Candy’s Note: Edited a couple of things for clarity. Bad blogger! No cookie!
Robin mentioned that one of my favorite authors, Barbara Samuel, posted an entry on Romancing the Blog about why readers should care about the RITAs. One of the reasons given is that “the RITA is the Oscar or Pulitzer Prize of romances novels.”
My immediate reaction was “HAHAHAHAHAHAHA,” closely followed by “What. The. Fuck.”
I don’t take the RITAs seriously. In fact, I don’t take ANY of the romance awards seriously. While the RWA has awarded the RITA to some books that were actually good, those works are few and far between. Of the books I’ve read from the complete list of RITA winners, I can count maaaaaybe ten books that actually deserved to win in their categories, most of them going to Barbara Samuel/Ruth Wind, Laura Kinsale and Jennifer Crusie.
And before y’all get all het up about how I’m being unfair, because “good” is entirely subjective, I’d like to point out there are plenty of objective standards to writing, which Beth pointed out with great verve and eloquence a little while back, and which I then expanded on in a much more silly manner. But if you don’t want to wade through those two long-ish pieces, here it is in short: I separate craft from personal preference. There’s what I think is genuinely good, and there’s what I enjoy reading, and sometimes the two don’t intersect, and that’s OK—not loving something that was technically perfect doesn’t make me a cretin, and neither does enjoying something that was sloppily made.
The RITAs? Like I said to Robin, the motto for the vast majority of the winners seems to be “Hi, we’re mostly competent. Mostly.â€ Even authors who have written genuinely good books, like Lisa Kleypas and Connie Brockway, end up winning for books that were sub-par.
I don’t treat the other awards in such a dismissive fashion. The winners of the the Pulitzer, Booker, Guardian, Whitbread, Hugo and Nebula awards have quite reliably provided me with excellent, entertaining reads. But most of these awards tend to skew towards the more literary end of the spectrum, which might make these rather unfair comparisons for the RITAs. That leaves the Hugos and Nebulas, which are genre fiction awards. So why do I perk up and take notice when I hear a book has been awarded the Hugo or the Nebula?
The only reason I can think of is the Geek Factor. My tastes are a lot more in sync with the average geek than they are the average romance reader, and geeks are more plentifully found in SF than romance, and geeks are the ones to vote on the Nebulas and Hugos. To be honest, the average SF/F novel isn’t written that much more skillfully than the average romance novel; however, I tend to find the ideas and plots in SF/F a lot more interesting, and I will forgive a lot of clunkiness if the story grabs me. Neal Stephenson is an example who immediately comes to mind; he does some absolutely maddening things with his prose and characters, but his stories are so compelling that they drag me along. I even find his massive infodumps fascinating, God help me.
So until mainstream romance tastes begin to align themselves more closely to mine (unlikely), or until romance novels start playing with prose, structure and medium in the same interesting ways that literary fiction does (even more unlikely, and frankly, not necessarily desirable), or until the RITAs stop awarding most of their prizes to the literary equivalent of Thomas Kinkade paintings (unlikely, but very highly desirable), I’m going to keep on blithely ignoring the RITAs as a source of good reads while keeping an eye out for recommendations by people whose tastes I tend to trust a bit more, like Beth, or Robin, or Evil Auntie Peril.