In March, a book of acdemic essays was published by Mcfarland titled New Approaches to Popular Romance Fiction (McFarland | Amazon). There are many different perspectives included in the book, including an essay I wrote about the use of the word “bitch” to describe ourselves, the website, and its community. I asked Sarah Frantz and Eric Selinger, the editors of the book, some questions about it so they could share some information about it and how it might be of interest to more than just the academic community.
What are 5 things the average romance reader who is not an academic might find interesting in this book?
Eric Selinger: There are four amazing essays about individual romance novels: The Kadin, Flowers from the Storm, Dark Lover, and Joey Hill’s Holding the Cards. If you’ve ever wondered what it would look like if an English professor or a history professor finally took a romance novel seriously, really thought about the history in it, or the ideas about love, or the way that a book can capture the spirit of the times, these essays show you that. They’re not by professors showing off; they’re by professors trying to figure out what makes the novels they love so fascinating. (In one case, the essay on Dark Lover, it’s romance author Eloisa James writing as her real-life alter ego, Shakespeare professor Mary Bly.)
2) There are essays that take romance fiction seriously as a place where people talk about war and its costs (Jayashree Kamble’s essay), or about what marriage is and where our ideas about it come from (my piece), or about sexuality, including LGBT and BDSM orientations. Instead of looking at romance novels simply as cultural symptoms, they assume that romance novelists are smart, interesting, thoughtful people who have ideas that might be worth considering.
3) There are surprising discoveries about things you already know and love in the genre: Georgette Heyer’s heroines, for example, or the way romance novels toss in bits of Shakespeare, or the “Covers Gone Wild” discussions at SBTB.
4) There are wonderful essays that finally get us past the old “romance novels are bad for you / good for you” arguments.
5) Thanks to Laura Vivanco’s essay on “Ring Symbolism,” you’ll never look at an engagement ring in quite the same way again.
On a lighter note:
- Our index includes “Cunt” as a title, and multiple entries for variations of “bitch.” (Thank you, SB Sarah.)
- You can play the “Spot Dr. Regis' Eight Essential Elements of Romance” game with almost all the essays.
- The index is a Who's Who of romance authors. Is your name there?
- Alternative sexualities in romance get three chapters.
- Nora Roberts and Georgette Heyer also have an entire chapter each.
More seriously (maybe?):
- This collection is a way for you to see the romance you already knew existed: the cleverness of the books, the smartness of both authors and readers. It's something tangible you can push on naysayers and scoffers (those who scoff?) and say, “Here, THESE are all the amazing things romance is and does.”
And it has a Picasso on the cover. What more could you want?
Anything else you'd like to highlight?
Sarah Frantz: My favorite chapters from each section:
Eric's amazing essay about the incomparable FLOWERS FROM THE STORM that details the complexity of the book. It's awesomeness (both book and essay) can be summed up in the short discussion of chiasmus: “Maddy, who is a Christian, [is paired] with Christian, who is mad; likewise, after his stroke Jervaulx is a soul trapped in a body, while Maddy's sexuality is hemmed in by her religious scruples, a body trapped in a soul.”
I adore An Goris's essay examining romance novel writing handbooks. She basically says, okay, let's trust that romance authors know what they're doing (thank you!). So, let's figure out what they think is important. Which turns into a great discussion of voice in romance writing.
I'm so excited that I finally get to use Kathleen Therrien's essay about GLBT characters in heterosexual romances. She demonstrates how GLBT characters are used as barometers of the transgressive power of love. Does your favorite book use GLBT characters to say, “well, we cross boundaries, but at least we're not as perverted as them,” or to say, “if love is so wonderful and necessary, then everybody should get to experience and keep it”?
And finally Christine Valeo's essay about how and why we enjoy Nora Roberts' trilogies is just fun and happy and celebratory of Roberts and romance and community while still saying some very astute things about why trilogies work so well in the romance genre.
So, there you go. Personal favorites and why I think other people will like them too.
It's amazing to me that the examination of romance critically is expanding every year, as are the ways in which it is examined. Would you be interested in reading a book like this one?
Thank you to BigStock for the image of the engagement ring, which is rather huge!