May 3, 2014

Diversifying My Shelves

We need diverse books campaign
Diversifying My Shelves
Today I’m taking part in the final stage of the We Need Diverse Books campaign, which some of you might have come across in various social media channels over the past few days. In case you haven’t, here’s the tumblr post that started it all, here’s a link to the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag, and here are the campaign’s headquarters on tumblr.

Also worth checking out is the #DiversityIsNot hashtag, which has been at the centre of a thoughtful discussion that’s happening alongside the campaign. I must admit that I have complicated feelings about the inclusion of books like, say, The Summer Prince in the button above if that’s not accompanied by a discussion of where they fall short. As much as I want to be supportive of a novel by a woman of colour that’s successful at portraying sexuality in complex and interesting ways, it’s worth bearing in mind that not all forms of representation are created equal. I don’t necessarily want to praise a book for “being diverse” and going beyond the usual Anglo-centric settings if it does so in lazy, appropriative and stereotypical ways. Trying is important, but when you get it wrong and default to stereotypes, you risk doing more harm than good.

I could try to explain why all of this matters, but a lot of people, many of whom have experienced the consequences of lack of diversity in publishing firsthand, have done it much better than I could over the years. It seems more productive, then, to point you towards their words instead. So in case you’re wondering what this is all about, here’s a brief primer:

The final stage of the the We Need Diverse Books campaign asks participants who can afford to do so at the moment to “put their money where their mouth is and buy diverse books and take photos of them”, adding that “Diversify Your Shelves is all about actively seeking out diverse literature in bookstores and libraries”.
 

If you can’t afford to buy books right now, suggesting a purchase to your library is also an excellent way to support the campaign. I’ve had conversations with Twitter friends before where they say they feel guilty asking their library to buy stuff during times of budget cuts, but as a library insider I absolutely promise that’s not a problem at all. Purchase suggestions are tools that allow acquisitions departments to gauge community interest, and the more financial pressures libraries face, the more useful that is.
 

With the above in mind, today I’m sharing my latest book order with you:

Diversify Your Shelves

There you have it: five books I’m incredibly excited to read. Taking part in today’s campaign was a reminder of something I already know but that always bears repeating: reading more diversely is not the literary equivalent of eating my greens. It’s not a sacrifice of literary quality (however you define that) and reading enjoyment for a good cause; it’s merely a recognition that the world is not a level playing field; that there are reasons that go far, far beyond “literary merit” involved in why I come across some books much more easily than others; and that it’s up to me to make a conscious effort not to deprive myself of a wealth of excellent literature that can show me what the world looks like from different perspectives and thus enrich my reading life.
 

Lastly, to make things more fun I’m giving away a copy of one of the five books above. Just tell me which one interests you the most in a comment before Monday and you’ll be entered. The giveaway is open worldwide and I’ll be in touch with the winner next week.

11 comments:

  1. I really **loved** Inside Out and Back Again; it's a wonderful, wonderful book, beautifully written, very nuanced. I hope you enjoy it!

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  2. I'm glad to hear you say that it's helpful to make purchase suggestions for the library. I do it all the time, not just for books that I want to read but also for books on topics I'm passionate about and want other people to read. My library has purchased books on feminism and size acceptance after I suggested them, and it makes me happy to think others will find them on the shelves. Plus, there have been several times that I've gone back to reserve the books after the come in and find that there's already a waiting list, which is always exciting!

    No need to enter me in the giveaway, but I do want to say that Locomotion is a great book! I love Woodson's writing.

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  3. This is a wonderful campaign! I'm writing to my librarians right away.

    I would absolutely love a copy of "19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East." I just read the introduction and opening poem here (http://www.harpercollins.com/browseinside/index.aspx?isbn13=9780060504045) and I am longing to read the rest! I wish I'd had a book like this one growing up -- Naomi Shihab Nye is a huge gift to the world of readers.

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  4. Like Teresa, I like that you mentioned suggesting library purchases! At the library I work at, patrons are allowed to make five suggestions a month -- it's one of my favourite things to do. In the past two months I've suggested: Fake I.D. by Lamar Giles, Pointe by Brandy Colbert and Nightingale's Nest by Nikki Loftin. I was ecstatic when the library purchased all three and I felt happy that I had a part in bringing in these titles that somehow flew under our purchasers' radars (even if it's a small thing, really.)

    Yay diversity!

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  5. Thanks for this post and all the background info, Ana! I have to admit I feel like I can barely keep up with internet happenings these days so while I saw the tweets I didn't really know the origins! I'll read these links later and maybe hopefully order a book.

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  6. This was a fantastic post (which I'm sharing in my weekly roundup list @ parajunkee.com on Monday). I would love to read The Thing ABout Luck, because I have a thing for reading books that win the bookish awards :-)

    Also, I tend to buy books by authors of color that aren't stocked at my library, and donate them after I finish reading them.

    And you make an excellent point about sharing books that are awesome - but not those that don't get it right (so to speak).

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  7. Older librarians in small libraries are usually very happy to get suggestions for what to purchase, in my experience. People don't think of the books in libraries as "selections" enough.

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  8. I just recommended my first book to a library for purchase this past week! I've never done it before, but I so much wanted to read Mr. Loverman. It's good to hear that you think this is a valuable thing to do -- I'll be doing it more often now, particularly for some of the international/translated authors I've been seeing in the We Need Diverse Books campaign posts.

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  9. ittybooks and Tanya Patrice, as you were the only ones to enter I'm happy to send you both a copy of your chosen books. Just e-mail me your addresses and they'll be on your way to you via Book Depository asap. Happy reading!

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  10. I believe so strongly in fighting to have more diverse books published and sold and promoted so am incredibly glad this campaign has caught on. Though I agree that it's important to analyze said "diverse" books to make sure they're humanizing rather than otherizing.

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  11. Yay! I am so happy with this post. It is so important and you are so persuasive, I know you will convince all sorts of people to give these books a shot!

    No need to enter me in the giveaway. My hope is that someone wins who generally does not read diversely!

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Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.