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Author Topic: Regional preferences
rcmann
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Another thread brought this back to the front of my mind. For a while now I have been wondering whether there might be regional variations in the reading preferences of the population at large.

Or, let me re-phrase that. I'm confident that there are regional variations. What I ponder is how pronounced they are and how much they effect the marketability of a book or story.

A recent thread mentioned the New Yorker, as an example. It has its own standards of what it will accept and publish. But what are those standards based on? Would a similar periodical based in Atlanta publish the same types of articles? How about one in Houston?

I'm fairly confident that the reading habits of red state blue collar people like myself who live in small cities and towns is different than the reading habits of university professors in east coast megapolii. But different how?

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extrinsic
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One feature that a close reading of New Yorker fiction features revealed to me is they regularly reflect life and dramatic complications relevant to large metropolises, what political geographers label primate cities. Not cities inhabited by primates, more specific, primate as in primacy or primary. Primate cities are large human activity centers that dominate trade routes, are financial and cultural hubs, and communication and transportation infrastructure hubs, and dominate and depend on their surrounding hinterlands. New York City is the most dominant global primate city, second tier: Chicago, Toronto, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, Galveston, New Orleans, Wichita, Charlotte, and Miami, London, Belfast, Paris, Berlin, Buenas Aires, Mexico City, Cape Town, New Delhi, Cairo, Singapore, Sydney, Bejing, Tokyo, and Moscow.

Atlanta fancies itself the cultural hub of Southern art, which though an urban center, doesn't exclude hinterland culture as much as New York City. Southern literature hasn't played strongly in the New Yorker since Faulkner. Magaret Atwood, though, the Canadian grande dame of belles lettres, has enjoyed several short stories being published by the New Yorker.

Houston's cultural identity is a tossed salad and appreciably diverse and won't be defined when it comes to reading tastes.

University professors are no more willing to be defined by their reading habits and tastes than blue collar readers of any stripe. One distinction of note, English professors often read what their departments compel them to rather than what they want to.

Many more professors work in small cities and towns than work in metropolitan areas. A significant fraction work in rural colleges and community colleges. The U.S. has roughly 2500 universities and colleges. A minor fraction of U.S. universities are physically situated in major cities.

About the only meaningful difference I'm aware of in reading habits has to do with reading comprehension skills.

I don't know of a professor who doesn't have some appreciation for convention-based genre, though for many it's a private passion. I do know many blue collar folk who reported reading a story once and didn't like it. So they refused to read one again.

Professors, among people of other walks of life, enjoy stories with meat and vegetables and potatoes on the bones, meaning stories with accessible depths.

As far as regional preferences are concerned, a concept from folkloristics addresses that. Monogenesis and polygenesis relate to whether an Ur (legendary first civilization) origin is a discernible ancestor for a contemporary gossip, rumor, or legend motif. The undiscovered orphan prince has numerous origins from many cultures, hence a polygenesis. There aren't many monogeneses, if any. Maybe something like a turtle mocassin woman creation myth that is unique to one Native Nation village long ago and long since forgotten.

[ March 28, 2013, 03:01 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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There ought to be something somewhere--in an agent or editor blog if nowhere else?--on the demographics (which could be considered to be what you are asking about) of different regions and how they factor into what kinds of books are distributed to those regions.

I wonder what a google search on "book market distribution" or "book market demographics" would turn up.

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extrinsic
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I appreciate intents behind the questions. Regional idioms, for example, are expressions that are readily understood and common place in one region but may hold different meanings or be meaningless in another. Geocentricism is another example, one that speaks more to post facto bias than per se about a region's cultural uniqueness.

Coastal denizens believe their habitat is superior to another because it's what they know and are comfortable with. Mountain regions, foothills, valleys, piedmonts, plains, lake- or riversides, deserts, savanahs, atolls, islands, marshes, bayous, bays. Time, place, and situation have relative and absolute influence upon a milieu's culture. For creative writing, for example, hydraulic cultures are more comfortable existing on and near navigable waterways. A place informs its people's lifestyles and lifeways, diet, recreation, wants and problems, etc. But my mind boggles by how many waterpersons do not know how to swim. The cobbler's kin are rarely shod, I guess.

Does the U.S. northeastern culture have cultural features unique from other regions? Of course, though they are more diffused nowadays than they were before automotive technology came to be. The roots of the cultural identity are yet strong. Caucasian Anglo Saxon patriarchal Anglican and Puritan Protestantism was dominant up through the U.S. Revolution. After the war, Anglicanism subsided, Catholicism ascended, Puritanism retreated but found new expression in Evangelism movements within the many denominations of the region. That's just the region's religious culture. I won't go into the political or ethnic culture. Social culture, somewhat high brow sophisticated or believing it is so, but geocentric nonetheless.

How about Southern California's reputation for cultural eccentricity outside the region? What's behind that? A first principle perhaps? Maybe the licentious cultural attitude is created by the halcyon climate. Maybe due to the favorable climate's influence upon Hollywood filmmaking attracting culturally diverse eccentricities that are cumulative, in that one or two idiosyncracies from each culture group are adopted by the many. Disinhibition is common in a culture made up of tolerance for and adoption and adaptation of many eccentricities and idiosyncracies. Compared to mid Western ideologies favoring inhibitions. These are public culture considerations, how persons of diverse culture groups interact exoterically, not, per se, esoterically.

Esoteric culture groups transcend local regions when they share cultural identity status markers. Physical and social scientists interact globally and in a shared language community that marks them as participants in their scientific culture. The same is valid for professors, IT professionals, technocrats, and so on ad infinitum, who speak the respective dialects of their specialties, discourse communities. Having common interests generates a common language and both generate an esoteric culture group. For example, despite international boundary restrictions, scientists across the globe, without regard to country of origin or native language, corresponded during the Cold War.

A person who participates in one culture group may have standing in other culture groups. Actually, many culture groups, since they have other groups which they belong to, like family, church, civic organizations, recreational organizations, say, bowling leagues, book clubs, writing workshops, and informal groups like parkland, shopping center, restaurant, bar, and coffee house socializing sites, again, and so on, ad infinitum.

I've been around, to say the least. Bracketing the four corners and all points in between of the continental U.S. and been abroad for extended periods and within many walks of life. I don't see major distinctions in the human condition. I see differences of expression, identity, and cultural membership based on setting and regional beliefs, ideology, and idiosyncracy.

Actually, one reason, I believe, that I'm often mistaken and misunderstood is because I'm worldy. Misperceptions about me being like the local population in terms of values and ideals leads to misunderstandings and contentions or worse when that turns out not to be valid. Tel est la vie, such is life.

I'm from a modest blue collar background. One grandfather built tunnels and bridges, the other built homes and communities and farmed and cowboyed. Both grandmothers were homemakers and matriarchs and steeped in women's cultural expression. Dad made and maintained heavy metal of the go-boom kind. Mom, also a homemaker steeped in women's cultural expression, was also a healthcare and clerical worker and at one time an exotic dancer. Dad and Mom both had some college later in life. Me, I have several college degrees but have balled a jackhammer for extended periods, done construction trades in general, hospitality trades, publishing trades. I am a rolling stone not so easily categorized as belonging to any particular culture group, except one I encounter occasionally in the shadowed betweens of the mainstream. We are the long-ranging traders of old in a new guise of mobility. We are karmic cultural chameleons.

[ March 28, 2013, 03:08 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Robert Nowall
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I can't say, offhand...though I gather the Southern Cal / LaLaLand culture that infests Hollywood doesn't particularly appeal to the Hinterlands when it shows up in movies.

The only thing I ever read about early SF demographics involved John W. Campbell keeping a map of Astounding subscriptions sometime during World War II---where the biggest concentrations of subscriptions lay where the Manhattan Project was even then being conducted.

I suppose later generations would like to know where their SF / fantasy is being sold---why it sells (or doesn't sell) might be beyond our skills to determine---but I don't know how they conduct their demographic research.

(There are certainly regional writers---writers whose work is strongly shaped and influenced by the region they work in---but I don't know how well this kind of writing sells, even in the region in question. (Down here in Florida, the booksellers usually have a bunch of "regional" books, non-fiction and fiction, often in a separate section. I've seen it elsewhere in the USA, too.))

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redux
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A good resource is Pew Internet. I'm linking to an article I found informative.

http://libraries.pewinternet.org/2012/12/20/reading-habits-in-different-communities/


These seem to be generalized findings and I have yet to locate statistics on reading preferences by genre.

Edited:

Another link - http://www.bowker.com/en-US/aboutus/press_room/2012/pr_08142012.shtml

[ March 28, 2013, 12:13 PM: Message edited by: redux ]

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Robert Nowall
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There used to be a list of cities that consumed the most of certain products---what city ate the most Pringles, used the most Lysol, sprayed the most Raid, etcetera, etcetera. There migh be someting around for books and book titles...
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rcmann
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I can well imagine that it's difficult to pin down in today's world, with so much happening via internet sales. Especially with mobility in the US being what it is.

What brought this to mind is the fact that I have lived north and south, city, town, and country. Each place seems to have different selections on the paperback and magazine racks. When I visited family in upstate NY, or Seattle, I noticed the same thing. There were some similarities of course. But I saw a definite change in the emphasis.

Some of it was a no brainer. Like the preponderance of hunting magazines on the rack in deer country. But I noticed a higher percentage of women oriented paperbacks, ala Twilight and the Patricia Briggs Werewolf books, in stores in the midwest compared to the coastal areas. This might be coincidence, due to the stores I happened to wander into. But it got me curious.

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Grumpy old guy
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Let's not forget that a large proportion of a writer's readers my not live in the writer's country of origin. With the explosion of e-books and self publishing, that will soon mean the majority won't live in the writer's native land.

So, it behooves the modern writer to take notice of this fact in their word choices and settings. Colloquialisms and region-specific language should be avoided if possible, unless the writer can either 'explain' the meaning or the expression is known to be commonplace. The same goes for the locale you set your story in; you may think everyone *kmows* where the Catskills are--but you'd be wrong.

Phil.

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rcmann
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A valid point, which brings in the subject of character jargon and accents. What happens if you are writing a character and they use a regional colloquialism? Many of them are self-evident, but by no means all.
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Grumpy old guy
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I think it was Sol Stein who said that, when writing dialogue, don't try and physically add an accent to what you write on the page. You can write it to indicate social standing, like the misuse of words non-native English speakers make or those with a poor education.

Also, 'sayings' such as: "As nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs." is self explanatory. However, if I were to put in dialogue like this: "Watch it, or I'll smash you in the dial!" you may have a hard time working out that it actually means, hit you in the face. Btw, it's Australian slang from the before the 70's. Most modern Aussies wouldn't know what it means either.

Phil.

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Robert Nowall
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Well, as far as colloquialisms go...the Brooklyn Dodgers fans seemed to appreaciate Red Barber dropping such bon mots as "sittin' in the catbird seat," "tearin' up the pea patch," "walkin' in the tall cotton," or calling a fight a "rhubarb"---none of which could have been that familiar to Brooklynites...
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extrinsic
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Marking dialect with punctuation marks, apostrophes indicating unconventional Standard Written English contractions particularly, has passed out of fashion, except for timely and judicious use of I-N-G words contracted to I-N-', and a few words with idiomatic recognition in dictionaries like gotcha for got you. The fashion nowadays—also an idiomatic term and anyways—is for rhetorical forms of grammatical vices that transcend their "errors" and become virtues by stint of expressing idiosyncratic dialects. Particular rhetorical substitution and omission schemes serve instead.

The nature of most idiosyncratic dialects in actuality are abuses of language that express regional flavors. For example, English second language immigrant speakers who disregard number agreement, article parts of speech confusion, use no contractions because their native languages lack them, and often hyperbaton, which inverts syntactical order conventions. Another is improper pronoun usage, naming a person an it or referencing a person as that or this.

Another is genuine regional colloquialisms of English, where or when—idioms, for example, which in proper and formal grammar should be for which—a quirk of language common to a region idiomatically substitutes similar-sounding words for or omits conventional words in conventional idioms.

"I left [let] the silly goose off at her home." "The two hoodlums were one in [and] the same." "You hadn't of [have] brought all that out [of—elision idiom (omitted word)] the house." "She and them [Her and them or She and the others] didn't—subjects and verb number disagreement—come over to the monkey bars no more [anymore]." "My baby daddy done [don't] come about the house." [My baby's father doesn't come over to the house.]

Each example above marks a folk speech common to a region and, note, more importantly, marks the speaker's esoteric identification with a regional culture group. Each also illustrates how grammatical vices artfully express regional and culture group identity virtues. Not least of which, they demonstrate how unconventional grammar lends regional flavor to discourse that is accessibly understandable outside their regions of use. Further, they demonstrate current fashions of regional colloquialisms that satisfy the first law of expression; that is, they facilitate for readers reading and comprehension ease. Whether they are also appealing is matters of timeliness, judiciousness, and context and reader sensibilities. Sparing usage gives readers a language flavor they may enjoy for its exotic, if unconventional, quality.

[ March 29, 2013, 05:39 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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MattLeo
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Well, this thread has gone a bit off-topic, but I'd say the cardinal rule is to write clearly; don't make the reader work harder than usual to get through the MS unless you have a very good reason. That's one of the principle reasons that "eye dialect" has always been questionable style. Eye dialect takes the finely-tuned reading machine that habitual readers have in their head and throws sand into the gears. Another reason is that the writers nearly always get the regional pronunciations and grammar wrong. Plus it is often seen as condescending or predjudiced.

If you're going to use eye dialect, use it sparingly and use it very carefully; research the grammar and accent of the people you are portraying, or if it's a fictional people/race, work it out logically. Strong readers have an ear for language and can tell when something's not quite consistent, even if they can't explain it.

I've used eye dialect for satirical effect. Historically there was no such thing as a "western" accent in the US, but Hollywood a "western" character is apt to speak a kind of mishmash of Arkansas, North Texas and Oklahoma dialects. So I gave one character a Hollywood "cow girl" accent (“Tarnation! If you're so all-fired het up, why don't you do the hon'rable thing and propose, 'stead of slobberin' all over me like a cow on a salt lick!”) with the running gag that people around her can't make out what she's saying. Of course when she says something like "I don't know the feller from Adam's off ox," in context the gist of her meaning is apparent to the reader, who can then enjoy the mystification of the other characters. It's a way of rewarding the reader for the extra effort that eye dialect demands.

As for different regional literary *tastes*, I'd guess the variation between regions, if any, is bound to be swamped by the diversity of people *within* any given region. I've worked all over the US, and there are people of every stripe in every corner of the country; literary book groups in Dallas and cowboy re-enactors in New England.

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Reziac
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Well, my two observed cents about regional reading tastes, based on usedbook store fodder in those states where I've done the rounds:

In MT/ID/WY/CO, SF/F is a major set of shelves in the used market, sometimes the largest in the store.

In CA, it's minor to nonexistent.

And I say this as the sort of reading addict who cruises the usedbook stores in every town I pass through (well, when I'm not towing or driving the dually, either being tough to park). And it hasn't changed much in going-on 40 years.

You'd think it'd be the other way round, since there's a great deal more "SF culture" in CA.

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Grumpy old guy
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Reziac, perhaps they hold on to their SF books in CA.

Phil.

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rcmann
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Or perhaps they don't read as much. I seem to recall reading that Montana is the state that has the highest literacy and reading rate in the nation. Wild guess, they spend a lot of time sitting by the fireplace all winter.
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Reziac
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Yes, I was going to come back and add that thought -- CA is just not a reading culture. Bookstores are uncommon and usedbook stores are rare. Conversely they're all over the midwest. Everyone has books in their house. And I do think it reflects the average literacy rate.

But even allowing for all that, there's some skew in the visible tastes.

BTW in my observation the "sitting by the fireplace all winter" thing is kind of a myth... fact is, you wind up doing less of that than usual, because it takes longer to do your outdoor work when you have to fight the weather. Even if it's just shoveling your city sidewalk. And in farm country you have to do more caretaking of livestock and splitting of firewood and such.

[And then there was the winter I had to drive to Wyoming and dig my own coal... well, pick it up off the side of the road down to the mine...]

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MattLeo
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I dunno about CA not having a reading culture. For example check out LA or Sacramento. Seems like a healthy number of bookstores in the age of Amazon and B&N online.

I think you have to be careful about generalizing from impressions like the number of used SF books you see in a bookstore. That probably tells you more about the affluence of SF readers in that area (e.g. in Silicon Valley an SF reader is more likely to have loads of disposable income than an SF reader in Helena, because it's a center of employment for tech-minded people).

This is not to say there aren't hotspots of reading, like where I live there's dozens of specialty bookstores (poetry, science fiction, art, Marxist, foreign, etc.) So I suppose there's dead spots for reading too.

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LDWriter2
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We have a few book stores where I live in Mid Ca. A couple of used bookstores too even if a couple of the used ones closed. One was having problems because their costumers switched to the internet to find books. I started buying new books instend of used because people were holding onto their books a lot longer. It went from six months to two plus years for them to start selling their books.

There was a very large used bookstore--maybe still is--on the coast for years. Somewhere around San Francisco.

Of course with this current economy-worse in CA than most places-people may not have as much disposable income. On top of that E-books are taking off, certain places in CA are very up on new tech and if you wait a while the E-books are cheaper than new hardbacks.

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rcmann
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The city I live in has a dearth of bookstores, new or used. But it has one of the highest library usage rates in the US. Dying rust belt town, minimal disposable income.

I have lived in farm country in the northern midwest, so I know about chores in bad weather. We heated with wood too. But you once the work was done you were pretty well stuck a lot of the time, simply because the roads were closed. Or because it was just too doggone cold to go out on weekends and have a picnic, or go fishing, or anything else that involved getting bundled up and wading snow to your ribcage in order to shovel out the truck. So we did a lot of reading.

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Robert Nowall
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When I was dragged against my will to Florida, life was made somewhat easier by the presence of several used bookstores, nearly all paperback---"after you've read it, swap it for credit." There was nothing like it in the area of New York State I came from---I used to wonder if there was an ordinance against it, but when I vacationed there years later a few had popped up.

Later in life, as prosperity hit me, the big chain bookstores opened branches down here. Right now I frequent the Barnes & Noble and two Books-a-Millions...and, having moved on somewhat in reading matter, the swap shops lost their allure, though I occasionally drop in and pick out a few titles.

(A couple of weeks ago I was in two different used bookstores, somewhat different in character than the ones I used to visit---I was somewhat amused, but only somewhat, that neither filed their books in alphabetical-by-writer order.)

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MattLeo
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One specialty bookstore near me I can't quite get my brain around is one that focuses on equine and architecture books. I guess the only common denominator is that here in New England keeping horses isn't a middle class thing like it is out west.
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