Last summer, while we were gathering books and promoting the Gay City LGBT Library book drive that would be held at the GRNW 2013 meet-up, someone contacted me about an older friend’s book collection. Their friend had passed away recently, and he had left a large collection of gay romance books, and they were trying to find a good home for it. We directed them to the Gay City library and the collection was donated to them.
Fast forward six months to March 2014. I got to see this fan’s gay romance collection at the recent book sale at Gay City that was held to raise funds to support the library.
The collection is GIANT, over 150 gay romance and erotica books, with books by many authors that fans would be familiar with. Josh Lanyon, Jordan Castillo Price, Damon Suede, Heidi Cullinan, Alex Beecroft, Z. A. Maxfield, Amy Lane, Marie Sexton, J. L. Langley, among MANY others.
From a fan’s point of view, it was like looking at a treasure trove. So many wonderful books, even books that are hard to find now, like a print copy of Tamara Allen’s Downtime or early print editions of Lanyon’s Adrien English series.
What was also interesting was that this fan had re-covered all the books. Meaning, he placed sticky contact paper over the covers, and printed out his own labels that provided the title of the book, and also a description on the back.
It’s not totally understood why he covered all the books with new covers, but as someone said at the book sale, it was like he made each book its own piece of art to celebrate it. The covers are a rainbow of prints and colors, with just their titles on the side, or sometimes, the title of the series they are a part of.
What mostly I see with this huge collection and all these covers is one fan’s expression of love for these books. Looking over the table at them, it was amazing to see how wide of a selection it was, and also, from a fan’s view, how extremely valuable.
Not from a money point of few (although Downtime is quite expensive now), but just from a book lover point of view. It was stunning.
It also made me really think about a few things.
1- It made me wonder about this fan.
Did he have someone to share his love of books with? Did he talk with other readers online? He was a HUGE fan of gay romance, and I wondered if he preferred to enjoy them on his own, or if he connected with others, like online. Or if he knew he could connect to others.
Looking at his collection, I wished I could have talked with him and asked him about his favorite books. Some of the books in his collection were my favorites too, and it would have been great to have known him and talked with him about them.
2- It made me think about how often niche readers are islands.
For us who enjoy reading LGBT romance, it is often only online where we connect with other readers. Often times, these books are not found in book stores, can be hard to find in libraries, and there isn’t a lot of public allowance to chat openly about loving these books. There’s a lot of shame and stigma attached to romance books in general (treated often with diminishing words like “trashy” or “guilty pleasure”, so liking them is often seen as a *bad* thing) and LGBT romance is still often segregated, with less exposure or connections to the “mainstream” romance field. (Although that’s changing…slowly.)
Fortunately, online communities like the M/M Romance Group on GoodReads do a wonderful job of connecting fans from all over the world, so no matter where you are, you still have a place where you can express your love over these books.
But how can we strengthen those connections, diminish the shame or fear of reading these books publicly, and provide other readers with a safe, warm, welcoming place to connect and feel part of inclusive community of fans?
With GRNW, we’re trying to increase these opportunities through regional reader meetings, public authors events, etc, but seeing someone’s love of books laid out over a table really honed in a feeling that, “We need community. No one should feel like an island alone.”
How we can better build that community, both online and offline, is something we think about a lot.
How do we reinforce that reading these books is not shameful, and that fans, the novels that they love, and the writers that write them deserve not to be in the shadows, but to stand proudly in the sun?
3- It made me ponder the legacy of our books and our love for them.
With the ebook boom, many of us are building vast digital collections—folders of epubs, kindles full of mobi files, phones and ipads bursting with novels.
What was also striking about looking at this fan’s massive, beautiful collection was how physical it was. It was a hold-in-your-hands celebration of all that is gay romance, from the saucy to the angsty to the romantic to the groundbreaking.
It made me ponder how I would leave my love of these books. If I got hit by a truck tomorrow, there is no notice that says, “Please pass my Tamara Allen mobi files to my buddy Jerina, who will surely appreciate the gentle historical goodness of them. And please pass my Channeling Morpheus files to the lovely ladies over at Boys in our Books, since they would all appreciate the hot vampire love…”
I’m not saying we should start adding our ebook libraries to our wills, but it made me ponder how easily and quickly our legacies will disappear, and how the things we love so dearly as book fans will often times not even be understood by those who are left to sort through them later. My crowded beloved folder of XMFC fanfics on my laptop is really just a treasure hoard that I understand, and it will have no place once that truck comes.
But then, as fans, how do we leave legacies about the books we care so much about? Is it through physical home libraries? Donating to public libraries? Participating in communities, both online and offline? Sharing reviews? Recommending reads? Buying a book from a favorite writer?
Advocating for large system changes that allow LGBT romance to have more exposure and access, so even if that metaphorical truck hits us, that legacy is still driving forward, introducing itself to new fans every day?
None of the above? All of the above?
4- The transience and solidity of book love
I didn’t think a table full of romance books would make me ponder death as much as it did, but I was left wondering about how we treasure what we love during our life, and what happens with that love after. Is there is a place for it? Does it matter?
And I found that, as I watched some knowledgeable fans comb through the collection and snatch up some amazing treasures, it can matter. For those who love them, it does matter.
Jerina, if you’re reading this, you can have my (admittedly small) physical book collection when that truck comes.
For everyone else, please enjoy your treasures, whether they be digital or physical. Please know that you’re not an island. Please know that there are others who feel like you.
Please know that your love has value.
And even if we haven’t accomplished that large system change yet, with our love and our communities and our constantly building legacies, it will be possible.
We can- we will read under the sun.