When I was a small child, I was always excited by gifts which I’d learnt to recognise as books. It hadn’t always been that way. There had been an age when I’d feel the thrill of the largest, odd shaped packages rather than those smaller, rectangular, neatly wrapped pages. Oh, how things changed. And the book that changed it all was Allan and Janet Ahlberg’s ‘The Jolly Postman’. You see, I can be a bit stubborn, and when I was told I’d love it, I was reluctant to open the cover. But just like the Wizard of Oz was a disappointment until it turned Technicolour, my joy came to life when I found ACTUAL letters! REAL postcards! Each with different handwriting! Better still, the letters each had different voices! Some even had spelling mistakes - just like me! It was a delightful journey of discovery that culminated into a wonderful weft of characters uniting in celebration. How I longed to get my own invite to that party! But, now I see the invitation was recognising the power of writing and of reading, of voices of authors from backgrounds unlike my own, to share their life, their vision and their story, with me. Since that very young age, I learnt that part of the joy of book - whether they be in hardback, soft back or simply as recommendations - was that someone had taken the time to reflect upon what they could share with me through an author, and gift it in ink. When authors share their voice in ink, and my friends, family, colleagues and neighbours share their joy of those words with me, it goes beyond any algorithm. It becomes a shared experience. Here are a few examples of personalised recommendations leaving an indelible mark on my mind;
I learnt; We Have More In Common
‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This was a recommendation from my mother, an RE and sociology teacher. Within it’s pages I was gifted a land that at once seemed alien to me, yet on the same pages, presenting a community, families and friendships much like my own. We have more in common, I learnt.
I learnt; We All Grow
‘The Bumblebee Flies Anyway’ by Kate Bradbury. A gift from my father, a scientist and keen environmentalist. Encouraging me away from ‘diversity’ and into a land of self exploration and growth. Interestingly, the discretion of the auto-biographical’s author’s sexuality was lost in my father’s recollection of it’s significance to me. Losing lesbian love came secondary to the story of reflection.
I learnt, We Are All Human
‘The Power’ by Naomi Alderman. A loan from a friend at law school (Note to self: call Jen. You owe her a book). Conceptualising gender inequalities in their extremes with such a vividly striking ending, I am still haunted to this day by those final pages.
Three golden opportunities to embrace diversity of life on pages. Three different voices, three opportunities to extend my lived experiences, and simultaneously, three strengthened connections to those I love. So if I want to pay this gift of giving forward, I can go online and read some reviews. I can accept the algorithms and take a chance on books I don’t know. Or, maybe I could go to the supermarket, adding the latest best seller to my trolley along with my bog rolls. What could go wrong?
Find Your Jolly Indie Bookshop
Or, I could find my local independent book shop (find yours here).
One of my favourites is The Rabbit Hole; In a recent conversation they explained what makes Independent book vendors so special; "We try really hard to keep our range as diverse and cross sectional as possible. Having a diverse as possible range of books increases the chance of everyone finding that one book that could open a whole new world of curiosity, creativity, learning and adventure. Diverse can mean lots of different things as regards an Indie Bookshop-as well as the obvious protected characteristics etc…you could add different areas like self published and local authors which some steer clear from. This is an area of some controversy as regards “vanity” publishing. Sometimes this can also support authors and illustrators to investigate other ways of publishing and avoid “rip offs”, bad deals and poorer quality. Our team all have different opinions and can chip in with each other but we all talk to so many different publishers we see a wide range of books for all ages from very diverse publishers too." They pour their heart and soul into what they do and it shows in their joy of helping you get the book you need. I can share the books I’ve loved, and the recipient of my attention have loved and what we've loved with the staff there. And I can know with all my heart that I will walk out with the right gift at the right price for the right person at the right time. Indie bookshops such as The Rabbit Hole provide such unique expertise in finding the voices the algorithms can’t. Personally tailored, often infectiously enthusiastic, bespoke and passionate vendors of unique, diverse voices. Not to mention the ideal setting for the celebration and presentation of local authors and artists too. The Jolly Indie Bookshops - The Jolly Postmen of the High Street - supporting me, my friends and authors with their passion, products and expertise. *Celebrate National Diverse Book Week* 27th September - 2nd October 2021
Use the Hashtag #DiverseBookWeek and follow