“How To Sell Diverse Books: A Bookstore Owner’s Advice” via NPR Books
Sometimes we’ll be in the store and we’ll see a kid looking at a little stack of books — maybe we’ve recommended those books to them. They might’ve chosen a book with a kid on the cover who has a different race than their own. And the parent kind of unconsciously steers the kid away from the book. They’ll say, “Oh you’re interested in that book? Do you really think you’re going to read that one? What about this one?” And the child hasn’t been aware of anything different about the book, but the adult is.
• • •
So, funny story.
The other day, Andy and I were waiting to be seated at a popular brunch place. We stood outside the restaurant, enjoying the fresh air and chatting with the other six people in our party. All of us were coupled off, but I happened to be standing at one end of the group, engaged in conversation with my friend and her husband.
Out of absolutely nowhere, this skinny young man walks up to us, grinning. My friend and her husband happen to live in the neighborhood, and just the way the new guy looks at them, without introducing himself, makes me think that he knows them. He turns to me and holds out his hand. “Hi, I’m Adam,” he says.
I return his handshake. “I’m Kristan.”
There’s an awkward pause. I wait for my friend to explain their connection. She doesn’t. Instead, she and her husband have started talking with another couple in our group. I turn back to the new guy, confused.
He’s young and gangly, with a sort of cheerful, nervous energy radiating all around him. He’s dressed like a typical student, in a loose shirt and gym shorts. And there’s a thin translucent bandage running across his eyebrow onto his forehead, but I don’t ask him about it. I don’t really get the chance. He peppers me with questions first.
“Are you waiting to eat here?” (Obviously.) “Do you know these guys?” (Yes, we all went to college together.) “Where did you go to school?” (Carnegie Mellon.) “When did you graduate?”
So on and so forth.
After several awkward minutes, I realize that my friends don’t know this guy at all. He just walked right up to our group and inserted himself! Is he planning to eat with us? Does he think the wait will be shorter? Is he just lonely? WHAT IS EVEN HAPPENING RIGHT NOW?
As all these uncertainties are running through my mind, I’m also politely trying to keep up with our dialogue. At some point, he asks me what I do. (Writer.) “Oh, what do you write about?” (Right now, a fictional story about teenage girls in China.) “Do you really think an American audience will be interested in that?”
Somehow I maintained my composure and simply said, “Yes of course. Why wouldn’t they?”
He didn’t have an answer.
At that point, my friend took pity. Whether on me or on Adam, I’m not sure. Either way, she stepped in to ask me about my engagement ring, and soon Adam skedaddled as suddenly and inexplicably as he had arrived.
• • •
The funny part of this story is that (according to everyone else in our group) this guy was trying to hit on me — while I stood 3 ft. away from my fiancé? — and I was completely oblivious.
The sad part is that this guy was probably one of those kids mentioned in the NPR quote above. He clearly didn’t read diverse books. He didn’t develop a curiosity about otherness. He isn’t aware of how endlessly fascinating our world is, and how valuable it is to learn about foreign people and places. Which means he can’t fully appreciate how rich his own community is.
The other day I hand-wrote a letter to my friend Angie — something I haven’t done in far too long — because I was craving that mental-motor connection, and because when I write to her, it’s very free-form. Whatever I’m thinking and feeling gets laid out on the page. It does not get evaluated. It does not get analyzed. It does not get polished.
“Where is the place for rough drafts in life anymore?” I asked my friend. The irony of course being that my letter to her was one such place.
With Instagram and Facebook showing constant highlight reels of people’s lives — and as a writer struggling to make her way through a competitive and fast-evolving publishing landscape — it often feels like every word I write and every photo I take has to be perfect.
Especially here. Sometimes I forget that this is just a blog. This can be a space for rough drafts. People come here looking for genuineness, not perfection.
It’s been a busy, stressful summer, and I’m not sure that autumn is going to be too different. But I want to feel differently about it. I want to feel energized by the activity, instead of drained. I want to be inspired instead of deflated. I want to be productive instead of overwhelmed.
Most importantly, I want to give myself permission to be imperfect. To revel in my rough drafts. Because rough drafts are practice. And practice may not make perfect, but it does make better.
Please note: My “Reading Reflections” are not reviews. They are simply my thoughts in response to certain passages.
As part of We Heart YA, I recently joined a diversity-focused YA book club, with the goal of putting my money where my mouth is and further supporting #WeNeedDiverseBooks. Our first selection was LIKE NO OTHER, a modern-day Romeo & Juliet story set in Brooklyn, featuring a Hasidic Jewish girl and a West Indian boy. The book resonated deeply with me, due to my own experiences with interracial relationships, and due to what was going on while I was reading. You can learn more about the book and its elements of diversity in this Q&A with author Una LaMarche.
Everything that this child is starts right now. The country, the city, the neighborhood, the block, the house — every detail of where babies are born begins to set their path in life, begins to shape them into who they’ll be. A newborn doesn’t choose its family, its race, its religion, its gender, or even its name. So much is already decided. So much is already written.
This quote is loaded. It could spawn a whole post by itself. It makes me think about all the paths that were laid out before me, all the balls set into motion, long before I was born. And before my parents were born. Before my friends were born. Before my own children will be born.
It also reminds me of the idealistic notion that everyone is equal. In terms of inherent value, that’s true. But in terms of equal footing, equal playing field? Unfortunately not. That’s why the idea of privilege is such a hot topic lately.
I am ashamed that my selfishness has caused me to miss a moment I’ll never get back — even if it also created a moment I’ll never forget.
This is the double-edged sword of selfishness. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, sometimes it’s both.
If left to her own devices, Devorah would never be anybody but herself. It would never even occur to her. Other people put on disguises every single day — brand-name clothes to make them seem cooler than they are, makeup to cover up their flaws, personas carefully cultivated to make them more popular — but Devorah never does. She is always, almost helplessly, genuine. And that is endearing as hell.
I strive to be this kind of person. Natural, genuine. It’s not as easy as one might think. There are a million voices, a thousand pressures. Magazines, marketing, trends. All trying to sell you something, shift your perceptions, change your priorities. It’s hard to tune out and listen only to yourself. (Especially when self, as mentioned earlier, is actually formed by a lot of factors that are outside your control.)
She’s trapped by too few choices, while I feel trapped by too many. It’s too bad we can’t share some choices and even it out.
This is the double-edged sword of choices. Sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re bad, sometimes they’re both.
“It’s easier for you. You can pass back and forth. I’m afraid that if I leave, I won’t ever be welcome home again. And I don’t hate it, you know?” Her chin trembles as tears fill her rain-cloud eyes. “My family is everything to me, and there’s so much I love… I want to be able to have both. You and them.”
This is the double-edged sword of family. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, sometimes it’s both.
Okay, that’s probably getting old.
It’s true, though. Most things in life aren’t black or white. They’re black, and white, and every shade of gray in between.
I have to take control and make a choice. But there is no choice that will bring all of my fragmented soul together. No matter what I decide… part of me will be forever lost.
A rock and a hard place. A game without a winner. (Which is subtly, but significantly, different from a game without a loser.) I’ve been there before. I’ll probably be there again. Is this what adulthood means? It’s not fun.
“She was my mother, and I felt her sadness like it was my own.”
“A Letter to Aspiring-Writer-Me from Debut-Novelist-Me” by Natalia Sylvester
Looking back, the moments you’re most proud of won’t be your big successes; they’ll be your biggest failures, and the fact that you kept going in spite of them.
Your book may be your whole world, but to the whole world it is a book.
“On Marriage :: A Year Later” by Lisa Congdon
I will do everything in my power to protect this person from pain, comfort this person in her grief, love this person with every bone of my body, honor this person in every way possible, and to be absolutely truthful to this person.
Value what you do, and fight for its value. If you don’t do this then how can anyone else? Don’t wait hidden in some ancient cave like a treasure to be discovered one day, get out there and make yourself present and get discovered. That said, you don’t need to be a dumbass about it. There is a tangible difference between ego and self-worth. Fighting for a better page rate reasonably is different than refusing to do a book tour unless you get a limo. Being an artist is a natural declaration of hubris, and you will be reminded of this by friends and family more than you’d like. Don’t take it too seriously, but don’t undervalue it either. It matters because it matters to you — it doesn’t need to matter to a million others to have value.