I am a book-buying addict. Shocker, right? It’s kind of bad, because I own way more books than I could ever read, and it also makes moving really difficult, and I move all the time. And it’s stupid, because I’m a librarian, plus I have a public library card (or four), so it’s not like I don’t have access to just about every book I could ever want to read. I have been trying to be more discerning about which books I keep after I read them, like confining it to things I reread, things I annotate, and a few things that just make me look like a cool person if someone sees them on my bookshelf. Anyway, I don’t exactly make millions of dollars, so I really shouldn’t spend a lot of money on things that I can get for free and enjoy just as much.
In the grand scheme of Hannah Likes to Give Herself Rules and Regulations and Then She Promptly Disregards All of Them Because She Has No Self-Control and/or Expects Too Much of Herself, I am going to impose some rules on my book buying, from now until forever, or at least the next year or so. You know, because maybe by then it will be a habit, not a personal challenge.
So. In order to be allowed to buy a book for myself, it has to satisfy at least one of these criteria:
- It has to be by a genetic female or lady-identifying human
- It has to be by a person of color
- It has to be by a person identifying as LGBTQIA
- It has to be by a person with a disability
- If not one of the above, it has to be an author who is a friend or mine
- or someone whose work I have read in the past and therefore I am an invested, consistent fan
- (and that final one is still going to be reduced if that person is a bestseller and does not need my help to ensure they keep getting contracts with publishers)
I was torn because I decided on “by,” not just “about,” but I think it’s a good plan, because a) probably a lot of people who are not of but about a group are already authors I like or authors I’m friends with, so I’ll buy their stuff anyway, and b) those people still need my dollars less than others.
It’s not because I think all dude writers and all white writers and all hetero or cis writers suck, though I do try to avoid reading dude books that are well reviewed, just because they’re getting plenty of readers and don’t really need me. But the publishing industry refuses to take responsibility for the fact that they engineer books by PoC and ladies to sell badly and then go on to claim that these books somehow magically don’t get reviewed and don’t sell (shocker! you guys don’t tell your own reps about your non-status quo titles), so I’m going to do what I can as an individual consumer to actively not buy books that perpetuate the status quo, even if they are high quality, perfectly wonderful books, and I will say so loudly when speaking with publisher reps and booksellers. If a book seems quality and doesn’t pass my personal criteria laid out above, perhaps I will buy it for my library, where it will still reach the readers it deserves but not sell quite as many copies. And I will most definitely buy fewer mediocre books that are status quo-y in favor of, well, good books period, but yes, even equally mediocre books that at least give voice to people who don’t have one. Is that weird? Does it make me sound like I think diversity is more important than quality? Because yes and no, I do and don’t.
I strongly believe in paperback series fiction. That would be The Baby-sitters Club, Sweet Valley High, The Bobbsey Twins, et al. I think you would be hard-pressed to find someone who didn’t learn how to read and – more importantly – how to be a reader from books like these. They teach you tropes. They teach you story structure. They teach you stereotypes. They teach you literary devices, like red herrings. Formula and repetition are good for you. And they’re fun. Soothing. Reassuring. Consistent. Series fiction is excellent. And insanely fascinating, but that’s a conversation for another time, like when I finally find a PhD program to apply to and propose it as my dissertation topic. So anyway. I have been pleased recently to find that people like Roger Sutton and Peter Dickinson agree that reading crap is actually excellent, and as a person of color I will add that it is incredibly validating as a child to find the same pop fiction crap that your friends are reading also validates your experiences and skin tone. That’s why book series like The Cheetah Girls were so important to me, even as I knew I should have been reading Good Literature Above Grade Level. Little brown girls deserve Disney-style fairy tale picturebooks that have characters that look like them, not just beautiful Jerry Pinkney books. Both. When pop culture says you exist, it is arguably more vindicating than when special things are made just for you. So yeah, those midlist commercial books that we still need to buy for our libraries? I’m going to prioritize the ones with gay boys in love, or with red/yellow/brown/black people, or with the kid with the hearing aid, assuming that the only problem with them is that they are not Highly Literarily Achieveful, not that they are deeply problematic or offensive. And anyway, that’s at work. For me at home, books that make an impact or that I think have the potential to, which satisfy as many of those criteria as possible. Those are the people who need my support. Those are the people whose voices I find more interesting, more meaty, more original, more refreshing. So yes, sometimes it’s about just making sure that publishers know that any book with well done diversity is worth it, but it’s also about the fact that DIVERSITY IS MORE INTERESTING AND MORE TRUE THAN OTHER STUFF. Period. The end. Thanks. Also, please consider copying me and doing what I’m doing.