Romance on the Web

First: I was over at Salon Magazine over the weekend with a summer reading list of contemporary, historical, and paranormal recommendations for hot vacation relaxation: Your Guiltiest Summer Reading Pleasures:

While the perfect tan requires careful sunscreen, enjoying a romance requires only two things: a belief that everyone deserves a happily-ever-after, and the ability to ignore anyone who sniffs at your choice of reading material. A good romance novel is like the perfect day at the beach: wonderful and restorative from start to finish.

Note: I wish it didn’t label the list guilty pleasures, too, but alas, the title is the part I didn’t write. No guilt here. I’m more likely the one to give you a high five on the subway for reading a book that’s awesome. Big thanks to Angela James and KristieJ for helping me compile the list.

Sarah Weinman is also over at Salon with her list of crime and thriller novels for the summer. Woo!

It’s a good week for romance in online publications, too: Teresa Medeiros hit one out of the park with her pointed and charming explanation that, no, celebrity marital drama does not equate with romance novels, and the boneheads who do the cheating are NOT heroes because A Romantic Hero Wouldn’t Do That:

…it makes us a little crazy when people compare the drama unfolding in the lives of wronged wives Elin Nordegren and Sandra Bullock to the conflict you’d find between the pages of a best-selling romance novel.
I’ve always said a romance hero can be deeply flawed … as long as he’s willing to rush into a burning building to rescue a basket of kittens.

He might be a haughty Brit looking down his nose from the lofty edifice of his pride, like Mr. Darcy. He might be a brawny Scot so blinded by hatred for his enemy that he nearly misses the chance for love standing right in front of him. These days, he might even be a werewolf or a vampire, sparkly or not.

But the one thing he will never be is a serial cheater who repeatedly betrays the woman he claims to love.

I smell a 2011 Veritas from RWA for that one.

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  1. 1
    SheaLuna says:

    His unofficial last name is, after all, “Hero,” which implies a certain degree of core integrity.

    Amen and amen. 

    And any woman who can find a man who holds even an ounce of integrity has found a true treasure, indeed.  At the risk of sounding bitter or angry (I’m not.  I’m pragmatic.), I’ve found men of integrity to be all too rare in real life.  Which is why comparing Jesse James and Tiger Woods to ANY romantic hero is, in a word, sheer ignorance and rather insulting.  Ok, that was more than one word.

  2. 2
    Beki says:

    While it’s entirely possible that “real” men may be cheaters, who wants to read that in their lovely, happily-ever-after romances?  And for the record, I don’t even KNOW a man who is a serial cheater in real life, so it’s much more likely that most men in real life do qualify as Hero.  I know mine does.

  3. 3

    We all love our delusions. I can’t stand watching celebrity Jeopardy because the “stars” seem so dim and boring and ordinary.
    Or Britney in dirty sweats with no make up.
    Don’t forget real heroes live among us… single moms with special needs kids who suck it up everyday and do what’s needed.
    Maybe they even cheated themselves
    Real women have to deal with real men in real life.
    Sometimes it sucks.
    Guys get just as hormonal as women, just as irrational.
    Just as baffled by ourselves.
    Testosterone makes horndogs and heroes.

  4. 4
    mfred says:

    Romance writers and readers have one thing in common: We love men.

    Huh.  I guess I don’t qualify?

    As a queer woman and as a romance reader, I love love.  I love the romantic tension, the slow build, the burning glances, the will-they-won’t-they, and then, after all of that, I especially love the happily ever after.  Heros and Heroines are roles, are characters—I delight in them and their stories.

    But reading these books doesn’t mean I love men.  Not like that, anyway. 

    And while I am certain Medeiros didn’t mean to be exclusive in this essay, I kind of just had to point out that there is a whole world of romance readers out there.

  5. 5
    SB Sarah says:

    mfred your comment rocked my socks. Thank you.

    Question: you love the courtship aspect of romance, the falling-in-love part. Do lesbian romances satisfy your readerly cravings as well as hetero ones? With so much attention paid to gay romances, I’m curious about lesbian romance novels and the differing reader perspectives.

  6. 6
    Kilian Metcalf says:

    I agree with not thinking of anything I choose to read as a guilty pleasure.  I read everything from Greek classics to a throwaway YA fantasy novel.  Some books I keep and read again, but I never apologize or try to hide what I’m reading.  It would be like only eating salads in public and sneaking the Cheetos when I get home. It’s all good, just in different ways, and it’s nobody’s business but mine. 

    half62 – yes, I’m 62 this year, and only half way through all the books I want to read.

  7. 7
    Kilian Metcalf says:

    I agree with not thinking of anything I choose to read as a guilty pleasure.  I read everything from Greek classics to a throwaway YA fantasy novel.  Some books I keep and read again, but I never apologize or try to hide what I’m reading.  It would be like only eating salads in public and sneaking the Cheetos when I get home. It’s all good, just in different ways, and it’s nobody’s business but mine. 

    half62 – yes, I’m 62 this year, and only half way through all the books I want to read.

  8. 8
    Mfred says:

    @SB Sarah— Thanks!  I was a little afraid of threadjacking with my gay agenda :)

    I’m mainly a “romance section of the bookstore” romance reader, although I have made an effort in recent months to try and branch out.

    It wasn’t until I read some of the discussions/polls here & on Dear Author that I realized how many readers take pleasure in identifying with characters.  That has never the lure of romance fiction for me—it’s always been the relationships, the courting, the tension, and yeah, the sexxoring. 

    I can take the worst He-Man Navy SEALs and TSTL virgin duchesses as long as there is that sly, yet funny, yet blistering spark between them.  A great book is all in the relationship between the h/hs.  Its got to have heat, chemistry, charm, and that oh so delicious will-they/won’t-they physical & emotional tension.

    I’ve found with lesbian romance is that it can be such a small, hard-to-find pool, the potential for shitty writing is much greater.  Buying a badly written book at Target does not piss me off half as much as buying a $15 trade online from a small press whose web site only offered book blurbs.  Public libraries are hit and miss on carrying LGBT and with tight budgets, they are much more likely to buy “literature” style books than the romantic fiction.

    I think the one place where my lesbian identity affects my book reading habits is that I am just not into m/m.  I can’t even pick it up to give it a try.  It’s a little political and it’s a little personal.

  9. 9
    geekgirl says:

    I totally agree with not feeling guilty for reading any types of books. I mean in this day and age I’m always glad to see people reading at all, who cares what they’re reading. My favorite was the grown up covers for Harry Potter, like people didn’t want to be seen reading a kids book?
    Different moods need different books. I think it’s sad when I hear the “oh, I don’t read *insert any genre here*” in that condescendingly dismissive way some people have. I think good writing, engrossing plots, and interesting characters should be what draws someone to a book, not what section of the bookstore it’s in.

  10. 10

    Fantastic article by Teresa, and the reader comments were even more fun. I especially love that hoary old chestnut—always delivered by some condescending smartass—about romance being “porn for women.” Oh. So you’re saying that a woman fantasizes about finding a strong partner with whom to share a lifelong commitment and perhaps raise a family, while a man fantasizes about having sex with as many FF-cup blondes as this fleeting human lifespan will allow him? Thanks, buddy! I’ll take that as a compliment.

  11. 11
    JamiSings says:

    There’s only one time I was ashamed of the book I was reading and tried to hide it. It was an old book from the 60s called “The Way To Become The Sensuous Woman” by “J”. (Sometimes just referred to as “The Sensuous Woman.”) The reason I was ashamed was I was reading it while on a trip with my parents and I didn’t want my dad to see. He’s old fashioned and thinks I’m still a virgin. Course I really didn’t want mom to see either. She’s of the opinion that only men and whores actually enjoy sex. Good girls just endure it for their husbands’ sakes.

    The book was useless anyway. I was actually hoping it would deal with psychological blocks that prevent a woman from enjoying sex. Nothing like that. It does have advice on how to pick a lover if you “must” cheat on your husband but “J” discourages cheating.

    I’ve never been ashamed to be seen reading a romance novel, however. I don’t know why I “should” be. Granted, some are down right stupid, but reading is good, be it high end books or comic books.

  12. 12
    DreadPirateRachel says:

    I loved that article! I read it at work the other day, and I almost emailed it to you, Sarah, but then I realised that you would find it without my help. :-) The comments section was a bit irritating, given the lack of bitchery, but I felt that the author made her points exceptionally well. Yay for us!

  13. 13

    I love mfred’s comment! Yes, it is the tension and the will they/won’t they that keeps me coming back. Love is the important part. I think anyone can agree that’s what is attractive about a great romance, straight or gay. Beautifully put.

    About the serial cheaters being romantic? Uh… no. The main difference to me is that I WANT to see the characters in a romance story get back together. Sandra Bullock and Jesse James/ Tiger and his wife? Not so much.

    Unless this is just the back story for these women. If it’s the “I’ve been hurt before, now I’m afraid to let anyone in” story that comes BEFORE the real romance? Okay. I’ll go with that. As long as the real romance involves a totally different man with some actual morals.

    And the women get the chance to (metaphorically or literally) kick the douche-bag guys in the balls.

  14. 14
    Donna says:

    It was an old book from the 60s called “The Way To Become The Sensuous Woman” by “J”.

    OMG, am I getting OLD!! I remember when this came out. One of my babysitting customers had it, & oh yes, as soon as those kiddies were tucked up for the night I had my nose stuck in it. What can I say, I was a curious kid – in every way you want to interpret that.

    As to the topic, I find terms like guilty pleasure, chick lit & chick porn uniformly annoying. If I’m a “chick”, doesn’t that make anything I read chick lit? I know what porn is. It isn’t my dog-eared copy McKenzie’s Mountain. I read what I like, usually like what I read, and I don’t apologize for any of it.

    And thanks for the list! I already have the Joanne Bourne on the reserve list at the library & can’t wait!

  15. 15
    JamiSings says:

    @Donna – LOL Sorry, didn’t mean to make anyone feel old but the book IS old. The pages are all yellowed and it makes crinkling sounds. My copy is actually a reprint from 1973 – three years before I was born.

    I wondered if anyone actually found the book helpful, because I sure didn’t. But the cover was very bland and it only cost me 50 cents.

    I don’t mind the terms like chick-lit or even “porn for women.” The latter just reminds me of this one time I was walking through the living room while mom had Trinity Broadcasting Network on and some guy was saying how Pokemon was evil because they had a vampire Pokemon named Ghastly. (He was talking about Misty holding up the cross, stake, and garlic.) I started laughing because I knew Ghastly is a ghost Pokemon and I pointed out to mom that this guy had obviously never watched the entire episode. So people who call romance novels porn for women obviously have never read a romance novel and since they’re as ignorant as that Pokemon hater, I can completely ignore them.

    I just have a problem with people thinking they’re not valuable reads. I’ve learned more about history from romance novels then I ever did in my boring classes.

  16. 16
    EbonyMcKenna says:

    Yes, the labels they put on things. “Guilty pleasures”. Oh please!
    Take out the guilt. Why are we not allowed to read for pleasure? Should reading be ‘difficult’ or even unpleasurable? (Is that even a word? cos the red line appeared underneath)

    There are so many cheaters in sport it’s not surprising they don’t feature that often in romance novels – discounting NASCAR titles. For them, it’s the game that comes first, love takes a distant second.

    And yes, heroes would never cheat on ‘the one’ in a romance novel. Because the whole point of a romance is a man and woman finding ‘the one’ and making it work (internal conflict, yep, compromise, yep). His world stops because of her, and vice versa. (or her and her, or him and him, mustn’t be genderist – oh would you look at that, another red line).

  17. 17
    Eve Langlais says:

    I like Teresa’s comment. She’s right. Romance heroes don’t cheat on their loves. Heroes would thrash to within an inch of their lives the cheater and then carry off their ladyloves for a bout of lovemaking to make her forget the betrayer. ;P I love romance books lol.

  18. 18
    Aura Lee says:

    I’ve read *one* romance novel with a cheating hero (out of the 30 or so that I’ve read). He married the invalid heroine for her money and, after she finally told him that she wasn’t a fool and she knew why he married her, he went to gamble, drink, and fuck his way through London. He disgusted me in a way that I’ve never been disgusted by a romance novel hero. I wanted to spit on him. Overbearing, autocratic heroes who make stupid assumptions about the heroine infuriate me. On the rare occasion that I’ve read a book with an outright abusive “hero”, I’ve spent the whole time hoping that he’d die in a painful manner or at least get publicly flogged. But I’ve never felt such a visceral sense of contempt.

    To Mfred: Oh, so that’s the gay agenda? Calmly and reasonably discussing things on the internet? How disappointing.

  19. 19
    Mfred says:

    To Mfred: Oh, so that’s the gay agenda? Calmly and reasonably discussing things on the internet? How disappointing.

    Oh crap, I think I mixed up agendas.  Now they’ll surely through me out of the Gay on the Internet club.

  20. 20
    Suze says:

    Re Magic Bleeds:  to be honest, I’d read the first three books first.  It was wonderful, and I doubt the development of the relationship would confuse anybody, but I got a great deal of pleasure watching it develop.  It started out very unromance-like.  The hints that a relationship was coming at all were very, very subtle, and I wasn’t sure they were going to go there until the third book.  But maybe I’m just slow…

    Fantastic article by Teresa, and the reader comments were even more fun.

    No kidding!  I had no idea that men only cheat because women are controlling, nagging, ugly and/or fat.  Who knew?  Of course, it goes without saying that it was always, always the woman’s fault anyway.

    And really, men are naturally made to cheat, and woman are naturally made to be as supportive, submissive, and giving as possible to keep them from straying.  Ungrateful bitches.

    To be honest, I’m kind of sad about Sandra Bullock.  She always seemed so nice and classy, and funny, and in her Oscar interview, she talked about how for the first time in her life, she knew what it felt like for somebody to have her back.  She (and he) seemed so in love and supportive of each other, and I was really enjoying that.  I’ve been avoiding reading the tabloid headlines at the grocery store, and I’m not clicking on any of the on-line articles, just to do my part in reducing the market for them.  My way of trying to give them, mostly her, some privacy to work through it.

  21. 21
    Suze says:

    Cheating romance heros:  the only one I can remember that I would call a successful romance would be Rob Sutter in Rachel Gibson’s The Trouble With Valentine’s Day.  Previously in the series, he cheated on his then-wife and was shot, ending his hockey career.  His cheating STOPPED before he qualified as a Romance hero.

  22. 22
    Kilian Metcalf says:

    I especially love that hoary old chestnut—always delivered by some condescending smartass—about romance being “porn for women.”

    @Beatriz:  I always thought porn for women was Martha Stewart.  I would look at her in all her glossy perfection and fanatsize.  The first time I saw her on TV she was making a croquembouche, and I thought “I could do that.”  If that’s not porn, I don’t know what.  Men look at those women and think “I could have her.” We’re both deluded.  That’s my idea of porn.

  23. 23
    Kilian Metcalf says:

    I especially love that hoary old chestnut—always delivered by some condescending smartass—about romance being “porn for women.”

    @Beatriz:  I always thought porn for women was Martha Stewart.  I would look at her in all her glossy perfection and fanatsize.  The first time I saw her on TV she was making a croquembouche, and I thought “I could do that.”  If that’s not porn, I don’t know what.  Men look at those women and think “I could have her.” We’re both deluded.  That’s my idea of porn.

  24. 24

    I always thought porn for women was Martha Stewart.

    @Kilian: LOL! Well, the food-sex connection is well-established!

    My father once opined that shows like Oprah were the female version of porn—emotional exposure for the titillation of strangers, you see, as opposed to sexual exposure.

    Hmm. Now that’s a pretty good question to throw to the Bitchery: what is “porn for women,” and why?

  25. 25
    Luvian says:

    I find it funny that women are clamouring for loyal guys when I as one keep getting dumped for other guys because I’m “too safe”. I guess the “rushing into burning building” bit comes first before the fidelity? :p

    According to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language pornography is: “Sexually explicit pictures, writing, or other material whose primary purpose is to cause sexual arousal.”

    So I guess something is porn if it’s creator created it with the primary intent of causing sexual arousal. Is romance porn then? You’d have to ask your favourite writer about her intent. ;)

  26. 26
    Cakes says:

    my “porn for women” is a stack of gardening catalogs. All fantasy.

  27. 27
    LG says:

    The only connection cheating celebrity husbands have with romance novels is that they resemble the guys some romance heroines leave right at the beginning of a book (or before the book even began).  The hero gets to demonstrate how much he is NOT like the cheating sleazeball – I’ve never read a romance novel where the hero is the cheating sleazeball and I have no desire ever to do so.

  28. 28
    Kathleen says:

    Dictionary.com gives the following:  Hero = a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.

    Cheating is not noble.  Done once, it could be lamentable and in certain cases—maybe, maybe, maybe—salvageable.  But there had better be begging, pleading, therapy, and expensive jewelery involved.  (Kidding)  Done willfully, deliberately, and multiple times?  Nuh-uh.  NEVAH!

    A caveat:  if there is a known “arrangement” between the partners such that dalliances are permissible in certain circumstances this is not cheating, even if the dallier gets outed and the dallied-upon presents an appropriately shocked but supportive face to the public.

  29. 29
    Sandia says:

    OMG, I’ve been waiting for “Last Night’s Scandal” since I devoured Mr. Perfect.  I loved Olivia and Lisle in that book…. Will be buying.

  30. 30
    Laine says:

    I was listening to the radio the other day when the speaker challenged the traditional view that men become wiser as they age due to their experiences in life. He put forward the theory that it’s really a drop in testosterone levels as they age that causes the improved wisdom.

    This must be the reasoning behind May/December marriages? :-)

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