ReaderWriterLinks: TGIF edition

by Sunita

It’s almost the end of the week, I was about to say the end of the workweek but so many people have jobs that span all seven days now. Anyway, so much stuff popped up in my surfing forays, RSS feeds, etc. that I have an abundance, so here’s a batch to get us started.

If you’re on Twitter you’ve probably already seen this first one, and I posted it on GR, but it’s worth posting over and over because it’s so good and so different from the tee-hee-romance-genre stories we tend to get.

The Guardian published longread on the state of diversity in the romance genre (just ignore the 50-shades headline, Guardian headline writers are the worst sometimes). The reporter talked to a lot of people and I appreciate that she went and talked to writers in state chapters, rather than just doing the usual email and phone interviews of the names we all see over and over again in stories about the industry. There are lots of fascinating and depressing nuggets of information, including this eye-opening one about Harlequin’s treatment of a Suzanne Brockmann novel:

Marketing black love stories to black women was one thing, but publishers remained sceptical about the idea that white readers would read those same stories. In the late 1990s, Suzanne Brockmann, a white author writing a sequence of Harlequin romances about sexy Navy Seals, decided that she wanted to make a black character the hero of her next book. It was, she admits now, something of a “white saviour” move. Brockmann’s thinking, she told me, was that Harlequin simply didn’t realise the commercial opportunity it was missing by not printing more black romances.

Harlequin published Brockmann’s book in 1998, but she was shocked by the way the company dealt with its publication. She recalled her publisher saying: “You will make half the money because we will print half the copies. We cannot send it to our subscription list.” It was the same argument Harlequin had made 14 years earlier: “We’ll get angry letters.” It wasn’t just black characters that Harlequin rejected, according to Brockmann. She said she was also told they would not publish a novel with an Asian American as the central character. (Brockmann later moved on to another publisher.)

And this paragraph made my stomach clench:

Kianna Alexander lives in a modest home south of Raleigh, North Carolina. Across the street, her neighbours have a set of Confederate flags on display, and when she walks around her rural neighborhood, Alexander tries to remember always to bring her ID, to prove, if anyone questions her, that she actually lives there.

In the year of our Lord 2019 a black family can live alongside white families, but they will be unable to avoid looking at a Confederate flag, even while on their own property. Presumably it’s to remind them not to get comfortable and to remember they are being “allowed” to live there.

I’m frequently disenchanted with the Guardian Books section these days, but this is a well-researched, empathetic piece which covers a lot of important ground. The author, Lois Beckett, is a senior reporter in the Guardian’s US bureau and covers “regular” subjects. She spent over a year on the story and approached it as she would any other cultural feature story.

I don’t check in on the New York Review of Books blog often enough, so this is from a couple of weeks ago, but it is fantastic. Mira Jacob writes and draws about colorism, being a South Asian immigrant in the US, and various kinds of relationships in a new graphic novel, which the NYRB has excerpted in a post.

Colorism is absolutely a thing in non-white countries. All of us who are from or living in them know it, but we don’t talk about it a lot outside. It’s a don’t-talk-about-it-with-the-firangi thing (or gora not firangi depending on your native tongue and colloquialisms). I’ll never forget my grandmother’s comment about one of my extremely cool, extremely smart, wonderful cousins when she married: “she’s lucky to get him, given how dark she is.” The husband-to-be in question was fair, needless to say. I’m happy to report he knows what a great partner he has, at 40+ years and counting.

In Sunday’s Weeknote 1 post we got to talking about podcasts in the comments, so I’ll close with a couple of recommendations from the BBC’s vast lineup. Podcasts are everywhere now and producers and investors are all excited about monetizing them (good luck with that). I listened to podcasts back in the early iPod era but then stopped until very recently. These are links to the main sites because I download directly, but subscriptions are available at the usual places for you normal smartphone-using people. My favorites at the moment that aren’t sports-related:

Brexitcast. Just what it says on the tin. I don’t listen to politics podcasts as a rule, but Brexit is confusing even though I know a fair bit about Parliament’s workings and have been following Brexit developments since before the 2016 election. This podcast has new episodes most weekdays, they last less than half an hour, and the hosts do a wonderful job of providing clarity and insight into the UK’s unending nightmare.

World Book Club. This is a monthly BBC World Service program featuring interviews and Q&A with famous authors. I listen to the World Service a lot but had somehow missed this until we were driving cross-country and happened on the one with Lee Child. It is wonderful. All the past episodes are archived so you can scroll and find authors of particular interest or just subscribe.