Janet Webster Jones was reading Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, by Isabel Wilkerson, in which the author positions race and class hierarchy in the United States as our country’s own version of a caste system.
Alyson Jones Turner was reading Memorial Drive by Natasha Tretheway, two-time U.S. Poet Laureate and winner of a Pulitzer Prize. In the memoir, the author tells the story of her mother’s murder.
And by now, Janet and Alyson have likely moved on to other titles. Reading is their work, joy and passion. The mother and daughter team run Source Booksellers, their family-owned, independent, nonfiction-only bookstore. The store is located in Midtown Detroit, the cultural center of the city that also includes the Main Library of Detroit Public Library, the Detroit Institute of Arts, and Wayne State University, among other landmarks.
But back to the books, and the import of books for how we humans navigate the world. In 1989, out of retirement from her +40-year career at Detroit Public Schools, Janet began selling books as a vendor at community events. In 2002, the books shared commercial space with three other women-owned businesses. And in 2013, Janet and Alyson opened their first brick-and-mortar store in the location they still occupy today.
They’ve maintained their core intentions with the type of books they sell and, more importantly, the books they choose to sell, for more than 30 years’ time. At their family-owned bookstore, Janet and Alyson curate primarily nonfiction books, primarily for adults, in five categories: history and culture, health and well-being, by and about women, metaphysical and spiritual, and the arts. They also help to guide their customers to books based on their interests and past reading.
Why nonfiction? One of Source Booksellers’ missions is to empower people to access books and information so they can learn and know more about the world and understand themselves and their place in it.
And, it’s an ongoing, iterative and collaborative process. In the world of independent booksellers, shops all over the country (and world) are adapting to a time when sales are concentrated online, customers are browsing less (or not at all), and the actual exchange of books takes place via contactless pickup and shipping. Janet and Alyson are here for it, doing their best to serve their community of readers, in Detroit and elsewhere.
Source Booksellers is a curious, courageous bookstore led by two curious, courageous women. We think theirs is a brilliant, family-owned brand, and we believe in what it’s doing in the world. You can find Source Booksellers at their website or on the new Bookshop.org, where you can explore, shop and support theirs and other independent bookstores.
And! Consider this reading list collected from our conversation with Janet and Alyson and their recent appearance on C-SPAN’s Book TV.
- Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama by David Garrow
- The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom
- Pandemic by Sonia Shah
- The World According to Fannie Davis by Bridgett M. Davis (just out in paperback!)
- Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
- A People’s History of Detroit by Mark Jay and Philip Conklin
- Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights by Gretchen Sorin
- Goliath: The 100-Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy by Matt Stoller
- Make Change: How to Fight Injustice, Dismantle Systemic Oppression, and Own Our Future by Shawn King
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