Letter from Lauren
Back in 1996, reader Lauren Sanford had an unpleasant experience at a bookstore. She was treatly badly for no reason other than her choice of reading material. She wrote a letter to the manager of Bookstar, the store, in Memphis, and shared that letter with us.
This page has Lauren's letter to Bookstar, reader responses that have come in supporting her efforts, and a recent (September 1997) update Lauren provided. At the end of the page are some links to other pages at All About Romance you might find germaine.
First, let me share with you as well the definition of "fodder" as defined by The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition (copyright 1992 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Electronic version licensed from InfoSoft International, Inc. All rights reserved.) A posting in October to the RW-L listserv (poster's name withheld on request) said that after looking up "fodder" on Microsoft software, she found this:
"A consumable, often inferior item or resource that is in demand and usually abundant supply: romantic novels intended as fodder for the pulp fiction market."
Letter from Lauren:
I am a patron of your store and have been for the past two years. I enjoy your store immensely due to the wide variety of titles and authors from which to chose.
I was in your store Wednesday, August 7, 1996. As is my normal routine, I stopped in as I do every two weeks to purchase some paperback books. I usually buy either four or five novels from my favorite authors and often times like to try new authors that I read about on the Internet.
My favorite type of pleasure reading is Romance. Yes, that's right. Romance. I prefer all types - historical, contemporary, time travel; my taste runs the gamut. I chose four books, two by Sandra Brown, one by Nora Roberts and one by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. I've never read anything by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, but have read some good reviews about her work and decided to give her writing the once over.
Now, before I go any further, I'd like to call to your attention that, according to research by the bookstore Barnes and Noble, romance customers can typically spend up to $100 per month for books and will read as many as 40 books per month.
More than 90% of all mass market book sales are popular fiction. Romance accounts for 48.6% of the mass market paperback book sales in the United States, with with sales topping $885 million in 1992. This information was found on the Romance Reader Website.
After choosing my four novels, I proceeded to the cashier. A man, I've seen many times before, although I don't know his name, acted as if he remembered me from my past visits to your store. This man is tall, very thin, with a receding hairline, soft-spoken and extremely nice.
I placed my purchases on the counter and pulled out my checkbook. As typical small talk goes, he very politely asked how I was doing that day. I answered and in kind asked after him. To continue the pleasantries, this man took my small stack of books and began ringing them up for me and said, "Well, this should keep you out of trouble for a couple of days." I replied, "Yes, it should. Only problem is that I used to take a week to read one of these and now I'm practically reading an entire book in an evening. It's beginning to cost me a fortune." He smiled pleasantly and said, "Well, maybe one day, we can get you to read some real fiction." I was so stunned by his remark, I couldn't say a thing. I smiled, passed him my check for $27.04 took my books and left the store.
On my way home I had time to really think about what this man said to me. He insulted my reading preferences! The more I thought about it, the angrier I became to the point of writing this letter.
I am not some bored, lonely housewife with nothing better to do with her time than to read fantasy novels. On the contrary, I am a highly paid professional who not only maintains a full time job but am also raising four children, ages 16, 12, 11 and 2. I manage to make and keep a home for my husband and children as well. Once the kids are in bed, I like to unwind with a nice, easy read and I certainly do not appreciate snide remarks on my preference of reading material from some minimum wage cashier!
As much as I enjoy browsing through your store and choosing from your vast selection of novels, I do believe I have spent my last cent in your store. If your workers are so callous as to belittle a type of fiction, any type of writing for that matter, then I want no part of being your patron.
I sincerely hope you do not allow this type of sarcasm to continue as the written word, whether it is one's preference or not, should be held in highest regards. I would have thought that anyone working in or around books would have that knowledge ingrained in them. Apparently, I was wrong.
I simply wanted to bring this matter to your attention as possibly unknown to you, you may be losing more customers than me, a $50 per month average customer and my mother, also a $50 per month average customer and a romance novel fan as well.
Lauren S. Sanford
Responses to the Letter from Lauren:
Karen Witkowski (YWQE15B@prodigy.com):
Congratulations on your letter, Lauren! You go girl!
Seriously, though, I'm wondering if you ever got a response from the bookstore manager or clerk involved?
I'm sure in his ignorance that the clerk only thought he was being clever or funny and didn't even realize how insulting he was, which is very sad. It seems like all the disdain stems from the fact that romance is a women's genre - written mostly by women for women. It's basically a lack of respect for women since I don't hear the same "put-downs" about the books for men - action/adventure, etc.
Bookstores should just be grateful there are still people like us who love to read! As far as I'm concerned, reading is a good thing - no matter what someone is reading!
One of my friends (a published author) saw horror writer Clive Barker speak last year, and he was explaining how he was always "different," being gay, British, and a horror writer. He was often misunderstood and put down for his preferences, and he said he's learned one thing that has really helped change his life, and that is "Never explain, never defend!" I feel we romance readers should keep that in mind too & be proud!
Marjorie Kidder (firstname.lastname@example.org):
I have been reading romances since I was 10 years old and found Georgette Heyer when I got to "H" in the library stacks. I owned a bookstore for 12 years and I am married with children. One of the high points in "finding my tongue" at the right moment occured when out for a rare evening to visit other bookstores, I overheard a conversation on the other side of the romance shelf.
She: "You know, these are just awful books, I can't imagine anyone who wasn't desperate reading these."
He: "Well, you know it's just a bunch of fat old ladies who buy these and they need all the help they can get."
I couldn't resist, went around the shelf and saw the "young and beautiful" couple. I said, "excuse me, but I overheard your comments and found that they are really quite ill-informed" I proceeded to explain the $$$ of the industry, the wide readership etc. But mostly I started talking romance favorites and how much they can appeal to even the "young and beautiful. Well, they ended up buying several. Visited my store a few months later and while they still bought mostly SF became some of my best customers for Time Travel romances.
Lanita Cornwall (email@example.com) wrote:
. . . now about apologizing for my choice of reading materials. Never, never, never and if a snotty clerk gets in my face, I call him (usually) on it. I've also written to Bookstop and complained and gotten a response. . . .
Sheryl Shannon (firstname.lastname@example.org) wrote:
I have never apologized for reading romances. I've been reading them since 9th grade (over 20 years). They have even allowed me to answer questions in high school and college in history, because I just happened to read about it in a historical romance (ie in high school, I knew all about Santa Anna prior to class because of Banner, Bold & Beautiful). I read for my pleasure only and I people think it is trash, all I have to say is it's better the blood and gore.
Heidi Leighton(email@example.com) wrote:
I have wanted to address this issue ever since I read the letter from the woman who was insulted by the clerk for not reading "real fiction". I too am a married professional (I'm an environmental planner); although I don't have children there isn't much time left over for me. When I do have time to relax I curl up with a good book. The worst of the snide remarks I get actually come from my college friends who feel that since we all have degrees we ought to be reading "real" literature. . . .
The other pet peeve I have is people's reactions to how much I read. I'm a pretty fast reader and go through about 5-7 books a week, mostly romance but also my favorites like Stephen King and Anne Rice. I'll pretty much read anything. I also read technical publications to keep up on issues raised by my job. I have had people call me a freak for this. I don't know how others feel about this but I feel like I have to keep my reading habits a secret.
Well thanks for letting me spout off.
Penny Oliverio (firstname.lastname@example.org) wrote:
I also tire of patronizing attitudes about what we read, but I don't let it bother me, generally. However, in Waldenbooks, I spend well over $100 a month buying books for my mom and myself, and have always been treated with utmost courtesy and helpfulness by their staff. I wrote Waldenbooks a letter complimenting them, because I also believe you should say good things, not just bad things.
I will not spend money (which I work hard to earn) in a store where I am not treated at least with courtesy. The people at Waldenbooks and The Little Professor, here in Ashland KY know well my preferences, order books for me, and point out new titles to me, reserve books for me, and are very kind.
Good for Lauren. I work with the public every day and there's no excuse for rudeness.
Margaret Adams (email@example.com) says:
I too have encountered some disdain over my reading matter. I applaud her tenacity in writing the letter and wished I had done so myself at various times.
Judith Czako (firstname.lastname@example.org) says simply:
Hooray for Ms Sanford!!!
Cathy Bolson (Bolson_Cathy@mail.linnmar.k12.ia.us) echoes those remarks:
Bravo!!!! The best letter I've read in a while. Sums up my thoughts exactly! I have only had that happen once to me, and it was in a large bookstore where you pay full price for the books. I was reading Leigh Greenwood's Seven Brides series, and had ordered some of them that I couldn't find on the shelves. As I paid for them, the man/boy looked at the book, read a blurb on it that said something like -- 7 men and the women who tamed them - and then remarked, "Well, that's an easy way to write a book". He made me feel like I was scum for buying them.
I'll stick to the Paperback Exchange, where the books are 1/2 price, and the help is wonderful. Thanks, I feel better!
Deborah Barber (email@example.com) adds her two cents:
Bravo! I'm glad you stood up and decided not to take that condescending male chauvinist p** lying down. He deserves everything he gets on this and more.
Why do people think that because you like to read romance that you are brain dead. I know lots of people who are university educated, holding several degrees by the way, who are married, have children and manage a full-time professional job every day. So you decide to take a break from you life with a little romantic reading. Good for you.
I'm a history nut, it's one of the reasons why I got into historical romance in the first place. I can honestly say that I have learned more out of an historical romance than I ever learned out of a history book.
Why people ask me why I bother wasting my time on such junk, I ask them if they've ever read one. Of course, I get the proverbial "I wouldn't waste my time." Normally my standard action is to hand them an historical or contemporary romance, to read it and then to come back and let me know what they think and that we'll discuss it. After all, I wouldn't want to get into a discussion with someone who was unarmed and unknowledgeable.
My hat's off and ten hearts to you. You deserve the Romance Defenders Medal of the month! Anymore out there who are prepared to defend their genre?
Amy Hoek (RUDIH@lightspeed.net) adds:
Way to go Laura. You are right in every way. I have come across that attitude at times also and find that I am getting less tolerant of it as I grow older. Enjoyed reading your letter,
Loh Kok Cheang (firstname.lastname@example.org) comments:
I am happy to read Ms. Sanford's mail. She makes me feel that I am not a romance reader freak. I read at least(!)one romance novel, if not more, a day, because I am a fast reader. Like her, too, I am a professional with kids. I had at times wondered if there is such thing as a romance reader addict. She does not feel guilty about being an avaricious romance reader and I am going to take her example and not feel it too.
Lauren Updates Us:
I'm on your mailing list and still read your columns constantly! I absolutely love your site! To fill you in on the letter I wrote last year, no, I never heard word one from the store manager or anyone else. But . . . surprise, surprise! That book store is now out of business. Ironic, isn't it? I'm sure the $50 or $75 per month that I once spent in that store didn't make them "close up shop," but who knows? Maybe I wasn't the only person insulted in that store. Maybe more letters, much like the one I sent, were ignored. At least that's what my vengeful mind likes to think! At any rate, two new Barnes & Noble stores have opened in the Memphis area, and I've fallen in love with "Burke's Books" here in Memphis. If any of your readers are in this area and would like to try these stores out, they're wonderful, have a fabulous selection of romances, and everyone is treated with respect and courtesy, regardless of the purchases they make. I think they love seeing me walk in the door. I always carry two or three stickie-notes (a must for computer geeks like me) full of titles and authors that I've jotted down from your site. I'm good for at least $50 every trip I make through their doors! I've gotten to the point where I rarely buy a book until I've read your reviews. You've never steered me wrong before, and I don't think you will any time soon. Sometimes my opinions differ a little, but if you feel it's worth writing about, I usually feel it's worth reading. Thanks for your tireless efforts, they're appreciated!!
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Click here to access the index for past issues of Laurie's News & Views (now known as At the Back Fence). Issues 4, 5, 6, and 12 also address the image of the genre and the issue of stereotypes facing readers (and authors) of romantic fiction.
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