In which there is a defence of romance novels

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I read a fantastic interview this week with American author Nora Roberts, who is one of the most successful published writers around. She’s had over 200 books published, was the third person to sell more than 1m titles on Kindle and last year alone sold 10m books. She makes an estimated $60m a year. Yet many people have never heard of her and she’s only ever been reviewed once in the New York Times. Why? Because she writes romances, a genre repeatedly rejected by the literati for not being highbrow enough.

I’ve mentioned before on here that I read Mills & Boon and other romance novels. I read a healthy and varied number of books so throwing in the odd romance novel is nothing to be ashamed of it; in fact, I enjoy telling some people on occasion because it can change and challenge their opinions on reading and what’s acceptable. So this is why many of the comments made by Roberts really struck home. “Why would you apologise for what you read for pleasure? Just think of the illiteracy rate. Every book read for pleasure should be celebrated.” So, so true.

At my book club meeting last week (book up for discussion: C by Tom McCarthy, as far removed from romance as possible), I mentioned that I read romance novels. I looked up and saw one of the guys there visibly reduce the IQ he’d previously assigned me. The look on his face was so patronising, and I swear that from that point onwards, he disregarded any further comments I made. You could almost see him thinking that she reads romances, therefore her opinion on serious books is not worthy anymore.

Like any other art form, books have a wide range of genres and sub genres. When it comes to music, I can’t bear dubstep or house but I never, ever raise an eyebrow when people tell me they enjoy listening to them. They like it, I don’t, simple as that. As long as they don’t force me to sit in a room and listen to it with them then they can go ahead and knock themselves out. More importantly, I don’t make judgements on their intellect based on the type of music they enjoy. So why do people negatively judge those of us who read romance novels?

The interview makes reference to David Nicholl’s One Day and the tremendous success this book, which is to all intents and purposes a romance novel, has enjoyed, which is in a very large part due to the fact it was written by a man and not marketed as a romance novel. This thought had also struck me when I read it, and enjoyed it very much, earlier this year. It’s a book that has had huge sales, is still in the top ten fiction paperback list, and has been made into a film. I wonder though, would this have happened if it had been written by a woman? Or would it have had a completely different cover, been marketed as chick lit, and therefore not been reviewed and lauded by the papers and consequently bought by a wide range of people?

When I finished One Day I remember discussing it with S and comparing it with Lisa Jewell’s work, an author who I adore. In my opinion, it could easily have been written by Jewell; it shares many of the core themes in her books and the language and style used is very similar. But while Jewell sells healthy numbers of books, none of them have refused to exit the bestseller list and been made into a film with Hollywood stars. The way a book is promoted and marketed has such an impact on how it’s regarded by people and whether or not they’ll consider reading it.

Out of all the myriad genres of books out there, romance is the one that is looked down on the most. As the Observer article stated, it’s below sci fi in the pariah stakes of literature.  But why? Is it the covers? Is it the happy endings? Is it the sheer amount of titles published? What is the reason for this  air of condescension people have when it comes to romance novels?

As Nora said, “novels that celebrate love, commitment, relationships, making relationships work, why isn’t that something to be respected?”

Quite.

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2 responses »

  1. You make some great points here. I think it’s extremely poor of anyone to pass judgment on another’s choice of entertainment. I don’t read very many novels that can be categorized as simply “romance novels” but only because I prefer to avoid formulaic stories. When I get sucked into a good one, I always enjoy it immensely. Phooey on anyone who wants to judge that!

    (I recently got a nook and one thing I do like is the anonymity – I can read whatever I want with no fear of judgment.)

  2. Um, I was responding and then it disappeared? Let me try again 🙂

    I love this post! Reading, music, movies, a love of food, and where we gather to gab are all pastimes that get subjected to the collective egotisim of Western thinking: if it’s mainstream it’s distasteful. If you’re not listening to an underground band that’s so underground they’re covered in sewage, you’re doing it wrong. If you aren’t watching and loving movies that aren’t painful documentaries or conceited little coming-of-age dramas where a leaf drifts around and the main character emotes through their eyes, you’re doing it wrong. If you aren’t reading anything that doesn’t deconstruct literature thus far, you’re doing it wrong. If you like food that comes out of a can, or gathering in cafes that don’t have deep thinkers slumped into corner couches, you’re doing it wrong. In my opinion, people are so far up their own (bleeps) caring about how others will intellectually perceive them, they don’t know how to get lost in something as pleasurable as a romance read because what if someone catches them reading it? These people are the fish that spend their entire life struggling in their own upstream rapids, because the worst thing that could happen to them is to get swept into the mainstream.

    And for me, I happen to love Emily Giffin.

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