A few days ago Travis Jonker asked, Where Do You Fall On The Book Critic/Book Champion Continuum? Travis suggested that at one end of the continuum were those who were purely critics and at the other those who were purely book champions. I commented:
I define myself as both as a critic and as a book champion. I love reviewing for Horn Book, the Times, and my blogs and rarely write negative reviews. Like you I prefer to focus on what I like rather than what I don’t. And when I really love something I advocate for it like crazy, on my blog, on other people’s blogs in the comments, in person, and on social media. And so I’ve no clue where I’d fit on this continuum. (But I suppose I’m not “pure” either way:)
Jonathan Hunt then pointed out a different way he is both:
I’m actually at both ends of the spectrum simultaneously, and the reason is that I serve different audiences. Most adults know me only in my critic role, but my students only ever see the book champion. :-)….So I can explain very clearly on Heavy Medal why WONDER shouldn’t win the Newbery Medal and turn around and tell all my students they simply *have* to read it.
I thought this a very good point and suspect it is true for many of us who both define ourselves as critics and work directly with readers. I too enthusiastically suggest books to my students that I liked, but didn’t necessarily love. Heck, I recommend books I don’t like if they’ve been recommended by those I respect. Sometimes that person might be a critic, sometimes a social media champion, and sometimes another student.
Today Betsy Bird has taken up the gauntlet with “We Are the Book Champions, My Friends.” Like Jonathan she is very upfront about her reviewing. Both have very clear ideas of what they are doing and so, while their negative reviews may make people understandably unhappy, they are honest and straight about it. I think as angry as you may get about something negative they say, you would never feel it is based on some sort of personal vendetta. The two have, to my mind (and they are good friends), great integrity.
But Betsy also brings up another charged issue.
But when we talk about books on our blogs we have to be careful about what we do. For example, there are folks who are perfectly happy to only promote books from the big five (Macmillan, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, Scholastic, & Little Brown). They make no efforts to seek out and promote books from the smaller houses as well. When you promote only the things that are sent to you for free in the mail, your content is compromised.
I have to admit that I have wondered about this. Like many others I am very lucky to receive books from the bigger publishers and some from smaller publishers as well. But there are many I don’t receive and so when I read about others that interest me I usually buy them. I further make a point of putting ones I admire on the radar (e.g. championing them) on my blog, goodreads, twitter, and facebook. And because I don’t see these books on social media as much as others, I do admit frustration. It is great that the big publishers are being responsive to the call for greater diversity, but smaller publishers are doing so too, some for decades. I think some of the lack is due to the important advocating for young people to select their own reading material. And so teachers and librarians on social media are trying to advocate for as many titles as possible. Not to mention those that speak to them personally. I get that, but I also think we’ve got to move out of our comfort zones to look farther afield than what is more familiar for us and our communities.
Related to this is the following anecdote I put in a comment on Betsy’s post:
A few months ago I was told by a librarian active in social media that she would be unlikely to purchase a particular highly lauded diverse title (from a smaller publisher) that I was championing because it did not reflect her community. It disturbed me that she not seem to see the need to provide windows as well as mirrors for her patrons. Seems to me that she might look at this differently if those with massive social media followers were to advocate for this book as they do so many others from larger publishers.
This is a challenging and difficult conversation. I appreciate what the big publishers are doing and advocate for many of their books. But also appreciate tremendously what smaller publishers are doing and would like to see them out there being celebrated in social media as much as the big publishers are. And I’d especially like to see more attention to books from and about other countries. (My personal place being a continent — Africa — that tends to be forgotten most of the time. See my article about that here — which temporarily seems to have been written by Alice Hoffman — hopefully that will be fixed soon:). And, finally, I appreciate all who are advocating for books with passion and heart. Hopefully, this conversation will be seen as an opportunity to rethink rather than to retrench.