Book Review: Susan Hawthorne, “Bibliodiversity: A Manifesto for Independent Publishing”

It’s not very often that I choose to review a non-fiction book, but Susan Hawthorne’s Bibliodiversity: A Manifesto for Independent Publishing was too good to keep to myself. If you’re not familiar with the term “bibliodiversity,” don’t worry. I wasn’t either until I came across this book while researching sources for a project I was working on. So, what is it exactly? And what does it have to do with independent publishing? That’s where Hawthorne’s expertise comes in.

Hawthorne begins the book by explaining that bibliodiversity (coined by a group of Chilean publishers in the 1990s) is a “complex self-sustaining system of story-telling, writing, publishing and other kind of production of orature and literature.” Essentially, bibliodiversity works like biodiverse ecosystems that exist on Earth. One species, or, in this case, publisher, doesn’t dominate others to their exclusion. There is a dynamic balance when a host of varied voices are being heard, which is essential for the industry to healthily flourish. However, as Hawthorne points out, big publishing and big bookselling reduce the ability for diverse voices to be heard or read as they repackage the same ideals over and over again. It’s the small and independent publishers that contribute to the much-needed nourishment of the publishing soil with their representation of a wide range of voices.

Through chapters dedicated to global publishing, feminism, book production, free trade and free speech, and much more, Hawthorne describes the roles bibliodiversity plays in each of these and how the publishing industry has morphed and changed over the years. Insightful and honest, the book provides a fresh look at the importance of independent publishing, but I couldn’t help but feel that something was missing. I appreciate that feminism is discussed thoroughly throughout the book, but the discussion of race could have played a bigger role, especially given reports that have been done in recent years regarding lack of racial diversity in publishing. Discussing the two at length, I believe, would’ve provided even stronger evidence of the diversity gaps the industry needs to fill.

Overall, I would recommend Hawthorne’s book to anyone who is currently working in the publishing industry or who want to be part of/learn more about the publishing industry. This is the sort of book that can be used to start conversations about how to make a better book industry for everyone, marginalized voices in particular. And, you never know, maybe it will inspire more books of its kind to start appearing on shelves. The possibility is there.

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