A new collection from Chicken Soup for the Soul, My Kind (of) America, has the publisher asking a complex question during a troubling time: "Is America still filled with people who help each other and do the right thing?"
The book—which answers that question with a resounding yes—was slated to release in November, a year to the date after the election of President Donald Trump. Then CSS's distributor, Simon & Schuster, asked the publisher to push the book to August. So Amy Newmark, publisher at CSS and author of 140 Chicken Soup for the Soul titles, complied.
"We rushed to get it done," she said. "It’s definitely an example of just-in-time publishing."
The book, which hit shelves this week, incorporates a number of stories from Random Acts of Kindness, a CSS book released in the spring. My Kind (of) America focuses more heavily, though, on stories about people in diverse, mutually supportive communities. (Following the template of CSS titles, the book is a compendium of first-person accounts that highlight a single theme.) In one story, a number of friends reach out to a gay woman in the wake of the Pulse nightclub massacre. In another, Muslims in a Jewish and Muslim interfaith group help elderly Jews, who opposed their mosque, during a blackout.
Newmark admitted that some could perceive the book as espousing a leftist mindset, and this would certainly be a departure for CSS, which is an apolitical publisher that remains unaligned with any religion or ideology. For Newmark, the book is not political; it merely touts the importance of inclusion and respecting one's neighbors, wherever they may come from.
While Newmark doesn't believe My Kind (of) America throws CSS into the political ring, it does, she said, make a statement. “I’ve been reading a lot about how people are putting out so-called ‘resistance’ books. So I thought, ‘if resistance means sticking up for what America has always stood for, then I guess we’re part of the resistance.’”
Newmark also believes the book gives CSS fans something they've been craving. “We realized that there’s so much demand out there from our readers for books that reassure them that America is filled with passionate and tolerant people," she said. She also believes CSS fans wanted to be reminded that "only a tiny minority of [Americans] don’t espouse those traditional American values of embracing our differences."
The book was released in a 31,000-copy first printing, which is a smaller printing than many of CSS's books. Newmark said this speaks to the fact that, despite her confidence that CSS readers want and need this kind of book, she's still unsure if they will, at least initially, "know quite what to make of it." By comparison, the book's spiritual predecessor, Random Acts of Kindness, has 100,000 copies in print. But Newmark said that producing more copies would be no problem.
"We tend to run tight on inventory and then print fast. We can do a two-week reprint order,” she said. "I guess I’m taking a little bit of a risk on the book, but I’m doing what I think is the right thing. If I only sell tens of thousands but I help make tens of thousands feel hopeful and like America is a great place, then I’ll be happy about that.”
Speaking to the book's unusual title, and using parentheses around the "of" in the phrase "my kind (of) America," Newmark said her purpose was twofold. "I really wanted to emphasize 'kind America,' she said, "but I also wanted it to be 'my kind of America,' because my kind of America is an America that stands for all these good things."