Welcome to the second post in my new series,
The purpose of this series is to give me space to document my lockdown experience. It takes the form of weekly entries, each with a different focus.
This series is deeply personal, aimed at documenting my victories, losses, achievements and failures. I’m putting it together to give me something to look back to whenever I’ll be struggling in the future, to remind myself that I can and will overcome it, and in the hope that there’s still something readers can take away from my notes.
Lockdown Lesson’s first post is about diversity: taking action to diversify the contents of my library.
I was raised in a Catholic household in a conservative Catholic country where there is still a lot of stigma around homosexuality. I wasn’t exposed to much diverse literature or people (save for my English Literature teacher who made it a point to teach us Black and POC literature) until I left for university in the UK. I was able to discover more about myself and the world, motivating me to keep learning, keep fighting for diversity and equality.
Lockdown and the pandemic exacerbated the disparities already existing in today’s society. The economic crisis, Black Lives Matter, the discourse over trans identities and cancel culture, #MeToo and women in SFF — they all exposed a system of erasure, hate and oppression that made quarantine even more grievous. And during Pride Month too!
I wanted to do something too, but with limited energies and resources I felt powerless. So I made up my mind: the change must come from me first.
I don’t have the means to make massive, significant changes; all I have true agency over is my personal life. With all the free time of lockdown, I decided to make some changes to my routine where I could. This started from my bookshelf.
What steps did I take?
I took all the books out of my bookcase and laid them out on the floor. I divided them into piles according to the representation in them and their author’s ethnicity.
I counted the books that were written by Black and POC authors, by LGBTQIA+ authors, by white and by straight authors, taking a note of the genre. My living room was a mess, but it was well worth it! I recorded everything in a notebook.
Remember the Lockdown Bucket List I mentioned in my last post? One of the goals on it is “Read more books”. I made a list of books from Black, POC, LGBTQIA+ and women authors – both old and new – and put them at the top of my TBR. I am actively purchasing, reading and reviewing those books to support their creators.
As a book reviewer on NetGalley and following a number of book tour organisers, I adopted a much more thoughtful and controlled attitude when requesting ARCs. If something is written for a community I am not part of, I either try to avoid requesting the ARC altogether or I do so only under the specific condition to give #ownvoice reviewers precedence over me. No loss if I don’t get selected: I can buy the book once it comes out and support the author in that way!
What have I learned and what will I continue doing going forward?
- The book world is so straight, white and male! I’m glad I did this: I knew that the industry was fairly biased already, but this exercise helped me put into tangible perspective.
- I will pay more attention to what I buy and how I find it. I feel that documenting my reading on the blog has massively helped me do this. I want to be more active. Asking myself “how do my reading habits look like this month?” and ensuring there is enough diversity is a step in the right direction. It may seem small (and perhaps a little inconsequential?), but it’s useless doing one gigantic act of goodwill and then never again. Small but consistent actions are the way to keep doing good by educating yourself and others without burning out.
- As a blogger, I have been trying to make my book selection process and my recommendations more diverse. Sometimes putting together lists is a long process because diverse titles are not always as highlighted as “mainstream” ones. But I do it, I put the time in doing it, and I’m really glad I do. I’m still learning and growing; if a creator gets even a tiny bit of visibility because of my work, that is a massive win.
- The beauty of this nifty exercise is that it works with anything you have. I know I will do it for social media accounts I follow, music I listen to, and beauty and bath products! And what’s more — it didn’t cost me any money, just a little bit of time and patience!
- Of course, I will continue volunteering for publishers and associations whose mission is to lift marginalised voices, such as Literary Natives, Knight Errant Press and Inkandescent. I’ll keep donating whenever I’m able, too.
(PS: have you seen my BLM post? There are lots of links to books written by Black authors, Black-owned shops and charities!)
There you go…
I think this was a super easy and achievable way of taking steps in the right direction. There was a moment of learning, a moment of growth and a movement toward a better consumer attitude. Anyone could do the same!
I say “consumer attitude” because readers are consumers and it’s always healthy to remind ourselves that we are what we consume. That’s why it’s so important to diversify our content and support a wide range of people. As suppliers, I feel publishers should encourage this attitude rather than hinder it. I hope that changes in favour of a more diverse workforce (the workforce should always reflect the readership it’s trying to reach, in my opinion) and, consequently, a more diverse literary wealth will continue to happen after lockdown.
In the next post I’ll talk a little about upskilling: what I put down on my bucket list and how I learned it.
If you have any recommendations or would like to share your experience of diversifying your bookshelf, tips on how to give visibility to marginalised groups, or just wish to talk about your lockdown experience, I would love to read it in the comments!
I’ve set up a ko-fi account to support my expenses, as finances are a bit uncertain due to Covid. If you like what you see, No worries if you can’t donate right now! Take care of yourself 💗