black Woman in the Room (Pathless Land Press) by Downie: As she tells of subtle assaults, author Dawn Downey reflects on the many times she’s found herself the only person of color in the room.

Nonfiction for adults:

  • “Cross environment” (Little Brown) Written by Leah Thomas: Writer and activist Leah Thomas explains what exactly a multifaceted environmentalist is, and why it’s important to note how environmental crises affect marginalized people stronger, longer, and more negatively than anyone else.


  • “Arsenic and Adobo” (Penguin Random House) by Mia b. Manansala: Food, culture, and the series of murders influence main character Lila Macapagal’s family-owned restaurant.
  • “Blood Child and Other Stories” (Seven Press Stories) Written by Octavia E. Butler: This collection of essays and short stories is a perfect first read for those interested in Octavia Butler’s work, and ranges from alien takeovers to the problem we’d fix if we could play lord.

Classic fantasy:

  • Their eyes were watching God (JP Lippincott) By Zora Neale Hurston: First published in 1937, this novel tells the story of character Janie Crawford, who seeks to find her own definition of love at a time when marriage was a matter of transaction. As a young girl, she is arranged for marriage and soon begins her journey to find true love and define femininity for herself.

Steve Paul Recommendations


  • “River of the Gods: Genius, Courage, and Betrayal in the Search for the Source of the Nile” (Doubleday) by Candice Millard: A very popular and highly accomplished local author with a global following. Her books take us to far corners of history by focusing on very dramatic episodes in the lives of wonderful people. In this case, we travel with her and British explorers into the wilderness and often disastrous scientific expeditions in search of the source of the Nile in Africa.

My stories/articles:

  • “Victory Is Certain: Uncollected Writings” (Levright) by Stanley Crouch: Crouch, a prominent cultural critic who died in 2020, wrote voraciously and quarrelsomely about jazz, politics, race and film. Crouch, the important biographer of Charlie Parker, was a serious Kansas City jazz hero, once writing: “A good many of our legends are as porous as Swiss cheese…but no longer is a city so well-deservedly legendary in the story of Kansas City jazz.” City, Missouri.
  • Why does Bob Dylan matter? (Day Saint / William Morrow) Written by Richard F. Thomas: For me at least this was something like a year for Bob Dylan. This is one of many recent books on the ’80s pop star, but it does hold some significance given the author’s standing as a classical scholar at Harvard. Thomas gives us a friendly set of articles on Dylan’s work, serving to celebrate and justify Dylan’s Nobel Prize for Literature. Soon, the Dylan world is eager to see Dylan’s first book in nearly 20 years. It’s called “Modern Song Philosophy” and released in November, and it’s a collection of articles about an amazing group of pop music over the past 70 years or so.


  • “Was it worth?” (Patagonia) by Douglas Peacock: Another book that asks us to engage in depth with the planet and its wildlife is this collection of articles and travel reports by a devoted historian of the natural world, especially the southwestern desert and northern Mexico and Yellowstone, where Peacock has tracked grizzly bears for nearly half. century. After serving in the Vietnam War, Peacock became a great friend of writer and desert sage Edward Abbe, who turned him into George Washington Haydock, the environmental activist figure at the heart of Abbe’s famous novel “The Monkey Wrench Gang.”
  • “Also a Poet: Frank O’Hara, My Dad and Me” (Grove Press) Director Ada Calhoun: a charming portrait of New York’s literati, the art world of the 1960s and 1970s, and the dysfunctional Calhoun family. Calhoun’s father, New York art critic Peter Schjeldahl, attempted to write a biography of poet Frank O’Hara. A family barrier stopped him on his way. After a fire destroyed her parents’ apartment a few years earlier, Calhoun found her father’s interview tapes and tried to pick up the biographer’s trail.

Personal Biography:

  • Janice: Her Life and Music (Simon & Schuster) by Holly George Warren: a highly readable biography of the short and tragic life of rock star Janis Joplin.
  • Burning Man: The Trials of D.H. Lawrence” (Farrar, Straus, and Giroud) by Francis Wilson: This book won the Plutarch Prize, or Best of the Year awards, from Biographers International, whose board I was sitting on. Lawrence was, of course, the author of several notable and sometimes controversial novels, including “Women in Love,” “Sons and Lovers,” and “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” (a new adaptation soon to be released on Netflix in theaters and online). For literary readers, this is a fascinating and insightful account of Lawrence’s untamed body of work and an often embarrassing life.


  • “Azabu Getaway” (Raked Gravel Press) by Michael Bronco: The author is a resident of Kansas, has long lived and taught English and American literature in Tokyo. This is the fifth in his series of crime novels that depicts detective Hiroshi, who becomes embroiled in captivating and often complex cases that involve institutional misdeeds and cultural clashes in modern-day Tokyo. This book was actually published on September 10, so I just started reading it, but I recently checked out the audio version of the previous novel in his series, Tokyo Zhangyu. The Broncos introduced Tokyo to what Michael Connelly did in Los Angeles.
  • “Harlem Shuffle” (Double day) by Colson Whitehead: Not a traditional mystery novel per se, but a literary portrait of the black cultural landscape of New York in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The central character of the novel owns a furniture store and is involved in some very risky business. Whitehead spoke last spring in Lawrence and read from a sequel due out next year.
  • “Detransition, Baby” (Penguin Random House) by Tori Peters: The winner of this year’s PEN/Hemingway Award for a first novel, the book takes us into a very contemporary world of gender fluidity. The story includes a transgender couple, a straight woman, and a pregnancy. Wonderful and painfully human.


  • “Collected Poems” (Library of America) by Gary Snyder: a great American poet and Zen teacher, many of his books spanning from the Beat Assemblies of the early 1950s to today and are now available in one volume. At a time when many people are now more aware of “climate change,” Snyder has provided a fundamental voice for land and wild nature for nearly seven decades.

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