My job title at the bookstore I work at is “Children’s Book Expert.” It’s a label I’ve never been comfortable with. What a broad category to claim to be an “expert” in! In all board books, picture books, chapter books, YA novels, and nonfiction from K-12? Of course, it’s only meant to say that of all the staff, I’m the most well-acquainted with the children’s department, but it still feels like something I could never live up to.
It got me thinking, though: When can you call yourself a genre expert?
Children’s books are my specialty at work, but not in my personal reading life. (That’s partly why I wouldn’t call myself an expert.) My reading life is dedicated to another classification: queer women books. I’ve been running The Lesbrary, a bi and lesbian book blog, for more than 8 years. I’ve had the Bi and Lesbian Literature tumblr for almost as long. I also talk about queer women books on youtube and twitter and (of course) Book Riot. About half of the books I read feature queer women, and that’s been true for about the last decade. I’m currently trying to compile a master list of every sapphic book published before 2000. But would I call myself an “expert”? Not really. It’s something I aspire to, but the more I learn about queer women lit, the more I realize what I haven’t learned and have not yet read.
The problem is that both of these categories are far too broad. It’s impossible to have read all of the lesbian books in the world, or even a significant percentage of them (never mind children’s books), so how can you be an expert? What is an expert? Do you just have to be more knowledgeable than the average person? The average reader? The average person interested in that topic?
Or can you only be an expert on a narrower subject, where you can read the majority of works under that umbrella? An expert on, say, 1920s French lesbian books?
I recognize that I might be setting a higher-than-reasonable bar here. I find myself reluctant to write a post on, say, queer women comics, because I don’t feel like I’m sufficiently well-informed to write that post. But maybe I don’t need to be an expert to share the knowledge that I do have. And maybe being an expert just means that you’re the most likely person in the room to have the answer to that question.
Let me know: do you have any genres or book topics you consider yourself an expert of? What do you think is the criteria for declaring yourself an expert?
(If you liked this post, you’ll probably also like this post about Reader Imposter Syndrome.)