Supporting your local bookstores has never been so important. And this is especially true of queer-owned bookstores, the holy grails of non-alcoholic daytime hangout spots for queer people. I consider myself very lucky to live in a city with a small, very lovely queer bookshop, run by a married couple. It is therefore a no-brainer that when I am in need of a book, I send them an e-mail to mail-order it from them. Caring very deeply and very passionately about something however, can produce a certain anxiety: Can I somehow convey how much their existence means to me in a simple ‘Can you please order these books for me? Thanks, bye’ e-mail? I therefore present to you a completely fool-proof six step guide to ordering a book via e-mail from your local queer-owned book shop.
Step 1: Write the E-mail
Simple enough, right? Just put down the book title and the ISBN, write down your address, be polite. What, however, do ordering choices say about you as a person? Hm? Have you even thought about that? One of your books is for your queer book group that has now moved to Zoom for the foreseeable future. Usually you’d take these books out from the library for free, but since libraries are closed, the group decided to read a “classic” that most members of the group already own. You do not own it. But is it basic to buy this (well-loved! popular! probably really lovely!) book rather than one of the exciting queer sci-fi adventures that the bookshop owners have lauded on Instagram? Better insert a sentence explaining how you would love to buy more books from them and how you’ll just have to wait until you have the money to do so. Even worse, however, your other book is – gasp – not even about anything queer? Quick, quick, write a small-to-medium paragraph on how you really need this book to give it someone else, and how your other regular independent book shop has just completely shut down for quarantine, and how you thought it would be better to give them the money rather than someone else. Briefly agonise over how to sign off: stay safe? Hope you’re well? I love you, thank you for doing the good work? Can we be friends when this is all over? Finish the draft.
Step 2: Edit
Delete two thirds of your first draft. These are hard-working, kind people who are probably stressed out about the global pandemic just like everyone else – don’t bother them with this menial stuff! Still feel bad after deleting most of it, so sneak a sentence to make sure they’re fine with ordering non-queer books for you (“The book is not queer, but the person reading it is!”) towards the end, and play it cool with a simple ‘Thank you and hope you’re holding up well!’
Step 3: Let your Quarantine Buddy Read It
Watch them spend less than thirty seconds reading an e-mail that took you more than thirty minutes to draft and edit. Be exasperated by their non-committal comment of, “It’s fine” and press them on such important questions such as, “But if you didn’t know me and you just read this e-mail – would you think I was a fundamentally okay and nice person?”
Step 4: Just Send the Dang E-mail
This is getting ridiculous. You are simply ordering some books and trying to support a business that is important to you. Just send it. It’s not a big deal.
Step 5: Second-Guess Yourself
Browse the shop’s website and feel gently sad about all the queer events you missed because you were working many late nights on something that you enjoyed less and less as time went on. Grieve because you could have been making real human connections with real human people. Notice the preferred pronouns of the shop owners in a corner of their website. Feel suddenly terrified by the dawning realisation that you may have accidentally misgendered them in your e-mail. Regret everything. These are kind and hard-working people trying to make a safe space for queer people in your community, who are now enduring a global pandemic. The last thing they need is someone misgendering them in an e-mail, potentially making their day a bit more sucky. Compose an apology e-mail in your head while you frantically scroll through your sent e-mails. Find the e-mail and read it twice. Breathe a sigh of relief: given that it is a simple book-ordering e-mail, you did not actually use any gendered pronouns whatsoever. Remember only now that this is how language works when you speak directly to, and not about, someone.
Step 6: Congratulations! You Ordered Some Books
Well done! Receive a very kind message a couple of days later informing you that the books are on their way to your house and that they are happy to order any further books you like. Revel in the fact that people are good and kind and that we live in a world with bookshops and queer people and that there will always be more to read. Try to remember that there is still time to make friends and read copious amounts of sci-fi. Remind yourself that just because the last thing you tried made you unhappy does not mean that everything you will try from now on will be the same. Be mindful that being so worried you might have hurt someone probably says more about you being an okay person than overthinking writing a simple e-mail.
For UK readers, The Niche suggests supporting Glasgow’s Category Is Books during the pandemic. A list of other LGBT bookstores is available here, complete with options in Europe, North America, Oceania, and Asia. Feel free to link to your favorite queer bookstores in the comments!