Patricia Nell Warren

Affirming Our Books Too

Filed By Patricia Nell Warren | June 08, 2009 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Living, Media
Tags: American Library Association, book bans, book censorship, bookstore closings, gay literature, gay pride, Lambda Literary Foundation, Lammie awards, LGBT books

To help celebrate Pride Month, many bookstores around the nation are doing special displays of LGBT books and authors. I found news mention of this fact as far afield as the U.S. Consulate in Chennai, India! Mainstream organizations like the American Library Association always note the unique diversity that our literature has achieved in both fiction and nonfiction.

This achievement continues in spite of the negative impact that recession and book-store closings are having on book sales. So there's a lot that we need to do, if books are to continue creating our legacy in the United States.

On the eve of Pride Month, the Lambda Literary Foundation just announced their current award-winners, the Lammies, at their traditional venue -- BookExpo America in New York City. Check out their winners' list to know what's new and hot in every category, from gay mystery to lesbian erotica and transgender.

Sad to say, LGBT books are being hurt on other fronts besides the economy. Anti-gay activists redouble their efforts to intimidate bookstores from doing displays. They try to censor our books off public-library shelves, and remove them from university and high-school reading programs. Saddest of all, in recent years, the LGBT community has softened its support for books. Print literature has gradually become the stepchild of our culture -- today our demographic is very "entertainment oriented." So our books get way less reviewer and consumer attention than do films and TV shows with LGBT content.

All the more reason to support our books and authors in every way possible. Why? Because books can deal with the LGBT experience, and provide information about it, in creative ways that movies and TV can't duplicate.

Books are now available in digital and audio form, but they are still abundantly available in their ole-timey low-tech and non-digital paper form ... meaning they will never be the victim of computer meltdowns. A well-printed-and-bound book can last for a century, even two or three, on a safe shelf -- whereas a digital file can go bad in a blink.

What Can We Do?

Want to buy LGBT books? The most community-minded choice would be a local LGBT store, if there is still one in your city. A list of the surviving LGBT bookstores is available at Lambda Literary.

If no gay bookstore is left standing in your city, then take your business to a gay-friendly independent bookstore. In Los Angeles, for instance, all the gay bookstores have vanished...alas. So conscientious bookbuyers now go to Skylight Books, a long-established independent in West L.A.

If there isn't even a brick-and-mortar indie store left in your city, and your budget demands that you look for discount books, by all means shop at Barnes & Noble. Even the big bookstore chains are having their recession woes -- and you'll be lucky to find a Borders store, since that chain has been on the verge of Chaptger 11. B & N doesn't carry as many LGBT books as they used to ... but they also stock fewer books generally, a symptom of the recession's soft retail sales.

For cyber-shopping, go to the Web and search for the gay- and gay-friendly indie stores that sell books online. Try the online sales page of Lambda Rising in Washington D.C., one of the oldest and most distinguished LGBT bookstores still in business. Or try Alternaqueerbooks, an online sales site. Or go to the gay/lesbian section on the website of Powell's in Portland.

Many LGBT authors also maintain their own websites, where they sell their books, and offer autographed copies. There are too many to list here. But you can Google your favorite author to see if he or she has a website.

If you're looking for deep discounts online, buy at Amazon.com. Some gay people bash Amazon because they're "big and corporate." But they are sadly misinformed to do this. Amazon has been 100-percent gay-friendly since its beginning, and they sell just about every LGBT title there is. So they're a major resource for people who can't find gay books in their local communities.

You can find out what's hot at Amazon by going to their top-100 GLBT bestseller list. And you can browse a complete listing of over 25,000 titles that can be found if you do a general search under "gay lesbian."

Six additional ways to support LGBT books:



  • Go to your public library this month, and ask them to add a few more LGBT titles to their collection. If they have no funds to buy new titles, offer to donate a book or two yourself.
  • Get active in any local book-censorship fights that are going on.
  • Join a local LGBT book club -- or start one yourself.
  • Post a reader review on Amazon.com, if you like a book.
  • Encourage your favorite local LGBT organization to pay attention to authors. Especially youth groups ... since our young people have little opportunity to find out about our books in school.
  • Last but not least -- try to buy new books, if you can afford it. Authors and publishers do not receive a penny of royalties from sales of used books.

In short -- you can be creative in supporting LGBT books and authors. After all, our books have made a major creative contribution to American culture and history for many, many decades. It's an achievement that should turn a few pages of Pride in all of us.


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Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | June 8, 2009 11:37 AM

Patricia I fear it is fading, fading, fading. Everyone from environmentalists to Anita Bryant hates books today. I hope I am wrong mind you, but I wonder and doubt that an average person under 30 has the attention span to read Bill Bryson when they are constantly bombarded with distractions on the internet.

I also wonder what college level coursework in history is like today. Each semester was reading five books per history course in the early 70's. Is it now just "Cliff Notes" of history? I hope not, but I fear it is fading. I would certainly like to hear from all of you *"projectors"* out there what you are reading right now and how many books you have read since the first of the year. This because if you are not reading...what do you have to project with?

I'm so glad you posted this, Patricia. Thanks for all your support of the written word. You are a true champion.

Robert, I know how you feel. There ARE hopeful signs. In general, many people DO still read...but they do their reading on the Web, instead of in print media of any kind. (Heck, I do a lot of reading on the Web myself, to do research.) We just need to get people reading BOOKS again.

I've found that a certain number of young people still do read...but they want to read things that interest them, instead of books on the assigned reading lists at school. Many "classics" bore them. They don't want to read Steinbeck's "Red Pony." They want to read things that are contemporary. The fading of reading in our schools is part and parcel of the fading of education generally. Kids don't read...they also don't learn history or geography, or do math, or learn how to write a letter. Most of them graduate from high school as borderline illiterates.

The fading of new-book sales is also due, in part, to the commercialization of the used-book market, which does not share revenues with authors or publishers.

Looking at the LGBT community, however, what has always concerned me most is the deliberate decision by most major publications, and many minor ones, to cut LGBT books adrift...to not review them, or feature authors and publishers. Worse, the ad rates are so high that it's virtually impossible for most LGBT presses to advertise books to our own bookbuying demographic.
Youth organizations do little to encourage our young people to read LGBT books.

For LGBT books' economic situation to turn around, we need more support from our own media...from our own political and commercial infrastructure.

I'm in Boston visiting my gf for Pride and I was so inspired by your article this morning, that I immediately searched for the local independent gay bookstore on the Lambda Literary Foundation list.

Low and behold: Calamus. It's charming, packed and stacked and I LOVED IT! I told the gentleman behind the counter ringing up my purchases about your article. That it inspired me to seek the store out and show my support. It seemed a deeper representation of anything else I could do visiting Boston for Pride... support a gay independent bookstore and purchase the books written in what is always so casually referred to as "community".

I'll hit the parades, venues, party's and all the over the top trappings of Pride Events... but I know already the best part of being here w/my gf for Boston Pride is Calamus.

Dieks, thanks for your wonderful story, which I forwarded to the Lambda Literary Foundation. If a lot of people do as you did, it will help our bookstores and publishers have a year that they can have Pride in.

Hooray for books! Bigger hooray for gay books! They helped me to understand alot about myself and to discover the world around me. And of course some are just pure escapism - which is also good.

I read oddles of books. As a online publisher I love to review books at my various sites. As a writer, I hope like hell that one day soon my own novel will get published and read as its a story I've been trying to tell for some time and have only just been able to put it to paper.

Anyway, Hooray for books.

Oodles of books...you are the kind of caring reader that the LGBT book business loves. I wish we had more of you.

I was looking for some good LGBT titles and stumbled across this really interesting campaign BooksOnBoard (www.booksonboard.com) is doing called " Pride not Prejudice". They are featuring (and discounting)a bunch of ebook and audio book titles having to do with LGBT pride as well as other areas of social change and acceptance. I just think it's a really cool approach to the subject that hasn't really been done before--- especially by a more mainstream company.

Check it out:
http://www.booksonboard.com/index.php?F=090609_lgbt_pride_prejudice

Awesome article Patricia.

I am one of 'those' who loves books. Years ago I used to get a chuckle when I would tell friends that I 'used to be a book' in another lifetime. AND that I was most likely around during the burning of the great library (earlier censorship)as I come alive with books/knowledge.

You hit this one out of the ball park.

GraciesDaddy GraciesDaddy | June 13, 2009 9:52 PM

I believe that all the arguments, invective and innuendo would end completely if every person, gay & straight -- particularly the fundie straight -- sat down to read the Greatest Love Story of All:

The Front Runner

I picked it up on a rainy Sunday afternoon in North Carolina in 1979 ...and didn't put it down until 2 AM. That 22 year-old has not felt the same since.

All my colleagues at Wildcat Press, and I, really appreciate your comment about the novel. And we love hearing your story. Thanks!