Thursday, 29 May 2014

So Romance

I'm tired. It's tempting just to bitch out William Giraldi for writing a patronising article basically summing up the entire romance genre in Fifty Shades of Grey. Oh hell, that's what I'm going to do.

Romance novels are a billion-dollar-a-year industry and make up 46 percent of all mass-market paperbacks sold in America; the publishing company Harlequin claims that half of its customers buys 30 of its novels every month; it also claims to sell more than four books per second. How did the pabulum of Fifty Shades manage to rise above such a mind-stinging preponderance of crap?
 Really? Every single romance story is crap? You've read all of them, Mr Giraldi? Every last one on the shelves, including the New York bestselling authors? No? Let's be honest. You saw the phenomenon of FSoG and decided to write a stinging article about it being top of the heap. Because this little titbit emerged.
Dreck of this stupendous caliber has a particular advantage over literature in that one doesn't have to read all of it to surmise, accurately and eternally, that it is all uniformly awful and awfully uniformromance novels, like racists, tend to be the same wherever you turn. 

Alyssa Rosenberg has written this post in response. Men, stop lecturing women about reading romance novels. She is no more enamoured of FSoG than William Geraldi is but she puts the romance genre in context.
Romance novels are attractive not just because they are a gratifying escape but also because they sometimes feel like a respite from from the significant hostility that a lot of literature shows women.
I see that he thinks we should be reading classics but I wonder, does Mr Giraldi apply the same sneering attitude to thrillers or horror? This is pure speculation but probably not. Because that's fiction dominated by and for men, and it's much easier to take pot-shots at women's fiction.

Look, I've read the classics since I was a teenager. I've read Sartre side by side with Barbara Cartland. I've read D.H. Lawrence and Mills & Boon, Chaucer as I read horror and fantasy. I am not limited by my love of romance. It has its place in my life, as does Jane Austen or Shakespeare.

Would I criticise the reader who picked up FSoG and loved it? Hell bloody no. My neighbour spent hours talking about it to me and she didn't read. She does now. Let me say that again.

She went from being a non-reader to a reader because of Fifty Shades of Grey.

The romance genre is a force to be reckoned with. Giraldi's article says romance novels "make up 46 percent of all mass-market paperbacks sold in America". This seems to stick in his craw. Poor guy.

I write MM romance. Men read them. Yes, I have an audience of men and women. We write relationship-focused books and provide escapism for our readers. Our genre is growing all the time. Guess what, Mr Giraldi, condescending lectures on what you think we should be reading will be treated with the same respect and attention you've just given us.

Peeved of London
Sue xx




  1. "that it is all uniformly awful and awfully uniform—romance novels, like racists, tend to be the same wherever you turn. " Well he must have read them all to make such a statement. Otherwise, this statement would be based on...conjecture! *gasp* And improper reasoning! *horrified shriek*

    It does irk me a bit that FSoG is the one romance that the critics tend to focus on - it is, indeed, badly written. But who cares if someone enjoyed it?

    1. I haven't read it, because it's not my thing, but I'm not going to deny anyone the right to read it because it's not top of the literary heap.

  2. Here Here, Ms. Brown. His whole article smacks of Fifty Shades of Jealousy. Twit

  3. So, once again, a man is jealous of the success of a romance novel where he, himself, could find little. Gotcha....*tosses to the bin*

    1. That's what the article smacks of. If he was trying to make an academic point he failed.

  4. 50 Shades of haters gonna hate.

    He should've tacked on a tl:dr to his post, the block o' text was too much for me. If he had a point aside from deriding a subject that was thoroughly vilified several years ago, perhaps he should've made it a little more concisely. You're right, he's just taking pot-shots at stuff women like that doesn't appeal to him.

    1. The sad thing is he's not alone in doing so. It's like romance is *the* genre to knock, all the bloody time.

  5. Well said! I am an English teacher, and I have my degree in Lit, and while I love the classics, and a good modern piece of writing, I find the romance genre fascinating. Not only do I agree that it is an escape from the reality of life for women (and sometimes men), but from a sociological perspective, I find it an interesting mark of where we, as a society, stands on several issues relating to gender, sexuality, and the structure of family. As a feminist, I have always dreamed of continuing my education in women's studies and literature by studying the trends in the romance genre. Yes, it is controlled by male driven companies, but on the whole, this has been a genre where women communicated with women about what it meant to fall in love. Woodiwis' Flame and the Flower was one of the many books that portrayed love and rape as linked, and now many of us find that upsetting, but for years women read about love that was linked to cruelty and manipulation. Could that book be received so well now? No, because it tells us something about where women were, and what messages they were open to receiving.

    When it came to lesbians and gays, authors like Gordon Merrick and Rita Mae Brown populated drugstore book shelves with examples of how queer people could love. Granted, many of these stories were also linked to some element of self loathing, but it says a lot about where we were as a society.

    Romance, as a genre, shouldn't be shunned, but rather embraced as a way to understand where we are and where we are going. Look at the mainstream romance novels with GLBT secondary characters that have appeared over time. The heroines who are strong, independent women, or not typical ideals of supermodel beauty.

    We read literature to understand our own struggles, and the romance genre is one that provides many people a platform through which to explore and experience different elements of their own lives. They can see their choices played out in a way that opens doors to their own options. People who cast it aside without really understanding it are doing themselves, and others, a disservice.

    Lets also not forget that books like Jane Eyre and Lady Chatterly's Lover weren't always seen as "literature" until years later.

    *off the soapbox*

    Thanks for responding to this, Ms. Brown!

    1. Thank you! I only wish I'd been awake enough to write anything half as coherent.

      As a reader I can say that the romance books I read of the seventies and eighties bear no relation to the romance books of today. Our expectations have changed beyond recognition.

      I write MM romance about a section of society that has been ignored. One comment that arises time and again is that MM has allowed them a happy ever after. That is an amazing feeling and not something to be knocked by anyone.

  6. Great post! I remember when my first novel was accepted. One of the men (admittedly an awesome guy that I really care for) in my critique group said something to the effect of how my genre was lucky to have me "for now" as if romance or m/m were some kind of stepping stone to other (presumably more respectable) things.

    I smiled, nodded, corrected his error and of course we remained friends. But it made me wonder how many other people look at romance that way. I met another guy who simply assumed that because I write m/m romance, I "published" it free online somewhere. Erm. No. I have a publisher. I get paid. So do a lot of other awesome people I know. I really don't understand what it is about romance that inspires such odd feelings in people (unless like someone else suggested the jealousy factor is at play, because as yet, I'm the only one in my critique group who has had a publisher pick up a novel; not that they aren't a talented bunch, far from it, but the industry can be really, really brutal. I get that and know I'm lucky.)

    Anyway, I'm rambling :) Awesome response to Mr. Giraldi :)

    1. I am so used to the sneer that appears on people's faces when I tell them what I write. Even a friend who's been trying to get published for years made a snide comment about romance. It pays my bills. Their opinion means squat.