Representation in fiction was a big theme for me this week. At Book Riot, I published a post on US and UK covers. One of them is the cover for JR Ward’s The Shadows. The US cover model could be any race, as he is, appropriately enough I guess, in shadow, with his back to the reader. The UK cover model is clearly black. I wonder why the UK cover makes it visually obvious that the protagonist is not white, while the US cover doesn’t. Is one market more likely to be affected? Why? I always saw the UK and the US as very similar in terms of their racial problems. Maybe that’s wrong, at least in terms of what the UK reader is willing to buy. Either way, I thought the US cover was a missed chance for a best selling author to put her POC protag out in front. If there was ever an author whose book could survive the supposed hit on sales from a non-white cover model, it’s JW Ward. Of course, she herself has stated that her vampires are neither white nor black, because those are human racial categories and the vampires aren’t human.
I read Carolyn Crane’s Behind the Mask, book 4 of her RS Undercover Associates series, which has a half-Japanese heroine and a South American hero. First of all, I loved it just as much as the first three books. The series is generally very violent, the tone dark, with high emotional stakes. I’d almost say it’s like crack but the writing is too good to give it that label. Anyway, the heroine’s ethnicity was mentioned once but played no role in the book and the hero’s was much more significant to his character, the plot, the setting. I was thinking that I’m seeing more white authors write POC characters, and there’s a range in terms of how much it matters to the character and story.
Which led me to wondering, if as a reader I want to read “more diversely”, whether I should be trying to read POC authors rather than POC characters. Of course, in romance there’s a good number of POC authors who write white protagonists. There’s a good discussion of this on the Clear Eyes Full Shelves podcast #29 on diversity. (I enjoy this podcast. It hits the right balance of informal banter, inside bookternet baseball, and serious discussion, although the differences in volume of the different speakers can be hard to take).
I also happen to be reading an ARC of Clancy Martin’s Bad Sex, a loosely autobiographical litfic set in Central America about an affair. Someone at Book Riot person offered it up and I grabbed it because he’s a philosophy professor and I was intrigued. There isn’t much philosophy except for a pretty left field reference to Judith Jarvis Thomson’s famous violinist analogy to abortion. I’m finding it very readable and I like his voice. However, and this is a big problem, his first person protagonist is supposed to be a woman and I 100% do not buy it. For the first few pages I assumed Brett was a man and I keep having to force myself to think of her as a woman. I’m not sure this will communicate it, but here’s a typical passage I have trouble with:
Brett and her lover Eduard are at a bar and a woman who drums in the lounge band approaches him.
She ordered a Hendrick’s gin and tonic Slice of cucumber. She was younger than me.
“You guys can play,” Eduard said to her.
She was too skinny, and her skin was pocked and covered in heavy makeup. I wasn’t concerned.
“Thanks,” she said. “We’re playing at The Blue Note after this. Eleven o’clock session.”
Eduard looked at me. I looked at the drummer. I looked at her with his eyes, and I could see that she wasn’t too bad.
I’m not saying women don’t assess each other’s looks, or that a woman drummer wouldn’t approach a couple like that, but the way it’s written jars. The voice just feels masculine.
Of course, my conception of “what women are like” is narrow. It’s based mostly on what I’m like and who I know and the stuff I’ve internalized. I’m not sure it’s that much easier to judge whether a character whose gender and race I share is authentic. And that probably has a lot to do with the variety of experiences and outlooks people who even share a gender, race or ethnicity or class can have. I guess as a reader, while reading, it just comes down to whether it works. And in the non-reading time, trying to learn more than I currently know.
Speaking of POC authors, I have been listening to I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who was shot at age 15 by the Taliban for going to school. Of course, that description is so simplistic it’s nearly false. I’m learning a lot about who this young woman is and also how misleading “Pakistani” is in describing her, her family, her background, and her land. It’s narrated brilliantly by the British actor Archie Panjabi, who is on the TV show The Good Wife.
TV: Having a hard time with it. Finally swore off Game of Thrones. Poldark is a dud. Can’t get into Jonathan Strange. I did start watching Ray Donovan, and am enjoying it, but I wish I could find a nonviolent drama. Why can’t I have another Friday Night Lights with strong female characters of various ages, where a fist fight in a burger joint is the extent of the carnage?
It’s another gorgeous summer day here in Maine. A friend’s coming over for quiche in a few, and the Dean and her family for dinner tonight. I have to write a post for Book Riot relating to Go Set a Watchman by 5:00. And visit my Hospice friend, a Purple Heart decorated World War II vet who was stationed in the Pacific. He was on the USS Missouri when Japan signed its surrender with Gen MacArthur. His stories contain not one iota patriotism or glory. What he mostly remembers is how horrible war is for everyone engaged in it.
Not sure how much actual work will get done today. Summer Fridays.