As a diverse book blogger from a poor economic background, acquiring books can be difficult and this is something that I feel the book blogging community needs to talk about more. Whilst the community has been making positive steps towards promoting greater diversity around some issues, I feel that the issue of poverty is often not spoken about enough and we could often be doing more, as a community, to support fellow book bloggers who are not as economically well off as others.
The idea for this post was inspired and encouraged by Kate @ReadingThroughInfinity in October. In her post, she did a great job of talking about the ‘privilege of owning books’, a topic not frequently discussed, and offered some suggestions of how other readers with privilege can tackle book inequalities and increase access to books for marginalised readers. As a diverse reader and a working-class book blogger, her post really struck a chord with me. I wanted to share my experiences of what it has been like being part of the book blogging community as someone who does not have a lot of money to purchase books, as well as offer some suggestions of how I think more economically advantaged bloggers can support us!
My Personal Experience
2017 marked the first year in 5 years where I have actually been able to afford books and whilst my access to books has increased, it is certainly not on the level of many other book bloggers which can make running a book blog quite hard. Over the past 5 years, I fought against long periods of homelessness, unemployment and a daily struggle just to survive. Take three years ago, for example. On me and my partners first ever Valentine’s Day, we could barely afford to do anything. My partner scraped together about £2.50 for a second-hand copy of the first volume of Rat Queens – that was the only book I acquired all year. A few months later, we were having to live off of donations to be able to afford our rent and barely had enough money left over to even eat.
Now, our circumstances are so different and I am thankful every day that we no longer have to live in such poverty. I am about to start a well-paid part-time job and my partner works full time so we can actually afford our rent, bills and have a little bit of money left over each month. Yet, because we have so little money left over, buying books is a rare treat. Almost all of the books I can actually afford to buy are second hand, gotten through Kindle £1 sales, or gifted to me by wonderful friends. The rest of the books I read are either from NetGalley or from my local library (which I am SO grateful to because they often have lots of new YA fiction and diverse books although this is sadly not the case for many others).
As a book blogger I can often struggle with feelings of inadequacy, jealousy, and anxiety.
- I frequently feel quite jealous when I am subject to beautiful shelfie images on wordpress/twitter/bookstagram where bloggers show off their overflowing bookshelves, decorated with lovely accessories to make the books pop, and taken with sharp cameras (phones or otherwise).
- I often feel left out of discussions around new releases of books that I am not able to get hold of, either because I can’t afford to buy my own copy or because the library doesn’t have it yet. In the world of competitive book blogging, this can often set poorer bloggers at a disadvantage as we are simply not able to compete with popular blogs who always seem to have the latest releases!
- I feel disappointed when I see ARCs and giveaways go to people who already own a lot of books and/or fresh releases, while poorer readers who are often from diverse backgrounds miss out on opportunities to acquire these books. If others miss out on these books, they can often go out and buy their own copy but this is not possible for a lot of poorer readers.
- Lastly, monthly hauls can rub the salt in the wound a little bit. Seeing bloggers posting their monthly hauls of newly bought stacks of books online when you can’t afford to buy any books can sometimes hit a bit of a sore nerve.
Obviously, if you are a book blogger who is more economically well off please do not feel as though this blog is to make you feel bad or ashamed. We are all here because we love books! We want to talk about those books, love them, share them and make friends with others who are equally passionate. That’s what makes us such a great community! As Kate pointed out in her blog, no one should certainly stop buying books – but I do think it is worth recognising the privilege in being able to buy books and think about how we can help each other out, if we are in a position to be able to.
So, what can the book blogging community do to help?
I would really urge you to go and check out Kate’s suggestions in addition to my own, especially as I am approaching this topic from a slightly different perspective. Kate has a useful list of ideas of where to donate books to charities/libraries/schools, etc to ensure others can enjoy the books. My list is relating specifically to the book blogging community and how we might better support poorer book bloggers!
- Host giveaways that are exclusively for marginalised readers to ensure that these books are getting into the right hands. If you can afford to buy a book, please do allow others to enter into giveaways who can’t otherwise afford those books!
- Consider donating to any book bloggers you know – Obviously, please, please, please only do this with the bloggers permission. Do not assume that someone will want to receive anything from you, so always ensure that you ask, but there are many people who would love to receive from others. Even if you can’t afford to send books (because it can definitely be pricey especially for international readers), consider donating to that bloggers patreon, or offering a service such as gifting them some blog art, graphic design for headers, or wordpress layouts!
- Tis the Season! – If it’s a seasonal gift giving time of year or if you know someone has a birthday coming up, consider gifting that person a voucher or an e-book if you can’t afford to send books in the post.
- Shoutouts on social media – This can either be to pass on a book to a reader who needs it or to signal boost the work of marginalised bloggers. It doesn’t cost anything other than a moment of your time, helps to strengthen ties in the community and supports each other.
- Donating books – If you can afford to do so, please do consider donating some books to other readers! They sure do look pretty on your shelves, but consider letting some go and keeping the best for display. N/B – Please do not assume that diverse readers only want books for their specific identity. Although I am trans, I actually rarely read trans specific books and would prefer other types of books. Always have a conversation to see what that individual would like so you don’t pigeonhole marginalised readers.
- If you’re in a position to, consider sponsoring another book blogger. There might be one person in particular whose work you would love to support and who you really appreciate. Sponsoring them could be a really great way to express your gratitude to them. Again, if could be something like a patreon donation, sending them some books packages every so often, or you could even set them up with a neat Bookie Box/LitJoy box/any other cute box-gift-things subscription. Little gifts like that are often things that poorer bloggers simply can’t afford and can be a really wonderful gesture towards another.
I hope this blog goes some way to generating discussions around book owning privileges and how to better support poorer readers in whatever way you can. Please remember that this post is entirely from my own experiences and my own suggestions. Obviously, we are not a homogeneous group so everyone’s experiences are different and some people may prefer some things over others!