July 22, 2020: This Week We're Wild About... Kim Johnson

This next book is the reason why I started Wild About Authors. The coolest thing about being a librarian is that we start hearing buzz about books before most other readers. Let's call it literary gossip (Girl, have you heard about this book coming out in three months? I know someone who read an Advance Reader's Copy! They said it's going to be hot, so order it before it sells out, girl, etc.). But the second coolest thing is getting to let everyone know about a book you've been freaking out about for months when it's finally available at the Library, wrapped in a crisp plastic cover, all barcoded, labeled, and ready to go. Oh, how we love to curate our book displays and talk up a book while shoving it sweetly into your hand, making sure you don't leave the building without checking it out. But we can't do that at the moment, so we need to find other ways to let you know when we're really excited about a book. Hence, this author series. If only I had a way to make sure you checked the book out...

This is My America is about a teenage girl who writes to an organization called Innocence X every week, trying to get them to help save her father, an innocent Black man on death row. The book also examines how a town's racist past can haunt the present (relevant to all of our interests, yes?). I'm so excited to read it that I bought my own copy (the book comes out July 28th), so there's one less person waiting in line to read a library copy!

- Natalie McCall (Head of Youth Services)

Kim JohnsonWhat's the title of your upcoming book?

This Is My America.

What book should readers go to for an escape from reality?

Opposite of Always, A Song of Wraiths and Ruin, A Song Below Water, Agnes At the End of World.

What book should readers go to when they want to face reality?

Black Enough: Stories of Being Young and Black in America, Felix Ever After, You Should See Me In A Crown, Dear Justyce.

What was your reading life like before the pandemic?

Reading often was sporadic and in cycles depending on work and what I'm writing. On average two books a month, mostly related to the genre in which I write or non-fiction.

What has your reading life been like since the pandemic?

I have been a voracious reader since I have found it challenging to find inspiration or time to write consistently, while managing working remotely and having my children at home. I also made a commitment to utilize the space where I can't write, to read and support as many debut books as possible. Now I have been averaging two books a week.

Why should people read for pleasure? Is that any different now?

Reading is a beautiful opportunity to use your imagination, develop your empathy skillset, and entertain yourself. I find reading gives me new perspectives regardless of the topic. Even in Fantasy and Sci Fi you can find relevant issues to consider or expand possibilities. Now more than ever reading in our current climate is not only important for pleasure, but to expand what we are reading. We live in a society that is incredibly diverse, yet still filled with discrimination. As a young person I did not have a lot of books that reflected my experiences, but I found a way to connect to the stories. I would encourage people to read from perspectives that are different than there's. Empathy is the key to resolving so many of our problems. We also are in stressful and challenging times, being able to escape into a book can be healing.

What do you hope your book gives to readers?

This Is My America Book CoverI wanted to center the story around an amazing family, a teen with remarkable friends, and provide a much needed look at complex issues around race, justice, and the brokenness of our prison industrial complex. I hope readers rip through this thrilling story, then read again to picture themselves as Tracy. Jamal. Corinne. James. Quincy. Tasha. Dean. Every character, with each of their threads and experiences. Everyone has a role, and sometimes it takes reading from another perspective or a closer look at the issue. It's a rich story that I also hope leaves readers inspired and ready to voice for change.

Should book lovers worry about the future of publishing during the pandemic? If so, how can they help?

Publishing has needed to change for a long time. The current pandemic has provided evidence that innovation can happen. I've never felt closer to authors than I do right now. I have been able to engage with authors via live Instagram sessions, attend multiple conferences as a viewer, and join in Zoom sessions with booksellers. Previously there would be a large financial investment to be able to have access to authors. But there are some challenges for publishing, especially for the staff that make books possible. It's also especially difficult for debut authors who do not have a following already eager for picking up their next book, so they have to rely on readers taking chances. One of the largest impacts though are to our libraries and bookstores that are critical places that readers get access to books and expand their reading. Being able to navigate a brick and mortar location can be such an eye opener to readers. There is a way book lovers can help, and that is by pre-ordering debut books or purchasing books for people in their community. They can support their local bookstore to ensure those precious places stay open past the pandemic, and they can request books at their libraries. Then leave a review and share out on social media.

If you could imagine your dream virtual library, what would it be like?

I love libraries with staircases, so my dream virtual library would make me feel like as I searched for a book I was still able to pass through hallways and virtually "climb" stairs to get to next levels. Like creating my own little avatar that allowed me to shop online and I could possibly bump into other shoppers where we could chat online about our book recs.

Where can readers find you online?

Website: kcjohnsonwrites.com

Instagram and Twitter: @kcjohnsonwrites