The New York Times Book Review Looks at Romance

Grab a drink – there’s a lot to talk about.

Over the weekend, The New York Times Book Review published a three page round up of romance fiction. On the front page! Can you believe that?!

I’m not sure where you are in your paywall or whether you’ve used up your free views this month if you’re not a subscriber, but you can read the piece online. And many people are talking about it.

Many.

Why? Because romance was featured on the front page of the NYTBR!

HOLY SMOKES, RIGHT?

And some of the authors featured included Tessa Dare, Cheris Hodges, Joanna Shupe – several excellent writers whom I know you count among your favorites.

So on the surface, lots to celebrate. In fact, if you stop reading after this sentence: “Romance fiction is on the front page of The New York Times Book Review,” you can keep breathing happily ever after. It sounds pretty incredible, doesn’t it?

You can even peek at the covers and the author photographs. Our books! Our favorite authors! In the NYTBR! Hot diggity.

But then there’s the editorial content, written by Robert Gottlieb, former publisher at S&S and Knopf, and former editor of The New Yorker.

And honestly, it’s better for everyone if you don’t read that editorial content.

Take your glasses off, maybe. Let it be blurry, and look at the images and the names in bold.

There are so many things wrong with Mr. Gottlieb’s write up, I might run out of room on the whole entire internet accounting for them all. And if you’ve been on Twitter, you may have seen many far wiser and funnier people than I already expressing outrage at so much of the awful.

And in that editorial, there is so much awful.

Allow me to share some wonderfully funny, erudite, and excellent links to threads and individual Tweets that capture some of it (and thank you to all of these writers for their permission to quote them here):

Olivia Waite: “If you told me someone had written that NYT romance piece as a satire of how the NYT would review romance, I’d believe you.”

John of Dreaming Reviews, addressing the focus on “women” in the article: “A gentle reminder that romance is and should be for non-binary and trans people, not just cis women.”

Racheline Maltese: “I often say, ‘I wonder what it feels like to be a person.’ I suspect one of the ways it feels is not to have bang[ed] my head into a wall every time the NYT writes about my genre.”

Alisha Rai: “I am reading this NYT romance coverage and YAY NYT ROMANCE COVERAGE but also um…”

And for a larger context, please take a moment to read this outstanding thread from Jen, who reviews at The Book Queen.

Jen examines how Gottlieb’s approach exactly patterns the steps of how men suppress women’s writing, as outlined by Joanna Russ ( A | BN ) :

No question: Mr. Gottlieb’s editorial content was a sexist, misogynist, racist, and condescending assembly of words and letters. It doesn’t represent a round up of anything but antiquated stereotypes with a side order of reductive suppression. It was outstanding exposure for romance…framed entirely by mansplaining.

But!

It also seems to me that from the perspective of some publicists and the folks working for decades to increase the media coverage of the genre, that this might be a victory of sorts. As I said at the beginning: front page, illustration, three-page spread in The New York Times Book Review?

That right there is literarily unprecedented coverage for romance.

To paraphrase Alisha Rai, Yay for the authors getting that newsprint exposure. That is no small feat.

I noticed that the Romance Writers of America responded to the NYTBR’s tweet about the article with the first of a few “Yay, but…” responses:

I asked for additional comment, and the Romance Writers of America replied to me via email:

“We think the romance genre is worthy of front cover coverage in one of the most prestigious book review outlets in the country, and we are glad that the New York Times Book Review dedicated three full pages to showcasing several amazing romance authors. However, we are disappointed that the contents of the article did not adequately convey the complexity, diversity, or sense of empowerment found within the genre.”

Their statement highlights again the conflict between the content and its frame. I remained curious, and I had a question I kept asking myself. So I did some emailing and asking of nosy questions.

I know from working with many publicists both inside publishing houses and from independent firms that this kind of coverage, despite what it is, is a big deal. It’s a win when looking back at a lot of effort over the past several decades. The fact that this article was on the front page, and was three pages in total, was discussed as a victory in some conversations, and I wanted to ask why.

The thing is, sometimes being in publicity (which, to recap, is the free promotion one secures for a book, i.e. press mentions, blog reviews, and coverage that is NOT paid for) means holding on to a big picture view. It’s a tough job, romance publicity. And a lot has changed about the romance genre’s, well, romance with mainstream media coverage. To understand that point of view, I think I do have to take my glasses off, blur the editorial text, and maybe levitate to 5,000 feet above the newspaper issue.

From that perspective, there are a few things I notice.

First, a lot of effort on the part of different teams of people went into encouraging a piece like that, and getting individual books into the collection. A “round up of romance” in a given month amounts to hundreds of books which could be considered “new.” So the people who secured a spot for a book or author from one of their houses worked their asses off.

After that effort, I can recognize it’s a big deal, but I still land hard on the ground under the weight of my anger at what Gottlieb wrote.

So I asked for people’s reactions, and interestingly enough, some of the people I contacted asked if they could be anonymous – which says a lot in and of itself, and which I totally understand. The publishing community, within romance and within the larger corporate environment, is really, really small. I joke often that it’s six total people, the rest is done with mirrors, and everyone has to switch places when someone rings a bell. The joke is obviously the bell part — there are in fact nine total people in publishing (KIDDING). (It’s 27.5.)

The answer to my question, “Why is this a good thing?” was varied.

As one anonymous publicist from a big five house said to me via email,

For years publicists have worked to convince the Times to feature romance so, to some small degree, it’s a success that they finally listened. It’s a shame that when The New York Times gets around to devoting significant space to romance novels they offer up such a dismissive, condescending, outdated, and misogynistic take on the genre.

One of a book review editor’s primary responsibilities should be to find the right reviewer for the task at hand—a reviewer who can cast a critical eye at the work without devolving into condescension.

My hope is that the Times learns from this experience and decides to give romance the same thoughtful and respectful review attention it gives to other genres like science fiction/fantasy and mystery.

Another person I spoke with said, essentially, it’s a complicated happiness.

Pam Jaffee, Senior Director of Publicity and Brand Development for Avon Books and Harper Voyager, took the time to explain some of the history of media coverage of romance, and her own work within it: “I’ve been doing this for more than twenty years. And as you know, everything about romance has been slow steps. There have not been many overnight wins in changing perspectives on the genre.”

“But you have a concerted effort of a community of people – not just publicity, but editors, authors, readers, reviewers – putting themselves out there time and again to talk about romance as being smart books for smart women.”

So when I asked about the positive aspects of this article, Pam’s location of this article as yet another small step in a long, long walk helped me understand this perspective:

“It’s real estate. It’s acknowledgement of the percentage of the industry that we represent. I hope they come from this with a list of people who have written them smart and heartfelt letters with arguments for the genre, showing them what we can do.

As a publicist who has seen this over and over, time and time again, any opportunity can become growth. It comes from many people working together and talking, and taking small steps to spur change, and to spur discussion on why change is merited.

My job is to be a bridge between books and media. And for The New York Times Book Review to have not only covered it, but given romance a cover, three pages – I’m blown away. I never would have expected that. I think there’s got to be a way to bring them forward.”

Pam mentioned writing letters and with arguments for the genre, and I want to touch on something else, with apologies that I can’t share more in good conscience: I saw one of the responses that the editor of The New York Times Book Review, Ms. Pamela Paul, has received for their featuring romance in the first place. Because this letter was posted on a private Facebook page, I don’t feel comfortable reprinting it, but the response I read was staggering in its sexism, vitriol, and condemnation.

So if readers of romance are angry, and some readers of the NYTBR are angry, what does this article accomplish?

What was the purpose of the article, or, more importantly, what work can it do in romance’s favor, if any? Does being in the NYTBR do anything positively or negatively for the genre as a whole?

For example, I initially doubted that any part of what Mr. Gottlieb wrote was going to make a NYTBR reader think differently about the genre. If anything, it’s more likely to suppress any interest by reinforcing and magnifying the stereotypes about the genre that we have worked against for years.

But I was also reminded of what I say in my own workshop about reviews, specifically negative reviews: no matter what was said, if the name of the book and the author were spelled correctly, you’re good. That’s a win. Because someone will read that review and think, “Oh, hold up, what book is that? Because that is ALL of my catnip,” and then WHOOSH the “one click buy” button bursts in to flames – we’ve all been there, right?

And I was reminded of the times that my own presence in some form of mainstream media, including The New York Times, has brought new readers to the site.

And hey, I should have said this earlier: if you landed here because you’re curious about romance, welcome! You are among friends, and we are happy you’re here. And by all means, ask for recommendations because I promise, we can find a book for you that you will love.

I read the article again and, as is my habit, mentally chased my tail for awhile. For example, all publicity may be in some form good publicity, but there’s a difference between a negative review on a blog and three pages in a prestigious weekly newspaper section with a reported circulation of more than a million people.

But as research of the Book Review itself has suggested in the past decade, negative reviews of lesser-known writers has helped sales.

From the abstract of Positive Effects of Negative Publicity: When Negative Reviews Increase Sales, by Jonah Berger, Alan T. Sorensen, and Scott J. Rasmussen:

Specifically, we argue that negative publicity can increase purchase likelihood and sales by increasing product awareness. Consequently, negative publicity should have differential effects on established versus unknown products. Three studies support this perspective. Whereas a negative review in the New York Times hurt sales of books by well-known authors, for example, it increased sales of books that had lower prior awareness.

It seems likely that a NYTBR reader may not have known about any of these titles prior to that article, so I wonder, does that theory still apply? Does the appearance of the selected romances in the NYTBR increase awareness and potentially sales for those authors?

I hope so – but the Times can’t tell us, as they eliminated the Mass Market Paperback bestseller list a few months back.

Which is just depressing, isn’t it?

After reading, re-reading, talking with a bunch of very smart people and texting with more of the same, I’ve come to this conclusion:

It may be progress. But it’s not great progress. It’s smelly, in fact.

It’s as if the Times coverage of romance is in its infancy. It has a long way before it catches up to other outlets. With this article, it has managed to soil its diaper rather than crap on the floor. It’s progress – but we’re a long, long way from being toilet trained.

Personally speaking, it’s difficult for me to see much of the sparkle of victory in this article. And yet, there’s some glimmer: I absolutely want to congratulate authors wholeheartedly, and congratulate the often-invisible behind-the-scenes people who busted serious amounts of work to make that happen.

I also want to commiserate with them. This article is a tawdry outcome to the work of many women – but, hey, what else is new? As much as I want to high five the people for whom this is an outstanding piece of promotion, the collective insult to the women mentioned makes it a somewhat flimsy victory at best, and downright pyrrhic at worst.

Also, my advice, for what it’s worth: I think an excellent framing store would be able to isolate the cover and head shot, the headline, the illustration, and the masthead with the date so that folks can commemorate being featured in an unprecedented placement in newsprint. I recommend a mat board in a contrasting color – it’ll look great.

But I cannot ignore two nagging thoughts.

Thought One: Imagine if!

Imagine what this could have been, but for the involvement of someone with publishing experience and fluency in romance.

I would even forgo some experience with the genre in exchange for cogent and sensitive attention to prose. I remain frozen-cold shocked and ashamed that this line from Mr. Gottlieb’s discussion of Cheris Hodges’ Deadly Rumors was even published:

Oh, yes – Zoe and Carver are African-Americans, though except for some scattered references to racial matters, you’d never know it. (Well, you would from the cover.)

Frankly, as The Ripped Bodice pointed out, we shouldn’t settle for less. We deserve better than that.

And, without a doubt, Cheris Hodges does.

Thought Two. Well, more A Question.

Consider this piece in context, compared to recent coverage.

Look at the way romance has been explored thoughtfully, seriously, and with attentive care and journalistic rigor in an increasing number of mainstream publications in the past five years.

Look at Kelly Faircloth at Jezebel, starting with this examination of how much Fabio actually appeared on romance covers, then make tea and come back for “How Harlequin Became the Most Famous Name in Romance.”

Look at the reviews and coverage at NPR Books (to which I have contributed – thank you, y’all).

Heck, The Washington Post just published an article from editor Ron Charles about a romance author event I attended at Politics & Prose in DC. That article was titled, and I quote, Stop dissing romance novels already.

Look at Bustle, and Book Riot, and WaPo, other outlets who regularly examine romance, up close and from the 30,000-foot round up point of view…and somehow manage not to be as painfully obtuse and condescending as Mr. Gottlieb.

Which brings me to the question I haven’t been able to answer yet, and I’m very curious about your answer:

Do we as a community of readers of the romance genre need The New York Times at this point?

Seriously. I’m asking.

Because there is clearly so much room left for improvement in romance’s relationship with the Times, and I’m not sure we are the ones who should do the work to convince them to include more coverage from experienced writers. If they are starting from a place of very little insight and understanding, it’s not surprising that Mr. Gottlieb’s article assembled the alphabet in such a fashion. Do we want to do the work to bring them up to speed? Should we? Why?

I am over the moon that NK Jemisin covers Science Fiction and Fantasy for The New York Times. Expanding coverage, even with the removal of the mass market list? That’s brilliant!

This?

This was the opposite of brilliant. If anything, it was as if the Times was insisting on irrelevance to a significant and intelligent segment of the marketplace.

That said… I will admit I went looking for framing coupon codes for those who might want a custom mat board cut to fit their needs. There remains some optimism in me somewhere, I guess.

So what do you think? What’s your take?

Categorized:

General Bitching...

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Xena says:

    No, no I don’t need NYTBR to find good Romances . I love NYTBR and Bookmarks for other genres, but thank heavens for the Bitches when it comes to Romance.

  2. 2
    Glauke says:

    So, background note: I added SBTB to my feedly a while ago. For this, I clicked the link to read on the site and get a few ads viewed.

    Possibly the most useful phrase tumblr taught me is “You never have to be grateful it isn’t worse”. Which comes in handy in various contexts, this one among them.

    Women (trans and cis b/c women are women) and non binary people, we are the spine of the publishing world (pun gleefully intended), and what we love deserve to be treated with respect.

  3. 3
    Deborah says:

    omg omg omg

    Its readership is vast, its satisfactions apparently limitless, its profitability incontestable. And its effect? Harmless, I would imagine.

    I’m torn between rage at the condescension and nostalgia over the faint echo of HHGTTG. Nope, rage won. If I had a NYT subscription, I would cancel it and take the opportunity to write a letter on a dead tree informing the sales and editorial staff why I had done so. But since I don’t, I guess I’m just going to continue to mooch my ten free articles and rage.

    Until my rage button was pressed, my only thought about the article was that its factual inaccuracies, prurience, and general tone deafness to the genre reminded me of mainstream press coverage of fanfic a decade ago. (Ridiculing the tandem orgasm from Tessa Dare’s Duchess Deal — which is already making a satirical wink at the concept — takes misreading to meta levels.)

    Okay…I did laugh at Tessa Dare, author of “Romancing the Duke,” “Any Duchess Will Do,” “One Dance With a Duke” and “Say Yes to the Marquess.” (Not everyone can be a duke.) because dukes.

  4. 4
    Lostshadows says:

    If anyone wants to read it, but doesn’t want to waste a NYT free article on it, if your browser does private/incognito browsing, whatever they use to keep track doesn’t add it to your article count.

  5. 5
    Rachel says:

    I read this a few days ago and have had a hard time just getting my arms around it. There are at least a couple of points made that I don’t disagree with and even find somewhat helpful– like the idea that society glorifies ‘male’ fantasies like Bond and fast cars all the time, so why not ‘female’ fantasies? But the reductive way in which they those points were made, the exclusion of any readers who aren’t straight cis women, the treatment of even that limited readership as a monolith, and above all, the sense suffusing the whole thing that the writer is on some kind of wildlife safari imagining the habits and inner life of unknowable creatures, rather than reviewing books written for and by rational adult humans… It’s a lot. It’s like the thesis of the piece is that this is a harmless diversion for ‘those sorts.’ Which I guess is better (?) than outright calling it trash. But is still nothing like taking it– or the ‘sorts’ (a.k.a. *actual diverse human beings*) who read it–seriously.

    TL;DR: I feel like the piece was going out of its way to be consciously ‘benevolent’ to romance and women. But I don’t want benevolence. I want respect.

  6. 6
    Sarah S says:

    I think the article is incredibly condescending. I also think Reason magazine published a much better piece on Romance novels last year. (Although, of course I think they did; I wrote it.)

    Aside from the title (which I did not choose, and which I argued with the editor about), I worked very hard to produce a piece that’s respectful of readers and writers of romance, and that focuses on the enormously important work these novels do in terms of modelling autonomy, consent, a solid work ethic, and a host of other good things–as well as being delightful reads.

    https://reason.com/archives/2016/07/20/you-should-read-more-romance-n/print

  7. 7
    kkw says:

    The New York Times still has a prestige factor, but they haven’t deserved their reputation for I don’t even know how long now. The name conjures up echoes of excellence and insight and relevance, but only if you’re unfamiliar with their actual content. At this point they’re trading on the fact that no one can stand to read their bullshit anymore.

  8. 8
    Hazel says:

    @Sarah S: That was an eye opening article that makes me want to read all the books you mention. Thanks very much. I’m sure I’ve seen those authors mentioned here on SBTB and I wonder if they’re typical of the genre.

  9. 9
    Milly says:

    I stopped reading the NYT book review for book recommendations years ago. I love all genres and find reviews from most bloggers to be much more useful – good and bad reviews. That being said, what really upset about the article was the following:

    1. Tying women’s achievements back to men – golly gosh, did you know Eloisa James is the daughter of Robert Bly first and a Shakespearean professor 2nd? And BTW, she can write too, because she is Robert Bly’s daughter, that’s why she can write. Give me a break.

    2. As if giving women reasons to hope, dream and fantasize requires this man’s approval and gee, seeking fiction that gives us agency makes us any less valid. Thanks for the permission to demand better relationships, orgasms.

    3. And definitely not least – the complaint that an author’s characters weren’t “more African American” – that one threw me over the edge TBH. In this day and age of needing more diversity it really sounded like he wanted more cliches.

    I’m also struggling with the idea that this article must have hit multiple desks before it was published. Didn’t anyone in the editorial process at all think wait… what is actually being said here? Is this right or valid? The way I see it, it was a complete and total breakdown of best practice controls.

  10. 10
    Emily C says:

    Brilliant response to a (dare I use the phrase) “problematic” article, SB Sarah. Thank you!
    I immediately thought of NPRs Summer of Romance coverage from two years ago, which respected and revered the genre, its writers and readers. I continue to go back to their master list for recommendations and reviews. Overall their coverage is what opened my eyes to not just the feminist pov of romance novels but the incredible community of women that surrounds them. Yet again I find npr to be well-rounded and well-researched in their reporting- besting even the NYT in this case. They are increasingly my go to (and sometimes only) source for news that informs instead of preaches.
    It’s a shame the NYT has taken nearly the opposite approach to npr (and others as you point out) by ignoring the communal aspect of romance as one that forges and fosters female relationships as opposed to just offering “wish fulfillment and fantasy”. One more example of putting us in boxes labeled with dry, overused stereotypes instead of delving deeper. SMH we’re still not there yet, huh?

  11. 11
    Silver James says:

    There have been some great rebuttals. I found these two to be some of the best:
    https://medium.com/@ronhogan/all-the-dumb-things-you-can-say-about-romance-novels-in-one-convenient-place-e7afd70a5351

    Ron Hogan’s has been getting extensive play and praise on various romance loops and the second one popped up on my radar this morning.

    http://www.seattlereviewofbooks.com/notes/2017/09/27/robert-gottlieb-is-obviously-smitten/

    As for Mr. Gottlieb?

  12. 12

    I’m looking at this as NYTBR’s first time ever at bat… A big swing & a miss, but I’m excited to see that they’ve actually (and FINALLY) stepped up to the plate. I am a subscriber, so I will be writing a letter to the editor, but I want to encourage them to try again & to look at what NPR did as a much better incarnation of what they were trying to do. I find Mr. Gottlieb’s comments so laughably uninformed that I honestly have a hard time getting too mad about it, though I certainly support anyone in the romance community’s right to rage on this one.

  13. 13
    Janine says:

    Ugh. Well, it’s another example of one of the staples of NYT feature writing, In Which the Bewildered Author Attempts to Appreciate What the Plebians Like, Usually to No Avail (see also, the restaurant critic visits chain/celebrity restaurants). Only slightly more infuriating than their other favorite, In Which a Phenomenon/Issue Relevant only to a Tenth of a Tenth of a Tenth of the One Percent (Mostly Manhattanites) is Treated with the Gravity of Foreign Policy in the Middle East.

    I really see this as an editorial failure, in which the writer was woefully mismatched with the subject matter. I would have loved to see a version of this done in the style of the excellent NPR podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, in which they will typically review a Pop Culture Thing with a panel including: someone deeply versed in this type of Thing, who may or may not have appreciated this particular iteration, a couple of people with limited experience with the Thing, with different perspectives, and someone who is pretty new to this type of Thing, who can offer the outsider take (and also ask the newbie questions.) Contempt not allowed. It’s really successful, because it works for any kind of Thing–sports movies, Beyonce’s latest album, indie comedies, epic novels–and you can usually get a feel for how well it would work for you. What could have been…sigh.

  14. 14
    Silver James says:

    And to finish up, since my cat hit my touch screen and decided to post my comment before I finished…

    As for Mr. Gottlieb? As we say here in the South, “Bless his heart!”

  15. 15
    Shelly Bell says:

    It’s my opinion that the NYT planned on using this article to suppress the ongoing argument that they discriminate against the romance genre. I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that this article was published a few months after people complained they were discriminating against women when eliminating the mass market paperback bestseller list. Now they can point to this article when accused of ignoring the romance genre. The fact that it was a hit piece not only on romance, but its authors, readers, women in general, and romance with African-American main characters was just a bonus for the newspaper.

  16. 16
    Christine says:

    If we’re actually voting, then I’d say no, we don’t need them. Blame my west coast perspective, but I rarely read anything in the NYT that resonates with me.

  17. 17
    Ariadna says:

    Yes, it is true that the NYTBR does have a significant old school pedigree. However, my overall reaction to this editorial was a huge yawn. My apathy is born out of the sense that the NYTBR is not for readers like me because they routinely (actively?) ignore the kinds of books I like to read.

    In short, this feels like the emptiest of victories. The newspaper can use this as “proof” that it doesn’t discriminate the romance genre despite the fact that the article is such a backhanded piece. 😐

  18. 18
    devra says:

    personally, sarah, i agree with you – why do we need the NYT in this space? i am seriously tired of being trolled by “the paper of record.” it’s not enough to be in my political life, but in my pop cultural life as well? i don’t even want to give them the satisfaction of the clicks.

    i rely so much more on friends, blogs and twitter for my book recs and rabbit holes than the NYT, and always have done.

    i’d love to see, at some point, a “bitches assemble” response, or perhaps you could interview some of the respondents (such as ron hogan or sarah maclean) for their perspective. hogan’s piece made me laugh and cry and managed not to be a mansplainer, and many of the women writers out there have been even more incisive in their critiques.

  19. 19
    MissB2U says:

    I really, truly wanted to compose a comment as pithy and well thought out as those from the Bitchery.

    All I can come up with is “What a dickhead.”

    Eloísa James could wipe the floor with this clown with her brain tied behind her back.

  20. 20
    Jessa Slade says:

    It felt small, mean, backward, and clickbaity to me. I called and told them they have one week to do a REAL piece on romance or I’m pulling my subscription. I only throw my free-market weight around when I mean it, but this one really bugged me.

  21. 21
    denise says:

    They’re so out of touch: allowing an old man to talk out of both sides of his mouth to patronize the genre, authors, and readers. When you wink at me and insult me at the same time, I don’t need you. You told me everything I need to know about you.

    Definitely glad the authors received exposure, but it’s not the right way to do it.

  22. 22

    As a former journalist, these kind of articles really annoy me. I used to work for a daily newspaper, and I interviewed a lot of authors over the years (including romance authors). Journalism is about reporting the facts — not interjecting your own snark/opinions into a story.

    I also have to wonder what editor read this and thought that it was appropriate to publish.

    And what makes it worse (to me) is that this was written by a former publisher whose companies probably made hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars selling romance books.

    I agree with what other posters have said. If I’m looking for romance or other book recommendations, then I am looking at sites like Smart Bitches, Smexy Books, Happy Ever After, Heroes & Heartbreakers, etc. — sites that celebrate and appreciate books, authors, genres, and readers, instead of belittling them.

  23. 23
    Bea says:

    This made me remember Lois Bujold’s Guest of Honor speech:
    “…if romances are fantasies of love, and mysteries are fantasies of justice, I would now describe much SF as fantasies of political agency. All three genres also may embody themes of personal psychological empowerment, of course, though often very different in the details, as contrasted by the way the heroines ‘win’ in romances, the way detectives ‘win’ in mysteries, and the way, say, young male characters ‘win’ in adventure tales.”

    Bujold’s comment made me realize that “contemporary literature”–that genre Gottleib clearly views as the only “true” writing–is also a fantasy.

    It’s a fantasy of relevance, I suppose, or significance. That this little contemporary plot or this modern-day person is deep and meaningful, rather than, as that last shot in “Working Girl,” just one office/one story in a building full of stories, each equally insignificant outside of themselves.

    Not that any reader of the genre of “contemporary lit” will awaken to the knowledge that they are reading a genre and that there’s a reason it doesn’t sell well.

  24. 24
    Nicola says:

    I want to not be surprised when these guys don’t diss Romance. That’s the day I’m waiting for. I was genuinely surprised to learn there were others that didn’t, but then I had professors in college English who literally said “Thank god nobody submitted any (genre fic) this semester.” I’d submitted a bunch of genre fic previous semesters, so….

    I’ma submit some more. Coz [email protected]#$ em.

  25. 25
  26. 26
    DonnaMarie says:

    So the NTYBR assigned this to an 86yo white man for an editorial piece, and we’re surprised by the outcome? Don’t get me wrong, Mr. Gottlieb’s intellect and success are undeniable, however, I fail to see why the NYTBR would think his opinion on romance would be either enlightening or relevant.

    I’m with @Milly. Was the author supposed to include ethnic descriptors in every paragraph? Does the story have to be about their non-whiteness to validate the characters’ motivations or actions. The comment reeks of inferred need for racial stereotype to define characterization.

  27. 27
    DiscoDollyDeb says:

    Take it from an old timer, NEVER read anything about Romancelandia that is not written by someone from Romancelandia. My blood pressure has been high enough this week (try, just try, to guess why) without having the Times man-splain one of my favorite genres.

    /Also, women aren’t permitted to be aspirational. Pass it on.

  28. 28
    Elaine A says:

    I still can’t comprehend why someone thought an 86 year old man was the right person to write this round-up. Boggles the mind. That said, Olivia Waite’s piece in the Seattle Review of Books (Robert Gottleib is Obviously Smitten) left me with a grin. I imagine him cozy in his wing chair, a blanket across his lap and a scotch on-the-rocks well within reach, desperately waiting for his sequels to download.

  29. 29
    Lisa Mackay says:

    Hello Sarah,
    I really enjoyed reading this. Eloquently put by someone who really understands the genre, and women for that matter.
    I’m a U.K. author, a woman, and I write Romance so it does strike a nerve when romantic fiction is treated as fluff and nonsense.
    Maybe this guy doesn’t get out much? But someone gave him the okay which probably means his viewpoint is entrenched.
    In my country we have a word for men like Mr. Gottlieb, (the patronizing little dear), but I’d have to care about his opinion to warrant such an outburst, and I don’t. I choose instead to herald the positives and
    congratulate all those authors who gained the exposure. Woo-Hoo!

  30. 30
    chacha1 says:

    I skimmed through the article, which was linked by The Ripped Bodice on FB, and had all the rage. Then I Googled this Gottlieb character and sure enough he is 86 years old and has worked in traditional publishing all his life. No wonder he sneers at romance novels.

    I guess he’s kind of a name in NYC publishing? I wouldn’t know because, gee golly, the 150+ books I read every year are mostly genre fiction. Not, in short, the kind of books the NYT evidently thinks deserve to be considered “real books.” And I know, lots of NYT staffers contributed to this article and whatever, but the EDITORIAL STATEMENT was condescending, sexist, etc etc ad nauseum.

    It’s like people saying the WSJ has balanced news reporting. Maybe so, but the editorial statement is “rich people deserve all the money and poor people deserve to die.” This statement from the NYT says “real writers deserve this kind of coverage and romance writers **and readers** deserve to be shit on.” It’s astoundingly tone-deaf given that romance novels have propped up the publishing houses for decades (as they publish slate after slate of prestigious literary downers) and thus the entire field of literary criticism.

    Does romance need the NYT? No. Nobody needs the NYT. If you want real news about real issues in the real world, read The Economist and BBC.com. And if you want thoughtful coverage of romance novels, read SBTB. 🙂

  31. 31
    LML says:

    Upon reading the title of this post I knew INSTANTLY that the article itself could be nothing but a train wreck. Anyone who has followed author Jennifer Weiner would expect the same.

    If the NYT felt the subject required a male reviewer they could have hired Michael Dirda (formerly of WaPo’s Book World). It was his admiring mention of Georgette Heyer in a review that led me to “discover” her work.

  32. 32

    We, as romance authors and readers do not need the trash rag of NYTBR. Since they stopped covering most sections of romance sales, they weren’t worth AS much. To even come close to publishing that piece of tripe proves we don’t need them. Gottleib may have written it, but it had to go through several people before hitting the page. I won’t be looking to them for reviews/opinions at all. Ever again.

  33. 33
    Mina Lobo says:

    Romance does not need the NYT, Gottlieb, or any of his ilk. Screw them and the supercilious wankfest they rode in on.

    Nor need we vindicate romance or the pleasure we take in it. Art is art and that’s that.

  34. 34
    Darlynne says:

    I subscribe to the NYTBR newsletter, sent out by Editor Pamela Paul. The newsletter arrived today, after I’d read the article, and my eyebrows were all over the place at this:

    “… Gottlieb is an acclaimed biographer and a dance critic. His last review for us was of a biography of Toscanini, and yet he is also an unabashed fan of love stories. That joy in reading comes through loud and clear in his cover essay.

    We obviously read two different essays, Ms. Paul. Or perhaps one of us is mistaken about what came through clearly in Gottlieb’s essay. It wasn’t love.

  35. 35
    Darlynne says:

    Oops. Sorry, doubt post. Delete #34, if you can, please.

  36. 36
    SB Sarah says:

    No worries, Darlynne. Done.

  37. 37
    Audra says:

    I think the “any publicity is good publicity” argument is complete crap. It’s like saying the popular crowd noticed you, even if it was to tell you that you smell and you’ll never be one of them, so yay you! Progress. I’m, no. F that. That’s messed up. So is giving the NYTBR a free pass because “their exposure to romance is in its infancy,” or whatever. You don’t give prejudice an “it’s okay, they don’t know any better” or a “that’s just how it is in their culture” — you shut that shit down, and let the perpetrator know that attitudes like that aren’t okay.

  38. 38
    Sofia says:

    I just thought you might be interested on this response from The Seattle Times

    http://www.seattlereviewofbooks.com/notes/2017/09/27/robert-gottlieb-is-obviously-smitten/

  39. 39
    SB Sarah says:

    I LOVE that response so much – that’s Olivia Waite, who I quoted above. She’s utterly rad.

  40. 40
    Nicola says:

    And also yes to those who said ‘clickbaity’ – that’s what I got from this, because it’s so obviously a hit piece. I expect they do subscribe to the ‘any publicity is good publicity’ theorem. Or perhaps they just need some free content generated by outraged Romance fans.

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