Daily Kos on Romance Novels

Laura Clawson has written a spiffy defense of her own love of romance and posted it on Daily Kos, which… if you’re not familiar with it, I don’t quite know what to say. Knocking down the myths facing romance readers and the genre itself one by one, she does a bang-up job of addressing what frustrates her as a romance reader, and closes with the following:

One of the key issues in judgments of the average quality of writing is that the romance genre is never allowed to claim love stories from outside the genre. Really beautifully-written, “literary” books with mystery plots or with sci-fi elements are likely to be marketed at least loosely in association with those genres. They get to have the best of both worlds—the marketing bump of the genre and the critical and social recognition due their quality. You don’t see love stories allowed to strike that balance, which severs a world of possibility from the genre, and an introduction to a new audience for at least some deserving authors.

I’m sure there are a hundred other myths to be attacked, and none will die easily. But in the end, even if they were mostly true, the disgust for romance novels and their readers would still look more like disdain for women and feminized culture than anything else.

This. THIS is how romance will be defended: not in one sweeping changing of the minds, but in repeated, pointed articles that are well written and make cogent, non-shrieking points to specific audiences. From print newspapers to political blogs like Daily Kos, every time romance readers speak up to a small audience, a few minds get changed. THIS is how romance is defended. We can’t change everyone’s opinion at one time, but we can show up in smaller communities and point out that romances connect to and share issues that are important to different groups of people.

It is going to be a doozy of a time for whomever selects the Veritas winner for the 2010 RWA National convention. From Joanne Rendell’s HuffPo pieces to this article, it has been a smacking good year for defending the romance online and in print. (To nominate this article, go to rwanational.org, log in as a member and fill out the form).

Well played, Ms. Clawson, well played.

ETA: Holy smoking trout, go read the comments. Romance author Teresa Hill and others are engaging readers in a great discussion including favorite heroines, favorite books, and themes that turn the “Thank you for raping me” stereotype on its head. SO awesome.

I will get nothing done today.

ETA: I owe Janice Gelb mad props for sending me the link originally – thanks, ma’am!

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  1. 1
    JaniceG says:

    Glad I guessed right – figured you’d be on this essay like white on rice :->

  2. 2

    What exactly is it that non-romance readers find so…what word am I looking for—intimidating? offensive? contemptible?—about romance? I know we’re not alone in getting talked down to; we could unionize and form a collective with D&D kids or cat ladies or adults who love Harry Potter or any number of groups who take guff for openly enjoying what they do. I just wonder what it is that seems to attract the ridicule of self-satisfied outsiders. What on Earth is so threatening about trashy novels?

  3. 3
    joanneL says:

    What exactly is it that non-romance readers find so…what word am I looking for—intimidating? offensive? contemptible?—about romance?

    My guess is that we romance readers are the last of the easy prey—- it’s still not politically incorrect to make fun of romance books and those that write and read them.

    Meanwhile, romance books are still out-selling every other fiction genre.
    Not only are we cute but we’re subversive *grin*!

  4. 4
    Kristin says:

    Meanwhile, romance books are still out-selling every other fiction genre.
    Not only are we cute but we’re subversive *grin*!

    Oh, I like that.  Boy are they in trouble when they finally acknowledge Romance as a valid literary genre filled with everything from talented authors to hacks (just like every other genre).

  5. 5
    Kit Donner says:

    Article was great. While my aunt might think what I write is pornographic (I write historicals with heat), many non-romance readers who read my book really enjoyed it. And were surprised that they enjoyed it. I think it’s too easy to write off the romance genre when the critics haven’t actually read any of the books.

  6. 6
    Kristin says:

    Hey Sarah, I was inspired by this piece and Clawson’s article to write my own post today… [a href=“http://thefertileinfertile.blogspot.com/2009/12/coming-out-of-literary-closet.html”Coming ot of the literary closet[/a].  I linked back here and to Clawson’s article.  Hope you like it.

  7. 7
    Kristin says:

    Grrrr…sorry, I screwed up the code.  My post is titled Coming out of the literary closet and the link is http://thefertileinfertile.blogspot.com/2009/12/coming-out-of-literary-closet.html

  8. 8
    Kayleigh says:

    Excellent! Liberal blog meets romance fan!

    I do not get the snobbery behind romance novels at all (I’m an English literature student who gets mocked for being a Harry Potter fan, not even mentioning romance books or the paranormal trash I devour). I think a lot of it has to do with people’s preconceptions of romance and the genre – they see mulleted men saving meek women and prose so purple it hurts to look at. But you never hear this snobbery – or at least not on this scale – for books like trashy crime novels or the entire genre that arose from Da Vinci Code knock-offs. With people complaining about the death of reading, you’d think they’d be glad the publishing industry still has some allies.

  9. 9
    gypsydani says:

    I enjoyed the article and the comments were interesting, too.  What baffles me is the determination to distinguish Romance from literature.  The last time I checked my Websters, there was no distinction.  Any written work is literature.  And while I’m thankful that bookstores and libraries make it easier for me to get hold of the kind of books I enjoy most by labeling them, I think it foolish of people to assume that because Romance is separated from “Fiction and Literature” that it’s less worthy of being read.

    Another mindset I have a problem with is the dismissal of Romance as mind candy.  There are some romance novels that don’t tax the reader and there are others that are extremely challenging and thought-provoking, just like “Fiction and Literature”.  In fact, if it weren’t for romance novels, I wouldn’t be the amateur historian that I am.  All of the historicals I’ve read have inspired me to do more research on the time periods and countries I’ve visited through reading.

  10. 10
    Kim Adams says:

    Great article and feedback.  But I think the time has come for romance readers to stop defending their choice of reading material.  It is what it is – a billion dollar industry where its readers are excited to read!  As Mary Jo Putney once quipped, “No one grew stupid from reading romance.”  Romance spurns our imagination.  Romance gives us an escape.  Romance teachs us about love and life.  It appeals to readers from all walks of life – you don’t have to have a PhD to read romance.  Even my husband, an Air Force Computer Officer, reads historical romances by Victoria Alexander.

    The Smart Bitches are lound and proud about being “smart” and reading “trash”.  So let the rest of us be loud and proud.  I carry a book with me everywhere, just in case I am waiting in line.  Others in line compliment my foresight.

    This weekend my children and I watched the holiday classic, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.  The best line comes from John Candy (God bless his soul):

    “You wanna hurt me? Go right ahead if it makes you feel any better. I’m an easy target. Yeah, you’re right, I talk too much. I also listen too much. I could be a cold-hearted cynic like you… but I don’t like to hurt people’s feelings. Well, you think what you want about me; I’m not changing. I like… I like me. My wife likes me. My customers like me. ‘Cause I’m the real article. What you see is what you get.

    I like me as a romance reader.  I volunteer at a charity shop and the base library.  My customers admire my passion for romance.  Because it is the real article.

    Happy reading!

    Kim Adams
    Hickam AFB, Hawaii

  11. 11
    Beki says:

    I never can get over people’s stereotyping the genre as “porn,” is what my problem is.  I can’t help being taken aback when my sister-in-law (who is indeed one smart cookie) asks me if what I write isn’t porn, just because there is sex involved.  Even me asking her if what she does with her husband would be considered “porn” didn’t make her see any more clearly the differences in presentation, media acceptance or dismissal. 

    I’m happy to have people out there continuing to talk it up, talk it down, keep the discussion churning.  It’s all selling the books, right?

  12. 12
    Laura says:

    Hi Sarah
    I’ve been on tenterhooks re the Caption that Cover Holiday competition! Which won in the end?
    You must make it a seasonal fixture – my favorite post of the year! LOL-ed so much!

  13. 13
    Annmarie says:

    I’m so happy to see this article.  I’ve spent over half my life defending my reading choices.  It grows tiresome.  Maybe the public ridicule of romance readers and writers will change.  If we all publicly and openly read our genre of choice without shame and with pride, those that ridicule will eventually be the minority.

  14. 14
    scribblingirl says:

    I’ve had people make fun of my reading choices for years (Harry Potter, Sci/Fi & Fantasy, Romance, Classics etc.) I just tell them that maybe if they knew HOW to read, then they wouldn’t waste their time making fun of the fact that I can.

  15. 15
    BethC says:

    I posted a link to the Bitchery in the comments (and got lots of recs for it).  I expect that we’ll see a number of people from dKos head this way!

  16. 16
  17. 17
    Alex Ess says:

    You know, about that romance “glamorizes rape” criticism, I think a lot of crime novels glamorize rape and rapists and sexually motivated serial killers, in that people who commit those crimes are often portrayed as capital E Evil, which gives them a fucked up kind of nobility. But nobody gives me any shit for reading crime novels.

  18. 18
    JamiSings says:

    @Alex -

    You know, about that romance “glamorizes rape” criticism, I think a lot of crime novels glamorize rape and rapists and sexually motivated serial killers,

    I have to agree. Or presents an unrealistic view of many of the victims. While I love L&O:SVU (I have a thing for Det. Munch – what can I say? When it comes to men I like big noses and I cannot lie) – I hate the fact that even their homeless rape victims are all glamorously beautiful women. There’s not a single ugly and/or fat one in the bunch. Well, I can assure you fat women get sexually assaulted too, SVU.

    Though I still say that so-called rape fantasies are really forced orgasm fantasies. Most of the romance novels I read where the hero starts kissing the heroine against her will – she always has some reason for not enjoying sex. Either she was raised to believe “sex is a duty” for women and therefore believes she shouldn’t get any pleasure and to feel such makes her Hell bound, or she’s a young widow who either dearly loved her husband and feels she’s betraying him by feeling good with another man, or had a lousy sex life with her husband and believes it’s suppose to be that way.

    He also always stops any sex if she says no. Usually she doesn’t, however.

    Not that I haven’t read obvious rapes in romances. There was one I read in high school that took place in Russia. I think it was called White Fire. Hero rapes the heroine when he thinks she’s just a peasant. Doesn’t regret it until he finds out she’s a nobleman’s daughter. Then he decides he better marry her and make good. I always hated that. It was “okay” when he thought she was “low class” but once he found out she wasn’t it was suddenly a sin?

    And there’s one I read recently, it wasn’t really a romance but since the plot revolves around a 13 year old girl looking for love and marriage while she also studies Ruth, first official convert to Judaism some could call it romance – (it takes place in the time before David becomes king of Israel, in fact, teenage David is one of the characters in the book) called In The Garden Of Ruth. I wanted to hunt the writer down and beat the crap out of her. Not only does she cheapen Ruth’s story by saying her sole reason for going to Israel was to follow her lover, but she ends up with the heroine chasing after the man who raped her, offering to be his concubine because she’s “in love with him.”

    HE RAPED HER! He even acknowledges he raped her and tries to marry her afterwards because he regrets what he did. Though he does at first try to claim it’s not rape because she didn’t scream. What she should’ve been doing the entire book is trying to castrate him. Not trying to seduce him away from his wife and into her own bed.

    *deep cleansing breath* Dang, I’ve wanted to rant about that book for awhile. Sorry to get all off topic – sort of – but I really needed to blow off some steam about that one.

    As for the usual question about why it’s “okay” to make fun of those whom read romances – I think it’s the same reason it’s seen as “okay” to still make fun of fat people. Because we don’t fit in with some socially acceptable ideal. People should “only read certain types of books” to be accepted just like “women should all be thin” to be considered beautiful.

    I guess that’s why I try very hard to not pick on anyone, because I’ve been picked on from everything ranging from my weight to my spiritual beliefs and my reading romance novels. Though when you come across people like you’d find on PeopleOfWalmart.com or MakeFunOfMyFriends.com you can’t help it. They pretty much look like they’re asking for it. Especially ones wearing shirts that read “Mess with me mess with the whole trailer park.”

  19. 19
    Phyllis says:

    Interesting how several people came on to say that they were snobs because everything that says ‘romance’ is necessarily trashy, of course. But noooo they’re not snobs!

  20. 20
    addictedtolurv says:

    Without romance novels, what would this world come to? I can’t go a day with out at least a chapter under my belt because a well-written romance novel in my opinion can stand up next to any other genre. This world would be a sad place indeed without such classics like Pride and Prejudice, Romeo and Juliet, and even Gone with the Wind. Any one who would just generalize a genre with such a wide variety deserve to stripped buttnekkid in the center of town and pelted with old encyclopedias!

  21. 21
    Bernita says:

    What amuses/annoys/puzzles me is that even “smart bitches”, ie. readers/writers with verifiable academic credentials who “admit” to liking ( or worse, preferring) romance are sometimes seen as indulging in a deviation, a perversion, and their articulate views often dismissed with a “nobody’s perfect” shrug.

  22. 22
    Kristina says:

    But I think the time has come for romance readers to stop defending their choice of reading material.  It is what it is – a billion dollar industry where its readers are excited to read!  As Mary Jo Putney once quipped, “No one grew stupid from reading romance.”

    Thank you!  I’ve was alwasy so harrased by people when I was younger because of the books I read.  I started reading romances in middle school (age 11 or so on up) and had to almost hide them in school or the teachers would comment or outright take them away from me.  BUT, those same teachers/people applauded my advanced reading comprehension and grasp of current events situations and such.  Also lets not even talk about my Advance Placement Literature and English classes.  They just didn’t/don’t get it that my ravenous reading was the reason for all of that.  (I never claimed to be a spelling genious).

    As for todays romance reader, dont apologize.  Now people look forward to asking me what I’m reading and what is happening in my books at any given time.  I HARDLY ever get the “how can you read that crap” look or comment from anyone.  I yam what I yam and they can kiss my butt if they dont like it.

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