Yes, they’re back. I should probably pick a day and make that Links Day, but in the meantime, here are a handful for your weekend reading.
The RITA finalists were announced this past week. Once again there were hardly any African-American authors who finaled, and I didn’t see many LGBT authors either, although I didn’t scrutinize the lists that carefully. I peeked over at Twitter and found that understandably, there was a lot of angry discussion about it.
It’s very disheartening to see these kinds of exclusions year and after year, especially when the RWA leadership has become more diverse and progressive. Unfortunately the awards submission, judging, and evaluation systems are not keeping pace (to put it mildly). I’ve thought about these issues over the years and looked at various aspects of the problem. I am sorry to say that I don’t think much will change until the overall romance readership is more reflective of the Romanceland readership that we hang out in. And similarly with the overall membership of RWA.
I’ve examined what is available of RWA surveys over the last 20 years, and they are consistent in terms of the demographic composition of romance readers. They are disproportionately Southern, Christian, white, and middle-aged. If you asked me to describe a modal (i.e., most common) romance reader, I’d say she lives in a medium-sized town or major-city suburb in the southern US, is white, in her 40s or 50s, and alternates between Romantic Suspense, Contemporary Romance and Amish Romances. She doesn’t read much LGBT of any type within the romance genre. And she’s on the conservative side.
That’s not the demographic that’s going to regularly pick Alyssa Cole’s books over Robyn Carr’s. Or Helen Hoang’s. Or KJ Charles’s. It’s just not.
It’s another reminder that the internet is full of silos. Twitter has remained stable over the last few years in terms of participation: about 20 percent of Americans use the service regularly. Romance Twitter and online Romanceland more generally do not represent the full range of who is buying and reading romance novels.
I don’t usually read US newspapers’ takes on UK events since I read actual British newspapers most days, but this article in the NYT is one of the best ELI5 descriptions of the endless chicken game called Brexit that I’ve come across. It is unbelievable and horrifying to think that we are at the point where no deal is a legitimate alternative for both citizens and MPs. But here we are. It looks as if there is going to be a series of votes next week which may walk the nation back from the cliff-edge, but until it actually happens I won’t count on it.
This quotation resonated for me beyond Brexit:
I’ve spent 40 years of my life not needing a watch in the morning because I listen to the ‘Today’ program,” the BBC’s flagship radio news show, she said, reeling off the exact times, to the minute, of her favorite segments. “In the last couple of months I have not been able to bear to listen to it anymore. I switch to classical music. It is relentless speculation. It is no longer news. It is water torture. I can’t bear it anymore.
I don’t watch any morning program, but I’ve cut back severely on my “news” consumption. Because most of what we get in what used to be flagship, serious newspapers isn’t news anymore. It is indeed “relentless speculation.” Classical and other kinds of music have filled some of the gap in our house too, along with blessed, blessed silence.
Speaking of music: Is Joe MacLeod right? Is this the most depressing song ever written? Yes, yes it is. I mean, this is how it starts:
In a little while from now
If I’m not feeling any less sour
I promise myself to treat myself
And visit a nearby tower
And climbing to the top
Will throw myself off
In an effort to
Make it clear to whoever
Wants to know what it’s like When you’re shattered
And after reading that article I had an earworm for the rest of the day. Curse you, HmmDaily. And Joe.
Also, I recognize every one of those songs from 1972. I know all the words to far too many of them. God we were living in a depressing era back then. I didn’t ever anticipate that I would wind up living that emotional reality twice, I really didn’t. And yet, here we are.
HmmDaily is sometimes depressing and enraging, but it’s almost always very good. It’s the closest thing to The Awl that I’ve found on today’s intertubes. Bookmark it and give it a try.
I was going to say, have a happy weekend, but … let’s just get through the rest of March, OK?
There was some discussion on Twitter on how to change the RITA judging process to be more fair and equitable, and one of the suggestions was having the award judged by committee and having the committee be diverse. That seems like a good idea to me but I’m not sure how other awards judged by committee choose which books the committee will read in the first place. It’s something I’d really like to know.
I don’t know enough about Brexit to say much about it, but all I’ve heard / read seems horrifying. John Oliver (not the best source of news, I know) had a segment a few weeks back about the effect Brexit will likely have on Northern Ireland and after especially after reading Milkman, it sounded both terrible and boneheaded. He ended the segment with a parody of Churchill’s speech from WWII, “We wlll f—k ourselves in the ports, we will f—k ourselves in the shops,” etc. Horrifying and hilarious at the same time.
That Gilbert O’Sullian song is pretty depressing, but at least the melody isn’t that sad. I’ve heard sadder and more depressing songs. What about Gloomy Sunday, which reputedly drove people to suicide in the 1930s?
Sinead O’Connor has a song on her album Universal Mother called “A Perfect Indian” which may be the saddest, most depressing song I’ve ever heard. Admittedly, I don’t understand all the lyrics or why that is the title, but the combination of some of the lyrics, the music, and O’Connor’s heartbroken delivery breaks my own heart every time.The chorus is:
I’m sailing on this terrible ocean
I’ve come for my self to retrieve
Too long have I been feeling like Lir’s children
And there’s only one way to be free
I’ve always taken that as a reference to suffering so great that suicide is the only release from pain.
(O’Connor also has a cover of Kurt Cobain’s “All Apologies” on the same album, and that one is heartbreaking too. And I would say the same for “Black Boys on Mopeds,” a song about a police killing. Depressing songs are her wheelhouse.)
John Oliver is great. And yes, the backstop has always been doomed, IMO. They’ve known of the Ireland issues from the beginning and the Tories rely on a Northern Ireland party for their majority, so their unwillingness to confront the ramifications of their various choices is political malpractice at the highest level.
The romance genre is so big in terms of books published, and the self-publishing part is such an integral part of it (more than any other genre I’m pretty sure), that I don’t know how a committee would work. In other awards there are rules about who can submit and how many submissions they can have, but the self-pub presence makes that more difficult for romance. And even if you used the kinds of rules that the Booker has, for example (which has plenty of critics), you’d still wind up with hundreds of books. The Booker had around 170 submissions last year, and that was bad enough for them. The Hugos are another way to go, but again, who would control the nominations? Could anyone nominate? Just RWA members? Something in-between, say include publishers, bloggers, “influencers” from Bookstagram and BookTube? (Not asking you to answer, obviously, just posing the questions rhetorically.
Sinead O’Connor is a great cover artist, but she can make everything sound sad. She has a killer cover of Elton John’s “Sacrifice” and it’s so different from the original version.
Oh thank you (NOT) for reminding me of that horrible Gilbert O’Sullivan song. Next up, maybe we can discuss Gordon Lightfoot, who had a major hit about a shipwreck; or how about ‘Cat’s in the Cradle’ by Harry Chapin? My theory is that disco was a reaction to all those depressing songs of the early ’70s. As for 1972–I got married that year, so it was a very good year for me. (still married–47 years come this May).
RITA awards–I don’t read enough romance anymore, to pay much attention to the individual nominees. However, even I can recognize an out-of kilter list. I used to be a judge for a regional RWA award. I gave it up, after participating for many years, because very few of the books they sent me to rate were even adequately written.
Well, the sun is shining and it’s supposed to hit 62F, so I’m headed outside now. The cherry trees are starting to bloom as is the forsythia; my jonquils are up. Come on, April!
Hey, if I have to suffer, why should I suffer alone, right? It’s kind of amazing, though, how many downer songs we listened to. I think you’re right about the reaction. Singer-songwriters have always had a melancholy streak, but it seemed excessive even by those standards.
And congratulations on 47! That is awesome. TheHusband and I married late (we’ve known each other since my senior year of college), so we’re well behind that, but we’re still creeping up on 20. Eek.
Spring cannot come to soon. It really can’t. This winter. Although I’ve enjoyed my California time. I’m having flashbacks to my younger days, when rain was the normal winter condition.
Interesting point about silos on the internet. This year’s RITA finalists really brings that home – I read a lot of romance last year but I don’t think I read ANY of the finalists. It’s not really surprising because I’ve been reading less and less straight romance – queer romance is just so much more satisfying to me right now, even the crappy ones. I did see a couple m/m romances on the list but none that I’ve read.
This is off topic, but are you going to the Avon KissCon weekend thing in Chicago in April? I’m considering going on Saturday – they have a really diverse list of authors including a couple that I genuinely consider favorite authors (Alyssa Cole and Cat Sebastian) plus Beverly Jenkins and Eloisa James. I have until the end of the week to make up my mind and register.
Argh, my spam blocker is acting overtime. And I’m too obscure to get real spam. Maybe I’ll turn it off for a while.
I’ve never read many of the RITA finalists. When I was much more active in Romanceland I paid attention to the finalists and most of them were unknown to me. I read and reviewed a few and they were fine, but they didn’t seem markedly better or different than the books I did know.
I’m not going to KissCon but it does sound fun and it’s a great lineup. I’ve been traveling a lot this winter and I’m not even going to my usual April conference. Go for it!
You’ve probably seen this already, but the RWA board has decided to change the RITA judging process:
Thanks for the link, Janine, I hadn’t seen that. For some reason your comment got caught in my spam blocker but I just found it.
I wish them the best of luck. I know HelenKay and the Board are determined to address these issues directly and comprehensively. It’s hard to have a judging process when there are so many books published in the genre and they are split between self-pub and trad pub. A committee seems like a better idea than the current system (which is unlike any other award process I know about), but I’m having trouble figuring out how the nomination/submission process will work. Not that that’s a reason to stick with the status quo, just that it’s a Herculean job.
[…] Linkity from ReaderWriterville. […]
I’m so pleased that you are back blogging on a regular basis Sunita — even though I’ve always been more of lurker than commenter I’ve always enjoyed your posts and reviews.
I’ve been following the Rita debacle on Twitter — and one of things I realized is that although I’ve been reading romances since the 70s and have checked out RITA finalist list every year, I’ve never found it really helpful for finding books the way the other award lists can be (Hugo, Nebula, Edgar, Booker, Governor General’s, etc.). Most of the not-known-to-me finalists that I have tried have turned out to be not that interesting. And I’ve often been puzzled why some of the books have made the list rather than the ones I liked.
From what I can see from the outside I think that the one of the reasons so many people were shocked and disappointed this year was exactly because the board (or at least the majority of the board) has for the past few years been taking the lack of diversity seriously and trying to figure out a way to fix the problem. Sadly the results showed rather spectacularly that as much as many board members would like change, there are a large number of members who don’t see a problem.
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Hi Kathryn, how lovely to see you!
I agree with you completely on both the RITAs and the RWA divide. Like you, I’ve rarely found much new to read from the RITA lists; I tried a few times to read the winners to see what I was missing and came away without much new. I’m happy when authors I read win, e.g. Susanna Kearsley, Sarah Morgan, Fiona Lowe, but that’s the main effect for me.
And you’re right on point about the way the Board and the rank and file diverge on diversity issues (perhaps more than just that, but that’s the most apparently to me as an outsider). I get the impression that while the Board works really hard and does make changes that matter, a lot of the power resides with the rank and file. They can’t be moved easily, and they are resistant to change. They love their chapters and probably other things so they are attached to the organization, but they don’t feel the need to follow the Board when they disagree with its policies.