One morning, Katie Mitchell and her mother Katherine were sitting at breakfast. During a lull in conversation, Katherine looked up and asked, “What if we started a bookstore?”
Three weeks later, Good Books was born.
Their lightning-speed launch can be partially attributed to social media. Katie and Katherine knew from the start that their store would be online and mobile, so they easily bypassed the hurdles of setting up a brick-and-mortar location. The Atlanta-based mother-daughter duo created an Instagram page, which proved an immediately successful avenue through which Good Books could connect with customers. The community soon showed support. “We expected our friends and family to engage, but we very quickly began hearing from strangers,” said Katie over the phone. “They seemed to love it as well.” Initially, their customer base consisted primarily of Atlantans, but that, too, expanded rapidly. Now, Good Books ships more orders to customers in California and New York than to those in Georgia, with loyal fans as far as Alaska and Hawaii.
From the beginning, Katie and Katherine knew their store would be centered around Black books and Black community. As Good Books gained traction, they began hosting pop-ups while networking and partnering with the Black book scene in Atlanta. Katharine raised Katie on reading and celebrating Black stories, so it was intuitive that Good Books would pass that love along.
Since there is no physical store to browse in, many customers place orders via Instagram DM. Katie and Katherine started by stocking books they themselves loved, but quickly expanded their offerings. Genres like young adult, science fiction, and fantasy weren’t initially offered, but as the requests flowed in, Good Books’ virtual shelves developed a wider range.
If you want a specific book, all you have to do is ask. One of the most unique services Good Books offers is custom curations. If you don’t know what your next read should be, you can visit their website and share titles you’ve recently enjoyed, genres you generally like, or authors you’d love to read more of. The form also includes a place to designate your budget, ensuring everyone has access to books regardless of their financial situation. From there, you’re in the very capable hands of Katie and Katherine, who will compile and ship you a bundle of books they’re confident you’ll love.
Though the pandemic threw a wrench in most things, Good Books has continued to thrive. After the death of George Floyd, readers across the country rallied around Black bookstores, and Good Books found themselves inundated with orders. Between new partnerships, social media promotion, and their ever-loyal customers, Katie and Katherine were unexpectedly receiving more attention than ever. They still fulfill orders through Instagram DM as well as their website and are grateful for the continuing support.
These days, Good Books customers are loving Black radical authors and nonfiction most of all, Katie mentioned. Books by authors like James Baldwin are flying off the shelves, as are vintage titles and classics. Katie speculated that while everyone is stuck at home, they’re finding more time for the books they’ve always wanted to read but never quite got around to. Katie and Katharine are veterans of recommending books. When friends walk into Katie’s apartment, their mouths drop open. She has entire walls of books in her personal library, many of which her friends haven’t even heard of. “We’re a book-centric family,” she said. “If we hadn’t started the store, we’d still be reading together and handing out books we love.” When I asked Katie for a personal recommendation, she suggested Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer, mentioning that essays and short stories are her current genres of choice.
With their immense initial success, Good Books has a lot to look forward to. Katie and Katherine are excited to host more pop-ups and in-person book clubs once the pandemic is over. “We want to nurture our local community, but we want to make sure we do it at the right time,” said Katie. “We don’t want to push anything, pandemic-wise.” They even have plans in the works to start a bookmobile and partner with literacy groups for kids and incarcerated individuals, all with the aim of making reading more accessible and sharing Black books with their Atlanta community.
Katie wants to continue to grow Good Books as an Atlanta staple. “When people ask their friends, ‘Hey, what should we do while we’re here?’ I want us to be on that list,” she said. Right now, Katie and Katherine are just taking things as they come and continuing to build and bolster their current online community.
“In the end, we want reading to be fun, not stuffy,” Katie concluded. “We want there to be a communal culture around it; for people to be having fun. I think a lot of us got stuck thinking that reading was a school assignment, so we want to show people that reading isn’t a chore. We’re grown up now; we get to pick what we read. It’s literally never too late to get into books. There is a book for everyone.”
Images courtesy of Katie Mitchell.