Becoming Better People Through Books

Linzi Murray must be a saint. “If you read a lot, I think it just naturally makes people better people,” she said — and Murray reads upwards of 200 a year. 

Murray owns Reading in Public, a bookstore in West Des Moines, Iowa’s Historic Valley Junction, reading is part of the job. She prides herself on their diverse collection of books — and had some recommendations to share. 

Read more about Murray’s newly opened bookstore here.

How the Word is Passed by Clint Smith

From downtown Manhattan neighborhoods to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, Clint Smith tours the United States monuments and landmarks with ties to how slavery has shaped our nation’s history. 

“It makes us confront both our history and how we tell our history and how we preserve it,” Murray said. “He really puts it into your mind that not only does history matter, the way we remember it matters and the way we tell it now matters.”

The Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Ten-year-old Mia works the front desk of the motel she lives in every day while her parents clean the rooms. Her parents, immigrants themselves, hide other immigrants in the motel — but its mean owner can’t find out. Mia wants to be a writer, but how can she if English isn’t even her first language?

“She learns the power of her words through writing and how she can enact social change,” Murray said. “As a result of that, that’s the book I recommend the most as far as middle-grade books. I just love it so much.”

The Wake Up by Michelle MiJung Kim

Good intentions can only get us so far. Making real change needs more than just performative actions, and this guide can help allies step up to the plate.

“I think it has the potential to just change our conversation about activism and equity,” Murray said. “It requires you to go inward first and be honest with yourself. You’re bound to make mistakes and offend people and hurt people — not on purpose, but it happens — and you just gotta get past that… and be okay making mistakes.”

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

When his traditional Latinx family doesn’t accept his gender identity, Yadriel decides to take matters into his own hands. He’s determined to set free the ghost of his murdered cousin. Only, the ghost he summons isn’t his cousin at all, but Julian Diaz, the school’s resident bad boy. Julian has some loose ends to tie up, and Yadriel agrees to help — only, now he’s not sure if he wants Julian to leave.

“It has some paranormal aspects to it, but then violence against people of color and queer representation,” Murray said. “There’s so much good representation in there.”

Four Hundred Souls by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain

Made from the voices of 90 writers, Four Hundred Souls chronicles 400 years of African Americans and their experiences. 

“There’s so many different voices and different mediums that they tell stories through,” Murray said. “It’s not just a history book, it’s the people who have been shaped by this history, who are somehow a product of it, so it’s very personal.”


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