Thursday, April 16, 2020

When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do All the Large-Print Books Go?

How publishing has gotten its large print offerings so wrong . . . and how we can all help fix it.  ♦ 
If the grandmothers of the world are anything like mine, they live in a home filled absolutely to the bursting with books. Once they were a fine diverse mix, she being a schoolteacher, but as of late they’ve narrowed to fall mostly within the same categories—a retiree solving food-themed murder mysteries in Florida, perhaps, or the latest Rush Limbaugh book.

I once devoured whole books in a single setting, spent my nights with my sheet propped up above my head with one hand, a book held open with another, and a flashlight stuffed into my mouth. I was someone who read in the back of classrooms during lessons and at the wall with a book open during recess. Unfortunately, I lost the majority of my vision in high school. I walk with a cane and now consume most of my textbooks and pleasure reading through a screen reader.

I can’t read Braille (not well, in any case) and reading on a screen grows stale after 800 pages. As I’m sure many of the more passionate readers out there sympathize with, I still crave the feel, the appearance, the smell of a book; there’s something about turning the pages that no digital swipe can replace. Unfortunately, I also can’t read small type anymore; I’m dependent on screen readers or large-print texts. And even these, as it turns out, are hard to come by for a reader like me.

My grandmother is who publishers market to when producing large-print books. These are often books ghost-written for some Fox News pundit, or cookbooks with thirty casseroles in them, or the latest in a series of murder mysteries named after various desserts. They certainly aren’t thinking of twenty-something college students interested in fantasy adventure books in the vein of Lord of the Rings, or shocking historical tales starring daring seamstresses-turned-spies escaping Nazi Germany with only their wits. Unfortunately, this leaves young low-vision and legally blind people isolated from the literature-loving community, since they can’t access the same titles currently sweeping YA circles and literary fiction cliques.

As with most issues concerning disability, this is an intersectional issue. By producing a greater variety of books in large print, elderly people would have access to different materials, not just those dictated by the mass of their age group. People who suffer from dyslexia would also have an easier time reading the books their peers rave about. Anyone who suffers from migraines—even just the pain and strain that comes along with a long day’s work—would find it easier to read a large-print book.

Likewise, on Amazon, most books available to customers in the large-print category (with the exception of a few big bestsellers like The Girl On The Train and Fifty Shades of Grey) are catered toward seniors. When checking the day’s bestsellers, I found that only two of the top fifteen books were also available in large print, and neither of these were books catered toward young adults.

Publishers need to be more inclusive with their publications. Their actions to this point indicate they are focused solely on profits. The pressure needs to come not just from individual readers, though you have the power to advocate for these, but from those who have the ear of the publishers: the booksellers. Without the booksellers, they make no profit. Without readers, booksellers can’t scrape a living.

I promise I’m not trying to villainize your favorite independent bookstore. They are likely barely affording to pay their employees, just scraping a profit. Large-scale corporate affairs are those who can make the change towards widespread large-print availability. Reach out on social media, contact higher-ups in booksellers like Barnes and Noble, Books and Co. Do the same for the Twitter accounts of Big Five publishers. Reach out to university presses and ask that they publish large-print versions of their materials.

People with disabilities cannot make this monumental change alone. We need help from our neighbors, our peers, our professors and friends. It’s something which can only be achieved by a wave of people, all demanding the same thing from a greedy system which cares nothing for inclusion and thirsts for profits. And they won’t do anything without a widespread call for change from the general public.

Open your favorite book right now and close your eyes. Take in the smell. Feel the pages beneath your fingertips. Read the first page, get lost in the words . . . there’s no screen reader or online book that can replicate that feeling. Shouldn’t everyone get to experience that for as long as they’re able?

  • About the Author
    Shelby Rice is currently a sophomore at Miami University, where she studies Creative Writing and AYA English Education, as well as pursuing an English Literature minor. She is treasurer for Oxford's chapter of YDSA and is editor-in-chief for a leftist magazine centered in that same town. Originally from Dayton, Ohio, she is biding her time until Starfleet is established; in the meantime, you can find her in any nearby library, worrying over whether or not the amulet she bought from Goodwill for three dollars is cursed.

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    1. Shelby, you are quite the writer to say the least. Passionate, informative , concise and bring to we sighted people a situation we ashamedly were ignorant to. I ,for one, will try to remedy that within my circle of friends and family.