Reading the Locus Recommended Reading List

Written by Natalie Luhrs

I'm a lifelong geek with a passion for books and social justice.
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February 20, 2018

It’s time to look at the Locus Recommended Reading List again! (2015, 2016)

High-level analysis: gender parity is improving while non-binary writers are still a significantly small proportion of the total; the total percentage of writers of color dropped 3% but is still better than it was in 2015, the first year of this analysis.

I’d also like to note that I’m using Tableau for the analysis this year–you can highlight aspects of the data right on this page or you can download the workbook–with its data–directly. I’m just starting to learn Tableau, so I am sure there are many interesting things that can be done with the tool than what I’ve done. (I also wanted to keep the metrics stable from year to year; at some point I’d love to add in regional data to see what non-U.S. representation is like.)

One other difference from previous years is that I dropped the analysis around repeat appearances on the list. About a third of the POC writers represented had their first appearance in this dataset; however one of this year’s newbies is Chip Delany, so make of that what you will.

Methodology

I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about the dataset–it’s essentially the same dataset I’ve been using for this work. I did combine race and gender categories as follows:

Gender

  • Female, Female/Male, Male/Female/Female = Female
  • Male, Male/Female, Unknown = Male
  • Non-Binary, Non-Binary/Female, Non-Binary/Male = Non-Binary

Race

  • POC, POC/White = POC
  • White, WhitePOC, Unknown = White

The “Unknown” totals are quite small in each category, so it made sense to include them in the largest group within each.

Apart from the change noted above, the overall methodology did not change and I want to reiterate that identity categories are quite difficult to quantify. I included binary trans people in the categories for male and female and I continued to default to U.S. definitions of race, which means that while many Jewish people do not identify as white, for the purposes of this analysis they are (and in the current political climate, I do not think it is appropriate to subdivide people on the basis of religion or ethnicity).

If you’d like to know how I quantified your identity or if you would like to make sure that I identified you correctly, please let me know via my contact form. I’m happy to let you know the quantification and make any necessary changes to the dataset.

Overall

Overall, the total number of works included on the list remains essentially the same as 2016. However, in terms of distribution across type of book, you can see that there are fewer short stories this year than in any other year. This may be due to Locus‘s decision to remove Greg Hullender from the jury after many members of the community pointed out the problems with Hullender’s reviews of short fiction with trans or non-binary characters or written by trans or non-binary people. Or it may not be–there are twice as many novellas on the list this year than there were last year and this year’s number is the largest of any year.

Gender

As you can see, just over 50% of the total works were written by women or non-binary writers. Women and non-binary writers dominate in many of the categories, particularly in the short fiction. Men have the majority in anthologies, non-fiction, art books, and horror and SF novels. I find this really interesting–non-binary and women writers have most of the short fiction and collections represented, but it’s men who are deciding which stories belong in anthologies, what subjects are worth writing about in non-fiction, and whose art should be celebrated.

Race

And this is where there needs to be more improvement–the number of works by POC dropped by 3% to a hair under 23% of the total. Totals by category either held stable or decreased with the outlier being, again, novellas. Across all 3 short fiction categories, the total number of works dropped from 49 to 40–nearly a 20% drop.

There are almost no works curated by POC, which carries forward the trend from previous years. So as with gender, you have the culturally dominant group curating most of the anthologies and art books and writing nearly all the non-fiction.

Conclusion

My conclusion is the same as it’s been every year: the overwhelming whiteness of the recommended reading list is a problem. We don’t have nearly enough women or POC editing anthologies and I’d also love to see more women and POC represented as curators in the art books category and as writers in non-fiction.

I’m glad that parity between men and women writers has been achieved, but that shouldn’t come at the expense of writers of color or non-binary writers.

Lists like these don’t only exist to assist people with filling up their bookshelves or e-readers. They’re also used when people are filling out nomination ballots for awards, librarians use them to recommend books to patrons, more mainstream publications mine them for listicles, and, in years to come, they may very well be used by readers to discover new writers. Lists like these are, in a weird way, our history–and our history is more diverse and more interesting than a bunch of white men.

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