The Los Angeles Review of Books is most diverse, with 12.9 percent of their review coverage going to books written by writers of color. Bookforum brings in the rear at 8.7 percent and NPR and The New York Review of Books are tied, with 10.7 percent of their coverage going to books written by writers of color. In the selection of 2012 reviews I looked at from the LARB, only one book written by a black woman received coverage. It was the Highlander of reviews. There can be only one.
These numbers suggest, quite plainly, that the people shaping the literary conversation are not reading diversely. If they are reading diversely, it’s a well-kept secret. Editors are not expanding their editorial missions. They are explicitly and directly responsible for the narrowness and whiteness of the literary conversation. They are responsible for the misguided notion that there simply aren’t that many writers of color or books written by writers of color. Of course people make that assumption. There’s no evidence to the contrary in most mainstream publications.
This kind of analysis, recently dismissed as “bean counting,” is vital not just for the underlying concept: we should do a better job, it should also be seen as excellent news for people who love books! LOOK HOW MANY MORE BOOKS YOU COULD BE LEARNING ABOUT that no one has bothered to review.
On a sidenote, one of the biggest books in recent memory here in Canada (yes, I’m back for two weeks, sorry, get ready for a lot of blah-blah-blah Canada) was Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes, which is the kind of sprawling work of brilliantly-done historical fiction that usually eats up the charts and the award lists. Literally everyone in Canada read it and talked about it, not because we’re so great about race here (we’re not, maybe we’re a little better) but because we’re relentlessly positive about all things written by Canadians, and it never got that kind of traction in the United States (despite, to be fair, getting a small review in the New York Times.
Of course, you might not recognize the book in that review, because, as Hill will tell you, they made him change the title for the American release.
Nicole is an Editor of The Toast.