I keep a small newsletter that I try to send out at least once a month. This newsletter, which usually includes short updates on how life is going, and the things I’ve been reading and writing, went untouched for five months, which is not extraordinary for a year like 2020.
While finally preparing a newsletter to send out after months of radio silence, I checked my Goodreads account to write down a list of the best books I had read since May.
As I considered what undoubtedly amazing reads they were – with The Vanishing Half, Cemetery Boys, and When No One Is Watching among them – I felt a bit…disappointed. I suddenly realised that the books worth mentioning had, for a long time, been on the radars of most of the people I was writing that newsletter to.
My subscribers are all bookish people, and many of the titles have been added – and raved about – on several book lists on Book Riot. I started some of those books because of such book lists, so I understand that by reading what everyone else is reading, I might come up empty-handed when someone asks for an under-the-radar book rec. On top of that, I’m no longer actively looking for books to read – and you wouldn’t either if you had my TBR – and I go into every book with (very high) expectations.
I guess I’ve just created the opposite of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).
Growing up, my family didn’t have the means to buy books; as a child, my mum used to tell me the stories her own mother told her. Gifting books was reserved for Christmas and birthdays, and this is one of the reasons why I still love libraries to this day, even though, working in a bookshop, I am more likely to buy books now (with a sweet discount) than to use the library.
When, at 10, I moved to a new school with its own library, where I could just borrow books for free every day, it was like winning the lottery; I found my favourite books this way, and for the duration of my high school years, I went on to use the town’s library to get my book fix, with a lot more choices and a lot more freedom.
The thing is, I never really asked for book recommendations. The librarians were there, and they would have been more than happy to recommend me new reads had I asked, but I enjoyed going to the library as if it was a bookshop – a free bookshop, since my library didn’t even charge a yearly fee or late fees – and browsing what was available on my own.
Tracy Chevalier, Audrey Niffenegger, and Nick Hornby, as well as the comics Baby Blues and Calvin & Hobbes, are examples of what I discovered all by myself. And there’s beauty in that; a personal satisfaction in finding something without anyone to claim that finding, but you, and in going into a book by the blurb (or the cover) alone, falling in love with it, and then passing it on with pride to others who ask for recommendations.
That very rarely happens anymore which, to be fair, isn’t as bad as I am making it sound. Due to the book recommendations I now come across daily, and because of the people I follow, I have never read as diversely as I did this year.
On my Goodreads of 2020, I see books about racism, both fiction and nonfiction, books on ableism, books written by trans people and about trans people, the whole LGBTQIAP+ community, in fact, as well as books by Native writers (a first for me). I went out of my way to actively follow BIPOC accounts, carefully choosing which themes I wanted to learn more about; even starting a book club with a friend, to work on becoming a better ally and a better citizen.
I’m not sure this would have happened if I hadn’t followed a community on IG, if I didn’t have a whole Book Riot team talking about the importance of reading diversely and highlighting diverse reads, and contributors who always have the perfect recommendation, no matter how weird your search is. And I wouldn’t change that for a thing. Not even to claim that “I found that book first”.
Which, to be fair, is a very white colonialist thing to do, isn’t it? Wanting to claim we found something first? Uh, that’s something else I need to reflect on. If you’ll excuse me…