As protests around the country against racism and police violence extend well into their second week, demand for books about race and anti-racism has surged.
As of this writing, almost all of the top best-selling books on Amazon (seven out of 10) and at Barnes & Noble (nine out of 10) take on these topics, including “How to Be an Antiracist,” by Ibram X. Kendi, “White Fragility,” by Robin DiAngelo, and “So You Want to Talk About Race,” by Ijeoma Oluo.
On the most recent New York Times list of best-selling nonfiction in e-books and print, five of the Top 15 titles address racism. One of them, “The New Jim Crow,” Michelle Alexander’s book about mass incarceration, was published 10 years ago.
The week before, there were none.
“People want these books in hand today,” said Kelly Estep, one of the owners of Carmichael’s Bookstore in Louisville, Ky., where Breonna Taylor, a black emergency room technician, was shot and killed by police in March. “They feel like it’s something they can do right now.”
Jason Reynolds’s book “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You,” adapted from a book by Mr. Kendi, was No. 1 this week on The New York Times’s young adult hardcover list. “Stamped” distills the history of racist ideas into three kinds of people, Mr. Reynolds explained: segregationists, assimilationists and anti-racists. The goal of the book, he said, is to help young people identify what is racist. Mr. Reynolds said that seeing his book return to the top of the list, where it had debuted at No. 1 in March, leaves him hopeful — but cautiously so.
“I’m grateful that people are working to seek out information to help them better understand what’s happening in our country, and I hope it’s not a knee-jerk reaction due to shame and guilt and not wanting to be on the outside,” he said. “I hope people understand that this book is the beginning of a journey of a lifetime.”
He added: “I mean, it’s a wonderful thing to say I’m a New York Times best seller, but it would be more wonderful to be able to say we live in a world that is a little more anti-racist.”
Even board books for very young children — where current events are not usually a consideration — are reflecting this demand. “Antiracist Baby,” by Mr. Kendi, is scheduled to be published later this month. Penguin Young Readers had originally planned a first print run of 50,000 books, but in response to the demand it is seeing in pre-orders, it is printing an additional 100,000 copies.
“These numbers are extraordinary for any children’s book, and in particular one that is in the board book format aimed at readers 0-3,” Elyse Marshall, executive director of publicity at Penguin Young Readers, said in an email. “It’s rare to see a board book hit and stay on a best-seller list weeks before it goes on sale, and the sustained presence reflects the moment that we are in.”
The demand for some titles has been so high that stores are having trouble keeping them in stock. Miriam Chotiner-Gardner, a buyer for Three Lives & Company bookshop in Manhattan, said she’s seen increased demand every which way. Some people are ordering just these books, while others are buying them along with unrelated novels or essay collections. There are customers purchasing just one title, and others stocking up on whole reading lists of five to seven books. Publishers, she added, are working to help the store restock quickly.
“Books that are out today will come back next week,” she said. “Usually it takes weeks to get a reprint.”
Ms. Estep of Carmichael’s said Thursday that she didn’t have any copies left of her biggest sellers on the subject, including “White Fragility,” “How to Be an Antiracist” and “Between the World and Me,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
“We did get a couple copies of ‘So You Want to Talk About Race’ today,” she said, shortly before 5 p.m. “But I haven’t been at the store since about 3 p.m., and I would be surprised if they were still there.”
These titles are dominating audiobook sales as well. Libro.fm is a company that partners with 1,200 bookstores in the United States and Canada to sell audiobooks, and on Friday, every one of its Top 10 best sellers was about race. The company said its Top 10 list on the first day of June, again consisting entirely of books about race, had sold 500 percent more than the Top 10 list did on the first day of May.
But buying books and reading books, Mr. Reynolds said, is not enough.
“If you read this book and you feel like you’re ready to do some good work, and you happen to be a white person, it is imperative to know you do not deserve cookies for being a good human being,” he said. “This is an opportunity to be good for good’s sake. Imagine that.”