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Rmances: Can't Get No Respect
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Lynda X



Joined: 05 Apr 2007
Posts: 1410

PostPosted: Wed May 30, 2012 9:36 am    Post subject: Rmances: Can't Get No Respect Reply with quote

Two incidents last week showed me how under the radar romances are to serious discussions of literature.

I began last week's New Yorker's fairly long article about the joys of guilty pleasure reading with great enthusiasm that waned as I went on. Wouldn't you think that any article about the joys of reading fun books would include romances? Oh, I forgot. Romances may write the checks that feed the publishing houses to support "serious literature,", but apparently, they do not exist. Only mysteries and action adventure novels qualify as great light novels. At least in The New Yorker.

A few days later, a woman on NPR said during a difficult time, she wanted a book full of joy. None of her friends' recommendations of the usual psychopathological novels qualified. Mentally listing all the romances that are "full of joy," I hoped that FOR ONCE, someone's opinions might positively mention a romance. Stupid me. Instead, we were presented with an enthusiastic recommendation of a book I immediately detested about a woman, trapped in a loveless marriage, who receives joy from her garden. I know. Her garden.

So, I will go now to read a neglected, rejected, and overlooked romance. It gives me joy.
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Pan's Wife



Joined: 01 Jul 2009
Posts: 89

PostPosted: Wed May 30, 2012 3:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I gave up waiting for the genre to get some respect. I've been reading romance since I devoured The Flame & The Flower when I was 13. None of my friends admit to reading romance, although I know some of them do because I have seen the books tucked away in the corners of their homes or hidden behind pretty fabric book covers in their bags. I once met a friend standing on line at a bookstore and noticed she immediately placed the books she was buying at an angle against her body so I could not see what the covers were (granted the covers can be dreadful), but I saw when she checked out they were romances. What's the big deal? You like fairy tales. You like sex. You like a happy ending. Why are so many people ashamed? Now we can all hide our "dirty little secret" with internet purchasing and our Kindles. My husband only teased me once about this reading choice, but after I explained to him how it works for his benefit he shut up. I agree it's too bad people can't just relax and enjoy these books, but people seem more inclined to approve of hardcore porn than a book about two people falling in love.
Personally, sites like this have been the greatest thing since I started reading Romance. I love the reviews and other peoples opinions where before I felt like I was alone on an island reading good books with no one to share them with. Share on, fellow readers!
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dick



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
Posts: 2477

PostPosted: Wed May 30, 2012 4:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Perhaps romance gets short shrift because, on the surface at least, each book is relatively like all others in the genre. Those who hold it in low regard believe, for that reason I think, that it's like reading the same book time and again and thus that those of who read romance somehow have stunted minds. I doubt, really, that attitude will change until everyone who has it reads at least a dozen romances...and that will probably never happen.

The attitude is not so different, really, from that held by many towards the canon of literature. Why, those who resist ask, should I read those long, dry novels, those plays in verse, those epics about some old Greek, that rhymed fairy tale about some guy's imagined journey into hell? What can reading them do for me right now?
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PamelaM



Joined: 15 Mar 2010
Posts: 168

PostPosted: Wed May 30, 2012 6:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I gave up years ago hoping the Romance genre would ever get respect. If for some reason I have hours of blissful delusion while reading favorite authors like Sherry Thomas, Judith Ivory, Mary Balogh, or Joanna Bourne, I quickly get a smack of reality when about once a month I visit my favorite UBS. I love my Kindle, but filling a backlist of a newly discovered author is much easier on my budget at the UBS. Once I make my selections in the half priced books shelves, I can’t resist walking to the back of the store to the romance books $1.00 bargain turnstiles. The turnstiles are waaay back in the store, after you pass a single bargain turnstile each for science fiction, thriller/suspense and the classics. Then there is a short, narrow dead-end corridor with not one but two romance book bargain turnstiles… yup, nirvana fighting for space and breathing room… right in front of the restroom doors! Yes LyndaX, all for the joyful moments and there have been many of them. Very Happy

The irony is guess which bargain turnstiles are constantly being replenished? Laughing


Last edited by PamelaM on Wed May 30, 2012 6:05 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Eliza



Joined: 21 Aug 2011
Posts: 1014

PostPosted: Thu May 31, 2012 11:25 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

dick wrote:
...The attitude is not so different, really, from that held by many towards the canon of literature. Why, those who resist ask, should I read those long, dry novels, those plays in verse, those epics about some old Greek, that rhymed fairy tale about some guy's imagined journey into hell? What can reading them do for me right now?


I agree. People are pretty strong-minded about what they will and won't read -- all over the place and for all kinds of material.

While I'm now reading some contemporary romance authors new to me that I may not have considered before, I've also gone back to read some Middle Ages verse romances, like Havelok the Dane, which would probably get a "huh?" from some folks.
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dick



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Thu May 31, 2012 1:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

@Eliza: IIRC, that story comes pretty close to the strictures of present day romance, doesn't it, with lots of conflict and deceit, some derring-do, and even an approximation of an HEA. Never thought how much of a precursor it is.
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Eliza



Joined: 21 Aug 2011
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PostPosted: Thu May 31, 2012 1:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

@dick: Havelok is indeed remarkable for what we today consider a romance with a HEA. It's a good read too; I probably am enjoying it more now than before, even with having to play catch up with Middle English definitions in the margins. I plan to read the other extant English romances next.

I confess I also love other medieval romances, each of which has a journey and some version of love, if perhaps a different goal and/or type of ending. Parsifal married the right woman and earned her love, too, even if his journey and trials are worth at least a modern-day trilogy, right?

I do think the chivalric romances are the true ancestors of today's love stories. They are the time and place where romantic love began to replace familial and societal duty, after all.
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D Rogers



Joined: 31 Jul 2009
Posts: 157

PostPosted: Fri Jun 01, 2012 12:56 am    Post subject: Romances and Respect Reply with quote

Eliza said: I confess I also love other medieval romances, each of which has a journey and some version of love, if perhaps a different goal and/or type of ending. ...
I do think the chivalric romances are the true ancestors of today's love stories. They are the time and place where romantic love began to replace familial and societal duty, after all.


Eliza,

I can't tell you how many times when I am teaching some work of literature a student will say to me "this is just like a soap opera" or "this is just like a romance story." For example, when I teach something like Austen, most of the students have seen an adaptation and expect a romance. But what's really cool is if we start further back in time with, say, the Lais of Marie de France, which also include cool stories like the tale of Bisclavret the werewolf or something like the letters of Heloise and Abelard. Romance is something that most people can connect with, even students from other cultures who can draw parallels (take the love story/spiritual metaphor of the courtship of Majnun and Layli or Rumi and Shams).

Romance is optimism and connection. But I do think one can also find this in one's connection with nature (or one's garden). So maybe the book that the reviewer mentioned in the original post IS a romance, after all.

Denise
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Lillian Sulivan



Joined: 05 Feb 2010
Posts: 237

PostPosted: Fri Jun 01, 2012 8:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Essayist Jonathan Gottschall makes the argument that because time spent on stories takes away from time spent on more obviously productive endeavors, humans would not create and consume fiction unless there was some positive benefit.

He says fiction:
+ makes us more empathetic and compassionate
+ strengthens an ability to understand others
+ promotes feelings of and a desire for justice
+ defines 'good' and binds society together around common values

What then could we say of any special facet of the value in fictional romance? (Note: I'm baby-sitting my niece this morning so this might not be terribly profound.) Romantic fiction promotes the societal idea and ideal that connection with others is worth struggling through internal and external conflicts. This would seem to be crucial in a world of 7,000,000,000 people whose armies and industries have the ability to exterminate human life.

I might go so far as suggesting that the principle shortcoming of the modern romance fiction genre is that so little of it is written in a form that is appealing to men, who, quite frankly, as a group could benefit from the power of the story.

Best,
Lilly
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"Or perchance when the last little star has left the sky,
Shall we still be together with our arms around each other,
And shall you be my new romance?"
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Eliza



Joined: 21 Aug 2011
Posts: 1014

PostPosted: Fri Jun 01, 2012 8:46 am    Post subject: Re: Romances and Respect Reply with quote

D Rogers wrote:
I can't tell you how many times when I am teaching some work of literature a student will say to me "this is just like a soap opera" or "this is just like a romance story." For example, when I teach something like Austen, most of the students have seen an adaptation and expect a romance. But what's really cool is if we start further back in time with, say, the Lais of Marie de France, which also include cool stories like the tale of Bisclavret the werewolf or something like the letters of Heloise and Abelard. Romance is something that most people can connect with, even students from other cultures who can draw parallels (take the love story/spiritual metaphor of the courtship of Majnun and Layli or Rumi and Shams). Denise


You made my day, Denise. Thank you so much.
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dick



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
Posts: 2477

PostPosted: Fri Jun 01, 2012 8:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Being a reader, I agree with the essayist for the most part. But the question why a great many people resist reading fiction of any kind, whether genre fiction or the canon, remains unanswered, I think. Maybe there isn't an answer.
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D Rogers



Joined: 31 Jul 2009
Posts: 157

PostPosted: Fri Jun 01, 2012 11:29 am    Post subject: Romance and Respect Reply with quote

Dick,

I often talk with my students about their early experiences reading. Usually, I talk about how my family went to the library once every two weeks and picked out our books. And then we'd read them and talk about them at the dinner table. Mom would talk about what she'd read, and sometimes she'd even direct me to books she liked when she was a girl (like The Railway Children).

My students have generally not had this experience. Their parents take kids to sports events, not libraries. If they take them to libraries, it's to pick up a movie, not a book. And a whole lot of them have never seen (I mean this literally) their parents read a book. Never. And their parents have never recommended books to them or talked about books with them except to ask them if they had done their required reading for school.

I don't wonder why fiction isn't read more broadly. I know why people don't read. People read if there are people who read around them.

This semester I had the pleasure of offering a course on Sherlock Holmes and his rivals (we read not only the Doyle stories, but also stories by writers who filled the gap when Doyle killed off Sherlock Holmes). Everyone knew who Holmes was but only two people in the class had read at least some of the stories when we started the class (and I was one of the people).

But what became so encouraging was the way the students began to talk about the works, particularly the non-Holmes detective stories. There were a number of female detective rivals that all of the students liked. They also loved Raffles, and many students went ahead and read all of the stories on Gutenberg or downloaded the Nook and Kindle collections. I did use one contemporary writer's books: Charles Finch's mysteries. One student said, "I'm looking forward to the summer when I can read all of the Finch books. I love them." Others had favorites they were going to delve into. Most were happy that you could download the stories for free or for very little cost.

My point is that I see genre literature as a kind of gateway to get students interested not only in reading but also in society and history and all kinds of things. We talked a lot in the class about the historical and social contexts of these works (esp. who Doyle and the others were writing about). We talked about the policemen and their changing role in society. We talked about the roles of men and women. We talked about diseases and sewers. Their final exams were so good because they could talk about the development of the genre as well as the world that the stories appeared in. So I strongly believe the same kind of thing could happen in any course organized around a theme and capitalizing on genre fiction.

The novel started out as genre fiction, if you think about it. Look at The Tale of Genji, the world's first "novel." It was a serial, packed with romance, suicides, jealousies, ambitious courtiers, etc.

Denise
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dick



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
Posts: 2477

PostPosted: Sat Jun 02, 2012 8:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

@Denise: What a wonderful experience for you. Still, a great number of people, regardless of the milieu in which they were raised, never become readers of fiction. They may read, but they usually read "how-to," technical manuals, readings which supply information for them to allow them to accomplish something. Many read only newspapers, magazines, or sports results. Some of them are highly imaginative about using the information they find, too, but the rewards of reading the imaginative creations of fiction just don't catch their interest. It is those of whom I wrote in my post.
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Manda



Joined: 23 Apr 2007
Posts: 582

PostPosted: Sat Jun 02, 2012 9:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Fascinating discussion. At my first ever signing for the Friends of the Library at my alma mater, after the signing was over, the President of the FOL asked me--with no self-consciousness, "Is there some kind of book that tells you the formula for how to write these things?" Like there's a secret password that romance novelists know that tells them exactly what to write.

My favorite analysis of the romance problem so far is Maya Rodale's. She wrote an article in the RWR about it recently, but there's also a You Tube video that encapsulates it. Basically she says that the ridiculing of romance in particular dates back to the birth of the novel and the threat that reading such novels would give women readers agency to fight for their independence.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKbYQhWhay0
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Eliza



Joined: 21 Aug 2011
Posts: 1014

PostPosted: Sat Jun 02, 2012 10:11 am    Post subject: !) Reply with quote

Quote:
"Is there some kind of book that tells you the formula for how to write these things?"

What a thoughtless thing to have been said to you, Manda. sigh... There are a LOT of how-to books, though, as dick mentioned about all the how-to readers. Diet book of the day, anyone? Maybe that fellow was one of those folks? On Amazon, for instance, I just now stopped counting at 10 books for how-to-write romance and 4 for erotic. There were plenty for other kinds of writing as well.

Quote:
People read if there are people who read around them.

My parents were certainly avid readers and I can't remember being alive without a book in my hand. I just recently read a quote something like, "Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them." Smile

Quote:
My point is that I see genre literature as a kind of gateway to get students interested not only in reading but also in society and history and all kinds of things.

You sound like a terrific teacher, Denise! I wish more adults read too and had wider views of society and history, as we can all see the lack thereof in all too many public debates and discussions. (One of the most depressing things I ever heard was a woman who said she didn't want the government involved with her Social Security! sigh...)
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