Looking back to the days before the growth of the World Wide Web and certain online bookstores…how did I manage to find and purchase lesbian books?
When I lived in London in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I would visit Silver Moon Books on Charing Cross Road. It wasn’t always easy to fit in a trip there, as the places I worked tended to be in another part of the city. But when I could, I spent many a happy hour browsing the shelves and picking out books from a range of authors I knew nothing about.
When I moved out of London, I had to find another way to feed my addiction. Luckily there were several mail order options. Silver Moon had their own newsletter, as did West & Wilde in Edinburgh. Diva magazine had a books order section. And I also subscribed to the Libertas newsletter…a bookstore in York, now closed down.
Mainstream bookstores at the time also had separate Gay and Lesbian sections. I was in Waterstones in Manchester recently and asked where this section was located. I knew the answer, but wanted to see what they would say. The nice young man on the desk told me there was a section on the next floor up. I wandered around looking at all the labeled areas, but could only find something called Gender Studies. When I paid for the crime novel I’d selected, I asked the clerk why they didn’t have a separate section and she waffled something about the company policy of inclusion. I asked her how I was supposed to find any books by lesbian authors if they were mixed in with all the others. I would have to know what I was looking for, possibly only being able to pick out a few well-known names like Sarah Waters or Jeannette Winterson. I’m sure I would never have discovered Fiona Cooper, Jaye Maiman, Nisa Donnelly – or any of the books in this photo – if this policy had been in place in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
I think bookstores should review this policy. It’s just another way of making us invisible. Imagine if they mixed all the crime books in with general fiction.
So, now my book browsing is done online – either on the big ‘A’ or on publishers’ websites. There is an overwhelming amount of choice these days.
And, it’s not quite the same as standing in front of a bank of shelves, picking out books, looking at the covers, reading the blurbs…and out of the corner of your eye checking out the woman a few feet away wondering what she likes reading. (Of course, I wouldn’t be doing that now – my wife would not be amused.)