On voting with one’s wallet

 

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source: Death to the Stock Photo

These days, I find myself more and more disillusioned. And, as is the case with other disillusioned people, I often oscillate between deep, dark depression, and destructive, blinding anger. Today is one of those days, and I am on the rampage.

 

What is it that I’m angry about? Diverse books, surprisingly. Or rather, what we’re doing about the lack thereof.

They say that publishing is getting more and more colourful and representation of non-WASP protagonists is on the rise. They say that editors and publishers are aware that there is a market out there for diverse books and they’re doing their bit to promote stories that feature non-stereotypical depictions of minorities. We even, *gasp* get accurate racial representations in movie adaptations… sometimes.

Then, every once and again, something happens. Someone puts their foot in their mouth, or an article goes viral, or someone does a particularly enlightening panel which then goes viral… and then we get the hashtags, and the social media campaigns, and reams and reams of think pieces that usually lead to this bottom line: We need more diversity in publishing. Vote with your wallets! (I should know. I’ve written quite a few such think pieces myself.)

Here’s an uncomfortable question, though: What if we can’t?

Or worse: What if we do, and it’s still not enough?

According to Voices of the Library, over 10% of UK public libraries are under threat. Aside from buying a book from a reputable reseller, borrowing one is the only other legal way for people to read diverse books (and I think we can safely agree that that pirating them won’t help the case with publishers.) As for the resellers themselves, whether you find the book or not depends on a helluva lot of factors, which include, but are not limited to:

  • copies ordered
  • shelf placement
  • how far you actually live from a store, or
  • whether the search engines on your online reseller of choice allow you to browse freely

Then there’s the matter of how the book is presented, if the copy is interesting, if there are reviews online, and if so, what are they (and if you actually know where to find said reviews, and you care for them), if the price is right, and if you can afford it.

No matter how many emotional appeals we make for diverse books, a matter of fact is that access to them is still limited, and that’s a symptom of a much bigger problem. Yes, many of us would like to vote with our wallets, but that won’t really happen in any meaningful way if we treat diverse books like rarities, shelving them away and pricing them like something impossibly precious, and giving them the sort of hush-hush publicity only connoisseurs would understand.

Diverse books are books. They need to be accessible for people to enjoy as much as any other novel. Marketing them as niche won’t break down barriers to entry – in fact, it does quite the opposite.

Daily Practice

 

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Say it with me: “Source: Death to the stock photo”

For someone who isn’t really religious (or actively participating in group religious practice,) I sure care a lot about the fact that Easter is really off-kilter this year.

Allow me to explain.

I was not raised in a religious household. Our church attendance happened exactly once a year, on Palm Sunday (lighting candles is a different sort of practice where I’m from.) Visiting old religious sites was a matter of history and cultural awareness, something that schools did as part of the curriculum, and parents too if they felt like leaving the city for a day. But then I came to the UK to do my degree, and I suddenly discovered that, not only are there people my age who take religious practice very seriously, but also the Catholic and Orthodox church calendars vary year from year.

This year, the Catholic Easter comes over a month before the Orthodox, meaning that I’ll be lagging behind everyone else in terms of everything. Chocolate eggs. Lent. Shroud Tuesday.

I have been thinking about a lot of things. Belief, for one. Hope. The place of daily practice in our lives that gives them structure and meaning. Last year, I looked into Lenten practices and while I didn’t give anything up, I wrote letters. Every day, for 40 days, I wrote a letter to a person I owed thanks to, and I even sent some of those letters. (Others, I didn’t have the addresses.) I did not come up with this idea on my own – I searched the Internet – but the practice was far more beneficial to me than stoking my disordered eating would have. Why? Because I needed to look at my life hard, and realize I had more going for me than I realized.

After all, as my Google search taught me, “A fast without prayer is a feast of demons”. (Meaning: demons don’t eat. Fasting without thinking about the reason we’re fasting doesn’t bring us up spiritually, it brings us down. There is so much in there that I could apply to disordered eating, but this is just a blog, and I’m not a scholar in this field.)

Why do I talk about all this?

Recently, as luck would have it, I came across several books and articles on writing that got very, very Christian in their discussions of daily practice and how writing feeds the soul. I struggled with that, to be honest. Not because I don’t believe that writing does good things for me – quite the opposite, it keeps me sane – but because to my mind, religion doesn’t set people free. Or rather, organized religion doesn’t set people free. (I am terribly allergic to someone telling me what the best way to saving my soul is, without really knowing anything about me. In fact, I am allergic to anybody telling me how to do anything without knowing me first. I find it deeply inconsiderate, and it doesn’t set a good tone for an ongoing interaction.)

I finished some of the books, and I finished them because I found a way to go beyond my initial reaction and interpret more freely the advice I’ve been given. Turns out, as far as writing is concerned, you don’t need to subscribe to a particular doctrine, so long as you’re ready to do a lot of hard work and have faith, and do the hard work because you have faith, and have faith because your work transforms you daily.

Last year, my Lenten practice made me humble because I realized I had over 40 times in my life when people had been good to me and had helped me find my way. It helped me build a levee when a flood was threatening to swallow me whole, and more importantly, it gave me the momentum to keep building that levee after the big works were done. I had a daily practice and connection with others, and a willingness to open up.

For me, that’s progress. It’ll look different to you – very different, in fact – and I’m not going to tell you what will get you there faster.

I can tell you what will not, though, and that is turning a blind eye to your own life. Daily practice – in writing, in sport, in whatever it is that is your calling – keeps us connected with the world, as so many have written. Let’s not underestimate that.