Tag Archives: Reading

Diversity in Romance: US report finds only 7.8% of romance titles by people of colour

Diversity in romance is a hot topic at the moment. It’s fuelled by questions around cultural identity and sales.

Who has the right to create characters from different backgrounds? On the one hand, no one is better positioned to write a character with, say, an African American background than an African American. On the other hand, taken to extremes, that argument would mean no Othello, no Ophelia and no romance heroes with their own POV, at least not when written by female writers. And does this mean that a writer from an Asian background can’t write Regency Romance, even if she wants to? And what does it mean about aliens and shape-shifters? The world would be a much duller place if writers only wrote what they knew.

There is also, of course, the issue of unrepresented minorities in history. We think of medieval Britain as an island predominantly populated by white people, but what of the descendants of the African Roman soldiers stationed along Hadrian’s Wall before the collapse of the Roman Empire?

Then there is the thorny issue of sales. Which comes first, the demand or the story? I’m inclined to favour the perspective that the way forward is to ensure diversity within publishing houses. If editors and publishers have diverse interests and backgrounds, they will find those great books which have universal appeal regardless of the cultural identity, nationality or race of the characters.

The publishing industry certainly isn’t there yet. Bookseller and Publisher covered an 2rippedbodicereport2016Entertainment Weekly story on The Ripped Bodice’s report on the racial diversity of romance publishing in the US during 2016. The Ripped Bodice is a romance specialist bookstore. They found that only 7.8% of romance titles published were written by people of colour. ‘People of colour’ is a broadly descriptive term that not all writers of non-Anglo Saxon heritage will identify with. However, given that US census figures indicate that up to 28% of the American population identifies as either black or Hispanic, the diversity book is clearly not balanced.

Half of the 20 publishers surveyed had fewer than five percent of their books authored by people of colour, and only three publishers had at least 10% of their books authored by people of colour.

The report co-authors and owners of The Ripped Bodice, Leah and Bea Koch, said they were motivated to conduct the study ‘because they often found themselves short of options when customers come in looking for traditionally published books by authors of color’.

‘We have found it difficult to continue the conversation about diversity in romance without hard data,’ said the Kochs. ‘For many years the common refrain from publishers has been “we’re working on it.” Every year we will track industry growth and see if that promise rings true.’

The report notes that all of the publishers mentioned were invited to contribute statistics to the study. More than half engaged directly, with the missing data gathered from publisher and distributor websites.

I think this is an excellent initiative by The Ripped Bodice. I’m also giving a shout-out to all those publishers who participated willingly and all the indie authors who publish diverse romance but weren’t covered by this study. The more we talk, the more answers and solutions we’ll create and the more great romances we will have to read.

Australia has a very diverse, multicultural society. It would be interesting to see a similar study done here. I suspect the numbers would not look much better although I do know many publishers who actively hunt for and publish magnificent stories by individuals from marginalised or misunderstood groups, whether because of their cultural background, sexual preferences or other factors.

If you’re looking for a reading list of diverse authors and characters, try one of these four books, or have a browse on GoodReads, where there are many recommended book lists complete with comments.

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The history and practice of bibliotherapy

Novelist Ceridwen Dovey has written a fascinating article on bibliotherapy for The New Yorker. She asks Can Reading Make You Happier (of course) and then talks us through the science of why the answer is ‘of course’.

It starts:

Several years ago, I was given as a gift a remote session with a bibliotherapist at the London headquarters of the School of Life, which offers innovative courses to help people deal with the daily emotional challenges of existence. I have to admit that at first I didn’t really like the idea of being given a reading “prescription.” I’ve generally preferred to mimic Virginia Woolf’s passionate commitment to serendipity in my personal reading discoveries, delighting not only in the books themselves but in the randomly meaningful nature of how I came upon them (on the bus after a breakup, in a backpackers’ hostel in Damascus, or in the dark library stacks at graduate school, while browsing instead of studying). I’ve long been wary of the peculiar evangelism of certain readers: You must read this, they say, thrusting a book into your hands with a beatific gleam in their eyes, with no allowance for the fact that books mean different things to people—or different things to the same person—at various points in our lives. I loved John Updike’s stories about the Maples in my twenties, for example, and hate them in my thirties, and I’m not even exactly sure why.

Read the full article here

SPEED-READING INEFFICIENT

I call them ‘Well, duh’ studies. The research academics have to undertake to prove what anyone with a grain of knowledge and a sprinkling of common sense knew already. This one is about the benefits of speed-reading.

With the information overload that we now all suffer from, the appeal of speed-reading is understandable. Traditionally, it promises faster reading times and greater recall and understanding of the text. However, according to a recent review of the actual science published in Psychology Science in the Public Interest, speed-reading is not the answer the panacea it is sold as.

Elizabeth Schotter, a psychologist at the University of California-San Diego, and one of the study’s authors, says, ‘The available scientific evidence demonstrates that there is a trade-off between speed and accuracy—as readers spend less time on the material, they necessarily will have a poorer understanding of it.’ (well, duh moment #1).

According to the Association for Psychological Science, it’s not about reading faster, but about learning to figure out what’s important to read (well, duh moment #2). In reviewing the scientific research, they said that it proves that the biggest obstacle isn’t our vision but rather our ability to recognize words and process how they combine to make meaningful sentences

In their article they say, ‘Reading is a complex dance among various visual and mental processes, and research shows that skilled readers already read quickly, averaging 200 to 400 words per minute. Some speed-reading technologies claim to offer an additional boost by eliminating the need to make eye movements by presenting words rapidly in the center of a computer screen or mobile device, with each new word replacing the previous word. The problem, Schotter and her colleagues find, is eye movements account for no more than ten percent of the overall time we spend reading. Eliminating the ability to go back and reread previous words and sentences tends to make overall comprehension worse, not better.’

Ms Schotter says there is no quick fix. She and her team agree that the one thing that can help boost overall reading ability, science shows, is practicing reading for comprehension. Greater exposure to writing in all its different forms provides us with a larger and richer vocabulary, as well as the contextual experience that can help us anticipate upcoming words and make inferences regarding the meaning of words or phrases we don’t immediately recognize.

So, keep reading. It’s good for you. But you already knew that. J

You can read the full report at your own pace – if you have the time.