[Image description: An older man looks over a long table of books, selecting one.]
With our new shift to low impact living I am making a conscious effort to buy as little as possible. A job change for my husband made this easier because we made a decision to take less pay for more time together as well as a happier, healthier existence. But even with considerably less disposable income, I was surprised to discover how ingrained an impulse to purchase stuff is. Being thoughtful when holding something in my hand and considering making a purchase is becoming more of a habit, but the one item I still struggle with are books. I’m a book lover at heart and sometimes I just can’t resist the urge.
It is surprisingly difficult to maintain a diverse collection of books (I’m talking books that show POC as meaningful characters, people with various disabilities and differences, the spectrum of gender identities, family structures, etc. etc.). If you are not consciously seeking out diverse kidlit and picture books (and even adult literature and nonfiction) you will end up a with a ridiculously homogenous collection. One that is overwhelmingly white, male, cisgender, able bodied, heterosexual, and sexist.
All this has lead me to develop some (environmentally and socially) low impact principles for purchasing books and bringing them into our lives.
First and foremost, I buy used books. We are fortunate to have a couple good used bookstores in town. Thrift shops also have used books, but are harder to find specific titles when you’re looking for them. I would highly recommend those if you like to read top sellers. You can usually find copies of New York Times Best Sellers and other ubiquitous titles on their shelves.
But there are times when I deem purchasing a new copy of a book to be more important than the environmental reasons to avoid new books.
- Primarily when an author or illustrator is a POC, indigenous, nonbinary, queer, Muslim, an immigrant, etc. Basically anything other than white, male, cisgender, able bodied, heterosexual, and/or Christian. The publishing industry, more specifically the kidlit publishing industry, does an abysmal job of supporting anything outside of those norms. (You can see those stats here on the Cooperative Children’s Books Center.) So when those books, authors, and illustrators come along I want to be sure to give my money to support them and show the publishing industry that there is a real demand for them.
- I do not buy books written about POC by white authors. I do not buy books written by straight folks about queer characters. Etc. That’s also a real problem in the publishing industry and I do not want to support that kind of “diversity” with my money.
- When I buy the books, I buy from a local independent bookstore or directly from the publisher, particularly if the book is self published, not Amazon or a chain bookstore. The likelihood that I will find the kind of truly diverse books I am looking for at a chain bookstore is low to begin with, but I avoid them all the same. If I must buy from Amazon I choose slow shipping so that the workers packaging up and delivering my books are less likely to be exploited (if that’s even possible).
- I also look for black-owned businesses to buy books from. These can be even harder to find, especially if you don’t live near a large city, but check online. There are quite a few small presses/publishers that are black owned.