Here at the library we like to keep a close eye on the publishing industry. We like to be informed of any upcoming “big ticket titles”, the newest Reese Witherspoon book club pick, the most recent big purchase by film or television studios. For the most part, it’s pretty smooth sailing. But lately it seems like every month or so the publishing world becomes embroiled in another scandal. Even ignoring the ridiculous high school drama that breeds on Book Twitter, there’s a surprising amount of self-inflicted drama from the big publishing houses that should be easily avoidable. So what’s the problem? Well, to put it bluntly: the industry—like so many others in the West—has a problem handling race.
My colleague Karen wrote a brilliant piece in 2018 about the troubling statistics of race in the romance publishing industry, and two years later it looks like not much has changed. This particular segment of the industry has descended lately into full-on scandal with the whole Romance Writers of America drama that erupted over Christmas in 2019. It’s far too long and convoluted to get into here (if you want the whole scoop, enjoy Pajiba’s cohesive summary), but I’ll give a rundown of the basics. In August of 2019, Courtney Milan (a Chinese American romance author) called out Glenfinnan Publishing for employing a woman named Sue Grimshaw (whose support for Trump, ICE, and history of racism can be traced through her Twitter likes). Soon after, Milan discovered that one of Glenfinnan’s editors Kathryn Lynn Davis had some questionable content in her past, and called out Davis’s 1999 work Somewhere Lies the Moon as racist against Chinese people. Now, I don’t know how helpful it is to be calling out works from 20 years ago (there are a whole host of things from the 90s that would be unacceptable today—that’s how progress works), but the fact is Milan is not wrong and can frankly discuss whatever she wants on her own Twitter. What followed was a deranged, out-of-proportion response from the white members of the Romance Writers of America, an organization to which Milan belonged.
In the Harry Potter universe, a sense of cold, creeping dread announces the arrival of Dementors, foul creatures of darkness who sweep away happiness and deal in despair. “Get too near a Dementor,” Professor Lupin tells Harry in The Prisoner of Azkaban, “and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you.” Dementors might be real, dangerous monsters for our wizard hero, but for author JK Rowling, Dementors are an avatar for depression. While writing the beloved series, Rowling was suffering from a bout of depression herself, which she described as “that absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again. The absence of hope. That very deadened feeling, which is so very different from feeling sad.” This, incidentally, is almost exactly how Lupin describes Dementors to Harry.
Unfortunately for us Muggles living in a boring, non-magical world, things like depression don’t exist in a solid form. We can’t shout “expecto patronum!” at mental illness and chase it away with a helpful Patronus. But there are some steps we can take to combat it, such as the simplest, most obvious, but often most difficult starting point: talking about it. When Harry faints upon his first encounter with a Dementor, he is filled with shame. Nobody else is fainting, so why is he? It isn’t until Professor Lupin opens the door to a conversation that Harry learns why he is so affected by the creatures, and how to fight them off. Today is Bell Let’s Talk Day, a day dedicated to breaking the silence on mental illness through conversation on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, and text messaging with the hashtag #BellLetsTalk.
One of the most popular New Year‘s Resolutions we hear around the library is “I want to read more”. And yet, like any good New Year‘s Resolution, many of us find it impossible to stick to by the third week of January. Adult life is hectic, and those small moments of peace in a day can become another source of stress when you feel the need to maximize your enjoyment of them. Say you’ve got a couple of hours to yourself one day. How should you spend it? Well, you could crack into that book that you keep renewing. Or you could catch up on your favourite show on Netflix, or watch that movie everyone’s been talking about. Or you could throw out entertainment altogether and run some personal errands, or maybe meal prep for the week. And now, no matter which option you pick, you’ll be missing out on something. See? Stressful!
One of the ways people work around this battle for productivity is to set themselves a reading challenge. If you’ve never heard of one, they come in a few forms. The most well-known—and possibly the one that popularized the very concept—is the Goodreads Reading Challenge, which asks users to set themselves a target number of books they’d like to read. The 2020 challenge is currently sitting at an average pledge of 44 books read in a year, working out to about 3 and a half books a month. I think most busy adults would balk at this number, but keep in mind that this average is being thrown off by ambitious teens. A more sensible number like 20 books a year, or 12 books a year, or even 5 books a year is just as valid to Goodreads! The great thing about this challenge is that it is super easy to keep track of; Goodreads allows you to catalogue your “Read” and “Want to Read” shelves, as well as offering an endless number of personalized shelves. In short, it’s fun. It is, however, public.
For the even more ambitious, the internet is full of reading challenges that present in the form of monthly guided lists or bingo cards, with challenges like “read a book by a woman of colour” and “read a book more than 100 years old”. These are more personal challenges, in that nobody is necessarily watching you work your way through them. They can be quite helpful if you’re stuck for something to read and need quick inspiration. But sticking to them religiously can be stifling.