One of the greatest joys of being a book blogger has been meeting people in the book blogging community, particularly on Instagram – or Bookstagram as it’s known to many. The voracious readers online are a cheerful, welcoming bunch of people who constantly inspire Jackie and me. I love getting to interact with like-minded readers and I learn something new every day! My favorite part, however, is when another blogger inspires me to pick up a story on a challenging subject that enlightens me.
One such blogger is Madeleine of Top Shelf Text. Madeleine has gotten me to read many a book over the past year and I have always been pleased with her choices. In September she took her recommendations one step further by launching the Diverse Books Club (the DBC.) This incredible online book club explores diversity in literature. Personally, I’ve learned so much about the #blacklivesmatter movement and the refugee crisis. I’ve asked her to share more about the DBC with all of you. She’s even picked her two favorite reads for us to giveaway!
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A Chat with Madeleine
Tell us a little about yourself and how you became a book blogger.
I’ve always been a voracious reader, but it wasn’t until my junior year of college that I created Top Shelf Text. At the time, I didn’t have a reading community and felt like I was the only one on campus who was reading for fun, so my boyfriend suggested that I start a book blog. I never imagined that four years later, I’d be in the place I am now. For the first few years, I had very little readership and TST was more of a creative outlet for me than anything else. It wasn’t until I was featured on the What Should I Read Next? podcast with Anne Bogel
that TST really took off and my reading community has been growing ever since! Within the TST community, we talk a lot about what we’re currently reading, how being a bookworm impacts our lives, and occasionally I’ll share some tidbits about how reading relates to my job as a special education teacher. The book blogging world has become such an important part of my life, and I’m so grateful for all my fellow readers who are always willing to chat about books with me!
What is the DBC?
The Diverse Books Club is a community of readers who are dedicated to widening the scope of our reading lives to include more diverse literature. We just launched in September of 2017 and currently have over 700 members on our Goodreads group and a team of 11 readers (including myself) who act as moderators. Each month, we choose a theme to focus on and select three books: one adult pick, one young adult, and one middle grade. We also curate a list of picture books for readers to share with the children in their lives. Members participate in discussions on Goodreads and on our Instagram. We also have some extra features that (I think) really add to the mission of the DBC. Each month, we feature profiles on each author for our three main selections. We’ve been lucky in our first few months in that we’ve been able to feature several of our authors in interviews as well. We also feature resources related to our picks, which allow members to dive deeper into these topics and how they relate to history and current events.
What defines a diverse book?
That’s a great question! I think the definition varies depending on the perspective of the reader. Within the DBC, we consider diverse books to be any literature that fairly represents the perspective of marginalized groups within society. When we choose our selections, we spend weeks previewing titles to make sure that they meet our quality standards. That is, we want our selections to contribute to conversations around diversity in its many forms. We also pay close attention to the authors of these books. We strive to select books belonging to the Own Voices category — meaning that the author is someone belonging to that diverse community who can give us an authentic perspective related to the topic. Two things that we want to emphasize when it comes to diverse literature: not every book represents every perspective within one category of diversity and diversity is about more than just race. So while an Own Voices author can contribute his or her own perspective, he or she won’t speak for the entire group, and while race is a category within diversity, the scope of diversity is actually quite broad.
What inspired you to create the DBC?
I’m a white, middle class, heterosexual, cisgender female who grew up in a tiny town in suburban New England, so my experiences with diversity were relatively limited throughout my childhood. Since then, I’ve traveled and had experiences with diversity as it relates to my job as a special educator, but I still felt relatively uneducated when it came to wider issues both in the United States and across the globe. Add to that my preference for British countryside mysteries and you could see how diversity was also lacking in my reading life. The DBC was born out of my own desire to expand my reading life to include more diverse perspectives. At first, I asked for recommendations from followers on Instagram for diverse reads to add to my shelves and got a great response. I then let readers know that my goal was to read more diversely and that I was looking for a few fellow bookworms to read and discuss diverse literature with me.
Were you expecting the response that you got?
Not at all! I was completely blown away by the response. When I asked if anyone was interested in reading with me and talking about diverse books, I was expecting to have a group of maybe five readers join me. I posed the question on my Instagram stories and within a few hours, I had over 100 responses from readers who were interested. From there, I realized that we could form an actual book club with this mission in mind. A few weeks later, we had a full book club set up on Goodreads, a team of moderators, and a growing membership! I think the thing that draws people to the group is a desire to be more empathetic. We have readers from countries all over the world, and many of those readers are thinking about current events and the impact that division and prejudice have on our relationships. DBC members want to build room for discourse and understanding, and expanding our reading is just one way to do that!
Who else works on the DBC with you?
When I saw how quickly the DBC was growing, I realized I needed help in running it. We opened up an application for those interested and got a great response from readers who were willing to jump in and help make this idea work. Our team is made up of volunteers — we’re not a business, and no one gets paid, but I am indescribably grateful for their hard work and for the perspectives they bring to the group.
As I mentioned, our moderator team has 11 members. As the lead moderator, I do most of the coordinating and a lot of the last-minute decisions. RuthAnn (@definitelyRA
), our recommendations moderator, is my second in command. She’s built an incredible spreadsheet of diverse literature with different topics and helps me to keep things organized overall. Alexandra (@bookedupblog
) is our related resources moderator and does tons of research each month to help our readers gain even more knowledge outside of our selections. Morgan (@nycbookgir
l) is our author research moderator and creates our author profiles. She’s also been able to interview our featured authors, such as Vaddey Ratner and Sharon Draper. Gina (@chaptershoe
) is our social media manager and runs our Instagram and Twitter accounts. We also have teams of two moderators working together for each of our selection levels. They preview books, craft discussion questions, and talk to members on Goodreads. Chelsey (@hereadsshereads
) and Jordan (@jordanmcalhoun
) are our adult moderators. Cailee (@illreader
) and Sara (@meaningfulmadness
) are our young adult moderators. Lorraine (@meetmissmagee
) and Lori (@thenovelendeavor
) are our children’s literature moderators.
How do you choose each month’s books?
First, we choose our theme. For example, in November we’re reading books on the topic of differing abilities. Sometimes, our themes are selected randomly, and sometimes they’re related to the experiences of our moderators. November’s theme is one that Lorraine and I both have experiences around — I, as a special education teacher, and she as a person who required accommodations for a physical disability in high school. Once we’ve selected our theme, we solicit recommendations from our members. Then RA works her magic on the DBC spreadsheet and we come up with a list of titles to preview. Moderators volunteer to do some extra reading and preview specific titles, then we get together and talk about which ones we think will generate thoughtful discussion. We make considerations based on how popular books are, whether they belong to the Own Voices category, and how well they represent the spectrum within our topic. In November, El Deafo
fits the Own Voices category (as it’s a memoir), Ginny Moon
was written by a parent of a child on the autism spectrum, and Love and First Sight
was written by an author who has experiences with physical disabilities. We also have three different types of disability categories represented: Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Hearing Impairment, and Visual Impairment. Our picture books broaden that scope, including representations of Speech Impairment and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). Each month, we approach our topic a little differently and this month, it was important to us to pick books that not only represented people with differing abilities but also celebrated them.
What have your 2 favorite books been so far?
Each of our selections has made a profound impact on me, but in September and October, my two favorites have been The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and Refugee by Alan Gratz. The Hate U Give gave me a new understanding of the Black Lives Matter movement and the ways in which people can feel divided between two cultures or identities. Refugee was the most heart-wrenching book that I’ve read this year. It’s an important story in providing a perspective of refugee experiences from the past and in the current day.
Do you know what the themes of upcoming months will be and can you let us know or give us a hint?
Right now, we’re working on narrowing down our themes for the first quarter of 2018. We’ve had a lot of members express the desire to know our monthly picks earlier, so we’re working on streamlining our processes to provide that for members next year. I can’t tell you what our front-runners are, but we’ve had some great suggestions from readers that we’re taking into account. For readers who have ideas for potential themes, we have a thread on our Goodreads page where you can leave suggestions.
How do readers join in the discussion?
All of our information is on Goodreads under Diverse Books Club. There, you can meet our moderators, introduce yourself, make recommendations, dig into our related resources, read the author interviews and profiles, and participate in our discussions. We’re also on Instagram @diversebooksclub and Twitter @diversebookclub. Readers can also get in touch with us via our email at email@example.com. Our discussion forums open on the first of each month and close on the last day of the month to prep for new discussions.
Now that you are know all about the DBC it’s time to start reading some of their picks! With that in mind, we are giving away 2 different books! We will be giving out one book here on the blog and the other over on Instagram.
The copy of Refugee by Alan Gratz will be available through an entry on the blog. Enter the drawing up to 4 times through Rafflecopter. A winner will be chosen at random at 12:00 AM EST on November 16th by Random.com and will be notified by email within 48 hrs.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
We are also giving away a copy of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas on Instagram. You can enter that contest on our Instagram on the giveaway post. Check the post for full details. A winner will be chosen at random at 12:00 AM EST on November 16th by Random.com and will be notified by email within 48 hrs.