When Discussing Literature, Remember: Romance is Silly!

Thanks to BB for this link to a discussion on PW regarding an aggregate of the top 100 lists of Best Books in English. The article itself is perfectly apt – that books mark different stages in your life and their quality in your opinion may rest on the context in which you read them.

But commenter Christine wins 2 points in the Online Scavenger Hunt for Commenting Idiocy by saying:

I read science fiction voraciously from fifth grade through college. Somehow, after the first couple of Dune books, I just stopped and haven’t gone back. During college, I felt forced to read the bleak and depressing because it was good for me and seem to have sworn off ‘literature’ ever since. Over the last (uh – hem )years, I have gone from reading romances to reading mysteries. Romances were just silly beyond words and now mysteries are getting that way, too. Where next? Back to the classics. Back to Dickens, back to Twain. Taking refuge in what I’ve read before, knowing I will see it in a different light.

I hereby propose a new rule for our general behavior on the internet: “There cannot be a discussion of literature, particularly the ranking thereof, without a swat at the plebeian dreck that is romance.”

Poor Christine. Hope she finds something good to read.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Michele says:

    I think poor Chrstine here thinks she must suffer when she reads and not enjoy anything. Sad. And a bit stupid to my way of thinking.

  2. 2
    Barb Ferrer says:

    Dude, I’m with Michele—when did “I Read, therefore I suffer,” become de rigueur?

  3. 3
    HilciaJ says:

    What I don’t understand, is where the heck does it say, that you can’t enjoy BOTH “literature” AND “romance.”  Who says that you can’t enjoy One Hundred Years of Solitude by GGB, Kaftka and Jo Beverly, Lori Handerland or Karen Marie Moning.  Why do some people have to be so narrow minded that they can only enjoy one type of reading?  And where does it say that you have to put down your fellow reader for what he / she chooses to read?  OR what a “must read” list should look like?  The arrogance!

  4. 4
    ev says:

    Whatever happened to reading for enjoyment and escape? Why do it all have to have “meaning”? As for silly- I usually enjoy a book that makes me laugh, or at the very least, giggle. Is that what she meant by silly?

  5. 5

    Oh come on, Sarah, we all know that love, sex, commitment, and personal growth are silly!  A book isn’t worth reading unless someone important dies or is miserable!

  6. 6
    Barb Ferrer says:

    What I don’t understand, is where the heck does it say, that you can’t enjoy BOTH “literature” AND “romance.”

    I think there’s this very deep need for humans to slot other humans into some easily labeled box.  It makes life easier than if an individual were multi-faceted.  Easier for who, I’m not sure, but I’ve been told it makes life easier.

  7. 7

    This type of thing always brings to mind the time I interviewed for a job at Barnes and Noble and made the mistake of mentioning that I had a graduate degree in literature. The first question out of the manager’s mouth was whether I was a ‘book snob’. To which my response was that I’d read anything if it was put in front of me and I was convinced I’d enjoy it. Which includes romance novels, fantasy, YA (I’m That Person who strolls into the YA section of the library all the time despite patently being in my twenties), children’s lit, etc.

    I didn’t get the job in the end, ironically. But I’ve never been able to understand why people want to take all the fun out of reading.

    (I also really didn’t like To Kill a Mockingbird when we had to read it in school. I have been told on multiple occasions that this makes me a bad person.)

  8. 8
    Flo says:

    Sometimes people need silly.  If they don’t get it they get as puckered as their assholes.

    And no one wants to be a puckered old asshole right?  Right.

  9. 9
    Grace says:

    I think poor Chrstine here thinks she must suffer when she reads and not enjoy anything. Sad. And a bit stupid to my way of thinking.

    Where do you get that? It read to me like she wasn’t enjoying mysteries or romance, so she was going to try something else. Romance novels are not actually enjoyable to everyone. *gasp!* Not everyone who says they don’t like them is doing it just because dissing romance novels is cool.

  10. 10
    Leah says:

    I also really didn’t like To Kill a Mockingbird when we had to read it in school. I have been told on multiple occasions that this makes me a bad person

     

    I loved To Kill A Mockingbird, but I will say here that I tend to find Dickens annoying, Lewis Carroll does not appeal to me at all, and no matter how hard I tried, I could not get into any of the Tolkein books…the movies didn’t do it for me, either.  Two of the best books I’ve ever read didn’t show up on that list—The Once and Future King, by TH White and The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara.

  11. 11
    LizC says:

    Who says that you can’t enjoy One Hundred Years of Solitude by GGB

    I do. But this is because I’ve read the book 3 times and it just doesn’t ever get more enjoyable for me. The damn book haunted me from high school and through 2 years of college. Objectively I think it could be an enjoyable book but once you’ve had to read it 3 times and write 2 papers on it all the fun is sucked right out of it.

    As for the prevailing belief that romance novels are silly dreck or, and this is my favorite still, girl porn . . . I’m too tired to get really annoyed.

    What’s with the need to pigeon-hole people? Does it make it easier to make judgments about that person’s character if you know what type of book they read most often? You can dismiss a person’s opinions if you know them as “that romance novel reader” because clearly that’s the only thing they’ve ever read and if they don’t spend their time reading Dickens and Hardy and all those other old dead white guys then you’re opinions aren’t worth the paper your $8 romance novels are printed on?

    I probably just answered my own question, I think.

  12. 12
    Tina C. says:

    Why do some people have to be so narrow minded that they can only enjoy one type of reading?  And where does it say that you have to put down your fellow reader for what he / she chooses to read?  OR what a “must read” list should look like?  The arrogance!

    The thing is, it may have less to do with arrogance and more to do with fear.  Fear of appearing to be less intellectual and less sophisticated.  Fear that whomever is the pinnacle of intellect and sophistication in your sphere will find out that you actually enjoy romances or sci-fi/sci-fantasy or thrillers or whatever it is that you read just because you enjoy it.  Fear that said person will then mock you in front of all and sundry for your light-mindedness (and do so while using really big words and a really mean tone of voice).  And quite honestly, it’s not like that’s not likely to happen in a discussion about the best 100 books in the English language, right? 

    Sadly, a great many people are so worried about what someone else (often someone they don’t even know) will think of them that they fall into whatever they think the party-line is.  From what I’ve observed over the years, Great Literature (per far too many “intellectuals”) equals horrible suffering, hateful characters, and a depressingly bleak ending.  This causes some (possibly younger and definately less secure) people to reply, “Well, of course, that’s what I read!” as they frantically shove the books they actually do read under the couch.

    Now, me?  Hell, I’m in my 40’s now.  Anyone doesn’t like what I read, they are welcome to not read it.  They are not welcome to comment on it unless they want the full rant that such comments inspire.

  13. 13
    Teddypig says:

    First there was Goth Kids, now we got the Emo Readers.

    I read to suffer.

  14. 14
    Noelle says:

    I think it’s kinda like caviar.
    Lots of people say they hate caviar. Some on principle because of what it is. Some because the only caviar they’ve ever had was the cheap stuff at their cousin’s wedding. And for some no matter the quality it’s not to their taste. The latter can’t be helped but I believe if you were to give the others some high quality Russian sturgeon eggs with the perfect Blini and some creme fraiche or one of La Nora’s best they’d change their minds.

  15. 15
    Tina C. says:

    I loved To Kill A Mockingbird, but I will say here that I tend to find Dickens annoying, Lewis Carroll does not appeal to me at all, and no matter how hard I tried, I could not get into any of the Tolkein books…the movies didn’t do it for me, either.

    Right there with you! 

    Looking at the list, I’ve read a lot of these.  Some I enjoyed, some I thought were meh.  The one that really caught my eye, though, was The DaVinci Code.  Number 46 on a list of 100 best books ever?  Really?  Really?  Hmmm.  I’d love to see the justification for that.  Personally, I’d only give it a C or C+.

  16. 16
    Teddypig says:

    I love me some Lewis Carroll.

  17. 17
    KG says:

    I run a B&B;. I have all kinds of books on my bookshelf for guests to read. All of them either my husband or I have read…and since we read quite a variety, at least a guest or two will take something off the shelf to read during a stay.

    One woman took a look at my bookshelf, saw the handful of historical romances and said, “Oh, let me recommend some *really* good books for you.” And then proceeded to tell me about this important female writer and that important female writer. As if I’d never heard of them and was somehow ignorant of these great marvelous books I was missing.

    I tried to tell her I was an English major and had read all kinds of books/poems/plays and enjoyed many kinds of reading. But she glossed over that and gave me a look that said, “Oh, how I pity you for not having these great works of literature on your shelf!”

    I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I was a writer, too, and wrote romance and paranormal suspsense…sigh….

  18. 18
    LizC says:

    “Well, of course, that’s what I read!” as they frantically shove the books they actually do read under the couch.

    Heh, this reminds me of what someone told me when I questioned the reading habits of 2 professors I used to babysit for. They had a lot of books. A wall of bookshelves in the hallway, books in the office, books downstairs in the guest room. Being who I am, when the kid was napping I’d look at these books and I noticed that they were almost all school text books, or books relating to their specialties (both history profs), or those great works of literature every one says you should read. I didn’t see a single romance novel, mystery novel, sci-fi/fantasy novel. Nothing you’d see in the grocery aisle while trying to decide on which frozen pizza to get. Someone told me that perhaps they hid these books under the bed and that just baffled me.

    I don’t think they did because, but it still baffles me because I don’t know if they just didn’t read those genres or just didn’t buy them. And if you do buy them, why hide them? I don’t think any one would make judgments about their intelligence if they had Nora Roberts next to the latest monograph on Mongol expansion in the 12th century.

  19. 19
    Faellie says:

    Romances were just silly beyond words and now mysteries are getting that way, too. Where next? Back to the classics. Back to Dickens, back to Twain.

    Can’t speak about Twain, but Dickens was the bestseller of his day, with books published in weekly episodes for a mass audience, and with plenty of mystery and romance (although granted not much of your actual sexxoring).

    I suspect that most of the classics which are still read for pleasure, rather than just by academics, are the popular fiction of the past.  Time changes the view – it’s a bit like all those tasteful classical white marble statues and plain medieval church interiors which at the time they were made would have been covered in gaudy painted colours.

  20. 20
    Silver James says:

    Thanks for the WTF moment first thing in the morning. I haven’t had coffee yet (Yes, I learned not to drink until AFTER checking SBTB) so not sure how coherent this will be.

    I had this discussion with an acquaintance. She fancies herself a literati (not sure that’s a word but you get the idea). She was dissing category fiction in general and romance in particular, talking about how simple it was to write a romance and get it published. I choked as in the next breath she bemoaned the fact that she couldn’t submit her great masterpiece under her own name because….wait for it….she’s writing a WESTERN and WOMEN don’t write WESTERNS! As if a western isn’t category? Pah-leese!

    Dammit! I read AND write romances and I’ve read a goodly number of books of that freaking list and disliked a large proportion of them. I’m personally of the opinion that we start flame wars with those who dis our genre! *passes out flamethrowers* If we taught kids to enjoy reading and let them read things that appealed to them, school test scores might actually go up.

    And after that quantum mind leap, I need coffee. I’ll flame after the first pot. But yeah. From now on, whenever I come across stupid people, I’m going to remind them of it.

  21. 21
    Marsha says:

    The NYT had an article a while back (did I read about it here?  can’t remember) that addressed people who were either not entering into or ending otherwise promising relationships based on the other party’s reading habits.  As in, “Oh, I could love him – he’s perfect for me.  But how could I spend my life with someone who reads Not Acceptable Author’s Name/Not Acceptable Genre?  I’d be so embarrassed at all those cool readings and cocktail parties I love to attend so.”

  22. 22

    Let me preface my remarks by saying I’m old enough to have pretty much seen the birth of the current romance fiction industry. I’ve also been an ardent SF/F fan since the day I was ten and stumbled on an Ace Double. Neither genre, back then, was viewed by anybody but the people who read it as worthy of the ink and paper used to print it.

    Oh, come on, people. It’s not okay to sneer at romances, but it is okay to sneer at people who don’t like them? I don’t think the lady in question was condemning the genre. She just expressed her opinion—she found them “silly.” And she now finds that mysteries seem to be trending the same way. I interpret that to mean she wasn’t happy with the formulaic nature of category romance, an opinion I have to say I share, or the rich-people angst of the Danielle Steel ilk. And now finds that mysteries are falling into the same kind of repetitious “category formula” that offers no challenge to the reader. Ho-hum, yet another serial killer is terrorizing yet another city and yet another angst-ridden copy will wrestle with personal demons while seeking to end the carnage perpetrated by a real-world one.

    There are those who read a particular genre, and sometimes a particular segment of that genre, because it’s the familiarity of the material that entertains them. That’s neither a good or a bad thing, although the spinach-literature crowd does like to “improve” their taste. By the same token, there are those who find that exact same genre and/or segment a colossal bore…or “silly.” Which is also neither a good or a bad thing. It just is.

    People who are firmly convinced of the rightness of their position don’t feel the need to either constantly defend it or take offense at those who don’t share it or who actively attack it. And when one is defensive there is always the danger one will misinterpret a simple statement of opinion as a personal attack when no such thing is intended.

    As several others have said: it has to do with the way one’s tastes change—or don’t—over the years. And some people just don’t care for fiction of a particular kind…because they don’t, not because they believe there is anything inherently “wrong” with the genre.

  23. 23
    Lovecow2000 says:

    Y’all know that romance has always been a literary genre; however, it appears that it’s only literature when it’s written by men.  Here are some of the works that introduced me to romance as a genre: Pride and Prejudice (on the list), Jane Eyre (not on her list), and the Taming of the Shrew.  All are classics and all are precursors of the modern romance novel. 

    Also, call me a sexist, but I don’t normally read books for pleasure that were written by men.

  24. 24

    Oh, come on, people. It’s not okay to sneer at romances, but it is okay to sneer at people who don’t like them?

    I was thinking along the same lines.  But still, I think it’s kind of sad that the woman who commented can’t take pleasure in the silly.  I personally love silly romances if they’re well-written.  For instance, I just finished Stephenie Meyer’s last Twilight book and have been reading scores of negative reviews.  I really enjoyed the book, but maybe it’s because I don’t take books about teenage vampires and werewolves too seriously…

    Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

    Another thing I’ve noticed is that everyone has a different idea of what “literature” is.  I read a ton of romance novels, but I also enjoy picking up a trade paperback every now and again.  (I find I need the romances to keep from sliding into a deep depression afterwards, though.)  Anita Shreve is one of my favorite authors, and I thought for sure most people would consider that “literature.”  But there are a lot of people out there who don’t think it’s worthy reading unless it’s Dickens, Twain, etc.  I always find it funny that those kind of people think they are so “well-read” but refuse to read anything modern.  Newsflash!  Our future classics are being written right now!

  25. 25
    WandaSue says:

    Romances were just silly beyond words …

    Some were.  Even now, some are.  Check out the titles of recently published … uh, “dreck” :

    - VIRGIN FOR THE BILLIONAIRE’S TAKING
    – ITALIAN BOSS, RUTHLESS REVENGE
    – THE SICILIAN’S INNOCENT MISTRESS
    – THE KOUROS MARRIAGE REVENGE
    – AT THE SHEIKH’S BIDDING
    – THE TYCOON’S VERY PERSONAL ASSISTANT
    – THE MAGNATE’S INDECENT PROPOSAL
    – THE CATTLE BARON’S VIRGIN WIFE
    – THE GREEK TYCOON’S INNOCENT MISTRESS
    – PREGNANT BY THE ITALIAN COUNT
    – ANGELO’S CAPTIVE VIRGIN

    Easy marks, IMO, for literary snobs to bring forth as proof of their argument.  (Are they good books?  I can’t tell you—the titles ARE turn-offs, and I won’t touch them—wait a sec, let me duck and flinch as the accusations of ‘snob’ assail me!)

    That said, I love the Harlequin Blaze books, and anything written by Loretta Chase, and Liz Carlyle, and Jo Beverly.  And give me a Georgette Heyer any day!

  26. 26
    LizC says:

    As several others have said: it has to do with the way one’s tastes change—or don’t—over the years. And some people just don’t care for fiction of a particular kind…because they don’t, not because they believe there is anything inherently “wrong” with the genre.

    I don’t dispute that and I’m not sure anyone here would. Not liking a genre isn’t the issue. The issue is that very often when a person is disliking a genre they dismiss it as “silly beyond words” or they flat-out criticize the people who do like that genre even though, in their opinion, it’s now “all the same”.  And most often that genre is romance novels.

    Perhaps we’re taking the above comment too personally, but it’s the latest in a long line of dismissive comments about the genre.

    And as someone else said, what’s wrong with the silly? Silly is good. Bad is not and I’ve read my fair share of bad romance novels, and bad novels in other genres (I hate Anne Tyler with a passion but I don’t dismiss every book of that type or the people who do like her), but I haven’t given up on any of them yet because I know that even if some of them seem all the same they aren’t. But that’s just personal preference.

    You can give up on a genre if you want and dismiss it as silly but there’s always going to be someone there to say “well, no, they aren’t all like that”.

  27. 27
    Lorelie says:

    It read to me like she wasn’t enjoying mysteries or romance, so she was going to try something else.

    It’s not okay to sneer at romances, but it is okay to sneer at people who don’t like them? I don’t think the lady in question was condemning the genre. She just expressed her opinion—she found them “silly.”

    My issue with the woman’s stance isn’t that she doesn’t like romance novels.  My issue is that she seems dismissive of *everything* she’s been reading.  And more than that, she’s become dismissive after reading various genres for a number of years (a number I must assume is on the higher side, as she’s seemingly uncomfortable discussing it.) Don’t like romance (or insert other genre here)?  Fine.  Put it down and move along.  To spend years reading something you deem silly?  Just doesn’t make sense to me.

  28. 28
    LizC says:

    That said, I love the Harlequin Blaze books

    So they don’t suck? I admit, I’ve never read Harlequins, at least not the easily recognizable Harlequins as I have read a few published under the Harlequin imprint. But someone gave me several Harlequin Blazes and I haven’t had a chance to read them yet and wasn’t sure if they’d be worth it.

  29. 29
    Alyc says:

    It’s funny.  The commenter’s dismissal of romance didn’t get much of a stir from me.  I was still too busy going, “Wait, you tired of all science fiction based on Herbert’s Dune series?  Great googly-moogly, woman!  That’s like not eating italian food because you had a bad pizza once!  Sci-fi runs the gamut from the sharp and loving genius of Samuel Delaney, to the absurdist humor of Douglass Adams, to the fast-paced cybercrack of Neil Stephenson, with a multitude of flavors in between.”

    I feel sorry for her.  I think romance has a range of stories that can be told, with a lot of variation and nuggets of gold in there.  I tend to think that speculative fiction has a greater range, with a proportionately greater amount of gold to be found.  It’s sad that a single, deeply problematic series turned her off the entire genre.

    password: distance95.  I can see my house from here.

  30. 30
    WandaSue says:

    That said, I love the Harlequin Blaze books

    So they don’t suck? I admit, I’ve never read Harlequins, at least not the easily recognizable Harlequins as I have read a few published under the Harlequin imprint. But someone gave me several Harlequin Blazes and I haven’t had a chance to read them yet and wasn’t sure if they’d be worth it.

    I’ve read quite a few, and I haven’t been disappointed. The heroines are strong, not wimpy; American go-getters attracted to American guys who aren’t necessarily rich, but certainly tops in their field of endeavor.  And contrary to what many people think, the Blaze books are NOT just about sex, though the authors certainly do not shrink from giving their characters a wild good time. 

    Enjoy!

Comments are closed.

↑ Back to Top