This Friday I propose we all forget about the pandemic (metaphorically) and focus on our TBR piles. Stay home this weekend, fix yourself a pitcher of tasty cocktails (or mocktails–your choice), grab a lawn chair or hammock and get reading. I will admit I’m spurred on by my own weekend reading list. Mine is all client-and-submission related, but the rest of the proposal stands. And you should feel free to tackle all those great vacation reads you’d normally enjoy on a plane or by a pool. (If you have a pool in your yard, even better.)
Not sure where to start? You are in luck. This week’s links feature lots of book lists. So if you are wondering what to read, or just what to pick up first, check below for inspiration. Ignore the insanity of the outside world and sink into a romance or a fantasy or thriller for distraction. Cheers!
Independent Bookstore Day swag. – Independent Bookstore Day is creeping up, and you can now buy swag in the form of face masks or coffee mugs to honor/support the event.
2020 First Novel Prize: The Long List. – The long list for this year’s First Novel Prize by the Center for Fiction. I’m not sure every single one of these titles are out yet–I’ve heard buzz about ARCs for a couple–but many are, and you can always make a mental note for later if something appeals.
Today we honor Juneteenth, not yet a national holiday, but hopefully on the way. I put this blog mostly on the back burner the last few months, for so many reasons. But today requires acknowledgement, and it feels like a perfect opportunity to discuss racism and humanity. Throughout these weeks of protest and activism following the killing of George Floyd, I’ve been active on Twitter and Instagram and Facebook, trying to support and elevate Black voices. But it’s important for me to talk more broadly about my support of the Black community and that needs a little more space.
Racism comes in all shapes and sizes, but it surrounds us. As a white woman, I understand that I have grown up in this system. It’s in my DNA through decades of exposure. I have to do the work to resist that exposure because even if I am not actively, purposefully racist, I can still say or do things carelessly without understanding their effect. Doing that work means listening. It includes reading, viewing, paying attention. Supporting financially, emotionally, professionally. On Juneteenth, and every day after.
Publishing remains a painfully white industry, for all the active discussion about diversity the last few years. I am closed to queries at the moment, but when I reopen I will be rewriting my information about what I’m seeking. Currently I encourage diverse submissions, but I plan to be more specific about addressing BIPOC authors individually. As a reader and consumer, I work to diversify my reading choices, but I know I can always do better. I try to give money to a rotating list of charities and organizations that focus on providing opportunities to those who need them. In recent weeks, I’ve donated to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund for African American Students and We Need Diverse Books.
Boosting Black Voices
I’m just one person, with limited resources, but I have something of a platform. A decent Twitter following. Some terrific friends and colleagues who are on the same page about the need to boost Black voices. The older I get, the more I understand that networking can take you far, and a diverse network surpasses one with a narrow focus. More ideas, more connections, more chances of clicking with the right partner or finding that perfect opportunity. It’s not about scrambling to the top of the mountain by yourself; it’s about helping others and watching everyone rise together, then toasting your achievements with an amazing view.
Amistad Books proposed the simple idea of purchasing two books by Black authors this week. Any two you wish. The concept? Flood the bestseller lists with Black voices, fiction and nonfiction. Boost the writers, give them sales, but also introduce readers to new names they might not have encountered. Have you picked up your books yet? There’s still time for this challenge, but any week counts. Go discover a new-to-you voice.
I Am Not Your Negro: the Film. – Many streaming services are showing an array of important Black films for free right now. Of the ones I’ve watched the past couple of weeks, this one struck me as a beautiful balance between the big-picture narrative of racism in the United States and a very personal story of James Baldwin’s experience watching his friends getting gunned downed for standing up for Black rights. Available on Amazon Prime among other places. Highly recommended.
I could keep going on and on, obviously. But this smattering of thoughts and links serves as a beginning, only. We need to keep having the conversation, to keep doing the work, if we’re ever going to approach a world that looks somewhat equitable. And even then, as with everything, we’ll need to keep doing the work. Change isn’t permanent; it’s a process.
Back in December, I did a quick review of my personal reading for 2014, and decided I wanted to make a concerted effort to read more diversely. My stats for last year included a chart that showed I read slightly more women authors than men, and about 25% of the books I read were by authors of color. I also read predominately authors of American or British origin, with very little in translation. While those numbers were not terrible, they were not as well-rounded as I’d like, so I knew I wanted to work at changing them this year.
But how to change? There were a number of challenges going around at the start of the year — suggestions of how to diversify your reading habits no matter what demographic you were seeking to increase. One of the most notable was K. Tempest Bradford’s reading challenge, where she suggested readers go an entire year without reading a single book by white male, cis, straight authors.
I thought the challenge sounded fabulous, but a little extreme for my personal taste, simply because I knew I would trip over books during the course of the year that excited me and that I would want to read immediately, and sometimes they would not fall into the challenge parameters. Instead I decided I would let her challenge inspire me to be more mindful of what I read in general, and make a concerted effort to choose more books by a variety of different authors. They were certainly on my radar — and on my shelves. It was just a matter of pushing them higher up on my to-read list.
Because I did own so many books by authors of color and different backgrounds, I physically pulled a bunch off of my bookcases and made an actual pile. This way, when I’m ready to read a new book, these titles are some of the first I consider. New books by authors of color get added to the stack when I acquire them, as well, keeping them in the forefront of my mind.
So how am I doing? Better, but there’s still room for improvement. As of today, my ratio has increased and approximately 35% of my reading this year has been by writers of color. I’ve read fewer books overall than I’d have liked, but there’s still more than four months left in 2015, so I have plenty of time to catch up in all respects. I’m pretty pleased with my system, but I’ll definitely reassess at the end of the year to determine if I’ll continue this way in 2016, or if I will find a more aggressive way of meeting my goal.
The beauty of reading challenges is that they serve as a spring board. If they fit with your goals, and seem like something you want to try for, terrific! If they seem a little too ambitious for you, tailor them for your own needs. Some readers already read diversely in terms of authors of color but would like to check out more books in translation, or simply by non-American authors. Other readers want to read more women authors, or more nonfiction.
Although I sometimes joke that I’d like to read “all the books,” in reality I know that’s both impractical and simply not true. Not all books appeal to me. There are plenty of titles out there that I’m happy to skip. But with so many millions of books to choose from, there are definitely many I’ve yet to discover that I no doubt will adore. It’s a matter of scratching around and being open to all of the many sources, and widening my scope when it comes to the places where I go to learn about both back lists and new releases.
For instance, despite knowing of Tempest’s challenge, I only recently came across her YouTube channel where she recommends different books by a range of authors, all of which fit her challenge parameters. Even though I’m not following the challenge precisely, this serves as a fabulous source for reading recommendations. I’m also a frequent visitor to Book Riot, where they are actively discussing diversity in publishing and make an effort to talk about a broad range of books. I follow the We Need Diverse Books campaign, and learn about great authors of color writing for kids and young adults.
For me, it’s not sufficient to read more by authors of color. I also want to be more aware of the books that are out there and — I hope — help more great books by authors of color find their way into bookstores and the hands of readers. I’m not just a reader, but a person working in the industry, and so part of reading more diversely for me is about making strides toward diversifying publishing as a whole.