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New generation embraces ‘All About Love’

It's the kind of book friends recommend to each other, especially if someone is going through a time of loneliness or romantic loss

By HILLEL ITALIE, Associated Press
Published: March 16, 2024, 5:17am

NEW YORK — In the summer of 2022, Emma Goodwin was getting over a breakup and thinking hard about her life and how to better herself. She decided to try a book she had heard about often, bell hooks’ “All About Love: New Visions.”

“I loved it. It takes seriously a subject that is scoffed at in popular culture, that a lot of people see as silly,” said Goodwin, 26, a social media coordinator who lives in Philadelphia. “What has stuck with me over the past couple of years since I read it is the idea that to be a loving person is something you have to work at and not something that comes naturally.”

Tiffany Stewart, a writer and producer in Los Angeles, first read “All About Love” two years ago with her reading group and reread it recently.

Just from the book’s introduction, she knew it was going to “crack open” her mind and change everything she had believed.

“We’ve always been told that love should just feel good. It should be fluffy and light and easy. And that means you’re looking at the media version of love,” Stewart said.

Published by William Morrow and Co. in 2000, “All About Love” endures as a word-of-mouth favorite — the kind of book that continues to be read and discussed even without any breaking news event, movie tie-in or publicity campaign. Friends recommend it to friends. Fans post about it on Instagram and TikTok and review it on Goodreads, where more than 190,000 members have included it on their to-read lists.

According to Circana, which tracks around 85 percent of physical book sales, “All About Love” sold more than 170,000 copies in 2023, compared to just over 27,000 in 2018. Morrow editor Rachel Kahan cites the murder of George Floyd in 2020 as a turning point, although sales were already rising.

“I think this is one of those situations where the book’s been around a while and the culture rises up to meet it,” said Kahan, who was working with hooks at the time of her death, in December 2021. A few months before, Kahan had told the author that “All About Love” made The New York Times bestseller list.

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“We were kind of laughing and crying,” the editor said. “She was so excited that the book was getting all this attention from readers and influencing the conversation.”

Scholars of hooks welcome the late feminist’s ongoing popularity, but some worry that readers are gaining only a selective understanding of her, viewing her more as a self-help author than as a political and social thinker.

The pen name for Gloria Jean Watkins, bell hooks helped popularize the idea of “intersectionality,” a concept coined by Black civil rights advocate Kimberlé Crenshaw, also known for her work on the concept of critical race theory. Intersectionality holds that racism, sexism and economic inequality reinforce each other and shape (and distort) the ways we see ourselves — and each other.

Author of more than 30 books, hooks explored everything from the lasting impact of slavery on Black women to the failure of white feminists to work more closely with their Black contemporaries. In her lifetime, she was often cited for the 1981 book “Ain’t I a Woman? Black Women and Feminism,” its title taken from the memoir of 19th-century abolitionist Sojourner Truth.

She wrote often about love, family and community, but within the framework of a society that hooks saw as isolating us and setting us against each other. In “All About Love,” she rejected the “dangerous narcissism” of New Age thinkers and contended that love had been distorted by “our obsession with power and commodity.” The problem often began at home, she wrote, where too many children were subjected to “chaos, neglect, abuse and coercion.”

“There can be no love without justice,” hooks wrote. “Until we live in a culture that not only respects but also upholds basic civil rights for children, most children will not know love.”

M. Shadee Malaklou, who directs the bell hooks center at Berea College in Berea, Ky., where hooks taught over the final decade and a half of her life, said some find it “convenient to flatten out a feminist of color.”

“bell was never depoliticized,” she said. “For bell, the love she talks about is a love for justice. ‘All About Love’ is a love letter to justice.”

Stewart said she found that “All About Love” had both a personal and a political message, aligning the “individual journey” with the “communal and societal one.” The book “teaches us to think outside of ourselves, which is important, because we can’t get through life without one another,” she said.

The author was in her mid-40s and had been publishing books for 20 years when she signed with William Morrow for “All About Love,” the first of a “Love Song to the Nation” trilogy that also included “Communion” and “Salvation.”