Friday, November 15, 2013

Challenge a Romance Doubter

In my post about last month's Princeton conference on the Popular Romance Author, I wrote of Professor Kay Mussell's challenge to scholars of the romance genre to question the popular assumption that all romance novels are the same, and that all romance = bad literature. Scholars certainly have a role to play in shifting common knowledge. But the burden doesn't need to rest only upon academia. Everyday readers of romance can play a role in such a project, too.

Do you know someone who likes to read other sorts of genre fiction, but who believes that romance is beneath him/her? That romance is badly written, or cloyingly sentimental, or oppressive to women? I challenge you to challenge that person—a colleague, a neighbor, a friend—to sit down and read a romance you recommend, then talk with you about the experience.

I recently found myself inadvertently in the midst of such a challenge. During the school year, several families in my neighborhood get together for dinner once a week. We began the tradition when our kids were toddlers, when we noticed that unlike the summer, when the kids were all out on the sidewalks and the street enjoying each others' company, they barely saw one another during the colder months. Initially, our weekly dinners served not only to give the neighborhood kids the chance to play together as a group once a week, but also gave harried parents a much-appreciated respite from cooking three out of four Wednesdays each month (host family cooks for all). Most important to us grown-ups, with only one or two parents needed to supervise the the toddling hordes, our weekly dinners gave us new parents a chance to engage in all-too-rare adult conversations, conversations about politics, sex, salacious gossip, and myriad other topics that we'd almost forgotten in the constant chatter about Big Bird, baby wipes, or whether a frozen bagel or an plastic ice teether worked best to soothe sore infant gums.

Over the years, we've come to share news about our work lives, too, and support each other through the ups and downs of our careers. My neighbors encouraged me during the difficult years of writing a dissertation with a small child vying for my attention, and, more recently, have heard about the ups and downs of my attempts to parlay my academic writing skills into the fiction-writing realm. Several months ago, somewhat to my surprise, one of my neighbors, an MIT grad working as a computer programmer, asked to read my current work in progress. After reading the chapters I sent him, he told me his reactions, but admitted that his unfamiliarity with romance fiction made it difficult for him to judge what I'd written. He asked if I could recommend an exemplar of the genre, so he could have a point of reference, and so critique my work more constructively.

I ran upstairs to my office, and plucked two historical romances off my shelf, one a classic, one a more recent favorite: Laura Kinsale's 1992 Flowers from the Storm and Cecilia Grant's 2013 A Woman Entangled. Though he seemed a bit embarrassed by the cover of Grant's novel, he thanked me politely and took both home.

Would my neighbor have read
the book if I'd given him this edition?
I wasn't sure whether he would actually read either one of the books, but one long business trip plane flight found him turning the pages of the Kinsale. And after he returned home, he kept reading. Last week, while still in the midst of the book, he told me how much he was enjoying the experience. He'd been particularly surprised by the depth of research that had gone into writing it. "Are you sure this wasn't really written by a man, pretending to be a woman?" he asked. If another one of my neighbors had said this, I would have known he was joking, just trying to yank my chain, but this man is of a more serious cast. "Did you really just say something that sexist?" I asked, much to our fellow neighbors' amusement, and perhaps a bit to his chagrin. "Well, I just didn't think a romance writer would be interested in finance, and the state of medicine at the time, or any of the other historical details in the book," he said, before the general conversation moved to another topic.

The next week, dinner was at his house, and we had the chance to talk more about reaction to the book before some of our other neighbors arrived, and later, during the dinner. He'd finished it by then, and told me again how much he'd enjoyed it. In fact, he started asking me questions and talking about details of plot that I, not having read the book in several years, did not even remember. His wife told me she'd never seen him so engaged by a work of fiction, or read a book so quickly. Though he felt the story veered more towards Maddy's point of view, he thought both Maddy and Jervaulx well-developed and compelling; the plot held his interest; and the historical details gave him a strong sense of place. He was a bit more cagey when I asked him about the romance aspects of the novel—a bit shy to discuss sex in mixed company? Or just not that interested in that aspect of the book?

At the end of dinner, I asked for my book back, and he handed me both the Kinsale and the Grant. When I asked if he wanted to hold on to A Woman Entangled, he shrugged, saying "Better not take the chance of ruining the experience by trying another." Was he, despite having read Flowers from the Storm, unpersuaded that romance in general might be better than he had assumed? Or was it that he no longer felt the need to read another romance? Or was it, as his wife suggested, the appearance of the half-clothed man on the cover of the Grant that gave him pause? ["I did enjoy the book but I probably won't make time to become a fan of romances or any other genre really. I read only a few books a year, a mix of fiction and nonfiction, and I don't expect that habit will change in the near future," he wrote to me later when I asked].

In return for giving me his reactions, he asked me for mine. In particular, he was curious about whether I considered Kinsale's book feminist. My gut reaction is both yes and no, but I'm going to have to go back and reread Flowers from the Storm more carefully with his question in mind.

I asked my neighbor if he would take a look at this post before I published it, to make sure I was accurately representing his views. After reading it, he sent me these two additional comments:

I thought at some points the book also caters shamelessly to stereotypical female cravings: handsome guy, bad boy needs to be straightened out, can't resist him, tough but tender, boss in bed, etc. "Emotional porn" came to mind. It's still a great book. In fact, part of its greatness is that it does those things so deftly and delicately.

In hindsight, it's clear from my reactions that I was giving the genre less credit than it deserves, or at least than Laura Kinsale deserves.


So, while the experience hasn't made a life-long romance reader out of my neighbor, I do believe it made him think a bit more about the assumptions he'd taken for granted about the genre I like to read, and the book I'm trying to write. The whole experience made me wonder: what would happen if romance readers each challenged one romance doubter to actually sit down and read an exemplar of the genre? Would the common knowledge about the genre of romance change?

Can you imagine extending such an invitation to a romance doubter you know? If you take up the challenge, I'd love to hear what book you choose, and how your romance doubter reacts...

43 comments:

  1. I enjoyed this post. Also, I think FFTS is a brilliant novel. I love it. You may find this interesting from a different perspective. I worked with primarily guys at a tech company for 10 years. We were all in marketing. So we had one of those corporate "let's all get to know each other days," and I confessed about my writing (I wasn't published then). Since they were all marketers, I figured they would be most interested in the business side. I was right. There were very intrigued about how publishing works. Since that time, I've left marketing, but my colleagues have remained supportive via Facebook. My years in marketing taught me that perception is reality. Smart authors and readers can influence how our genre is perceived.

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    1. Thanks, Vicky, for stopping by and sharing your experiences. Totally agree that smart authors and readers can make a difference in how the genre is perceived. Talking about the business end of romance publishing is another good way to shift the conversation in a direction that challenges the stereotypes about the genre.

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  2. I convinced my husband to read one romance novel. I don't know if I can say he was a romance doubter in the sense of thinking it "beneath him", poorly written or plotted (he's not a literature snob at all). I guess he had just never felt like the genre might interest him, and unfortunately, his experience confirmed it (I suggested him Sweet Starfire by JAK because he likes sci-fi...). He didn't feel like it was a bad book, and still managed to finish it (which I suppose counts for something), but the romance and sexual parts bored (or embarrassed?) him. The descriptions of the hero's physical attractiveness from the heroine's POV really made him feel like it was a book written for women... which, to be fair, it is! So his conclusion was simply "not for me".

    I still think that this can be analysed from a feminist point of view: the fact that for so long, the majority of books were written by men, for men, with little regard to what women might feel about them and whether they could relate to the experiences they depicted. Yet those are deemed somewhat universal, and women have been reading them all the same and internalizing the worldviews they contain. It is much harder to convince people (men) of (doing) the opposite.

    Quotes found in Joanna Russ's "How To Suppress Women's Writing" come to mind:

    "This is an important book, the critic assumes, because it deals with war. This is an insignificant book because it deals with the feelings of women in a drawing-room. A scene in a battlefield is more important than a scene in a shop." - Virginia Woolf

    (The idea that historical details and a serious subject like "finance" make a book's quality... not a woman's feelings for a man.)

    "a young professor I met at a cocktail party in 1970 who, upon hearing that I was teaching Jane Eyre, said, “What a lousy book! It’s just a lot of female erotic fantasies,” as if female erotic fantasies were per se the lowest depth to which literature could sink." - Cynthia Griffin Wolff

    (Are female fantasies contagious? Why is it so important for men to keep away from them? Aren't there any "male (erotic or emotional) fantasies" in the classics that we, men and women, are told to respect and learn from?)

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    1. Thanks, Jeanne, for your reminders about the long history of suppression of women's writing, and how such suppression ends up making literature by men appear to be the "norm." I wonder if your husband would respond to sci-fi romance that included a different vision of gender relations than Krentz brings to the table. Might he be willing to give someone like Lois McMaster Bujold or Linnea Sinclair a try?

      It would be interesting to give this challenge to a woman reader, to see if the same reservations/resistances come to the fore as did from my male neighbor. Are the "stereotypical female cravings" that my neighbor mentions appealing to female readers but not to male readers? Or are they appealing to some women (and some men), but not to others? Which pattern would be more common?

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  3. I've had this experience many times because very few of my friends and acquaintances read romance novels. Once I started writing them, these friends were kind enough to read my books and those of other authors I recommended. One of the primary differences my friends noted between romance and literary fiction was the level of melodrama. That opened up a lot of great discussion about the purpose and impact of melodrama in literature (and film, music, etc.), about the ways in which this overt approach to emotion is or isn't feminist, about the role of melodrama in working class art, and about why melodrama is taken less seriously than art that is more detached in tone. Also, everyone loves the sex! Lots of my female friends have kick-started their flagging sex lives with the romance novels I've loaned them, which is totally delightful. Still, none of these friends has progressed to hanging out in the romance aisle at the bookstore. Like your friend, most still feel embarrassed by the covers and/or convinced that the good books they've tried are flukes.

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    1. Rebecca:

      I like the idea of using the concept of melodrama as a way to think about romance and its denigration. Melodrama and its sister, sentimentalism, weren't gendered when they first appeared as descriptive terms, were they? But in our day, they've definitely taken on gendered connotations. And the idea of bringing class into the mix is a fascinating one. Did you conclude that melodrama is more common in working class art than in more culturally lauded high art?

      Wish I could have been a fly on the wall during some of those conversations between you and your friends...

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    2. I suspect that "melodrama" is deemed acceptable in older texts: Hamlet's father is dead, killed by Hamlet's uncle, who then married Hamlet's mother, and while trying to get revenge Hamlet sees a ghost, kills his girlfriend's father and she commits suicide. Is that not melodrama?

      I also suspect that there's a fair amount of overlap between "melodrama" and the "high mimetic" mode which is very common in romance but which I think has fallen out of fashion in literary fiction.

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  4. Oh yes, I absolutely think it's more common in working class art. Soap operas, telenovelas, heavy metal, hip hop, action movies, romance -- yes. Melodrama can be incredibly subversive because it elicits strong, universal human emotions around which people can gather, organize and unite. It inspires a collective experience which can lead to collective action, which is why you often see melodrama employed in the films and literature of social movements.

    Statistically speaking, working class people participate more in collective/community experiences (by necessity, perhaps, as our more precarious economic situation requires helping each other), whereas middle and upper class people tend to be more isolated/individualist. (Capitalism requires an individualist set of values, and those who are more successful in a capitalist system are more likely to adhere to these individualist values, which favor intellectualism, objectivity, stoicism and emotional detachment.) These are huge generalizations, of course. They describe trends more than individual behaviors, so there's wide variation from person to person. But I think they help explain why middle and upper class people tend to shy away from melodrama, why working class people tend to be drawn to it, and why forms of melodrama would be denigrated by ruling elites (because it carries the potential for a collective experience among working class people that could lead to collective action which would challenge social injustice).

    That was wordy! :)

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    1. Rebecca:
      Lots to chew on in this succinct (not wordy!) reply. Many intellectuals look down on melodrama because of its appeal to emotions, rather than to the thinking parts of one's brain. It's difficult to tell from the OED definition of "melodramatic" exactly when people started using the term not just to describe a melodrama (a drama with music), but in the "depreciative" sense: "characterized by sensationalism and spurious pathos." But I can imagine that that second usage came from the intelligentsia, not the working class.

      Interesting to think how gender and class may work together to reinforce one's view of melodrama, or may be at odds, and to see which identity trumps which ...

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  5. This post was fascinating and the subsequent comments even more so. I don't have much to contribute except to say that the cover issue is unlikely to be an issue for very much longer. I remember reading in some popular magazine at the dentist's office that one of the reasons Fifty Shades had become such a phenomenon was because of e-readers. No embarrassing cover. It's a terrible example of the genre, but there's no doubt that it has been more widely read than the Sleeping Beauty books or Story of O. I mean, those are much more cult and Fifty Shades has a mainstream movie deal with well-known actors. If not for the embarrassment factor, might more romances find mainstream audiences? It seems a continuation of the path started down with chick lit. No embarrassing covers seems to have equaled more mainstream acceptance and some of the sex is nearly as explicit.

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    1. When the 50 SHADES books were picked up by a print publisher, they came out with very classy-looking covers, though.

      I'd really love to see the data Marketing folks at publishers rely upon when making their decisions about covers. When I worked at a children's trade book publisher, cover decisions were made based on the reactions of the designer, editor, head of sales, and head of marketing, with no actual analysis or polling of potential audiences. Does the mass market world do more actual research about what covers sell, and to what audiences?

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  6. What kind of book are you writing, Jackie, if you don't mind my asking?

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    1. I'm writing a historical romance -- given all the knowledge of the period I imbibed while researching my dissertation on early 19th c British children's literature, the Regency seemed the right place for me. Fiction writing requires many different skills than literary analysis does, though, so it's taking me far longer to write (and revise, and revise!) than I had hoped it would do...

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  7. My partner respects my romantic novels reading, but he does not share it because he is not interested in the sexual or romantic relationship part. But he has read some romantic suspense and he enjoyed, and said something like 'it's very professionally written, the author knows the techniques to keep you involved in the story'.
    So I guess that -for biological or cultural reasons, I don't know- some themes do not interest men, that's it. Which is something wrong in them, not in us. Why are not interested in the expression of common human feelings?
    And certainly they will not be caught dead with such covers on their hands. Really, we do not realize how 'turning off' those covers are.
    But, in general, I think they don't consider 'our little novels are unworthy'. What I can't understand is why there are women that do not even give them a try.
    The problem I've got is choosing romance novels good enough for those non-romantic readers. I mean, imagine you are not interested in sci-fi. You don't want to lose your time in something you're not interested in. But you could probably enjoy your time reading a good sci-fi book if it's the best of the genre.
    So, the problem is what book recommend. And there are very few books I would recommend. Flowers from the Storm is certainly the first that comes to my mind. I'd add 'Morning Glory' (Spencer), 'Lethal' or 'Envy' (S. Brown) or 'Dream Man' (L. Howard), 'It had to be you (SEP) or 'True Confessions' (Gibson) depending of the kind of reader.

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    1. Joane:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. What is it about the books you do feel comfortable recommending to non-romance readers that you think makes them "the best of the genre"?

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    2. I think Flowers... and Morning Glory have both of them a literary quality: ambition in the plot, put a lot of care in the style , there's psychological depth in the portrait of the characters.
      Some of the other books I mention are very good in their genre, with switchs in the plot, cliffhangers, red herrings,... all the tricks of the suspense/thriller genre.
      And some of them are great because of the humour. If you laugh or smile with a book it's difficult to disdain it.

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  8. I got my husband to read his first romance novel years ago. He was really resistant to the idea at first and it even took some bribery and negotiating on my part, but I won. Because he likes fantasy (Lord of the Rings fan) I was very selective on what I chose as his first introduction into the genre and all it's sub-genres. I didn't want his first read to be a failure. So I tried to think what, out of everything I had read, would be most appealing to both sexes. The book I chose was part of a series and he enjoyed it so much he wound up tearing through all the other books in record time, then asked me what's next.
    Now he reads anything I suggest because he's lost his trepidations about the genre and all it's sub-genres. He has no qualm either about reading books with saucy covers. He doesn't like the covers, but he's more aware that you can't judge the content by what's on the front. I'll be the first to admit that I like some of the saucy covers, but I'd rather give them up for covers that would be more appealing to both sexes. I really hate it when I read a novel that is so well written I could see men enjoying it too, but they'd never pick it up on their own because there's a half naked man on the cover. What a loss. It disappoints me really.

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    1. I'd like to add that it's not just covers, but also titles that turn men away. Some of my husbands favorites have titles that drive him nuts. The most common complaint I hear from him aside from the racey covers is why can't they come up with better titles? Ones that don't scream "Girl Porn!" right from the start.

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    2. Hi, Fiction Fool, and thanks for dropping by. Glad your spouse has an open mind, and has taken advantage of having you to recommend good romance reads.

      What in your mind constitutes "Girl Porn," both illustration-wise and title-wise?

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    3. I think for my husband, anything that is suggestive in a sensual manner. For instance, he loves J.R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood, but he can't stand the titles, Dark Lover, Lover this and Lover that, etc. Plus, every cover has a man and woman embracing each other in some way. While these things appeal to women, they bother my husband for some reason. I'm not sure why. While he doesn't mind the romance within the story, he doesn't like seeing the sensual stuff on the front cover. Perhaps, it embarrasses him? Maybe he wouldn't want anyone seeing him holding a book with that type of cover? Which wouldn't be a valid argument considering that no one knows what you're reading these days when you're on an ereader.
      He also, likes Karen Marie Moning's Fever series, but again, the titles bother him. Not so much the covers though. Probably because instead of a couple embracing or a half naked man, it's usually a hot female. Men!
      Currently he is listening to Laura Kinsale's Flowers from the Storm in audiobook format, but has no issues with either the title or the cover. So it may be an issue with respectability. I'm truly not sure. Because both the title of Flowers from the Storm and the cover are very feminine, but not sensual.
      This would definitely be a good idea for a poll or survey. I'd be interested to get into the male mind on the subject.

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    4. I just noticed your question was directed at me. So I'll answer for myself now. First, you'd have to answer the question, what is "Girl Porn?" Is it any romance with sex in it or are we talking erotica. The answer to this is probably different for everyone. For me, "Girl Porn" is erotica. For men, it's probably any romance containing a sex scene (I'm guessing here). Covers are also misleading. There are many romances out there with topless men on the cover that, in my opinion, don't fall into the category of "Girl Porn." There are also many erotica novels with covers that don't exploit the male or female body by using only objects, like ties, wine glasses, shoes, etc., and then there are the covers that give you no doubts as to what you'll find in the contents. Usually an image portraying bondage in some form or fashion, or more nudity than the norm. Just enough to be get the point across without full exposure. So I'm not really sure I can answer that question. Other than to say, that the blatantly obvious covers on erotica novels would be the ones that scream "Girl Porn" to me.

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    5. Same goes for titles as well. Titles on many erotica novels are not usually reflective of their contents. Where historical, paranormal, or contemporary romance is usually suggestive of the fact that it is a romance and probably contains sex scenes simply by the title alone.

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    6. I am a girl and I like the books but I HATE the covers! I mean they are just so ridiculous! Everytime I see a half naked man on the front it always cracks me up and generally turns me off the book.
      It just gives this really bad vibe where you think it will be some stereotypical romance with a devastatingly handsome man who is just perfect in every way, and the woman is so weak and always needs saving...
      I always felt like it was somehow demeaning to women. Like old fashioned times where the man is the brains and the brawn and the woman just falls all over him and can't do anything and he'll say things like "you can't do that silly, you're just a woman!"
      Also why does he always have to have that look on his face, like, "Oh my good, I am just the most beautiful creature on the planet" and his shirt just HAS to rip open. Whats wrong with buttons?
      It's like the appeal is only in the looks I suppose, thats what the cover tells me.
      It really makes me cringe and every time I pick up a book with that kind of cover I suppose it is embarrassing.
      I mean come on, that picture on flowers of the storm, its hilarious and ridiculous! It's just overly dramatic, I can't explain it well.
      It's like, why are you focussing on the looks!? The characters are so much more! And a lot of the times they don't even look like the book characters, just some stand in oaf.

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  9. I would also recommend for guys Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series. There's enough action and sci fi to satisfy them, I think.

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    1. Thanks for the recommendation, Anonymous. A scholar gave an interesting paper on Gabaldon and her fans at the conference on The Romance Author I recently attended. I have to admit I've not yet taken the plunge into her work--the fervidness of those fans makes me a little wary. Someday soon, though...

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    2. I think you would enjoy them. Wonderful characters, plot, tons of adventure, darn good writing.

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    3. I'm one of the few that didn't like the only book I've read, the first of the series. It was -for me- kind of disjointed very Brigadoonish scenes and, of course, there are those scenes with physical punishment. But I tell you, I'm one of the few. And when I say I dindn't like it, a lot of people said nasty things to me. I hope they don't follow me here.

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    4. I like Outlander and the rest of the series but I wouldn't use it to challenge a romance doubter, because I don't think Gabaldon is really writing romance. The first book, possibly, but the rest are family saga with fantasy elements.

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    5. Yes, Ros, I've heard that Gabaldon dislikes being called a romance writer, and that the books beyond the first title don't fall neatly within the category...

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    6. That scholar of Gabaldon and her fans is a friend; so glad you thought her paper was interesting! She and I met in the Outlander fan world and became friends IRL - not sure if that makes us fervid, but I do know what you mean about being wary since many fans are intolerant of any critique of the books and there is ambivalence in abundance about whether they belong in the romance genre. Neither of us are active participants anymore. Because I do suspect Gabaldon may have more male readers than most romance authors, thought I would mention this interesting and fun Salon piece about a guy and his "Outlander thing." http://www.salon.com/1999/08/12/outlander/

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  10. by the way, what exactly does the question mean: 'is it feminist?' historically, in the time setting for Flowers in the Storm, women couldn't vote, they and their children, and their wealth were the property of their husbands, and they could be beaten if they got 'above themselves.' Heroines in romances tend not to be women who lay down and die at the first challenge. I find the question itself to be arrogant - from a man, anyways. I think reading anything you darn well please is exercising my feministry.

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    1. Hi, Anonymous (are you one of the previous anonymous posters, or a different one?):

      My neighbor wanted to know whether I thought the book was feminist, since the blog I write here aims to recommend books that would appeal to those with feminist sensibilities, and avoids promoting romances which I feel encourage women to see themselves as less than men. Thus, I didn't find his question arrogant, but thought-provoking.

      How feminist can a book set in a time period before feminism even existed? When I ask this question of a specific work of historical romance, I think both in terms of the historical time period (i.e., what rights and roles were available at the time for women, were there any women actively advocating for better roles and rights for themselves and other females), as well as in terms of our contemporary definition of feminism: a belief that women and men should have equal rights, and the actions one takes (and doesn't take) when one holds said belief.

      I'm not convinced that "reading anything I darn well please is exercising my feministry." Some books espouse ideas that invite women to think themselves less than men, while others espouse ideas that invite women to think of themselves as equal to men. Most romances, I think, have strands of both ideas floating around in their pages.

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    2. Oops, in the 2nd paragraph, I should have added a "be" to the opening sentence: "How feminist can a book set in a time period before feminism even existed be?"

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    3. (I'm the anonymous that rec'd Gabaldon). I really don't understand his question to you regarding Flowers...Storm - what was he wanting to know? Did the book forward the notion of equality of woman versus what? was he hinting that ultimately, it's just emotional porn? I interpreted his question as, 'well, I read the book, enjoyed it, not really interested in reading another romance, oh and by the way, what is the ultimate purpose of this book - does it promote equality for women enough?' I think it was a throw away comment as to the book's ultimate value to him, and in questioning it's worth to you, he really didn't care much either way but that he has to say something that would stop your questions. I don't ask men if the books they read promote the rights of man. I might ask them if it was interesting, thought provoking, or profound on some level. But not, 'is it manist?' I feel like such a beotch writing this, but really I not trying to be. I think you might wish to find another man to give the book a go and commit to talking more deeply about it. FITStorm, I felt, must have been extremely challenging story to write when one of your characters cannot speak.

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    4. I wouldn't second guess the question "is it feminist?" if it were asked to me.
      Some books, especially these romance kind of books written BY women do not promote feminism at all.
      I'll give you an example, a character that is weak useless, always needs saving and is nothing without her man is NOT feminist.
      An independent woman who stands up for herself and is admirable with a strong personality can be considered feminist.
      Even with the time period you can find feminist and non-feminist stuff. Some books basically preach that it's okay to be like those weak willed china doll women. Some preach intelligence and actually frustration at the time periods rules and nonsense.
      It doesn't actually have to necessarily preach anything though, really I think it depends on the authors intentions. An author can make a dependant character with no real goals and be sending a message that it's alright, she is someone to look up to. Or they might get the same character and be telling the audience that his is a bad example and not to glorify the whole thing, it may even be a self-realising thing.
      feminism has been more of an issue in the past and the present than manism(?) which is why it's a topic that isn't ignored.
      I have seen it go both ways though, where the man is the weak stupid ordinary one (the main character) and the female is a sexy goddess that falls in love with him for hardly a reason, but in the end generally she still needs saving.

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  11. Very informative and interesting blog. Thanks for posting.

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  12. I struggle with the covers. Reading romance as an eBook is much more accessible than choosing a paperback with a 'lurid' cover. I do not even like the idea of reading a romance between two people who are so picture perfect. Stories that are about less than perfect people are so much more appealing to me. I think I am a romance doubter who is trying to change my opinions by reading Jackie's recommendations in her blog.. I have only started reading romance in the past couple of years. I am a pariah in the Jane Austen fan fiction world because I do not believe like so many that she was the mother of the modern romance novel but instea believe she was the mother of the modern psychological novel. However, I did decide to immerse myself in the genre just in case I was wrong. I first read all of Georgette Heyer, and I adore her. I think her characterizations are delightful. I love her humor. She is my go to gal when I need a pick me up. I read the 50 Shades trilogy and did not despise it. I thought it was poorly written (I seriously thought Christian was going to go bald considering the number of times he ran his fingers through his hair and talk about melodramatic) but I admired the way James had her two characters learn things about themselves through sex. I became a huge fan of Courtney Milan before I stopped by Jackie's blog. I read Jennifer Crusie because of this site and I find her reminiscent of Donald E Westlake but with romance. I will continue to explore her titles just as I read all of Westlake's years ago. Next, I read Cara McKenna's Intermix novels. I truly enjoyed the discovery the characters go through. I have just bought the Laura Kinsale referred to in this article. It is doubly interesting because I am currently caregiver to the man who has been my partner and my love forty plus years. Kinsale's plot seems as though it might speak to me. I think that is what I am looking for right now--novels that entertain while ringing true. Before I went down this path, Marge Piercy was my favorite author. I like her women-centric historical novels, but of course they are not romances.

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    1. Can't Austen be the mother of the modern romance novel AND the mother of the modern psychological novel?

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  13. I was one of those doubters! The last time I'd looked at a romance was in the 80s and it definitely wasn't for me, plus a lot of internalized sexism meant I didn't want to be caught dead reading anything "girly". Even as my perspective started to shift and unpacking my prejudices began, I didn't look into romance because I didn't know anyone else who read them (I work at a large bookstore). I finally wound up in a conversation about them with one of the overnight stockers, she suggested Nalini Singh, and the rest, as they say, is history. I'm deeply in love with the genre, the writers, the readers and likely get more information from romance websites than I do the daily news.

    I've also articulated this to a lot of other folks, both friends and my husband, and they've been very interested on what converted me from die hard Sci Fi/Fantasy to a Romance junkie (although I tend to alternate between genres, I find romance to be a great palate cleanser and mood lightener, even if it's ANGST ANGST ANGST), so we've had a lot of great staffroom or drinks after work conversations. My husband was willing to read the first Psy-Changling novel, mostly because I was so excited about the worldbuilding, but after finishing it he said he enjoyed it all right but gosh there was a lot of sex. He's not a huge reader in general but when he starts reading he can't put a book down (he just devoured the Dresden series, and it was his first time reading an actual series of books), so I try to be very choosy on what I recommend to him.

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    1. Thanks, Sunny, for sharing your experiences. I like your point that for many women, our own internalized sexism makes us wary of being caught with the "girly" books in hand.

      I've not yet read Nalini Singh -- she, like so many other SF and fantasy writers, keeps going with the same series, and I hate coming late to the party! But I think she's an author I'll just have to go back to the beginning with, and reconcile myself to reading the 12 and counting books to get up to speed.

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  14. Hi Jackie!

    Your article is very interesting, as well as the comments posted by readers, especially the one with quotes (Virginia Woolf's and others').

    I wrote a romance story that does not go by the formula, and would love if you could check it out. It's in Wattpad's Hot List and it appeals to readers of various age brackets, both male and female:

    http://www.wattpad.com/story/5785341-red

    Please do not judge it only by the blurb, as it's supposed to be catchy to wattpaders. The story goes way beyond cliche. It has quirks, eroticism, music, humor, and invites the reader to reflect about the meaning of relationships. You don't have your regular happy ending there either (not that it is a sad ending).

    I love to write romance stories. However, when I thought of submitting mine to publishing houses like Harlequin, I found out there's this formula that authors must embrace. On one hand, it's what readers expect to find in the romance genre. On the other, it does contribute to make the romance genre poorer as a result...

    Cheers,

    Nicole

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  15. For the very first time, I gave my husband a romance novel to see what he thought. I chose Hard Day's Knight by Katie MacAllister because it's set at a Renaissance Faire and incorporates a lot of jousting detail, which fits squarely into my husband's interests. It's also quite funny. And he LOVED it. Like, devoured it in three days. Then asked what other romances I could recommend. I'd just finished Flowers From the Storm and he was fascinated by the divergent classes and personalities of the hero and heroine so I've given him that one next. I don't know how much he'd enjoy the average formulaic girl-meets-duke historical, but I don't really either. And thinking about what to recommend to him has really made me sift through the old memory banks to identify the best quality books. If he likes FFTS, I'll probably give him Prince of Midnight next. And if not, maybe Thief of Shadows by Elizabeth Hoyt since it's got a comic book sort of feel that I think he might like. I'm finding this very amusing and wondering if anyone else has similar luck with giving their men romances?

    -Elisabeth

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    1. So cool, Elisabeth! Glad both you and your spouse are enjoying the challenge.

      I haven't read HARD DAY'S KNIGHT -- do you think I'd like it?

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