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Representing & Reading Diverse Voices

One day, when I was in my 20s and taking a Feminist Philosophy class, I learned that male writers are more widely read than female writers are. Out of curiosity, I went home and counted up the books in my own reading journal. More than 60% of the books I'd read in the handful of years I'd been logging, had been authored by men.

I was shocked to discover that I had fallen into a sexist pattern without even realizing it, especially considering how immersed in the world of women I felt. I grew up in a family of four sisters, and was much closer with the women in my family because the men were all distanced or absent. I swapped books with my women friends, and took part in book clubs that were made up entirely of women. Most of my favourite writers were women, and most of the people I knew who wrote were women. I loved women's stories.

If most of the books I'm reading are written by men, I wondered, then how few women authors must the men be reading? I've never actually posed this question to a man. But I still wonder.

Anyway, that moment was one of my first lessons in how invisible my own prejudices are. 15 years later this lesson has expanded and deepened, and has been relearned over and over and over. The emphasis on the male voice, the white voice, the abled voice, the cis-gendered voice, and the voices at the top of every other hierarchy of privilege is what we've come to consider 'normal.' It is the invisibility of privilege that makes it so insidious. Prejudice is more automatic than it is intentional. I've learned to distrust whatever my notions of 'normal' are. 

When I decided that I would open a bookstore, representing and celebrating a diversity of voices was at the top of my list of priorities. I didn't even intend to talk about it, until the events of 2020 have made me realize that it is important to talk about it. I started off well, too - when putting together my first order of 200 or so books, I kept a spreadsheet to track the demographics of this little world I was creating. But, as busyness has taken over, I abandoned my system and have simply added books willy-nilly to my catalogue. I admit - I've completely lost track of what I've got. 

But I know I can't trust my gut, what 'looks good.' Fairness is important to me - and it's important to the type of customer I want to attract. So, I'm making a promise to myself and to you all right now - I won't order another book until I sort this out. I've devised an internal tagging system so I can accurately track the books listed for sale on this site. 

I promise to overrepresent underrepresented voices. Statistically, 22% of Canadians are a 'visible minority' and 5% identify as indigenous. So, I'll aim to have a minimum of 30% of my titles by bipoc writers. According to a 2012 survey, 5.3% of Canadians identified as LGB, (11% between those aged 18-34.) To err on the side of love, I will make sure that at least 12% of the titles have authors that identify as LGBTQ. Gender is more difficult, but the least I can do is to ensure that more than 50% will be woman-authored, and try and stock good books written by people of various types of gender identity.

I will also make sure that the majority of titles are Canadian. 

Readers, I'm working hard to offer you books representing the perspectives of writers of all kinds. But it's up to you to purchase and read them. Take quick stock of your own shelves. What needs evening out?

I am continually learning, and am open to conversation. If you think there is a way for me to do this better, please email me at welcome@coastalbooks.ca.