Mai Yamani

Because Statistics Are Sexier Than Fabio: An Inquiry into the Causes of Visible Spine Breakage

You all know the cliché of the trashy paperback romance novels that fall open to the well-thumbed sex scenes, but is it really true? Or does it contain approximately as much realism as the trashy paperback romance novels themselves?

Hypothesis: Sex scenes are not the leading cause of broken spines in trashy paperback romance novels.


Today I examined a large quantity of paperback romance novels, with copyright dates ranging from the 1970s to the 2000s, all of which were donated used to the local public library and then circulated in their own section specifically apportioned to donated paperback romance novels, which may be then removed from the library with no due date or in fact obligation to return them at all. I removed each novel from the shelf, flipped through it, and either returned it to the shelf or placed it on a cart to be disposed of.

Beginning among the books by authors with last names beginning with H,1 each book was particularly examined for Visible Spine Breakage, or VSB. In each instance of VSB, the noteworthy contents of the page(s) to which the book fell open were marked on my official tally sheet.2


A sample of 158 books with instances of VSB was obtained. The causes of VSB in these books were distributed as follows:

Fig. 1

Chits:3 40 (25%)
Sex scenes: 29 (18%)
Kisses: 10 (6%)
Contracting of sexual slavery: 4 (3%)
Proposals: 2 (1%)
Marriages: 1 (less than 1%)
Erotic dreams: 1 (less than 1%)
Births: 1 (less than 1%)
Bible verses: 1 (less than 1%)
Gay pride parades and the Southern Baptist Convention:4 1 (less than 1%)
Other: 43%

Sex scenes, although charitably interpreted to include scenes which merely implied sex in a "fade to black scenario", accounted for a mere 18% of VSB, coming well behind chits, those obnoxious cards found in the middle of many trashy paperback romance novels, which caused an impressive quarter of incidents of VSB, both when still present in the novel and when a reader of the novel had previously attempted to remove them.

Other romantic scenarios, including kisses, proposals, marriages and erotic dreams, together account for another 8% of VSB incidents. In four incidents, scenes of sexual slavery, where the heroine is presented for sexual appraisal, caused VSB where the sex scenes that presumably followed did not. Other elements, such as births, Bible verses, gay pride parades, and the Southern Baptist Convention, were notable as causes of VSB only in their complete unexpectedness.

However, a plurality of incidents of VSB appeared to have no discernible cause and were simply marked as "Other". Possible causes of VSB in these cases include laying books aside, face-down, other mishandling, and shoddy production of the books themselves.

Possible flaws in methodology:
  1. The selection process, involving donation of unwanted books, and then these books remaining on the shelf in order for them to be present for me to examine them at this time, would tend not to present a fully representative sample of trashy paperback romance novels.
  2. The researcher did not read a single one of the books used in the study, although she did examine a certain quantity of pages after each incident of VSB in order to determine whether, often against all odds, these characters were in fact commencing a sex scene.
  3. Nearly all of the research materials have now been destroyed, owing to their present location inside a dumpster in the rain.

Conclusion: Although trashy paperback romance novels are also free and easily obtained, it is much easier to find sex scenes on the internet, for which I must thank you all.

A side note: In my perusal of the aforementioned chits, I noticed that many of them contained offers of free books, usually in addition to mystery gifts. From the chits present in my sample, one could have obtained 110 free books, an amount nearly equal to the number of books in the VSB sample, and 49 mystery gifts. In instances where the possibility was offered of scratching off an area with coin or a fingernail and then comparing it to a chart of possible free items, the maximum number of free items was obtained in 100% of instances.

Fig. 2

1Because this is when my hypothesis occurred to me.
2A USPS notice of failed delivery that I found in one of the books.
3Those obnoxious cards found in the middle of many trashy paperback romance novels.
4In the scene to which this novel opened, the heroine's friend was informing the heroine that the hero, whom the heroine had her eye on, had been attending gay pride parades to meet up with gay men. When the heroine expressed ignorance and dismay, her friend told her that she would have already known this if she had been attending the Southern Baptist Convention meetings, where it was being spoken of.
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Can I just say this is AWESOME? Also, I must know---was the hero of footnote 4 (a) bi, (b) straight but not narrow, or (c) it was all a malicious lie?
Why, of course you can. ;)

And I skimmed pretty heavily, but it seemed to be (c) all a malicious lie. And it was older than I am -- published in 1983, IIRC. Very odd.
*bursts out laughing*

*adores all statistics and pie charts*

*loves categories chosen for analysis*

here by way of friendsfriendsfriends list :-) so glad I came and saw.
Oh, and I just noticed what you are called! Mayhap (adv.)! I am called Lobelia the adverbial and am fighting the losing battle for the glorious adverb which all too often is shamefully reviled. 'Cut the adverbs', they say. Humph.
The poor adverbs are always getting such a bad rap! The line argument seems to go, "Bad writing uses adverbs badly, so let's cut out all the adverbs!" Which is, of course, ludicrous. Why not "Bad writing uses adverbs badly, so let's not write badly!"?

*signs up for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Adverbs*
Exactly! Totally! Completely! Adverbially!

The SPCA: I like it. Emphatically.

Also, what about all those adverbs that do not end in -ly? *drools*
How funny!! It took me a moment... I thought you meant HUMAN spine breakage at first... I was like, "WTF?!?!"
You know, I hope there aren't a lot of people breaking their backs from romance novels! But then, of course, there are those studies that show that a preposterous number of Americans injure themselves every year in incidents involving teapots, or some other patently harmless object, so maybe they do ...
I thought so too! I thought it referred to characters in the novel breaking their spines from ambitious but ill-advised sexual positions, which happens (apparently) less often than you'd think!

mayhap? You are the BEST EVER and win at LIFE. *loves*
I can just see all the covers! With the character(s) in wheelchairs and/or full body casts, and cheesy titles like Unbreakable Love and Wheel Me Down the Aisle!
*facepalms* If LJ would let me make the subject longer, perhaps I could be more clear!

Apply for grants.

Proposed uses for grant money:

Shiny research lab filled with guinea pigs subjects, all reading romance novels under carefully controlled conditions.

1) The "free items" pie chart is the best.
2) When I see "VSB," I think "Victoria's Secret Boobies." Which would be a great reason to read trashy romance novels, IMO.
Yes, my research was very suspenseful. "Gee, I wonder if I won this time! Oh look, I have!"

Actually there was one book where you had to follow at least five steps which I didn't fully comprehend in order to determine whether you had won a chance to win a vacation in Hawaii, but that was a complete anomaly and it didn't involve actual free items, anyway.

I keep thinking of some kind of twisted version of Vacation Bible School. Complete with Secret Boobies!
i may be a scientist, but this beats reading about the cure for cancer ANY day! you win! =)
Would you care to speculate on why people did not attempt to obtain the free items in the books? And did you happen to notice how often if ever sex scenes were occurring on the pages surrounding the chit?
I feel so much better that I wasn't the only one confused by "spine breakage."
Oh, because it's a total scam. They send you your crappy free books and your crappy mystery gift, and then unless you manage to convince them of the sincerity of your desire to cancel, they carry on sending you books and start billing you for them.

Within my sample, there were no sex scenes occurring within proximity of the chit. I tentatively attribute this to pacing that tends not to place sex scenes in the dead center of the book.