Thursday, November 16, 2006

Why smart girls (and guys) read romance

David Goodman e-mailed to tell me about this morning's blog post by journalist Danuta Kean. Ms. Kean is defending the reputation of romance and makes some good points, but I blinked at this:

I remain convinced that the snobbery with which romance is treated is as much about plain old sexism as critical judgment.

That's a little hard for me to swallow because many of those disparaging romance novels are women. Also, according to the most recent studies by Romance Writers of America, a whopping 22% of romance readers are men. That's not to say there isn't any sexism involved when the genre is dismissed as fluff, but I don't think it's as prevalent as Ms. Kean suggests. The people who ridicule the genre are doing so because they believe a romance novel is nothing more than a saccharine boy-meets-girl-and-they-fall-in-love story.

If that was all there was to romance novels, I wouldn't read (or write) the things, either.

Here's a clue, romance skeptics: We who enjoy these stories are reading them for much more than the kisses. What absorbs us is watching two people grow and change. We want to see old hurts healed. Prejudices released. Leaps of faith taken. And in the end, we demand emotional justice: we want to watch the last obstacles fall away so the man and woman who have struggled and suffered and sacrificed can finally be together to face the future hand-in-hand.

As Ms. Keane puts it:

...good romance tells a transformative story, not just a love story. It is as much about the central character learning to love her self and make better judgments, as it is about meeting some bloke....

We who read romance novels are deeply interested in the workings of the human heart and mind. That suggests we're very intelligent, caring people. So the next time you hear somebody make fun of our genre, you might point that out.

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Shelley said...

Hear, hear!!

Susan Kaye said...

I just finished "Jackson's Dilemma" by Iris Murdoch. It is full of what should be romatic storylines. A wedding that doesn't come off, missing bride, unrequited and requited love all over the place. The only problem was the book was a very long snooze.

I understand it was literary and therefore deep, but at least keep me awake!! My feeling is that literary deals with all things human at arm's length. "I love you, Sylvia." "I love you as well, Reginald. Veddy, veddy much."

Puh-leeze!! Some romantic fiction goes too far the other way, but at least it acknowledges that love is not a disease that should be studied through figurative goggles and a biohazard suit!

Susan Kaye said...

Sorry about the mispelling. I've taken to dropping my n's and adding a's. Middle age, ugh.

Brenda Coulter said...

...unrequited and requited love all over the place.

Susan! This cracked me up! You sound like a high-school football player giving a book report on Pride and Prejudice.