Another day, another article about genre fiction, including romance, selling quite happily in digital format. And the reason?
Wait for it….
Kindle-owning bibliophiles are furtive beasts. Their shelves still boast classics and Booker winners. But inside that plastic case, other things lurk. Sci-fi and self-help. Even paranormal romance, where vampires seduce virgins and elves bonk trolls.
The ebook world is driven by so-called genre fiction, categories such as horror or romance. It's not future classics that push digital sales, but more downmarket fare.
Here's the thing:
I hear from many readers weekly that they do feel embarrassment about their love of romance. Sometimes they are conflicted about finding that their feelings of loving what they read are at cross-purposes with their feelings of dislike or even revulsion when they identify problematic elements within it. Others say they feel shame and embarrassment about what other people say or think about the romance genre, or better yet, the people who read it.
The people who write to me about these subjects do not ever, and I mean EVER, include a statement that they are embarrassed because they are reading books that aren't any good.
They usually go on and on about the books they did find incredible, the ones that made their brains fire up and made them stay up all night long, and how they love finding new books to enjoy.
Never once do they say they are embarrassed because the romances they read aren't any good.
It's the opposite: they know romances that are high quality narrative stories, and they can identify books that made them think and consider abstract conflicts and emotional tangles as much as any other lauded piece of fiction.
They are embarrassed and ashamed by the reputation of the genre among those people who care about what it is you're reading. They feel awkward about the packaging, the covers and the descriptions, the bare chests and the o-face heroines depicted in lurid colors.
They may not want to defend the genre to anyone, and thus hide it and keep it an intimate secret.
I personally don't feel any shame about what I read, even though I'm still asked by people whether I read “other things,” (so my brain doesn't atrophy, I am guessing). I have romance everywhere in my home, and I'll recommend a romance to anyone who asks me.
So when someone sends me an email, begging me not to publish it (which I wouldn't) but wanting to share their conflicted love and shame about the romance they read, I don't yell at them that they should stand up and defend themselves. Often they are thanking me for running this site where so many romance-reading book addicts hang out (my response: Just wait until you see how many romance communities there are online now. We're freaking everywhere.) There is often a sense of relief and comfort in finding people with whom they can talk about their romances.
Thus every time one of these articles comes out that reinforces all the negatives that romance readers face when they select the reading material they love, it makes me want to yell louder because the key fallacy is the repeated supposition that romance isn't any good and that's why people are embarrassed about it.
No one should be ashamed of what they read – and no one should be made to feel ashamed about what they read. But look, here's another article that rests an argument on exactly that kind of reader shaming. This article today does it: Ebooks sell because people are embarrassed that they love crap. Digital readers proliferate because they allow privacy. (NB: this isn't actually true because buying a digital book ties your name and credit card transaction to the title purchased, a data point that can be shared with bloody anyone).
Articles like these imply that everyone is ashamed of their reading when they read romance or any genre fiction for that matter. Terms like “boundless idiocy” and “God help us” and “reading public in private is lazy and smutty.”
I am not an idiot, I am not lazy, and neither are you. None of this is true.
But there are many readers who do judge themselves harshly for liking romance, and these are the types of articles that make me infuriated on their behalf, which is why I don't shut up about them, and ignore them. Some readers internalize these messages, feeding their own shame with the reinforced idea that they should be embarrassed. And that is why I yell.
Julia, who reviewed Everything I Know About Love, I Learned From Romance Novels recently, said at the end of her review: Never feel guilty for reading something. A book can mean anything to anyone.
Romance means a lot to people who love it, even those readers who harbor shame and embarrassment for loving the genre so much. Articles like this one infuriate me because they are saying someone should feel bad for loving romance, that readers should feel ashamed that they enjoy books that this writer thinks are dross.
No. No, you should not. Read what you like, then read more of it, and go on with your badass self.