It’s pretty simple, really. Last year, I read $611.23 worth of books.
That’s a lot of money. Then again, it doesn’t seem so when you realize that I read 122 books last year. That’s roughly 5 dollars per book, so–not so bad. When you add in the fact that libraries have been closed due to COVID, $600 worth of books is really not a lot.
Especially when I tell you that I spent roughly $1500 on books last year.
Sure, some were given as gifts, some were bought with a generous books allowance from the day job I had at the very beginning of 2020, and some were books bought for students when I left the aforementioned early-2020 day job. But most of that $1500 is sitting in piles around my house or on my Kindle, unread.
This is a problem. A very good problem, but a problem, nonetheless.
There’s also a habit I developed last year, partly out of curiosity, partly convenience, and partly because I’m too lazy to properly plan for my Bookstagram. That habit was to use the American Heritage Months to theme my reading for diversity. I figured that way I would hit all the bases, and in a lot of ways, I did.
In February, I read Black American authors for Black History Month.
For March, women for Women’s History Month.
In May, I was busy reading books by Asian authors for Asian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
Latinx/Hispanic Heritage Month straddled September and October.
November was dedicated to the work of Indigenous authors.
October should’ve been dedicated to the work of authors with disabilities but I didn’t realize that until halfway through the month, when I was beginning to get a bit tired of isolating myself in periodic cultural puddles and annoyed with myself for deciding to do it, too.
You see, I forgot two critical things about myself when diving into Heritage Month reading all through 2020. One is that I really thrive on diversity, evenly sprinkled throughout my life. My friends, my literature, my music, my food–I am not a fan of tokenism or tokening, no matter how unintentional and well meant it might be. Bring me all the good things, all at the same time, because they are good, not because I’m trying to prove some sort of diversity-training point. Like I said in my Indigenous Heritage Month recap:
Look, I’m the Equal Opportunity Reader, not the Performative Ethnic Consumerism Reader. I like mixing things up and drawing comparisons between art in different communities side by side, not isolating myself in pools of one culture at a time. It was a good idea at first but ultimately, all I did was give myself continual cases of the literary DT’s. While I was reading solely Black writers in February, I found myself longing for books by Arab writers. While I was reading Latinx writers, I was wondering about books by Asians. While reading Indigenous writers, I started missing Black voices. Meanwhile my favorite writer babies, my multiethnic, multicultural, category defying literati were being sorely neglected. I managed to assuage a lot of this by choosing books that intersected multiple communities as often as I could, but to be honest by the time I got to my Latinx Heritage Month recap I felt like a tacky hacktivist cheeseball. I read books from multicultural communities anyway naturally, without needing to announce them in theme park chunks. So while there were definitely good things about curating my reading patterns so intentionally [in 2020] next year I’m going to do things a little differently, a little more intuitively, and a little more naturally. Watch this space.
The other thing I forgot about myself is how much I hate performative internet activism and the accidental appearance of it. The full reasons why are in a soapbox I’ll have to stand on another time (probably when my platform has grown a bit more and I feel the need to self-sabotage by being a bit too free with my opinions and drive some folks away), but while I didn’t intend my unannounced, low-reach Heritage Month reading project to be performative, it felt a bit like it. When writing retrospectives, I found myself explaining why reading diverse books is a good idea when what I’m trying to do is demonstrate the obvious reason–because they’re good. It’s not rocket science and if you’re the sort of person who has to have it explained to you that human beings who are not like you are still, in fact, normal people who are capable of making art even if it’s not about you, I’m frankly not sure you’re my audience. The internet is a weird and wonderful place these days, and everyone and their guilty suburban aunt is an anti-racist educator of sorts. That’s not my wheelhouse–at least, not my intended one. I’m living normal diversity and continual un-colonization, or at least attempting to.(There’s a reason I don’t say decolonized. That’s another soapbox. ) I don’t need to explain it, and there are plenty of others who perhaps agree. It’s not that the ongoing works of antiracism and decolonization are not vital–they are, if a bit unfortunately coined. It’s just that I want to begin the work of looking past that, to what’s next and the foundations that have been demonstratively laid for it over many years of resistance to oppression and marginalization.
In other words, I’m not here to explain being a BIPOC or our books to nervous soul-searching white people or the people of color who want to be close to them. Y’all are welcome, of course, I’m just saying that this party ain’t about you. I’ll pour you a drink but you’re just going to have to pay attention and get in the groove on your own. I’m exploring the world of literature and all the diversity within on my own terms, from a happy Black woman’s perspective, and I don’t really feel as though that is something that needs a lot of announcing because it’s normal and that is where all this antiracist, decolonial work is leading us, right?
So what has this got to do with my reading habits in 2021?
Basically, no more themed months. I’ll probably still do a round-up post from time to time, and I still think that Heritage Months are worth every last drop of celebration that they host and then some. I just see no reason not to read Asians in February, Latinx in June, or Black folks all year round. I want to diversify my reading a little less choppily and clunkily in 2021, which means reading a lot of whatever I want, whenever I want to and seeing where the chips fall. I found out about a lot of fantastic new authors last year by reading the way I did and I appreciate it. This year I’ll be reading those writers interspersed throughout the year, and being a bit more true to my worldview in the process. I don’t have a plan except to read good books and lots of them, and hopefully that’s your plan, too.
I also took a hard look at my book budget and the world of Bookstagram and book blogging and decided that it’s time for a bit of personal reckoning with the suggested materialism in those spaces. So many pictures of beautiful hardcover book jackets, so many celebrations of pub days and new book tours, so much display of new books to buy, buy, buy, now, now, now. I love it. We all do. But I found myself chasing new releases and popular books last year, which is something I have never done in my life. In some ways, it was good. It’s fun to be one of the cool kids for a change, read what’s on the cutting edge and kiki with the internet homies about it. But is it really $1500, mostly unread, gathering dust and megapixels as we speak cool? Na—
Yes. Yes it is. Of course it is. I have a problem, and that problem is books.
I’m not going to stop buying books. I said it was time for a reckoning, not an execution. But I am going to take a suggestion from the pages of Bookstagram buddy Queer African Reads and read 4 books I already own for every one that I buy. Heaven knows that should keep me more than occupied, and put an extra grand in my 2021 savings account, to boot. Wish me luck, and self-control. Those one-click e-book deals are fierce and hunt me down on insomniac weeknights with a vengeance.
In a way, this frees me up. I already own a lot of really good books, and this is permission to read them all and enjoy them without the pressure to show and sell and explain why everyone should be reading Arab time travel or Black regency romance or Chinese space exploration novels. You just should, ’cause they’re interesting. At least I do. On that note, I think there’s a lot of pressure to have a niche, a commodifiable, easily identifiable brand in the online bookish community, and I think my niche is very much not having a niche. I like spinning around in the stacks finding other creative kindred spirits who wrote what they wanted, rather than just what was expected or imprinted. I don’t say this in a lofty or disrespectful way at all, but I like the fringes and the less-defined spaces of the literary world and life in general. Why not bring that to my blog, and stop trying to fit the diversity of my reading life into the expected commercialized pigeonholes? If it gets more followers and whatnot, great. If it doesn’t, also great. I still get to read great books and talk to folk about it, at the end of the day.
So–less buying. Less announcing why it’s good to read books by diverse people, even if you are “diverse” yourself, even if you are learning about diversity, even if you are trying to right wrongs or understand more or whatever it is that you are trying to do by commodifying diversity rather than embodying it. No more complicity with the commodifying of diversity, or at least not intentionally so. Lots of reading, lots of good books, lots of natural diversity and reading to learn to appreciate and empathize, not to perform. Seems pretty simple. Anyone interested in joining in?