Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Truth About Romance

Working mostly in commercial trade publishing, I've learned a thing or two about genre fiction. I've also learned that genre fiction is often stereotyped, mocked, and looked down upon by some readers who consider themselves more "literary-minded"--particularly when it comes to romance novels. But it's unfairly so.

I consider myself a fairly well-rounded reader. I'll give anything a try, whether adult, children's, literary, commercial, or non-fiction (though, I must admit, non-fiction is more difficult for me than fiction). As such, I'm no stranger to the romance novel. As a kid, I read a lot of Danielle Steel novels I actually think I've read every one of her books pre-21st century. At the time, I
didn't even know they were "romance novels"; to me, they were just stories. Stories about women, young and old, modern and historical, working their way through the world as they learn who they are and what they want and who is deserving of their love. Sure, most of the stories were formulaic and Danielle Steel in particular has a lot of the same elements with minor tweaks here and there, but each story still felt new to me. I learned something different from each one--about heartache, about happiness, about family and friendships and love. I adored those books.

Then, one day I just stopped reading them. I'm not sure why, maybe I was just too consumed with being a teenager and getting ready to go to college, but I stopped. Then in college I barely ever read for pleasure and at the time fell a little prey to the romance genre stereotypes myself in the whirlwind of academia, to be honest. But now, I'm back reading a variety of things, many of which are romance novels. In fact, romance is the genre I work most closely with on an everyday basis, and I continue to grow more and more respectful of romance writing as I interact more with authors, characters, and plot lines.

I dove back in when I got my first job in publishing, in the sales department of a major publishing house in NYC, and I picked up a copy of a book by Lisa Kleypas. It was her first contemporary romance, Sugar Daddy, and it, to this day, is one of my all-time favorite books. While the title might indicate a certain tone or theme, Kleypas's novel is brilliant. It's powerful and funny, insightful and beautifully written. I even have gone so far as to quote it from time-to-time, something I bet you'd never hear anyone admit before. I read the book in one night and went into work the next day and emailed the editor, just to let her know how much the book truly touched me. The editor forwarded my email along to Lisa, who responded, thrilled that it meant so much to me. Romance novels accomplish more than just an escape. All reading provides that. But romance novels can reach your heart in a way other books just don't.

Laura Clauson of The Daily Kos seems to feel the same way, now that she's opened herself up to the idea of romance novels:
Once upon a time I embraced the judgment. I was a reader of mysteries and sci-fi (you know, the genres that get their own sections even in serious independent bookstores) and on the eve of a spring break trip, I picked up a romance novel as a joke -- a joke I made out loud, more than once. Then I stayed up all night reading the book and started discovering that I'd been wrong. That book made me laugh. Its heroine fought back successfully against being victimized by men. Its villain was defined by his misogyny. And it was, it turns out, pretty typical in those broad strokes.

Read the rest of Laura's post HERE
Laura goes on to break down some of the common misconceptions about romance novels and when I saw her post, I knew it needed a shout out. So, take a look as she does her own feminist version of "Mythbusters" and blows the cap off the following stereotypes:

Myth #1: Romance novels glamorize rape.
Myth #2: Romance novels are just porn for women
Myth #3: Romance heroines are weak.
Myth #4: Romance heroines are just another version of the beauty myth.
Myth #5: Myth: Purple prose and other terrible writing.

And after you've done that, give a romance a read. Here are some of my personal favorites (in no particular order):

~ Sugar Daddy by Lisa Kleypas (duh, see above!)
~ To Scotland with Love by Karen Hawkins
~ Let Sleeping Rogues Lie by Sabrina Jeffries
~ Our Little Secret by Starr Ambrose (My conscience forces me
to admit that I edited this one)
~ Gentlemen Prefer Succubi by Jill Myles (hit shelves today so keep your eyes peeled!)
~ Thread of Fear by Laura Griffin
~ The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks (Yes, this is often considered a romance novel, whether you believe it or not)
~ Star by Danielle Steel
~ Tears of the Moon by Nora Roberts
~ Sunset Bay by Susan Mallery
~ One for the Money by Janet Evanovich
~ 20 Wishes by Debbie Macomber

There are so many more great romances out there but these are just a handful to get you started! Also check out "Smart Bitches, Trashy Books" , "The Goddess Blogs" , and Romance University for more great ideas.

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