Kathleen Eddy uses Valley Bookseller as a platform. The Stillwater bookstore famously makes savvy, up-to-date recommendations to its customers. Every month, it hosts book clubs for readers of crime, mystery and the classics—often featuring area authors—and connects with local libraries and schools in a commitment to community outreach that has spanned 27 years. Tourists from abroad make it a destination. In those moments, general manager and lifelong bookworm Eddy savors the chance to bond with a refreshingly diverse bunch of patrons over that old universal: reading.
She favors fiction, but has begun to wade into nonfiction, “to take a look at what’s going on in the world,” she says. Eddy will not simply sprawl out with favorites or devour bestselling escapist temptations this summer. In the upcoming months, she plans to read outside her usual limits.
“They’re not exactly beach reads,” she says of her selection this season, “but in this day and age, we need to challenge ourselves with what we read. We need to get uncomfortable and learn how to spread our wings.”
Thus, her first recommendation is Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. The memoir examines lawyer Stevenson’s experiences representing impoverished clients in the South. One man in Alabama, Walter McMillan, is convicted of killing a young white woman and given the death penalty in spite of many eyewitnesses providing him a staunch alibi. Eddy admires Stevenson’s moral compass, as he delves not only into the personal significance of defending a man wrongly accused, but also into the infuriating, deep-set stain of racial injustice in the U.S. criminal court system—resonant with Harper Lee’s rich American fable, To Kill a Mockingbird. Stevenson goes on to tackle life sentences for children and the repercussions of slavery in court.
Second, Eddy recommends Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult. “The author is known for writing books based on today’s timely issues, and this one does not disappoint,” she says. The novel follows labor and delivery nurse Ruth Jefferson as she becomes embroiled in legal conflict after hesitating before performing CPR on an infant going into cardiac arrest. The infant is white, and Ruth, who is black, was directed by the hospital not to touch the baby, respecting the white supremacist parents’ request. Eddy says the book confronts racism as “more than discrimination based on skin color.” In a note at the end of the novel, Picoult recognizes her own privilege as a white writer and her own instances of racism. The deeply researched courtroom novel asks white readers to reflect, and then spread the word.
Eddy’s third recommendation is My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Swedish writer Fredrik Backman, offering a dose of quirky escapism and a potential beach read if you don’t plan on much swimming. The novel follows Elsa, a 7-year-old girl whose only friend is her 70-year-old grandmother, an eccentric woman who has angered a lot of people in her time (and is known for standing on her balcony with a paintball gun, firing at passersby). She tells Elsa stories to soothe her granddaughter’s anxieties about feeling “different.” Then she dies, leaving behind a cache of letters for Elsa to distribute among the characters who felt slighted by by the old woman’s antics. Amid Elsa’s odyssey—through bitter old friends and attack dogs—Elsa comes to terms with her own eccentricities, in a meld of comedy and poignancy that shot Backman to the top of the New York Times bestseller list with 2012’s A Man Called Ove.
Of course, Eddy wants us to bask in the warmth of these Minnesota summer months while we can. If, at the same time, we can look outside the confines of our own idyllic Valley, tucked away up north—well, there’s really no better season to start a conversation with someone.