Friday, January 22, 2010


Well, here I was thinking I would blog this weekend about the latest cover controversy.

Except, then, the publisher up and announced that they were changing the cover!

Blogs and posts to check out are Black Eyed Susan; Color Online; Chasing Ray. And Justine Larbalestier sums up many of my thoughts on the issue of covers and race: Race & Representation.

And seriously, if you don't know what I am talking about, you have to add at least Black Eyed Susan and Color Online to your "must read" blog listing.

So it's over, yay!! The cover is changed, let's sing and hold hands and go back to how everything was. (end sarcasm font)

DARN IT, I cannot even post a "but it's not over" post because Color Online has already done it: "I am asking that you remain focused and committed to bringing about real change which is the realization of true diversity and representation in publishing." Practically every point raised at Black Eyed Susan's Color it Up post is as valid right now as it was yesterday.

So, what can be added to the conversation? I'm not a fan of "me, too" posts. I don't want to say, "look at the awesome thing I'll do."

I'm joining the POC Reading Challenge, even though you may know (or have figured out) that I don't do challenges. Too little time, too many books, not organized enough to check in when I have or have not read something. But I'm joining, because this is important. The conversation, the need, the issue do not end with one cover. Or two covers. It's every day, every reading choice. And Bookshelves of Doom shows, it's not over.

What can a blogger do? When we shift from private readers to public readers, there is a shift in our responsibilities. "Me" still matters, of course; it's why my sidebar is my favorite books. But when I try to decide what to read next, the deciding factor isn't just "what do I want to read next" or work-related ("what do I read for this library committee", "what do I read to be a good librarian to my patrons"), it's also blog related, "what did I request from a publisher or author?" "what review copies and ARCs do I have?" and "What publisher haven't I reviewed in a while?"

And added to that list of factors should also be, "am I being diverse in my reading?" "when did I last read a book about a person of color?" If I don't ask myself that question, if I don't think of that question, well, it may turn out the books I've read are all white. Being white, I have the luxury to "don't think" unless I make the decision to think about.

But even then... well. This is one person, one blog.

Blogging is about a community. And it's a community publishers look at. Yes, they hope our reviews mean sales. And yes, there's a big world of readers out there, bigger than the blogosphere. Still. Blogging is a fairly new, unique way for publishers to get direct feedback from readers. And I'm not talking about feedback that picks apart books; I'm talking about feedback that says, yes, readers want and need books about people of color. So us blogging about POC books and saying we want more? Does send a message.

What else can be done?

You have enough people saying, demanding, wanting books about people of color and the books will be made. Blogs are one part of that conversation. So are libraries -- check out the books! Ask for the books that aren't there! Leave suggestions, requests for titles. Do the same at your local bookstore. A librarian, a book store owner, hearing that readers want more books with POC will buy more books, and will tell their publisher contacts that.

Nominate titles for the various YALSA lists and awards. A book being on these lists and the awards? It means a lot. It's important. Don't assume the committees will have the book, read the book, nominated the book. YOU do it. Go to the YALSA web site at, select an award or list and then select the “Nominate a title” link. Pay attention to the details (publication year, ISBN, reason for nomination)!

EDITED TO ADD: As pointed out in the comments to a post at Chasing Ray, some of the huge purchasers of books have incredible input into covers. They can decide to carry or not to carry and that decision has such a huge financial impact that publishers listen; or, I imagine, try to guess what these entities will or won't buy. To quote from that comment: "And these major buyers can be counted on one hand: Wal-Mart, wholesalers, B&N. And, to be frank, if any of those buyers say no to a cover for any reason, we have to listen to them or else our books don't get in." So, what to do? Add these three entities to the list; when in these stores, ask "why don't you have." Write these entities.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy


Becker said...

This week has made me intend to be even more thoughtful about diversity in my reading. A lot of stuff I read is GLBTQ focused, but I need to be more conscious of everything else, too! Thanks for committing to continue the conversation!

MotherReader said...

Your thoughts about blogging as a responsibility - moving from a private reader to a public forum - are spot-on. As are your suggestions about not only being mindful of our reading and posting habits, but also our library and list suggestions.

BookMoot said...

This issue impacts school libraries in a huge way. I posted the other day about the very real struggle a jr. high student had finding a novel to read when she really ONLY had enough time to scan the covers (a whole other rant about teachers expecting their students to find a book in less than 10 minutes) and even with me, the speedy-librarian, it was so hard to find a book for her. There were, no doubt real collection diversity issues at that campus (grrrr...) but even with the BEST collectoin ever, most kids look at the cover first. They need to see themselves represented there.

MissA said...

Wonderful post, thank you for speaking out. I agree with you and susan, this is not over. I think it's so great that you are going to start thinking "how diverse is my reading list", I hope all book bloggers start to think that way (even I need to because I find that I review way more books about African Americans than other ethnic heritages, I need to work on that).

Thank you for all the amazing work that you do spotlighting titles and providing information on all the YALSA stuff. Can we nominate books any time?

Liz B said...

Becker, because its so easy for me to fall into what I want to read, I try to keep in mind what I may have missed or overlooked. So I just went thru the Rainbow List of books to see which GLBT titles I haven't reviewed but should.

MR, I've been thinking (not just for this!) as to what is the line, the difference between "just" a reader and a blogger. I don't have answers; just a lot of questions. I know I get my back up when people "should" on me (you should blog about this, you should read x books, you should do this) because there is so little time, even if I wanted to do all the "shoulds". Sometimes it does feel like readers think they are our editors, telling us what to do! But, still, I think once we put ourselves out there, our responsibility changes. We do need to do some of the "shoulds", if we can.

bookmoot, covers and collections are such a tricky thing. We need more, and we need people to know we need more.

Miss A, I'll put together a post with more details. I just skimmed YALSA's website; it looks like the award nominations are open, but the lists don't open until February. So I'm making a mental note to do a more detailed post in February about nominating titles.

Paige Y. said...

I too don't join challenges -- I tend to get busy with other things and fail miserably at them. But I may join the POC challenge because it's about such an important issue. I find myself not only needing to read books about African-Americans, but also about Latinos (I think I've only read Cuba 15 and Esperanza Rising). We had an almost nonexistent Latino population at my school for years (just 2 -3 children) but it has grown significantly. I need for my collection and my booktalks to become more diverse so that I am reaching everyone.

Color Online said...


You needn't had told me a post would come. You are a doer. I learned that with LIAR.

I am so glad you're here. Librarians are high on my favorite people list because of folks like you. You walk the walk and I can't say enough how much I respect and admire you for it.

You made me blush, too. I swear I read my posts and shake my head always wishing I could write like you and Ari and Zetta- any my friends.

We will get change because we won't stop until we do.

Thank you,