Friday, March 05, 2010

Magic Under Cover

Yesterday, I reviewed Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore.

I made the deliberate decision not to talk covers, and to focus only on the text of the book. Which I really enjoyed, by the way! I loved how personal a story it was against a backdrop of bigger political issues.

But, to not talk about the Magic Under Glass cover could be seen as ignoring it.

So, if you don't known what I'm talking about and want a recap, or if you do know what I'm talking about and want a deeper look at the situation, read The Book Smuggler's essay on whitewashing covers, if you haven't already. Great stuff, including a look beyond YA.

And? I'm not sure I would have noticed that the original cover model did not match the physical description of the heroine. Maybe I would have, maybe not. I'm stating what is -- not right, not wrong. We can discuss over wine and cheese the many factors that would go into my not noticing: not paying attention to the cover after I'd begun reading. How many times the author mentions Nim's color. How quickly I read. That I'm white. Or, the factors that would have gone into my noticing. My finishing the book and sitting back and wondering if the cover "worked." How many times the author mentions Nim's color. How carefully I read. That I'm white. A combination of all or none of these. And none of this matters, really.

To me what matters is not whether or not I would have noticed the cover discrepancy on my own. Or, even, what I think about covers in general.

What matters is that enough people are saying that what is on the cover matters to them, as a reader. That this was noticed, spoken about, changed. And, that it makes me more aware than I may have been to notice it the next time.

I've read several times the idea that "covers don't matter to me," said in the sense of "I would pick up a book with a person of color on it, it's the publisher's fault." No issue this big is ever one person's responsibility, one person's fault. I have to agree with much of what Ari says about this (whose eloquence and patience on this subject is all over the blogosphere, but check out the Book Smuggler's essay for her words). Covers do matter; people do notice; it does impact them. And to say "but it doesn't impact me" does not change the fact that another person is telling you it impacts them. And if it impacts one person -- in this case, Ari -- there are hundreds and thousands more Aris who aren't online, aren't advocating, aren't speaking out in this forum.

I like to match numbers with beliefs. So I turned that on myself. In other words, it's not enough for me to say and believe "but I do read books by/about people of color." What does the blog show? Now, my blog is a bit hard to judge in the sense that I did not blog any 2008 titles and didn't really get back into reviewing titles until April. So, my numbers are a bit skewed. Also, in counting posts I totally ignored my posts about race and books and covers when looking to see what I had actually blogged about as opposed to what I thought I had blogged about.

Looking at my numbers from the twelve months of 2009, on average, my reviews of books by/about people of color was two a month. Since at times I reviewed as little as one a month, or as many as 18, that is good or bad or neither. I don't think there are magic numbers of how many titles a person "should" read. But I think it's a valid question to wonder, what does what I review say about me? Does what I review meet the goals I have set for myself? Does what I review meet my audience needs and wants? (For those who just review online as a purely personal matter, this doesn't matter so much. Though you all know that I think that once that purely personal is put on a blog with a RSS feed and a review policy, it ceases being purely personal.)

My simple goal for myself is to increase that average by one a month. Now, this isn't a science; I'll have some months with more titles than other, some months with less. But it's a modest goal, isn't it? To consciously think about my reading choices, changing by only one book a month?

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


Required said...

Excellent, though-provoking post.

tanita✿davis said...

I'm ...okay, I'll just say it WAY TOO LAZY to do what you've done, to go back and look at all of the book reviews and see where I am in terms of really embracing multicultural fiction. I know that I actively seek it out, and try to review the good, but it doesn't always translate into very impressive numbers.

A simple conclusion: the need to beef it up by one a month. Yes. I can do that. I want to try.

Good luck.

Genevieve said...

The cover controversies (starting with Liar) have caused me to think and to step up my multicultural fiction reading. I'm not a blogger, but it's making a difference in my reading habits. Two of the books I've read since then, Tanita, have been Mare's War and A La Carte, both of which were fantastic and which I've recommended to others (I'm not a blogger, but I do word-of-mouth and blog commenting recommendations a lot).

Amy said...

I really like what you've said here Liz, and the way you put it. I look forward to your continuing reviews, beefed up by one a month. ;)

Laurel-Rain Snow said...

Hi! I've just discovered your blog, and I'll be revisiting!

I have an award for you here:

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

Covers can be quite deceptive. Unfortunately.

Colleen said...

I remember asking my mother about the Vietnam protests and what she was involved in back then and she said that during the 1960s she was raising babies and so the war didn't really affect her much. She just didn't pay attention.

Now, don't beat her up because anyone who has had a spouse working full time while dealing with a small child and newborn will understand why she was in her own world. And this was back when there were only a few channels and a single newspaper and no internet, etc. She watched Walter Cronkite and that was it - everything else didn't affect her.

I mention this now because what you said here about how so many people commented that covers didn't matter to them as if that should be the end of it. So if you have health insurance right now, does health care reform matter to you? If you don't have a loved one in Afghanistan or Iraq do either of those wars matter to you? If you just drank water out of a cup then does the massive overuse and consumption of bottled water and what it does to the environment matter to you?

You see my point - you can carry this attitude to any extreme and it drives me insane. Because it has to be about YOU for you to get up off the couch and see the world from someone else's perspective?

Wow. If that's not the definition of selfish, I don't know what is. It drives me crazy. So much of this all drives me crazy.

I like your idea - and of course, look forward to your reviews!

Peaceful Reader said...

I like your idea of trying to include more mulitracial books. I image this cover business has been occuring for quite awhile and we've all (white folks, that is) begun to pay attention. Being aware of it is half the battle.

susan said...


See you walk the walk. It's not simply a matter of numbers but acknowledgment and action and you do that consistently.

Love what you do and I'm here every week whether I'm commenting or not.

And of course, I linked to your post. How could I not? :-)

Laura Atkins said...

Thanks for your honesty here. This kind of open discussion is something we need much more of.