three simultaneous reading challenges, and why you should make people uncomfortable at conference exhibits

Behold this very meta jpg (okay, it’s a png):


That is a thing I did at ALA Midwinter, and it was fantastic. It was also somewhat embarrassing. Though I am known for being a talker, I am actually rather shy and don’t like to be awkward in front of large groups. I really hate groups in general, and since I’m naturally awkward, I don’t like to be awkward on purpose. But I sacrificed all of my personal comfort in pursuit of the greater good, and that makes me awesome.

If you would like to be awesome as well, you can do exactly what I said in my tweet that I said in my Facebook status (some things just can’t be reduced to fewer characters). After awhile, I wasn’t even talking to reps that much, and I could tell they didn’t like me, because I would talk about whatever with the friend I was perusing exhibits with, and I would very loudly enunciate certain phrases like “SQUEE brown girls on covers!” and “people of color!” and “WOOO queer love story!”

I hated it. The thing that kept me going was knowing that literally if I had not done it, no one would have. I am not saying I’m the first person who has asked a rep about their “diverse literature.” But I don’t know anyone else who would basically have multicultural-vocabulary-Tourette’s (and I’m sorry for the insensitive terminology there) and embarrass herself in the service of a better future in publishing. And also, no matter how uncomfortable I felt, I could only hope I was making other people more uncomfortable. Because that’s what you have to do. That is the ONLY way to get people to assess things.

When you are uncomfortable, generally, you ask yourself the question, “Why am I uncomfortable?” In this situation, I’m guessing the answer would have been “because this brown girl at my booth is bringing to my attention that I am in a sea of white people books and that’s probably not cool” if you were a publisher rep and “because I’ve never before thought about whether I read anything that’s not about cis/het ablebodied white folks, and my colleague and peer over there is making me confront my privilege” if you were a fellow librarian. I could only hope that I was embarrassing these reps enough that they would report to their bosses (there are plenty of big shot editors who attend these things, so actually, maybe they just had to report to the person standing next to them or to themselves) that they felt uncomfortable because they got called out, either directly or indirectly, on something that they don’t want to be caught lacking. They got called out on something that their company publicly says they totes care about and have cotton candy rainbow fuzzy feelings about because they couldn’t actually deliver on it. Publishers need that. What else can we do but confront them with their shortcomings repeatedly until they can’t ignore them anymore? What else can we do but tell them over and over again that tokenism and historical fiction and under-promoted books just won’t cut it? Shit* needs to get real.

Not that I wouldn’t have done this anyway, but because of this ALA experience, I am making this a bit more of a thing than I probably would have otherwise. Apparently people sometimes pay attention to my little soapbox here, so I’m going to use the fact that I am Internet famous (omg I am so not Internet famous hahaha) as a chance to promote good shit and cross link that shit as much as possible.

I am taking on three simultaneous reading challenges, two of which are for the entirety of 2014 and the third which goes from February 3 to June 22.

  • Diversity on the Shelf is about reading books by and/or about people of color. Simple. I wish it included a broader definition of diversity, like abledness and sexual orientation and gender identity, but it’s a start. I’m also not a fan of phrases like “diversity centered,” because I don’t read books about that. That’s CBC Diversity-style, cotton candy shit. I read books about people that reflect the world I live in. Period. But it’s the challenge I found, and there are people getting involved, so it works. You can pick your level of involvement, and I went with reading at least 13-18 books, which is horrifyingly, depressingly, embarrassingly low. But then I can only fail upwards. You can join in on this one here.
  • The Latin@s in Kidlit Reading Challenge is more time-specific, which is probably a good thing, as it is terrifying, and we all need the fear of G-d put into us sometimes if we’re going to get shit done. Deadlines make productivity. You have to read one book by and/or about a Latin@ every month, at least. Excellent. I actually failed in January, technically, but I read about a third of my first one, and I joined a bit late, so I’m not calling it a fail yet. Check that shit out here.
  • The Hub Reading Challenge is a YALSA thing. It has zero to do with diversity, technically, and because it’s based on YALSA-administered awards, it actually ignores all of the “ethnic” awards given out to books. BUT it does include the Stonewall Award for books depicting the LGBT experience and the Schneider Family Award for books about the disability experience (Gawd, I use it all the time when doing crit, but I am really starting to hate the phrase “[identity or marginalized group] experience.” Bleh). So there’s some winning there. Also, professional connections with fellow librarians, potential collection development, and I am trying to roll out a modified version of the challenge for the kiddos at school, so personal time, meet work time! You don’t have to be a librarian to be a part of it – you just have to be awesome – so go see what it’s all about.You’ll see on the righthand column a little icon for each challenge. I’ll also tag blog posts with the challenge when I review or do crit things with books, and there will be shelves on my goodreads. Please join me. Publishers can continue to spitball and fail to act until enough people prove that literature that represents the actual world is the future. So come along and be Gandhi with me! You know what I mean.
  • * Sometimes I just really like saying “shit.” It’s a good word and has oomph and miles of meaning. #sorrynotsorry


2 thoughts on “three simultaneous reading challenges, and why you should make people uncomfortable at conference exhibits

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