This summer I had my first “big” trip since the COVID pandemic. Ten days in the UK and France, and then decompressing in Jamaica afterwards. It wasn’t really a vacation about me getting rest (and I didn’t get any, by the way). It was because finally, the kids in my family are old enough to appreciate holidays that are not about theme parks and beaches, but about monuments and history. The longer-term plan is to take them to a different continent at least once a year, and have them begin to appreciate different languages, cultures and ways of life. But in terms of this trip, I’ve been to those countries before, so I was only marginally interested in the tourist sites but there was something I was curious about: bookstores!
The highlight was visiting Waterstones Piccadilly, which has the distinction of being the largest bookstore in Europe. It’s not particularly beautiful but the sheer number of books was enough to get this bibliophile's heart thumping. But here’s what made this even more exciting: books in the UK are MUCH cheaper than in the States. Hardcover books are very often about the price that new release paperbacks are here. And paperbacks, even new releases range between $7.99 – $10.99 on average. Given the current exchange rate pounds or euros to the American dollar (roughly 1:1) it was much less expensive to indulge in book buying there. And buy I did, including some that haven’t been released in the States yet or that are still only in hardcover here, but I had to control myself because books make luggage heavy, duh. Next time I travel there, I’ll plan to buy a lot more and have things shipped back to me.
Another interesting thing was the covers. I noticed that books by authors of color almost always have covers that accurately represent the race of the characters, and books about LGBTQ characters often have covers that make it clear that the characters are queer. That should be unremarkable, but for the fact that this is almost always never the case in the States. Only once going to bookstores in other countries is it apparent how racialized and fake-inclusive publishing is in this country. Even while priding themselves on how “diverse” they’re becoming and how welcoming to new voices, the marketing in the U.S. seems to deliberately disappear diversity for those titles they want to have “universal” (or white-heterosexual reader) appeal. Fascinating how often America denies bigotry while simultaneously pandering to it. Here's a few examples that make you think long and hard about the secret conversations that must be happening in U.S. marketing departments in publishing houses about the "marketability" or perceived lack thereof of #ownvoices writers.
Anyway ... I didn’t mean for this to be a political post. I’ll do that on Medium where I've begun to do some other types of blogging, mostly about race and writing. The point of this post is to say that I’ve discovered a new goal for myself—to go to the most interesting bookstores in any country, town, or city I visit. And take a pic! If I do this right, I won’t have to bring a gazillion books along with me for vacation reading. I’ll just buy a gazillion while I’m there!