A pile of multi-colored Sweethearts Candies with the words "forever," "true love," and "kiss me" printed on them.

Five Newly Released YA Recommendations for Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and just because things may look a little different this year doesn’t mean the books will be any less swoon-worthy! Here are just five up-and-coming YA books coming out in February to get everyone in the mood for the day celebrating all kinds of love.

  1. A Pho Love Story by Loan Le (February 9, 2021)
  2. This rom-com follows two feuding families, the Mais and the Nguyens, who have competing pho restaurants in town. Linh and Bao of the respective families have avoided each other’s paths until just recently, leading to a connection both were not expecting. Can their love outlast their families’ complicated history?

  3. As Far as You’ll Take Me by Phil Stamper (February 9, 2021)
  4. Marty has just landed in London to start a new life in a new country. His first boyfriend, traveling to different countries, and new friends are all he’s dreamed about, but inside, he feels something is missing. This story is heartfelt and explains the troubles every teen faces about identity, mental health, and the importance of friends and family.

  5. Love Is a Revolution by Renée Watson (February 2, 2021)
  6. When Nala crosses paths with Tye, prominent community activist and an MC at open mic night, for the first time, she is instantly enchanted. However, she quickly spins herself to be a woman with similar tastes as him. With her lies getting further out of hand, Nala has to realize that her love life is important, but so is the love she has for herself and community.

  7. A Taste for Love by Jennifer Yen (February 2, 2021)
  8. Liza is admired by her friends for her boldness and big dreams. However, in her mom’s eyes, she’ll never live up to be as perfect as her older sister. With baking as their only common interest, Liza helps her mom with their family bakery’s annual junior competition. Little does she know that the competition was a setup for her mom to find her an Asian American man to date. Will Liza be able to create the perfect recipe for a love life and acceptance from her mother?

  9. Dearest Josephine by Caroline George (February 2, 2021)
  10. In a love story separated by over two hundred years, Josie finds herself secluded at her family’s manor in Northern England after being struck by tragedy. There she finds letters and a novel written by a man named Elias to the love of his life, Josephine. Just how much of their lives have intersected across time and will Josie understand just how precious love truly is?

These are just a few of the new and exciting YA releases for February. Check out the full list of anticipated books coming out on this list on Goodreads.

Introducing Laurel Everywhere

Severe loss. For fifteen-year-old Laurel Summers, those two words don’t cut it. They don’t even come close. Laurel couldn’t tell you the last words she spoke to her mother and siblings if her life depended on it—maybe something about pizza. Some guy decided to drive drunk, and now she sees the ghosts of her family everywhere. After the car accident, she and her dad are left to pick up the pieces of their shattered life, but her dad is struggling with his grief and depression. It’s up to Laurel to hold everything together. With the help of her grandparents, her two best friends, and some random airport strangers, Laurel tries to make sense of her pain. She must come to terms with the things on her List of Things Not to Talk About, learn to trust her dad again, and—on top of it all—keep her heart open to love, even in the wake of her immense loss.

Ooligan Press is excited to announce our newest YA novel, Laurel Everywhere by debut author Erin Moynihan, set to launch November 10, 2020. Laurel Everywhere is an intimate depiction of the grief and mental-health issues often experienced with the loss of loved ones. The novel highlights complicated family relationships in the wake of tragedy: Laurel grapples with her own feelings of loss while her father spirals into a deeper depression, requiring a long stay in a hospital that specializes in grief. Although much of the book focuses on grief, loss, and mental health, Laurel Everywhere is also a story of survival, love, hope, and friendship. Follow Laurel on a journey of self-discovery, self-healing, and growth as she learns that sometimes it’s okay to not be okay.

Still not convinced that Laurel Everywhere is the right book for you? Here are two more reasons you might love it:

  • We at Ooligan pride ourselves on bringing seldom-heard voices to print. Laurel Everywhere focuses on Laurel, a teenage LGBTQ+ character struggling with her sense of identity, but the narrative doesn’t revolve around her sexuality. Although her sexuality is explored, her experience with grief and her struggle with her father’s mental-health challenges are themes that are relatable to everyone, regardless of their sexual identity.
  • Grief and mental-health struggles are explored in a raw and honest way. Our author, Erin Moynihan, doesn’t hold back as she depicts life with a parent struggling with deep depression and explores what recovery can look like for the families of those experiencing mental illness. Moynihan has a background in social work, which she called on to help guide her through this writing journey and to help break through the social stigma surrounding grief and mental-health struggles.

Erin Moynihan’s editorial work has appeared on HuffPost, Buzzfeed, The Mighty, and Her Campus. She has a strong passion for elevating young female voices. When she’s not working, she’s likely spending time cuddling with her dog or adventuring around the Pacific Northwest. You can see what she’s up to at www.erinmoynihan.com.

Into the Queerosphere: Resources for Finding Your Next LGBTQ Read

To anyone that’s been paying attention to recent trends in young adult (YA) over the last four or five years, the line-up of books slated for 2019 is both timely and highly anticipated. With the push for diversity in literature and media still going as strong as ever (perhaps even stronger than ever), it seems that publishers have finally started to seriously answer the call. Young adult (and middle grade) lists are heavy with POC leads, and the number of books about LGBTQ characters has doubled since the last few publishing seasons (and that’s just looking at books coming out—pun intended—between January and April! The list for May through June is even longer!). This is extra important when you consider that as recently as 2012, just over 1 percent of YA books had any LGBTQ content at all.

Personally, I’m delighted by this statistic, not only because I’m excited to read all the sweet, sweet diversity of POC and LGTBQ content (especially when they happen in the same book), but also because the mere existence of these books confirms a tangible change in the publishing industry. Publishing is a notoriously (and glacially) slow process, so it’s exciting to finally see the response of publishers to the public outcry for more diverse representation, which has been an ongoing social conversation since, well, forever. Or so it feels.

Of particular interest to me are books that feature protagonists who identify as part of the gorgeous rainbow spectrum that is the LGBTQ community. Not only is 2019 chock-full of queer content, but it’s also filling in some gaps in representation from years before, with a happy increase in trans characters compared to the almost nonexistent quantity from 2018, as well as another welcome increase in aro/ace characters. It is, in short, going to be a blissful year of reading for book-loving queers and queer-loving readers.

Still, with of all this new content (on top of all of the great and fabulous content from the last few years), how is a reader supposed to find the books they’re truly interested in without reading the back cover copy of a million books? Fortunately for everyone, there are several great places to start looking for all this good queer content.

Databases of Books with LGBTQ Characters and Themes

  • Rainbow Books List: An annual list created by the Rainbow List Committee of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table of the American Library Association presented as a “bibliography of quality books with significant and authentic GLBTQ content,” catered to kids aged birth to eighteen.
  • LGBTQ Reads: Perhaps the most comprehensive database, LGBTQ Reads has lists for everything. They’ve broken down the LGBTQ diaspora into genre and then subdivided it several times over for unique searchability. The YA section is broken down by subgenre, pairing, setting, state/province, trope/theme, and YAs with queer parents.
  • YA Pride: (Previously Gay YA) This organization has compiled a series of masterlists organized alphabetically by author. They have lists for seven broad categories within LGBTQ representation: gay, lesbian, bisexual/pansexual/polysexual, transgender (including nonbinary identities), intersex, asexual, and aromantic.

Preliminary Reading Lists for 2019 (Please enjoy the irony of me making a list of lists)

“Straight” from the Source

Great news for anyone with unpublished LGBTQ content! There are many publishers that cater specifically to LGBTQ authors and books with LGBTQ characters and themes. Below are five of said publishers. Another more comprehensive list lives here.

  • Bella Books: The largest lesbian-owned press publishing books written by, for, and about women who love women.
  • Bold Strokes Books: Accepting general and genre fiction, BSB offers a wide selection of LGBTQ content in every conceivable genre and subgenre.
  • Dreamspinner Press: Publishes gay male romances that end in gay or gay polyamorous relationships.
  • Interlude Press: Publishes well-crafted LGBTQ-focused titles ranging from short stories to novels and encourages submissions from authors of all backgrounds.
  • Riptide Publishing: Has three distinct imprints, including Riptide Publishing (adult genre fiction with a romantic or erotic focus), Triton Books (YA genre and literary fiction), and Anglerfish Press (literary fiction with little to no romantic or erotic focus).

Normalizing Queerness: Tips on Inclusive Editing for the LGBTQ Community

The role of an editor is to ensure throughout each stage of the editing process that the writer communicates their view of the world to the reader in the best way possible. With such a responsibility, editors should look at the ways in which the language and manuscripts they edit affect the world around them. Editors should look at how the representation of life and people on the page shape and change society’s understanding of real people in the real world. To gain further distance on the path towards impartial inclusion, here are some tips for inclusive and mindful editing in regards to the LGBTQ community:

  1. Ask members of that group how they would like to be referred to. Having someone in a position of privilege assign a name or term to a minority group can lead to further misunderstanding and misrepresentation. No one knows how to better represent and write about a group than a member of that group and hearing their real-world experiences will only deepen the authenticity of the story.
  2. Look for manuscripts that show structures other than the typical male-female relationship. The existing representations of gay and lesbian relationship in literature is a step in the right direction but simply not enough to truly represent the depth and range of human sexuality. Editors can look for manuscripts that don’t just normalize homo-sexual relationships but bisexual, transgender, intersexual, asexual, and pansexual relationships as well (to name a few).
  3. Look for manuscripts that don’t solely focus on a character’s sexual identity or how other characters are not accepting of it. If the story focuses on a gay male character’s career, the editor can make sure that the author talks about his sexuality in a way that does not make the reader assume his gayness as a detriment to his career. Unless the manuscript specifically discusses the horrors of sexual prejudice or historical homophobia, editors should look to ensure that the character’s gender identity or sexuality is discussed in a way that does not label it as abnormal.
  4. Try not to assume heterosexuality when not specified. When writing queries to the author or making suggestions in the manuscript, the editor can reference the character’s “partner” or “sexual relationship” as opposed to their “boyfriend” for a female character or “girlfriend” for a male character. This way of normalizing the homosexual and de-normalizing the hetero- will place the terms on a level playing field that does not assume one as superior to the other.
  5. Avoid terms such as “the opposite sex.” This assumes the gender binary of male/female and excludes the multitude of other gender identities that do not fall under the strict male/female understanding.
  6. Employ the use of gender-neutral pronouns. By using the singular “they/their/them” in place of the traditional he/she, the reader will not automatically assume the gender of a character, allowing space for the author to include genders that fall outside the male/female binary.
  7. Avoid referring to transgender peoples in terms of pre- and post-operation and only mention any sort of operation when absolutely pertinent to the story. Again, ask how transgender peoples want to be referred to, and use that name and pronoun. Note that this is usually the post-transition name, even when talking about the person before the transition. Taking this into consideration, editors will want to avoid reducing the transgender experience to a single surgery, as the process takes months if not years, as opposed to the commonly-misconstrued notion of it happening overnight.
  8. Turn the focus from a person’s appearance as the primary indicator of gender or sexual identity. Don’t reduce the character to their appearance and whether they dress as a “typical male” or “typical female.” Instead, writers and editors should allow space for persons to define themselves through behavior and personality as opposed to appearance.

Choosing to Read Diverse Books

In the months following the election, I began reading a lot. I’ve always been a reader, but after a few days of numb shock, I was suddenly going through multiple books a week. I found myself gravitating toward books written by women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ authors, from Zadie Smith to Nina LaCour to Sunil Yapa. It wasn’t a conscious decision; I actually didn’t even notice the shift in my reading habit until April 2017, when I picked up Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk.

Like I said, my recent move to reading more diversely wasn’t intentional, so neither was breaking out of that pattern with a book by Palahniuk, a white man best known for writing Fight Club, one of the most quintessentially hypermasculine narratives of our modern age.

It took me a long time to get through Lullaby. Okay, I read it in one sitting, but it felt like ages, since I found myself unable to concentrate on the pages in front of me. I don’t remember much of what the book was about, and that might not necessarily be a reflection of the book’s quality.

I was troubled, having abruptly realized that this was the first book by a white man I’d read in awhile—since as far back as the election. As I read, there was an almost palpable sense of white maleness to the text. The feeling wasn’t abnormal; that’s not what was affecting me. It freaked me out because reading it felt like coming home to something uncomfortably familiar.

The vast majority of the books I’ve read in my life have been written by white men, from the picture books I grew up with to most of my favorite childhood series, and then almost everything I read as an English student throughout high school and college. My concern is not that books by white men are all the same, or that they’re all bad—it’s that these books share a similar perspective. I had become so used to the white male viewpoint that I subconsciously recognized it as the standard.

Once I recognized this bias, I began to address my reading habits in a much more purposeful fashion, reading more women, authors of color, and LGBTQ+ voices. I found that it was a much more prevalent issue for me personally than I had thought.

I read The Hate U Give just a few days after Lullaby, and it was a totally different experience for me. The Hate U Give is a YA novel by Angie Thomas, a woman of color, and it follows a young woman as she deals with the death of a friend due to police brutality and the subsequent fallout in her community. Though the plot itself was something we see all too often in the news, it was from a perspective I’d never seen before—characterizations, cultural references, and a mindset so different from my own it was jarring. In the same way that Lullaby was disturbingly familiar, The Hate U Give was disturbingly … not. I now recognize my own failure in not having read enough stories different from my own perspective: I, a reader who believes that books can be doorways into the hearts and minds of others, have ignored such doorways to entire populations of people. Not just the stories of young black women, but also of gay men, trans kids, Chinese American girls, and so, so many others.

Since then, I’ve kept up with this attempt to broaden my perspectives through what I read. I haven’t abandoned the work of white men entirely; this isn’t a boycott. But I’m more aware now than I’ve ever been, and that in and of itself is helping me to choose my books with intention.

This awareness has also followed me to my work with Acquisitions here at Ooligan. I am aware of my own biases and shortcomings of perspective, and approaching manuscripts with that knowledge has been invaluable. It’s important because it’s not only the job of the reader to find diverse voices, but also the publisher and, indeed, everyone in the industry. From acquisitions to design to marketing and publicity, reading—and hiring—diverse voices is the only way forward.

Of the many great books I’ve read this year, I wanted to recommend a few:

Backlist gets front seat for summer reading

Jordana Beh wishes our backlist had received the kind of graphic branding that current titles get. Jordana was the marketing department lead for Ooligan Press until she graduated in June, and was responsible for generating interest in all titles, not just the frontlist. That’s why she conducted a Backlist Sales Initiative every quarter to study the effectiveness of past marketing campaigns. This, in turn, revitalizes interest in books published in prior years by applying up-to-date strategies.
“Think about what we learned from the Fall BSI,” she said in an interview. “We saw that Untangling the Knot would’ve benefited from a social media mention when they won the Goldie.”

Jordana Beh, Ooligan Press marketing lead.

She and Abbey Gaterud, Ooligan’s faculty advisor, came up with a fresh idea: each book team would create a mini-marketing campaign around a distinctive theme, choosing the titles and developing short campaigns to be rolled out between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
“The mini-campaigns allow us to finesse the topic into something creative and strategic,” Jordana said. “And meaningful, in terms of what these books have to say.”
Here’s a quick reading guide—and thank heavens it’s a non-election year—for summer 2017. You’ll see all of these campaigns in the usual places. Main hashtags are listed here, but that’s just to get the conversation started.

  • Theme: School’s Out, May 27–June 10
  • Social: #getoutside
  • Titles: Ricochet River, A Series of Small Maneuvers

What it’s about: summer vacation, trips, destinations, exploring the outdoors, going where you don’t expect to go, and dealing with unexpected challenges. Celebrate National Grape Popsicle Day (May 27), National Hamburger Day (May 28), and, of course, Memorial Day (May 29).

  • Theme: Pride, June 1–30
  • Social: #prideNW
  • Titles: Forgive Me If I’ve Told You This Before, Untangling the Knot: Queer Voices on Marriage, Relationships & Identity, The Ghosts Who Travel With Me, Memories Flow in Our Veins: Forty Years of Women’s Writing from CALYX, Siblings and Other Disappointments

What it’s about: June is International Pride Month which recognizes lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and other queer lives and voices and their impact on history at all levels.

  • Theme: Summer Dreaming, June 28–July 10
  • Social: #summerdreaming
  • Titles: The Ghosts Who Travel With Me: A Literary Pilgrimage through Brautigan’s America, You Have Time For This: Contemporary American Short-Short Stories, Dot-to-Dot, Oregon, Brew to Bikes: Portland’s Artisan Economy

What it’s about: The endless possibilities of Northwest adventure, exploring fresh and diverse perspectives, escaping reality even if just for a little while.

  • Theme: Labor Day, Aug 23–Sept. 6
  • Social: #celebratework
  • Titles: Oregon at Work: 1859-2009, Dreams of the West: A History of the Chinese in Oregon, Speaking Out: Women, War, and the Global Economy, Brew to Bikes: Portland’s Artisan Economy

What it’s about: Everyone can be proud of the work they do. This reading list recognizes the importance of work as a celebration, diversity in work, history of blue-collar workers, and local Northwest businesses. Celebrate Labor Day (Sept. 4).

  • Theme: Back to School, Aug. 28–Sept 17
  • Social: #beyourself
  • Title: Forgive Me If I’ve Told You This Before

What it’s about: Many teens spend high school trying to figure out who they are and begin to understand their sexual identities. As school goes back into session, read about showcasing the diversity of young people, anti-bullying, and exploring your identity.

You don’t have to remember all the titles. Just find us @ooliganpress (on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) and follow the hashtag trail.
#summerreading, #getoutside, #summerdreaming, #prideNW, #celebratework, #beyourself

Deviating from the Trope: YA without the Romance

The entire purpose of young adult literature is to connect with the unique experiences of preteens and teenagers. Successful authors seek to uncover the raw, emotional reality behind these tumultuous, angst-filled years and tell a story that resonates with readers in an organic way. The problem with YA novels, however, is that it is impossible to cater to every unique identity and every particular life struggle. Authors that expand their representation may be viewed as pandering, or their attempts to address particularities may read as inauthentic or forced. They may be met with criticism from parent groups, religious sects, or school boards when the representation presented stretches beyond what has been previously deemed acceptable. Yet when a YA author can successfully, authentically, and unabashedly deviate from the typical trope, the results are both magical and refreshing––particularly for those readers who have always existed outside of that trope in the first place.

The most impressive element of Ruth Tenzer Feldman’s Seven Stitches lies in its bold representation of underrepresented communities. This includes its deviation from a typical YA trope, as Feldman seeks to prove that a strong, independent young woman can change the world, and she can do so without a man by her side. Casting aside the typical “girl-meets-boy, boy-helps-girl, girl-accomplishes-something-amazing-but-somehow-this romance-is-still-the-endgame” ideology, Seven Stitches actually manages to avoid romance altogether. Even when the female protagonist, Meryem, has a fleeting moment of romantic interest in a male character (trying my hardest not to spoil it, guys!), it never comes to fruition. I’d even go so far as to argue that she was not romantically interested in him in the first place, but rather she felt a connection because of being so lonely for so long in a post-earthquake disaster area, stuck with insufferable aunts and her best friend, the goat.

As an individual who could have seriously benefited from a YA novel without a girl-meets-boy plotline, I applaud Feldman for her blatant deviation. On behalf of myself and others like me who fall outside of the typical YA heterosexual spectrum, I’d like to thank her for unapologetically avoiding the norm. If young adult literature is meant to promote representation and expose the emotional truth of what it’s like to be a preteen or teenager in all its angsty, sweaty, uncomfortable, awkward glory, then it is in the hands of the authors and the publishers (by extension) to tell a tale that is both unique and relatable. It is important to recognize that not every reader is straight or white or religious or interested in romance or close with their parents. It is important to tell those stories so that they can resonate with those who need them most.

Meryem Zarfati is a strong, independent, self-sufficient young woman who devotes her life to helping her family through a time of crisis. She cares and she gives and she works tirelessly with little to no assistance, and ultimately she uses her passion to benefit the greater good. Meryem is an ideal female role model for a young adult audience——particularly because her story has nothing to do with romance. Linking her with a male love interest would take away from her focus and, quite honestly, would cheapen her success while lessening the impact of the incredible story that Seven Stitches seeks to tell.

Digging Through the Past to Help Define the Present

Digging through the Ooligan Press backlist, eager to see the legacy of those who’ve come before me and gone on to complete their degrees, I stumbled across Untangling the Knot: Queer Voices on Marriage, Relationships & Identity and was immediately intrigued. This collection of twenty-five essays from individuals of all genders, all sexual orientations, and all walks of life proved to be one of the most powerful and insightful books I’ve picked up in many, many years.
Untangling the Knot was heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully crafted. I would recommend this book in a heartbeat to anyone interested in queer rights and issues. These stories represent a diverse group of people with differing ideas on what it means to be queer and how to exist within a world that isn’t set up for their existence. It broke open the slew of topics that have been boiled into the tiny proverbial box of “queer issues” in order to look at pressing issues in the LGBTQ+ community. And though the novel is a few years old, released just before the national ruling regarding the freedom to marry in all fifty states, the same messages ring true today: legal doesn’t mean accepted; straight marriages and queer marriages will never look exactly the same; and “queer” means something different to everyone.
As a bisexual millennial, it was an eye-opening experience to learn the perspectives and stories of so many different people in all walks of life. Growing up with supportive parents and an accepting group of friends, I haven’t experienced many of the struggles that often come packaged in the “coming-out” narrative. This sense of naivety was perhaps the driving force behind my fascination with this book, as I often seek to use my sense of comfort and confidence to help shed light on issues that are so often swept under the rug.
My favorite essay in this collection was penned by Fabian Romero, who describes her experience growing up as a Mexican woman in the United States for much of her life. She was groomed to see marriage as an end-all, be-all—a saving grace from all the things in life that could go wrong. But as a bisexual woman who “performed” her femininity rather than embraced it, that narrative would never be her narrative. She mentions her foray into addiction and substance abuse, noting that she was just one of many queer people of color who chose these coping mechanisms, but also explains that she made it out alive with a refreshed sense of self and society. It is at the end of her essay that she provokes the greatest reader response, as she explains, “I question why gay marriage is talked about as if it will solve various forms of oppression that impact LGBTQIA communities.” She draws attention to violence, discrimination, poverty, and a slew of other issues that exist in the very structure of our society and admits that for her, marriage equality is only a small step forward in the face of equal rights.
One day, I look forward to “tying the knot” with the person I love, be they male or female. But for now, in an age where queerness is becoming more accepted, editor Carter Sickels reminds us that “there is still so much work to be done.” I’m perfectly content to just keep untangling the knot instead.

On the Lack of Lady Lovers

I am not Triinu Hoffman. I never went to church; I never had a goth phase; my parents never blithely recited poetry to me in their spare time (how quaint!). I am certainly nothing like Triinu Hoffman in the overarching sense of the word. But we do have something in common, and it’s something both deep-seated and important—something that, before this last week, I had never before seen portrayed in a young adult novel. Forgive Me if I Told You This Before is the first novel I have ever read in which the protagonist is like me, a girl liking a girl and not apologizing for it. It’s just a girl who likes girls and goes to school and tells her parents and loses her footing but, ultimately, finds her way.

The power of representation in book publishing is an underutilized force. There is something quintessentially powerful about seeing yourself in the novels you read. It’s as if you need to see yourself in black and white before you can internally breathe that sigh of relief, that recognition that “oh, there is someone else out in the world like me.” Particularly in those impressionable YA years, it is critical that one sees themselves represented in those moments when they are floundering and wearing goth makeup and lanking their way through a perpetual awkward stage. Those are the years in which a foundation is set for the future, and without a sense of community and inclusion, how can these poor, lost, incredibly awkward souls find their way?

I never had the privilege of representation. Of course, my race was represented. My middle class upbringing was represented. Sometimes even my mixed cultural upbringing was represented, too. I connected to novels in different ways—in countless ways—but never recognized that there was a big piece missing. I tried to figure out, quite fruitlessly, why something about these girl-meets-boy tropes just didn’t settle well with me. Because I was never exposed to it, I couldn’t put a name to the feeling. I’d vehemently argue that because of the lack of lady lovers set before me, it took me eight years too long to venture my way out of that closely confined closet’s door. I’d also argue that I am not the only one for whom this has been true.

As writers, editors, and publishers, we have a brilliant opportunity to promote exposure. We have the means, the methods, and the drive to get things done. We hold the keys to inclusivity and representation for the masses. They seem like big shoes to fill, but this is the true power of the written word. Too many Buzzfeed slideshows and Tumblr rantings have jaded us; we have forgotten what it feels like to find yourself within the stories, and how it feels to see your life laid out before you in a 5″ x 7″ page. That it took me, a voracious reader, twenty-four years to find a character that reflected me is unacceptable. How many other closet doors remained closed because in every YA novel “Jane found love (and herself!) through meeting Michael, a strong and mysterious man who showed her it is okay to cry sometimes”? I know that these are the stories of many. But they are not the stories of all.

I found myself ripping through the pages of Forgive Me If I’ve Told You This Before, like I used to tear through books when I was small. I found myself connecting, even through the stark differences, and feeling like an old, deep-set hole in my heart had finally been filled. I am certainly not Triinu Hoffman, but I connect so intently to what Triinu represents. As I read, I found myself finally feeling positive, feeling that this lack of lady lovers could one day be just a thing of the past. And when that day came, Jane and Elizabeth could live happily ever after.

Socially Conscious Book Buying

The other day, I was walking around Powell’s City of Books on Burnside. I had been given a gift card over the holidays and was finally putting it to good use. Weaving between the shelves, loitering far too long in front of the small press section, I slowly and steadily accumulated a modest pile of books. My arms started to feel heavy with the weight of words. I was a very happy nerd.

Until I brought the books to the register and laid them all out for the cashier. Norman Mailer, Nicholson Baker, Tim Kinsella, Truman Capote, and Colin Winnette all stared up at me: a bouquet of very white, very male, and (with the exception of Capote) very straight authors.

“Hi!” they said in unison.

“Oh,” I said back.

“What?” said the cashier.

“Nothing.”

I became very self-conscious about the whole situation. I wondered if the cashier was judging my reading choices. Did he think I was some college freshman buying novels off an antiquated literary criticism reading list? Did he think I was blind to the fact that
the publishing industry was stacked against anyone who did not fall into a very specific racial and sexual binary? Did he think I was the reason The New York Times 2015 Summer Reading List was 100 percent white?
Probably he was just wondering when I would decide to hand him my gift card and make room for the next customer.

The thing is, I’ll bet the cashier didn’t think anything of my reading choices. I know I wouldn’t have, before studying book publishing at Portland State University. Not many readers think about the publishing process. They don’t realize that it is just as susceptible to human error or bias as any other business or organization. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, for example.

The fact is that before an author of any diverse or underrepresented background can get their book published, they need to get it past a probably white agent, a probably white acquisitions editor, and then get picked up by a probably predominantly white publishing house staff. Whether it is out of real prejudice or some honestly misguided belief that it wouldn’t sell, these books probably aren’t going to get very far.

Does this mean that we shouldn’t buy Nicholson Baker’s books? Of course not, Nicholson Baker is amazing. Seriously, have you read The Size of Thoughts? But it does mean that we should be actively supplementing our literary diets with alternative voices, different worldviews, and wider perspectives, not only for our own intellectual and emotional benefit, but to send a message to the gatekeepers of the publishing industry: We want more of this!

BONUS MATERIAL

Let’s do a little exercise, just for fun. (Because I’m a grad student, spontaneous writing exercises are what I consider fun now.)

Get a piece of paper and a pen. List your ten most recent favorite reads … ready, set, go! Now, put a mark next to the books by white authors. Now put a mark next to the books by male authors. Now the ones by straight authors.

If you’ve got even a couple of books left unmarked, congratulations! You are the future of book publishing. Keep doing what you’re doing (and maybe comment and let everyone know where you’re finding these books)! If not, try reading some Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, some Sia Figiel, or some Allison Green.