This post on reading backlist books is sponsored by Flatiron Books, Publisher of American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins.
Many times, the bookish world feels like it is all about the new. There are books coming out every week on all types of platforms. Between traditionally published books, indie press books, and self-published books, you may end up in a position where you’re so inundated with various book options that you find yourself reading six books at one time, trying desperately to juggle all the different titles, genres, and characters and not get them mixed so you don’t end up in some crazy fever dream when you finally take a moment to sleep.
Not that I speak from personal experience on this or anything. *averts gaze*
Anyhoo, living this type of bookish life can lead to so many gems falling through the proverbial cracks. Recently I read Renee Watson’s Piecing Me Together, the inaugural book for the Brown Girl Book Club that is being run by BookTuber Janice Nicole Dickerson, or JND. This book is about Jade, a young girl in Portland who attends a private school on scholarship. At the beginning of her junior year, she gets nominated for a Woman to Woman mentor program. There she gets matched up with a well off alumni of her school, who wants to help her “better herself.”
Jade struggles to find herself in a world that seems to want to think she needs changing and wants to tell her what opportunities she needs. Jade decides to take a stand for herself and let the world know what she needs from them to succeed. This book was published February 14, 2017. It received a Newberry Honor and Coretta Scott King Award.
On February 27 that same year, there was another book about a young girl girl who attends private school and faces her own struggles. Can you guess which book this was? I’ll give you three guesses and the first two don’t count.
Please don’t think I’m disparaging The Hate U Give, because it was a brilliant book. It brought up a lot of good, albeit hard, questions that need to be answered. It drew attention to all the elephants in the world that needed to be drawn to all sorts of trials and tribulations that the Black community faces.
But Piecing Me Together also illustrates many of these same issues as well as others. And it was a book that went under the radar for the most part. I am thankful to that BookTube book club for introducing me to this book I wish I had as a young book dragon. The idea that a majority of the book world slept on this book is a bit discouraging.
There are a lot of books to be excited about this year. I can easily name five off the bat that I am either going to buy as soon as they come out or put myself on the waitlist at one of my libraries as soon as humanly possible. So it may seem odd to want to actively pursue backlist reading in the year 2020 when the theme seems to be having a clear and new (emphasis on new) vision. But that is what I plan on doing, since I’m confident that there were other books like Piecing Me Together which were overlooked by the vast majority and are waiting for their turn to shine. Ways I plan to do this are:
Book Riot’s own “All The Books” has in-between episodes completely devoted to back-list recommendations. This is a good jumping off point since Liberty, Rebecca, Patricia, and their guests always have good recommendations from different genres. Another podcast that could help you find some backlist books is The Worst Bestsellers. I know the title seems off-putting, but I also believe in trying things out for yourself to determine whether or not you like a book. So check out the list and see if any of them strike your fancy. Other options may be Books in the Freezer for horror recs, or Heaving Bosoms for romance.
I love libraries, which I have mentioned many times before. One of the things that I enjoy the most about libraries are their book displays. Normally having a theme, these are books that the librarians have selected themselves to present to the public. Whether it’s a theme of YA at a boarding school, a “Blind Date with a Book,” or even the somewhat bittersweet “Books that Have Never Been Checked Out,” book displays are a great way to find some backlist gold that may have been previously overlooked. Or, if you prefer a more personable interaction, ask a librarian for recommendations. While most branches may have a shelf devoted entirely to this, I’m sure they would enjoy that type of face to face interaction for a recommendation as well.
Don’t act so surprised. We all knew this would be one of the options. The best place to find backlist books is your own stack of things you’ve been meaning to get to. The sheer magnitude of mine is one of the reasons that I stopped tracking them on Goodreads. But it is still a good place to start from to not just whittle this list down, but acquaint yourself with books that you have continuously been passing over for one reason or another.
Wait! There’s a method to my madness here, I promise.
First ask yourself if there are one or two books that you’re looking forward to reading in 2020? Just ask yourself; don’t necessarily go preorder it right away. Got those books in mind? Great. Now, ask yourself if you have read all this author’s backlist. If not, then consider picking up one or two of those while you wait for the new one to release. You may find yourself liking the older one better than then new one. This was the case with me when I read The DaVinci Code first and then Angels & Demons.
Book friends are the best friends! Even if your tastes are similar, it’s highly unlikely that you’ve read the exact same books as all your friends. Ask them for their favorite book, and let them know you prefer an older title. You may find a new favorite author or book this way.
These are always a bevy of hidden gems if you’re willing to put in the work for it. Half-Price Books is one of the more popular ones, but there may also be a mom and pop store near you. Just go in with a cup of coffee and no real plan and peruse to your heart’s content until you find a supply of some backlist options.
These are slightly different than used book stores. They’re the literary equivalent of the “take a penny, leave a penny” jar. But they’re still wonderful pillars in the bookish community. They let you find older books you may not even know about while giving you the chance to pass off books you didn’t love to a new book home. Win/win!
And there you have it! Hopefully these tips will help you live your best bookish life in 2020 by taking a literary visit to the past.