Saturday, January 2, 2010

Buzz Begets Buzz

We were talking on Heavy Medal about which books might be getting overshadowed in the award discussions for one reason or another. Nina mentioned The Book of the Maidservant, which she hadn't heard talk about much of anywhere.

I first heard about this book in July at ALA, at the wonderful Random House presentation of books coming for fall. I seized a review copy eagerly afterward; I couldn't wait to read it. But it's been sitting in my to-be-read pile ever since. Why?

I'm sorry to say, folks, it's in large part because I put a lot of effort toward reading the books everyone else is talking about (or the books I think everyone might be talking about soon). I want to join in the conversation. And when I review a buzzed-about book, people respond more here. There's nothing wrong with that, in theory. But I think most bloggers do it... and what happens then? Books with buzz get more buzz. Books without buzz get left on the to-be-read pile. Even when I read a book that isn't getting a whole lot of attention--even if I LIKE it--sometimes I don't bother reviewing it, especially here (I review some books on Goodreads and not here).

What if I put that effort in another direction? There's still a dearth of books being published by and about people of color, and even more of a dearth of buzz about those books. As things stand, I'm missing a lot of those books.

It's going to be a struggle, but I'm going to try to do something different this year. Instead of making it my priority to read the books I hear about the most, I'm going to put the same amount of effort into reading books by authors who are people of color. I know I won't actually make a change in my reading unless I sacrifice something else for the sake of these books; I know it's unrealistic to think I'm going to read more and can just add those books to what I'm already reading. It wouldn't happen. So what you're going to see is a conscious effort (I hope and plan) to rechannel my energy into "books I really want to read, and books by authors of color"--instead of the current "books I really want to read, and the books everyone else is talking about" focus.

I've been debating for a while having a post-tag that links to my/our posts reviewing or discussing books with protagonists or authors who are people of color, but I've never done it because I wasn't sure how it would appear to others--I thought it might seem insensitive, or white-guilt induced. And I couldn't think of the right tag. But I think it will be necessary for this plan to have maximum effect. Should it just be "authors-of-color"? or "POC", and then include books I might read by white authors about people of color? Suggestions/comments needed.

I hope those of you who read our posts and then go put the books we review on hold, or on to-read on Goodreads (you've no idea how exciting it is to see that happen!), will be just as open to the books I review in the future. Thanks for reading, thanks for commenting, and I'm looking forward to this new year.


Wendy said...

Sigh. As soon as I posted this, I regretted making the commitment and continued trying to talk myself out of it, which I think says something in itself.

Like, I find myself starting to think "but there are already several blogs primarily reviewing books by people of color"--as if there aren't already dozens of blogs reviewing The Latest Thing.

Or, grumbling, I think "I'm going to end up reading books I'm not really that interested in"--as if I EVER would have read, say, Little Brother if it hadn't been on shortlists.

Or "if I read a book and think it has Issues, I'm going to feel weird about saying that in a blog review"--as if I don't have that feeling about every book I read and have issues with already.

Debbie Reese said...

Hi Wendy,

I am glad that you ask yourself the questions, that you challenge yourself. I'm also glad when you discuss something I've said on my site. It tells your readers where they can find a different perspective on a popular, classic, or otherwise well-reviewed (or not) book. It'd be good for the field if you and others who have large readerships would link to my site and others like them that offer that different perspectives.

Lyn Miller-Lachmann said...

Maybe you should sign up for one of the Challenges (such as the South Asian Author Challenge) to keep yourself on task. And one way of being original is to seek out books published by smaller presses, because they are by definition disadvantaged. When my YA novel was published by a small press, I had to overcome not only the lack of buzz due to a financially struggling publisher (which has since been sold to a university press) but the unspoken question, "if it's so good, why wasn't the novel published by a major house?" In fact, my novel was never submitted elsewhere because the small press had an option on it in the contract for my adult novel.

A lot of books by and about people of color continue to be published by smaller presses such as Just Us Books, Pinata Books, and Children's Book Press for a variety of reasons that don't have to do with the quality of the book.

Hope you have a Happy New Year and great reading ahead.

MissA said...

Yay Wendy! I would tag them as POC. We could always use more blogs reviewing books about poc and it really helps if they are being reviewed by white readers since it shows publishers that white readers will read books about poc. Don't worry about how it will look if you crticize a book. Always be honest and it invites discussion :)
I agree wtih Lyn, joining challenges can be really helpful. The 50 Writers of Color challenge is a good one and so is the South Asian Author Challenge.
Looking forward to continuing to read your reviews and thanks again for introducing me to the book The Firefly Letters by Margarita Engle (now if only Amazon would publish a synopsis!)

Wendy said...

I have an ARC, Ari--I'll send you the flap copy.

MissA said...

Thank you! I've edited my post to tell people to check thecomments for the summary :)

Karen said...

You have quite succinctly told my story as a blogger here. I love to read books that have buzz, I love when people come to our blog to read about those books, I love being in the "know".

Your challenge to yourself gives me something to think about as well in 2010.

So glad I found you through Lee and Pam's Comment Challenge!

mbpbooks said...

This commitment means so much to me, so thanks for your courage to head away from the buzz to the margins. You're going to find and share some great books. The fact that you're not "primarily reviewing books by people of color" already makes this even more significant and encouraging.

Unknown said...

I'm new to your site. Thoroughly enjoyed my visit.

Will pop in again :)

Doret said...

So glad I signed up for comment challenge- it lead me to this wonderful post.

Thank you Wendy, for wanting to get beyond the buzz.

I am not sure what your tag should be, though I do think Books with characters of color is a better then books by authors of color.

Since there are White authors who write good poc characters.

Though might I suggest two tags. Giving authors of color their own tag.

Bibliovore said...

I agree with what you say about buzzy books, Wendy. I sometimes feel a little odd about posting a review of something that's already been gushed about at 10,000 other blogs, even if it really is that good. (Of course, whenever I post a review of a lesser-known book, I feel like that person who just discovered the most diviiiiiine little bistro on a back street that you can always get a table at because nobody else knows about it. Yet. I have to admit that's kind of fun.)

And when a book about/by POC's does get that kind of buzz, it's often a Very Special Episode kind of book. Did you see Chasing Ray's ferocious post a few days back? Good luck with your new direction, and I'll be watching your blog for recommendations!

By the way, I had a look at the Book of the Maidservant at Amazon and went "OooooOOOOoooooooo." Whatever you think of Margery Kempe, she's definitely interesting and I'm going to try to find that book!

Jess said...

I often have the same misgivings about buzz (and wonder how much it affects my opinion of a book) and the same desire to be in on the discussion. On the other hand, I need to know something about the books that library patrons are asking for - and as always, balance seems to be the key. My personal goal is to read a wider variety of the books I'm ordering for my library, buzz or no buzz.