“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.
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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.
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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.