Monday, September 18, 2006

Eric Selinger GuestBlog: Teach Me Tonight

We've been waiting for months, but finally, Eric Selinger is in the hizowse! In addition to creating RomanceScholar listserve, the De Paul U prof is just a regular guy who happens to read and appreciate romance. Nerdy and romantic. sigh.

As a treat today, one lucky commenter will win a copy of Emma Holly's "All U Can Eat!"

Professore, the podium is yours...

Good morning, class! Welcome to the special "Back to School" week at Romance by the Blog. I'm Eric Murphy Selinger, and here at DePaul University in Chicago, I teach undergraduate and MA courses on romance fiction. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it. Michelle thought you might like to hear about what happens in those classes, and about how this very male, very married professor of poetry ended up a fan of romance.

Most of the time, ENG 286 and 469 are just like any other English classes. We study the pre-history of the genre, from ancient Greek romances, with their pirates and shipwrecks and star-crossed lovers (think Skye O’Malley in togas), to the great debate between “romance” and “realism” that runs throughout the 19th century (quite helpful to know when you read Sarah Bird’s The Boyfriend School), to E. M. Hull’s The Sheik, which introduces us to our old friend, the alpha male. (I had a student once who wrote about the “alfalfa male” hero all through a midterm exam, but that’s a whole other story.)

As the novels get racier, my students often get a little giggly—picture thirty-four young women, three guys who don’t know what hit them, and me, discussing the bondage-with-donuts love scene at the close of Bet Me. But humor gets us through the rough spots, and I always let them discuss the books anonymously on line, as well as in class, so that the shier folks can have their say.

Twenty years ago, academics who studied romance did so as outsiders, often with an axe to grind. Times have changed. In my classes, we may read with psychology in mind, or philosophy, or history, especially women’s history, but mostly we talk about these books as books: “little worlds made cunningly,” to paraphrase John Donne.

Romance novelists play with the conventions of their form just as poets play with the conventions of the sonnet, or musicians with the givens of the twelve-bar blues. As my students read essays by writers like Jennifer Crusie and Laura Kinsale, they realize just how smart, self-conscious, and artful these novelists can be. The best new academic work on romance fiction, like Pamela Regis’s A Natural History of the Romance Novel, gives us a precise vocabulary to talk about that artistry, and in my class, we learn to use it!

When the course begins, most of my students are embarrassed to buy the books. By midterms, they bristle when the guy at the register snickers. By finals, when their roommates, classmates, and boyfriends call romance “soft-core porn for women,” they smack them upside the head with questions like this:

As we have seen in class, Hunting Midnight by Emma Holly isn’t just an “erotic romance”; it’s a novel about Eros, desire in the broadest, most philosophical sense. Write an essay that explores at least three different sorts of desire in Hunting Midnight: for sex, for knowledge, for freedom, for community, for mutual recognition, and more. Show how these desires end up related to one another, whether as versions of one another, as complementary or supplementary to one another, or even as contradictory, or mutually exclusive.

Or this:

John Milton described "fit conversation" as the test of true love and companionate marriage. Write an essay about the various sorts of conversation in Julia Quinn’s The Viscount Who Loved Me. Why does Quinn have her hero and heroine talk in precisely these ways in this order across the novel? Be sure to think about the final, more "one-sided" conversation in the final chapter, in which Anthony speaks and Kate mostly just listens. Why might Quinn end the novel that way, rather than with an actual exchange between the two?

Here’s what one student wrote me, late in the quarter:

After being in this class for eight weeks I have found that I no longer shy away at telling people that I am reading romance novels. At first I would carry the book to work and stuff and kinda hide it or tell people that yah, it's for class I have to read it. But tonight I found myself carrying it around and not caring. Someone asked what book I was reading and I was like, yah, it's a romance novel, it's pretty good. In fact, I am now proud to say, yes I read romance novels...and like it!”

They’ve learned to take romance seriously, and just how good it can be.

Reading romance has changed my life, in big and little ways. When my daughter walks around the house belting out Dusty Springfield, when I actually notice women’s shoes, when my trusty research assistant hands me a book and suggests a little private, follow-up investigation, I have these novels to thank. (Twenty-two years after we first clashed in a sophomore Lit seminar, my wife and I finally agree about some books! Believe me, studying postmodern poetry was never this fun.)

These books have also introduced me to a world-wide network of writers and scholars, especially via the
RomanceScholar listserv, the Wiki bibliography of romance criticism, and the jointly-written academic blog, Teach Me Tonight.

Since I’m still getting to know the best that romance fiction has to offer—the texts that a thoughtful, celebratory class really ought to include—let me ask you all this question:

What romance novels, new or old, do you think a course like mine should cover?

What are your “must reads” for my next romance syllabus?

110 comments:

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Buongiorno, Eric, and welcome! The Bellas and I are very excited to have you here to kick off BTS week.

I can't believe how cool your job is. I so wish I could have taken a course like yours, though I'll admit I probably would have had to be convinced of the merit of romance back in the days when I was in college.

I guess I'm most wondering how you established the romance courses at De Paul. What's the academic climate there that allows the bravery that must accompany a decision to offer such classes? Oh, and how did you come to read romance?

I'll be back later to grill you further. Until then, thanks again for taking the time to hang with us! :)

Laura Vivanco said...

Eric, do you have a reference for Milton on 'fit conversation'? I have the impression that Milton wasn't very keen on sexual activity in case it turned into lust.

All the same, I find it interesting that words which describe conversation are applied to the sexual act. For example, 'intercourse' used to meanings such as 'Communication to and fro between countries, etc [...] In early use exclusively with reference to trade', or 'Social communication between individuals; frequent and habitual contact in conversation and action; dealings.' or 'Communication of ideas; discourse, conversation, discussion' (I'm quoting from the OED). To ejaculate used to have the meaning 'To utter suddenly (a short prayer; now in wider sense, any brief expression of emotion)' (again quoting from the OED), but in both instances, I think the more common usage of the words nowadays is in a sexual context.

Nonetheless, when authors of romance talk about writing love/sex scenes, they say it's not just about 'inserting Tab A into Slot B', but reflects character (see, for example, Edith Layton). So these scenes are about 'intercourse' between the characters, and 'ejaculations' which not simply of a sexual/physical nature, but which could also be described as 'conversation', even if non-verbal.

amy*skf said...

Eric, hello. We have been so excited about your guest blog. I'm with Michelle--sure wish my University had offered a class like yours. Alas, I was stuck trying to make a hero out of the protagonist from Notes From the Underground.

Not pretty.

Every once in a while, we really want old school. And perhaps so would your students. I think reading Kathleen Woodiwiss' The Wolf and The Dove, would do nicely. Norman invaders...there is simply no way to go wrong with Norman invaders--and thanks to Laura, we know there's a whole other kind of invasion that will take place.

Wulfgar is one alfalfa male.

E. M. Selinger said...

Hi, Michelle!

I'll be running back and forth from the computer to the kitchen for the next couple of hours. I'm up, which means the kids are up, which means I'm whipping up breakfasts and lunches and getting everyone off to school. As soon as they're gone, I'll tell you the story of my class--it's a doozy!

Laura, the Milton I have in mind is his essay "The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce," which you can find on-line at http://www.dartmouth.edu/~milton/reading_room/ddd/book_1/. I'll pass along some additional citations, esp. to work by Stanley Cavell, the Harvard philosopher, once things settle down.

Here's a tag from Milton right at the start, which sets the tone:

"What thing more instituted to the solace and delight of man then marriage, and yet the mis-interpreting of some Scripture directed mainly against the abusers of the Law for divorce giv'n by Moses, hath chang'd the blessing of matrimony not seldome into a familiar and co-inhabiting mischiefe; at least into a drooping and disconsolate houshold captivity, without refuge or redemption. So ungovern'd and so wild a race doth superstition run us from one extreme of abused liberty into the other of unmercifull restraint. For although God in the first ordaining of marriage, taught us to what end he did it, in words expresly implying the apt and cheerfull conversation of man with woman, to comfort and refresh him against the evil of solitary life, not mentioning the purpose of generation till afterwards, as being but a secondary end in dignity, though not in necessity; yet now, if any two be but once handed in the Church, and have tasted in any sort the nuptiall bed, let them finde themselves never so mistak'n in their dispositions through any error, concealment, or misadventure, that through their different tempers, thoughts, and constitutions, they can neither be to one another a remedy against lonelines, nor live in any union or contentment all their dayes, yet they shall, so they be but found suitably weapon'd to the least possibility of sensuall enjoyment, be made, spight of antipathy to fadge together, and combine as they may to their unspeakable wearisomnes and despaire of all sociable delight in the ordinance which God establisht to that very end. What a calamity is this, and as the Wise-man, if he were alive, would sigh out in his own phrase, what a sore evill is this under the Sunne!"

Milton's arguing in favor of liberal divorce laws, on the theory that a marriage without true companionship, as expressed in "conversation," is no marriage at all. He means a LOT of things by "conversation," all at once--more on which as soon as I get the Cocoa Puffs poured and the lunchbags packed!

E. M. Selinger said...

Hi, Amy!

Someone else once recommended "The Wolf and the Dove" to me, years ago--thanks for the reminder! I'll put it on my TBR stack. It's funny; in my poetry classes, when I talk about the Norman conquest, I always remind my students that "Norman" is "North-man," or Viking, and joke that French-speaking Vikings sound pretty romantic to me. Who knew?

MUST run! Back soon--

ev said...

HM... I am not sure I would want to take a course like that. I like to read romance so that I can just hide away in my own little world for a while, escape from everyday goings on, release stress by letting my brain wander in its imagination. Same reason I love sci-fi/fantasy.

I think if I started dissecting stories, they would lose their appeal- basically the way they always did in high school when we were forced to read books that didn't interest me. Can anyone say "Lord of the Flies"? I still hate that book. I love the escapism, but it has to be voluntary, not mandatory.

On the other hand, if this is they type of class that brings in non-readers and they actually end up finding out that reading isn't so bad after all, or it expands their horizons in what they read, then I hope more students sign up for it. Especially the men.

Laura Vivanco said...

although God in the first ordaining of marriage, taught us to what end he did it, in words expresly implying the apt and cheerfull conversation of man with woman, to comfort and refresh him against the evil of solitary life, not mentioning the purpose of generation till afterwards, as being but a secondary end in dignity

I'm still thinking about 'conversation', sex, and related words. Pretty much the opposite of this 'apt [...] conversation' (which, Milton seems to be separating out from 'the purpose of reproduction') would be 'criminal conversation'. I'm not sure when this became the legal term to describe adultery (the husband could take action on these grounds, but the wife couldn't). There are sometimes references to this in Regency-set romances when characters talk about the latest 'crim cons'.

Until 1939, the position in Northern Ireland was [...]: a husband had a right to sue his wife's paramour for damages in an action for criminal conversation. The Matrimonial Causes Act (Northern Ireland) 1939 by section 18 replaced this action by an action for damages for adultery on the lines of the 1857 legislation in England, which abolished the action for criminal conversation but introduced in its place the action for adultery with the wife. (from here).

Cocoa puffs permitting, I'd love to hear more about what Milton meant when he wrote about 'apt [..] conversation', and how you relate it to modern romance novels.

MaryKate said...

Hi Eric - Welcome! I've been so looking forward to hearing from you. Well, as a recommendation, this is a drum I beat constantly, but if you're not having your students read THE WINDFLOWER by Tom and Sheila Curtis, they're missing out. The book's prose is sumptuous and the story itself offers incredible twists and turns. On top of that, the secondary characters are fascinating, including an amazing anti-hero.

Do your students read any Georgette Heyer? She's magnificent, and was such a pioneer!

Do your students discuss the Nora Roberts phenomenon? I'd be interested in your thoughts as to why she's so successful. I mean, she's a dilly of a writer, but on top of that, is it marketing? Is it that she somehow knows how to formulate a romance? What is it about her?

PS - Michelle, you did not just use the phrase "in the hizowse!" LOL! :oP

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Oh, yes I did, MK! This is Eric, after all. I so knew you'd be hawking Windflower (which I bought but haven't gotten to yet) [sheepish smile]. Good pt about NR, too.

Laura V! Shame on you, Bella, using such dirty talk here! And from such a nice Catholic girl.

The genesis of language is fascinating, and when one couples it (oh! tee hee) with the way it integrates with, then moves across colloquialism is a heady topic as well.

I find fascinating that often language used to describe pleasant sexual experiences, especially those performed by women, is often turned about and used as pejorative, i.e. you suck; blow me; eat me; f*ck you (in it's myriad delightful forms), etc.

A topic for another day, perhaps.

ev, the point you bring up is one at the crux of debate about studying genre fiction. It goes something like this:

if we let those stuffy academics get their hands on our books, what says they won't just suck the fun from the marrow of the things?

Ain't a bad point. Cept that studying a genre like romance as literature adds credence in drips and drabs.

But this is a good point, too, and one Eric made reference to: not all study of romance is done because the researcher loves the genre. Sometimes s/he's got an ax to grind or hopes to find a specific outcome, which is a bastardization of the basic tenets and process adhered to by ethical researchers and academicians...

-post getting too long, more in a sec-

MaryKate said...

Michelle - I feel the same way about the phrase "up and coming," I mean, what's that about?!

I know it's a little Beavis and Butthead of me, but it gets a chuckle out of me every single time.

Hey, at least I'm in touch with me inner 14 year old boy.

ev said...

I think, from my point of view, I wouldn't want to take what I enjoy, reading, and disect it.

I say this for a good reason. I used to sew as a hobby. Made all my own clothes, tailored, the whole nine yards. Then, during college,the first time around, to earn money, I did it for others. Sucked the fun right out of it and I have done very little since. (Although the costuming I did for a group of male dancers was a whole nother story!!)

Now I do stained glass and have had many people ask me if I want to sell my stuff- craft fairs, etc. I thought about it and now give a very emphatic no when asked. I do it for fun and to give as gifts, but once I started selling it would become work. I don't like work. It is one of those four letter words that should be followed by a severe mouth washing with nasty soap. Work brings in a paycheck. Fun is how I relax and let stress go.

Although, the best job I ever had was working at Waldenbooks. It would have been perfect if the manager would have just taken a hike and left the rest of us alone. I keep thinking about going back there again, or it's parent company Borders. Books are fun. I just don't want to dissect them. (Never did like Biology either)

ev said...

Oh, and before I forget. I don't know if anyone here, besides me, is a Michael Connelly reader, but in the NY Times Magazine, they are doing a new Harry Bosch story. You can read it online too. It started yesterday. I love Connelly's stuff.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

...now, folks like Eric and Laura may have strong feelings or predilections, but they're gonna wait to see how the research shakes down, as it should be.

And Amyskf's suggestion is one that illustrates a divide I sometimes see among romance scholars and readers, especially because I'm not sure scholars understand readers are constantly having these discussions, disecting how we feel about what we read.

Old School romance: forced seduction, rape, abuse, marauding, etc., etc. Ten years ago I would have been nauseated hearing that women read about it and were turned on by it. Especially cause I've got my own backround of sexual abuse.

BUT, to the letter, every woman who's ever recommended to me Wolf/Dove, Flame/Flower has been an ardent, cap F Feminist. One told me she and her friends hid thier copy in college so they wouldn't get kicked out of thier NOW chapter.

It's about the FANTASY, the fiction...we say it and repeat it often, the I'm OK, You're OK maxim of romance reading:

Doesn't matter what kind of novel turns you on...it's your right as a woman to fantasize about what you want...chances are you don't want it to happen to you in actuality.

But you know what? If I was raped and reading about forced seduction turns me on, or domination of another man or woman gets me going, it doesn't affect my vote for/against choice or whether I knock up against that damn glass ceiling.

Really, just relax and enjoy the vibes...

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

I hear ya, ev. I feel the same way about what I do sometimes. I get so caught up in pulling apart the novel I'm featuring and reviewing, that I sometimes miss the fun of "reading pleasure for pleasure's sake."

The NY Times, ev? I was feeling the same way yesterday when ESPN and SI mags came and I got to read Reilly and The Sports Guy in one fell swoop! :) Love me some sports writers! Then I started to feel depressed cause I want to be as good as they are. So I should probably be working instead of blogging, but this is such a fun day!

MaryKate said...

Just to offer a dissenting opinion, I don't think I'm deep enough to analyze what I'm reading. That sounds silly, but I love to read other's interpretations of books because I tend to be very surface when I read. I don't generally read a lot into the text. I take the words on the page. So, I love when people can draw parallels for me and make me really start thinking. When a book works for me, I generally don't analyze why unless someone forces me to.

I equate it to BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER when it was in its heyday. There were many, many scholarly events about Buffy, analyzing the characters, story arcs and mythology (in fact, Sherrilyn Kenyon is considered to be one of the foremost Buffy scholars out there!). I found it fascinating. I loved to read about why Angel is the perfect anti-hero, etc. It makes me think and explore what my opinions are.

Now, I'm not sure I'd want to take the class for credit because I read romance for pleasure, but I'd sincerely love to audit the class.

You know?

Eric - Does your class focus exclusively on written word, or do you utilize other media in your classes?

Laura Vivanco said...

And from such a nice Catholic girl.

My abuelo and abuela wish I were. But unfortunately for them, my father lapsed, so although they got their way and I was baptised, things didn't go much beyond that. I do have an interest in theology, though, and a fondness for the Summa Theologica - it's just so organised (it's already sub-divided and sub-sub divided into sections which are a really nice length for reading online) and the internal coherence of the theology is very impressive.

amy*skf said...

Ev, truly I understand about just letting us read and not dissect. But I also lurve to talk and I luuurve to talk about Romance--also mystery, sci-fi, fantasy...(Love Michael Connelly)so I have no problem dissecting romance--but of course all on my terms.

What really stuck in Eric's blog was the transformation that took place in his students how their attitudes about the romances they were reading changed.

Michelle, we've talked about 'the hijacking' of romance. Romance being studied and discussed by people who can suck the fun out of it (Romance) because they don't like it. Not sure where I was going with that statement, but Eric is right about axes to grind.
And I can tell that you, Eric, truly appreciate romance.

MK--"up and coming" LOL. Now I'll be laughing like a Catholic school girl in church every time I hear that saying.

I would love to listen in on a class discussion. bWhat do the few guys who take your course think of romance by the end of the course?

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

You're talkin my language, Laura! I blame it on those liberal Franciscans who were silly enough to award me a degree.

MK, did you realize how smart Sherrilyn Kenyon is? I had a couple secs to chat with her at RWA, and she speaks middle English beautifully. Quite the smarty-pants. But the thing about SK is that she knows her reader, and doesn't condescend, she's in the mix.

Academic institutions do well to offer courses steeped in pop culture to which can be applied classic study. It can be a terrific way to get students excited about formal study of lit and arts, etc. Though I would guess that Buffy would be better rec'd by academic colleagues than romance because sci-fi, being male-dominated, trumps a chick fave. IMO. (wow. that's the closest I've ever come to knocking men). I think I need a Cannavaro fix.

In the case of romance, it's exciting to note that this spring Harvard, that little school across the river from Boston, is offering : Studies of Women: Gender, and Sexuality 1122: From Jane Austen to Chick Lit.

Too bad they have to stink it up w/ all that tedious gender crap to get people to buy that lit written generally for women, even with facile denouement, is worth studying.

amy*skf said...

MK, I think somewhere in our cells we always 'get' the deeper meanings. Anytime a book works for you it's because it's touched a chord--something you believe in or remember, something that means something to you.

So when you like to hear or read other people discuss a book--its deeper levels--it's because somewhere inside you, you already are aware of them and understand them.

Or, I'm full of it.

amy*skf said...

Laura and Michelle, yesterday at church the pastor said "we have to learn what it means to be Lutheran"
And I thought, what? D'oh, I'm Catholic.

Even though I haven't been to Catholic church in yeeears.

Manda said...

Yay! Welcome Eric! I love to see my two worlds (romance and academia) in conversation...
ehum...as it were;)

As a romance reader since my teens and as a scholar of English lit, I've always been aware of the divide between the two. I so wish I'd had a class like this in undergrad, but I don't think the world was ready for it in the early '90s.

I can see EV's point. In grad school I had a prof who proclaimed she could no longer read for pleasure because her inner critic got in the way. I thought that was the saddest thing I'd ever heard.

But, I don't necessarily think reading with a critical eye takes the fun out of things. Sometimes it enhances it. I've always struggled to keep my romance reading and my academic reading separate--but now that scholarship is more open to the study of romance as a genre the possibilities for "conversation" between texts are endless. And I find it terribly exciting.

As for romance canon suggestions, I highly recommend Jo Beverley's EMILY AND THE DARK ANGEL. It is one of the best Regency Trads ever written. Bluestocking heroine, a real rake hero, what's not to love?

MaryKate said...

Hi Manda! You know, it always makes my heart hurt a little to hear a romance author whose work I adore say she doesn't read romance any more. I feel so sorry for them. I mean, I guess it's just part of it for authors to step out of a novel and analyze why a book works or doesn't, or think, "Gee, I wouldn't have done it this way" or "That phrasing doesn't work for me." I'd love to hear from Vivi and Mon about their thoughts on this issue.

Ames, I think you're right. I can generally articulate pretty well why a book works or doesn't work for me. But I'm not good at say, drawing parallels between a certain story arc and its similarity to such-and-such greek myth or Shakespearean work.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Amy, I'm guessing you need to learn how to make hot dish and drink coffee.

No, Ames, you've got the right of it. I know that when I met you, I loved finally having someone to whom I could talk romance with in an intellectual manner -- in the same way we'd discuss any other lit we read.

Then, here, at other great blogs around the Inet, we find other women who want to do the same thing.

What I wanted to do this week was bring together two parts of a whole so we can learn from each other.

When we market and spin the Romance genre to the outside world, we talk about the education and sophistication of the readership. The smartest, most successful authors keep that in mind,and I think readers have to be studied and heard as we discuss the definition of "contemporary" romance fiction.

Manda! Welcome back! See, that's what I'm talkin bout. There are so many like you here at RBtheBlog, who've got a background in lit or writing, etc., but who adore and stand behind romance.

Turning off the inner critic is hard if you're getting paid to write criticism. The trick is, as ERic does, as I work to do, and as you all do when you separate your time between work/play/reading, etc. daily, is to keep aware of balance.

It also helps that what we study is so fun and sexy, at least if we let it be!

I know how you Bellas think. I know you think women's issues and human equality, community and family needs. I know that you're all about that.

So you come from that place when you pick up a romance, and it's part of why you read it in the first place.

So if you don't feel like looking too deeply, good for you! Enjoy and be happy!

I also think it's cool that if we want to examine it more closely we've got great big Bella brains with which to do so.

And it's awfully cool that there are all these scholars world wide who take the romance genre seriously enough to devote their time and brainpower to examining all the intricacies. :)

Vivi Anna said...

Welcome Eric to RBTB!

You know what I'd love to see you debate in class, why our romances are getting steamier and sexier. Why erotic/romance is the fastest growing market in romance today? But at the same time, so is Inspirational. I find that fascinating.

I don't have any books to recommend. I haven't read any old school romances, I don't read historicals, or contemporaries any longer. I just read paranormal. Can't get enough of it. I think I need a vampire in my own life...

Although I did date this guy long time ago that thought he was a vampire, even had sharpened canines. He dressed in black, had long black hair, very goth before Goth was even Goth...it was cool until he actually tried to puncture my neck with those nasty teeth. Left me a helluva hickey though...LOL, damn I had to hide that thing in school it was so nasty. I wore a red bandana around my neck. It was like the size of a grapefruit. Yeesh!

E. M. Selinger said...

Wow! I'm gone an hour, and look what I come home to!

I ought to start, according to my wife, by pointing out that SHE is my "trusty research assistant," and not some student that I'm sexually harassing. She's the lawyer; I'll take her advice!

amy*skf said...

Manda! Yay. I have never read Emily and The Dark Angel--but I will now.

Marykate when I read your post--I read, *geek* myths. Oops. And I don't think you have to be able to draw parallels or even triangles between them. But truly we do discuss here. Why we like it, why a Hero works or doesn't, which Heroine more closely resembles each of us. The list do go on.

Michelle and Eric, I have to be a volunteer lunch lady at school. So I'll catch-up later. Don't ask.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

LOL! Eric, I thought the same thing but I never deign to edit a GuestBlog!

I was thinking, sheesh, how'z come I never got any work/study like that?

amy*skf said...

Eric--I was hoping your wife was the "trusty assistant"--I figured you wouldn't have actually written that if she wasn't.

Vivi--excellent point, the dichotomy of the two. Give him some Paranormal titles Vivi. I can think of some. Bitten, by Kelley Armstrong. Talk about your transformations. She is the only female werewolf...ack--I really have to go now.

Laura Vivanco said...

why our romances are getting steamier and sexier. Why erotic/romance is the fastest growing market in romance today? But at the same time, so is Inspirational.

There's a lot of cultural background to that, I'd imagine. Here in the UK Mills & Boon (that's the UK name for Harlequin) don't sell Inspirationals (there are plenty of other lines they don't sell either). Also, in the UK, romance doesn't sell as well as it does in the US. It makes me think that there are national differences affecting which books sell and which don't. But as I'm not in the US, I'd rather not speculate about what's going on politically/socially in the US which might explain the trends re erotic romance and Inspirationals.

Vivi Anna said...

My personal opinion is that women are coming out of the inner closet. Sure we can rant and rave about feminism, that its been around for a long time, and that the sexual revolution was in the 60's....but I think it's now, for women. We no longer feel ashamed for demanding what we want in bed, that we are open to fantasies of all kinds, that we do think about sex as often as men, and if you've been to RBTB, you might argue that we think about more than men. LOL

I think erotic/romance and inspirationals are all about passion...passion for our sexual selves, and passion for our spiritial selves...

E. M. Selinger said...

Whew! I'm glad I got that cleared up, then.

Let's see--Michelle, you wanted to know about how the course got started. "What's the academic climate there that allows the bravery that must accompany a decision to offer such classes? Oh, and how did you come to read romance?"

I wish I could say that I was brave, but here's the scoop.

About 7-8 years ago, I was on the committee that designed some new courses for the English department, including a course on "Popular Literature." We set it up so that whoever taught it could teach whatever version of popular lit he or she wanted, and since one of my female colleagues insisted that we list "Romance Fiction" as an option, we did. I hadn't read any back then.

Well, years went by, and she never taught that class on romance. Neither did anyone else. All we ever had was detective fiction, film & fiction noir, and fantasy.

As those years went by, I started reading romance. It started innocently enough: my wife is a hard-core Jane Austen fan (poor woman--she ended up with a Bingley, not a Darcy!), and when she loved "Bridget Jones' Diary," I figured I'd take a look, if only to see who my rival was this time. (Ruder, hence more attractive--but fictional, a drawback.) The next thing I knew, we were prowling the public library, looking for ANYTHING to tide us over until the sequel came out. They had a list posted (thank God for librarians!) with recommendations, so I started checking them out for her, and then checking them out myself.

One night I read "Crazy For You," by Jenny Crusie. Hoo boy! (Stops to fan himself.) I was hooked.

Now, at this point, and for the next few years, I only read romance for pleasure. I completely identify with what Ev said about how doing things AS WORK can take the fun out of them, whether as the student or as the prof. A couple of springs ago, though, when I was supposed to be doing research on A. S. Byatt's novel "Possession: a Romance" (my favorite novel of any kind, by anyone, from any period), I started playing hooky by reading up on romance fiction instead. (Hey, it's research! Byatt said her book was "a Romance.") I told my department chair that because of my Byatt research, I wanted to teach that long-lost class on romance. He figured I was going to teach a little chivalric romance, a little Shakspeare, etc., and let's just say that I didn't tell him otherwise (grin).

The next thing he knew, I had 40 students lined up! And you know, you just don't argue with credit hours around here.

More in a minute!
E

E. M. Selinger said...

Thinking more about Ev's comments--

Some books (and poems, and movies, etc.) get better and better for me the better I know them. "Bet Me" is one of those: I think it's absolutely perfect, as elegant as Mozart, with every note in place, and the more I teach it, the more I like it. Ditto "The Grand Sophy," which is the only Heyer I've taught so far. (Next time I think I'll try "The Devil's Cub," if it's back in print!)

Other romance novels, not so much.

Many of my students, though, have only ever studied "important" (i.e., REALLY DEPRESSING) books, and usually have only studied them with an eye to the "serious issues" in them. They've never had the pleasure of discovering what makes a book they actually enjoyed so, well, enjoyable! "Knowledge is pleasure," I tell them, and try to make it stick.

In short, to go back to Ev's sewing story, I guess I'm trying to get them past seeing clothes just as clothes, and to notice something about their fabric, their stitching, their quality of construction--but NOT take them all the way into having to think only about those things, because they're going to have to make them and sell them for a living.

(Although I'd love it if we could offer a creative writing class on romance! I couldn't teach it, but I'd love to get it on the books--and I'm sure there are Chicago-area writers who could visit and teach!)

E. M. Selinger said...

Marykate, it's so fun that you mention Buffy! My wife and I discovered the show on DVD last year, and have been obsessed ever since. I haven't started reading up on the scholarship yet, but it's come in handy in my classes. (I think I'm the only prof who drops lines from the show into lectures, just to see who's listening). And my daughter, who's seven now, and hasn't seen the show, can sing you the whole soundtrack to "Once More With Feeling," now that it's on my iPod. If you see a little girl on the playground shouting "Bunnies, bunnies, could be BUNNIES!" at the top of her lungs, that would be my own little vengeance demon.

Julie in Ohio said...

WOW! I would say "Welcome, Eric" but it looks like you've been welcomed and then some. :o)

I'm finding your discussion interesting.
I really don't have anything to add. Dissecting books to see what makes them tick isn't something I do very well. I can find something fun in even the worst written book but words are not my gift, at least in the way of making them make sense to others.

I would like to throw Lisa Kleypas and Christina Dodd in the mix of must reads. They are marvelous story tellers. And if you are thinking of paranormals, I would suggest JR Ward. She has built a world with her Black Dagger Brotherhood series that can't be compared to any other.

E. M. Selinger said...

You know, Vivi Anna, you raise a great question about erotic & inspirational romance.

At first blush, you'd think this had to do with markets. There's a built-in market for inspirational romance (Christian readers, especially evangelical women), and another one, quite different, for the erotic novels.

On the other hand, I suspect there's a bit more connection--oh, dear, now you've got me thinking naughty thoughts about that perfectly innocent expression!--more overlap---no, that one, too--well, anyway, a bit more SOMETHING between these two than meets the eye.

We want so many different things, and because romance fiction has so many subgenres, it can speak to those different desires more and more directly. We want to be loved unconditionally ("and yet I love thee, and would be loved fain," says Donne), and inspirationals speak to that in the most intense, direct, grand way anyone could ask. We also want all that other good stuff, and the erotic novels give (well, the good ones do) a mainline shot of what we're looking for.

These used to get combined into single texts, as in the Biblical Song of Songs or some of John Donne's poetry. Remember "Except thou enthrall me, I never shall be free, / Nor ever chaste, unless thou ravish me"? (Yum! Oops, wait a minute, he's talking to God. Can I still say 'Yum'?)

Or, if you're Jewish, think of the Shabbat hymn "Y'did Nefesh," "Soul's Beloved," which either says "Bend Your servant to Your will" or "Bend Your slave to Your pleasure," depending on whether or not you got Rabbi Jaid Black to do the translation!

For more on this, though, you have to take my Love Poetry class (grin)--

Vivi Anna said...

If you like Helen Fielding, I think you would really like Marian Keyes. She's a fantastic British writer that writes amazing chick-litsh romance. Rachel's Holiday is my favorite. I actually cried like a baby in that book. And if you know me I DON'T CRY. LOL

E. M. Selinger said...

I'd forgotten all about Marian Keyes, Vivi Anna--but she sounds familiar, and now that you mention her, I see that she wrote "Last Chance Saloon," which I loved in that first binge of chick lit and romance years ago. Time to take another look at her! Thanks!

Playground Monitor said...

This old psychology major turned empty-nester is going to just sit back and "listen" to what the rest of you have to say.

I don't read historical romance nor chick lit (I feel like I'm missing the joke). I don't read much paranormal either. I love category romance, the real redhaired stepchild of the romance genre. And I read some women's fiction and romantic suspense.

I'd recommend Linda Howard. Her work gets better and better. And just when you wonder what kind of deep, dark rom/sus she'll write next, out pops TO DIE FOR, which had me laughing out loud. I already have my calendar marked for the release of the sequel, DROP DEAD GORGEOUS.

Also, Susan Elizabeth Phillips. I've only read two of her books, AIN'T SHE SWEET and NOBODY'S BABY BUT MINE but I could not put them down. Sugar Beth was the heroine you loved to hate and then loved to love.

Marilyn

E. M. Selinger said...

Laura,

Here's more of the Milton I have in mind:

"First we know St. Paul saith, It is better to marry then to burn. Mariage therfore was giv'n as a remedy of that trouble: but what might this burning mean? Certainly not the meer motion of carnall lust, not the meer goad of a sensitive desire; God does not principally take care for such cattell. What is it then but that desire which God put into Adam in Paradise before he knew the sin of incontinence; that desire which God saw it was not good that man should be left alone to burn in; the desire and longing to put off an unkindly solitarines by uniting another body, but not without a fit soule to his in the cheerfull society of wedlock."

So step one of the argument is: God said BEFORE the fall that it wasn't good for man to be alone, and that burning desire is for companionship with a fit soul, and not just for bodily satisfaction.

"Which if it were so needfull before the fall, when man was much more perfect in himselfe, how much more is it needfull now against all the sorrows and casualties of this life to have an intimate and speaking help, a ready and reviving associate in marriage."

I love that "intimate and speaking help" as the definition of what a spouse should be. It's a tough world, says Milton, and you really can't make it on your own.

"Wherof who misses by chancing on a mute and spiritles mate, remains more alone then before, and in a burning lesse to be contain'd then that which is fleshly and more to be consider'd; as being more deeply rooted even in the faultles innocence of nature."

So even if you have a spouse who can quench that fleshly "burning," says Milton, you're still going to burn for something more--burn with a desire that goes deeper, goes back farther, than the sexual.

"As for that other burning, which is but as it were the venom of a lusty and over-abounding concoction, strict life and labour, with the abatement of a full diet may keep that low and obedient enough--"

Work long hours and diet and you'll kill your sex drive, saith the poet

"--but this pure and more inbred desire of joyning to it selfe in conjugall fellowship a fit conversing soul (which desire is properly call'd love) is stronger then death, as the spouse of Christ thought, many waters cannot quench it, neither can the floods drown it."

There's my Song of Songs, which I teach in the Love Poetry class.

"This is that rationall burning that mariage is to remedy, not to be allay'd with fasting, nor with any penance to be subdu'd, which how can he assuage who by mis-hap hath met the most unmeetest and unsutable mind? Who hath the power to struggle with an intelligible flame, not in paradice to be resisted..."

I love that! Love as an "intelligible flame"--one that couldn't be resisted even in paradise... Works for me!

Janet Benoit said...

Hi all--I've never posted here before, though I'm quite the lurker. I'm out of hiding because I wanted to weigh in as one of Eric's grad students this past summer. (hey Prof. Selinger!)

The class definitely had the most animated discussions of any English lit class I've ever taken. Almost everyone had something to say about every book—even one or two of the guys.

I've been reading romances since I was 12 or so, so I was extremely excited to get into the class, and then surprised to find some people in there who seemed to dislike taking romance novels seriously. But ultimately this just led to better discussions because we had many viewpoints represented.

I can still read for pleasure after taking the class, though I have started looking at novels a little differently, noticing more the author's point of view about love, how the barriers work, etc. Perhaps there is more transparency for me now, but I haven't considered that a hindrance to enjoyment.

The class also forced me to open up about being a lifelong reader of these puppies (the minute I started talking about school with anyone it became clear how much I had read), so no more hiding the book covers on the bus...

As far as recommendations go—I am currently enamored with Fiona Hill’s regencies, particularly The Autumn Rose (which has some cool epistolary stuff) and A Country Gentleman. And Whitney, My Love by Judith McNaught is intriguing for me, especially considering she rewrote the first sex scene to remove the rape—might be fun for comparing. (sorry for the long post!)

E. M. Selinger said...

Hi, Playground Monitor! Thanks for the tips. I'd love to add SEP to my syllabus, especially since she's right here in Chicago; my wife suggests "Match Me If You Can." Isn't there one that has little epigraphs from Georgette Heyer at the start of every chapter, too? That sounds promising for a teachable novel, since we're reading Heyer earlier in the course.

So far I've taught one Linda Howard, "Mr. Perfect," which is probably the male students' favorite. I've been thinking of teaching one of Suzanne Brockmann's Navy SEAL books, which might play well with the boys, too. Any suggestions on which one, anyone?

(I only get two or three guys in the class each time it's offered, but one of these days they'll catch on!)

E. M. Selinger said...

Hi, Janet! Thanks for the tips! Here's one back at you--if you haven't read the new Lydia Joyce, "Whispers in the Night," I hope you'll take a look. I read it after class was over, otherwise I'd have assigned it.

Playground Monitor said...

The guys might also like these Linda Howard books: Dying to Please (female bodyguard protecting a retired judge and the police officer who's called in when the judge is killed and the bodyguard is the prime suspect), Kiss Me While I Sleep (female hired assasin and the agent sent to bring her in) and Dream Man (woman who "sees" crimes happening and the police detective on the brutal murder case she's just "seen"). I know I loved them. *g*

Marilyn

seton said...

Is there a link to your course's curriculum?

As someone who read BET ME over the weekend, I find it a very poor choice. It is a very repetitious novel with huge pacing issues. If you want a novel with a plump heroine and an interesting hero, I would recommend the great Laura Kinsale's SEIZE THE FIRE.

joelle said...

I enjoy all of Jennifer Donnelly's books but her novel The Tea Rose exemplifies the era and captures the essence of the people perfectly.

pearl said...

Your course sounds absolutely fascinating and apropos at this time. So many of us are enjoying this genre and feel so comfortable reading these wonderful novels. I particularly enjoy Maeve Binchy.

ellie said...

Romantic courses such as your must have a enormous following. The study of the romance novel should be a prerequisite as it is so popular now. Favorite of mine is Audrey Howard. Love all of her great novels.

E. M. Selinger said...

Hi, Seton! No link to it yet, but there will be one soon; we're building a "Resources for Teaching Popular Romance" webpage at DePaul, and I'll post it there. (I'll tell Michelle when it goes up.)

I can't agree with you about "Bet Me," though it may just be that where you see repetition, I'm seeing symmetry and pattern, which I tend to like, and I love the way Crusie plays with fairy tales throughout the novel, too. (My wife says I like the book because because I identify with Cal--I'm always offering her food--but I think it's for more aesthetic reasons!)

Joelle, I don't know Jennifer Donnelly's work at all! Thanks for the tip--which era does The Tea Rose exemplify?

E. M. Selinger said...

Oh, about that "plump heroine" thing--

As Janet will testify, my summer class (an MA class, mind you--all adult students) went absolutely crazy over the question of just how plump Min Dobbs really is. I've never SEEN a room full of students go after a question that passionately!

On her blog, Jenny once posted a picture from the National Gallery that looks, says she, like Min. You can find it here, if you scroll down a bit: http://jennycrusie.blogspot.com/2006/02/cheerful-and-on-wheels.html

MaryKate said...

Eric - I'd go with Brockmann's OVER THE EDGE as one of her best, although, if you wanted one of her just straight romance (with no SEAL's, HEARTTHROB is fantastic as well.)

I'd second Marilyn's suggestion about Linda Howard. I love DYING TO PLEASE and also DREAM MAN, which combines contemp/para.

Do you teach paranormal in your classes? I only ask because so many authors utilize Greek/Roman/Norse mythology to set up their stories. Or, the Arthurian legend. If you do decide to teach any alternate reality romances, I'd say that WARPRIZE by Elizabeth Vaughn is among the best I've read. Or, how about OUTLANDER? That's time travel, but it's a superior novel.

Yes, I'm a HUGE Buffy fan. I own the entire oeuvre and really believe it's some of the best and smartest television there ever was. Joss Whedon is a god!

Laura Vivanco said...

Seton, I know Eric's already answered but Eric's 2005 syllabus is posted here. There are more of Eric's thoughts on Bet Me here.

janet benoit said...

About Min and Bet Me: well, yeah, body issues bring out the rabid--adult women or not. JC was vague enough, and maybe a little inconsistent enough, to allow a reader to project, and that created the little storm in class.

Still, I think it was important to see a heroine who wasn't "typical" in the eyes of the nonreaders (what?! she's not a modern Lizzie Bennett?). It also touched off the other major argument in class (which lasted over the weeks) about whether or not women were harming themselves for reading romance novels--unrealistic expections and the like.

Personally, I love Bet Me, and I hope any romance class would include heroines who run outside the Austen archetypes.

Manda said...

Eric, the SEP with references to Heyer is AIN'T SHE SWEET. It might work as a companion to a Heyer piece.

As for a Brockmann pick, I'd go with OUT OF CONTROL because it has so much adventure in it.

Janet, I read all those Fiona Hill regencies back in the day when I ran out of Heyer. I remember loving The Country Gentleman:)

Amy, EMILY AND THE DARK ANGEL is soooooo good. Piers Verderan was one of the first truly bad boy heroes I read. Good stuff!

Regarding the inspirational/erotic romance popularity, has anyone else noticed a basic similarity in the size of these two disparate subgenres? I've been thinking a lot about how romance is packaged (not packages in general you dirty minded people!) and I noticed at the bookstore that Brava(romantica line) and Steeple Hill (inspy line) print books in the same larger sized format. Wonder if anyone has been unpleasantly surprised into buying one when they meant to buy the other. Or is there such a thing as "reading" covers like that anymore?

Maureen said...

I agree that this course would have been so much more interesting than the literature classes I took in college. I would recommend ALMOST A GENTLEMAN by Pam Rosenthal. The heroine Phoebe lost her son and unborn child in a carriage accident. Her grief is tremendous and she cares about nothing so she starts dressing as a man.

Manda said...

Maureen, great suggestion! I think Pam Rosenthal said she read up on gender theory (Judith Butler) before she wrote that one too. Plus it's just a darn good read!

Vivi Anna said...

I have a recommendation for the men in your class...my book HELL KAT. Men LOVE that book. I get more male fan mail than female. Or I'll get letters from women that say their husbands wont' give the book back...

hehehehehehehehehe...

E. M. Selinger said...

Thanks, everyone! I'm taking notes!

(I love the idea of a romance author reading up on gender theory--not exactly the stereotype, is it?)

Laura Vivanco said...

Completely off-topic and unacademic comment coming up. Does anyone else think that in the photos posted on the blog today Julia Quinn looks like she could be related to Milton?

flip said...

Your class sounds so much better than the modern novel class that I took in college.

I would recommend Cotillion by Georgette Heyer, Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase, The Ivy Tree by Mary Stewart and Shadows of the Moon by M.M. Kaye

Playground Monitor said...

Add me to the list of folks who couldn't read BET ME. I tried several different times and never could get beyond the first chapter. That doesn't make it a bad book; it's just not my cup of tea. Of course, I'm hesitant now to try another Crusie book.

Eric, do you cover the topic of category romance in your class? I know they have the shelf life of a bag of potato chips, but many authors got their starts writing category including Linda Howard (LOVING EVANGELINE is one of my all-time favorite books), Suzanne Brockman, Jennifer Crusie, Tami Hoag, and Nora Roberts to name a few.

Marilyn

E. M. Selinger said...

Thanks for the tips, Flip! I teach one Mary Stewart novel, "Madam, Will You Talk?" right now, which always proves very interesting. (A lot of the romance--the attraction, the sensuality, especially--gets projected out into descriptions of the landscape and the food, so if you're not paying attention, you'll miss it!)

Laura, I'm SO glad to hear you say that about the Julia Quinn picture. I had exactly the same thought! Of course, Milton was said to be a very attractive young man: in fact, wasn't he known as "The Lady of Christ's [College]?"

"The beauty of his countenance had increased so that he was as one set apart. His finely chiseled features, framed in their flowing curls, challenged the admiration of every person he met....

Milton knew his power—he gloried in this bright blade of the intellect. He was handsome—and he knew it. And yet we will not cavil at his velvet coats, or laces, or the golden chain that adorned his slender, shapely person. These things were only the transient, springtime adornments that passion puts forth." (http://www.online-literature.com/elbert-hubbard/journeys-vol-five/5/)

Slender, shapely, beautiful, with a bright blade of an intellect: she could do worse!

MaryKate said...

Marilyn - My first romance was IRISH THOROUGHBRED by Nora Roberts. I think I was 11. It was one of those books that a renter left at my parent's beachhouse. I practically read the print off of that book. The rest is history!

Every summer at the beach I go on a Harlequin Presents binge. As Michelle said, I consider myself to be a feminist, and yet, I find myself strangely drawn to stories with titles like "The Italian Millionaire's Virgin Bride." LOL! I love them, I equate them to circus peanuts, not really good for me, but they taste sooo good!

Vivi Anna said...

I think studying Nora Roberts would be an interesting topic.

She is by far the most successful romance author to date, and I suspect will ever be. I personally don't think there is another writer that could rival her success. I mean think about it, has she ever written a bad book? I mean one, where she'd lose readers over...

If she has, I haven't heard of it. She doesn't write amazing books every time, no writer on earth, IMHO, can do that. I don't read her anymore. Her storylines don't work for me anymore, but in the beginning, I couldn't get enough of her, and every book I read was better than the last...

She's a phenom, and it would be interesting to see a study on why...

E. M. Selinger said...

Hmmm... I seem to have lost a comment about category romance here--oh, well!

The long and the short of it was that I haven't taught any yet, but plan to soon. I'm thinking of switching out BET ME for an earlier Crusie, one of the Harlequins that's been re-released (Anyone But You or Manhunting). Also, I have a colleague who started reading romance on my recommendation, and she's been plugging Betty Neels, whom I haven't read yet.

Nora Roberts? Tell me where to start! She's written so many books, I find myself overwhelmed, but I need to add her to the syllabus. What would any of you recommend for a newbie?

MaryKate said...

Eric - i just finished ANYONE BUT YOU (the audio of it) and thoroughly enjoyed it. It is an older woman/younger man story and really enjoyable. Very Cruisie. She has such a wonderful, breezy style of writing.

Ah, Nora. Well, you know, she excels at writing families. My favorites are the MacGregors and the Quinns. Her JD Robb series takes on a couple over what like 18 or 19 books now?! (a little gory, often shelved in mystery section in big book stores). If you're looking for a stand alone Nora, I'd recommend TRUE BETRAYALS. It's extremely well written and is about horse racing. I also really love THE THREE FATES. She does a heck of an Irish romance, which the THREE FATES is.

I could go on and on about Nora. She writes pretty much everything well. Seriously, she could write the phone book and I read her!

seton said...

Michelle --

Thank you for the links.

Going back to BET ME, there is a different between symmetry and repetion used for effect. Mary Jo Putney's UNCOMMON VOWS or Shakespeare's HENRY IV, Part I uses symmetry to great effect. In BET ME, I started counting how many times Crusie wrote "This one!" or "It's attraction/infatuation!" and I had to stop at five or six because it got too demn annoying. That's not good technique when a reader starts counting.

According to one of the links that Michelle provided, Selinger is more interested in the fairy tale aspects of the book. Fair enough. I would say that there are many books with fairy tale elements that are superior to BET ME. . . . although none that has a character saying "Life is a fairy tale" 2,364,000 times.

MaryKate said...

Eric - One more thing. The thing that I think appeals to me so much about Nora is that she does "Guy Speak" really, really well. I find her male/male interactions to be very realistic and the guy talk to be quite accurate. It's like she knows something we don't about guys.

HEY! Word ver: VIVIZ

E. M. Selinger said...

Ooh... an Irish romance sounds good to me. (Technically I'm "Eric Murphy Selinger," although I borrowed the Murphy from my wife and the brogue is strictly for show.)

Two summers ago we spent two weeks in Connemara, where we did nothing but play with the kids, play music, and read romances until the wee small hours. (The sun didn't set until midnight, over the sea outside our window.) Simply heaven!

Laura Vivanco said...

She is by far the most successful romance author to date, and I suspect will ever be. I personally don't think there is another writer that could rival her success. I mean think about it, has she ever written a bad book? I mean one, where she'd lose readers over...

Has she written and sold more books than Barbara Cartland yet? According to BarbaraCartland.com:

Barbara Cartland was the most prolific and well-loved author of her time. She sold over 1,000 million books, giving her a place in the Guinness book of Records. Her novels of romance and love have been enjoyed by generations in over 36 countries.

I suppose it depends how you measure 'success', but if one's looking at output and size of readership, I think Cartland must be among the most successful romance authors. Her heroines quiver, stutter and look innocent rather a lot (at least, in the novels I've read), but the books have a certain charm.

E. M. Selinger said...

Well, Seton, I doubt either of us will convince the other--there's no point arguing over taste, as they say. Besides, people only have such debates over genres they actually care about: the important point is that you and I both think that some romances are really good, aesthetically speaking, and others are much worse. That sets us BOTH apart from the "they're all alike" approach that used to pass for literary criticism where romance is concerned.

(Reminds me of Ezra Pound's comments about Milton, whose work he just despised. An "abominable dogbiscuit," I think he called Paradise Lost!)

Marykate, I'd love to teach Outlander, but it's just too long for our 10 week quarter system. Maybe I could do a whole course on it sometime, but I doubt I could squeeze it in with other novels.

Hmmm... sounds like a study abroad class to me!

MaryKate said...

Laura - I believe that Nora measures by books in print. Her website says she has "more than 280 million copies of Nora Roberts books in print." (As of 12/31/04).

Either way, I think we can all agree that they're both pretty blinkin' prolific!

Is Barbara Cartland still alive? Nora may end up surpassing her, but it's interesting that her number is "1,000 million" Isn't that a billion? (I'm definitely not a numbers person! LOL!)

Amy S. said...

I would recommend any book by Linda Howard or Jennifer Crusie

Laura Vivanco said...

MaryKate, Barbara Cartland died in 2000. The difference in numbers is due to there being two different ways of calculating 'billions'. Traditionally in the UK (though we're now converging on the US meaning of 'billion'), a billion was a million million. That meaning of 'billion' is still in use in some parts of the world.

Monica Burns said...

Good Grief! Another riotous day at RBTB! Welcome Eric! It's great to see class in session.

I'm one of those writers who DOES struggle to read (Manda I think posed that question) ANY book now because of the internal editor. I try hard to shut it down, but it's difficult, and it has to be a superior STORY to shut it down.

SEP's Ain't She Sweet was a brilliant book that I thoroughly enjoyed. I still have visual memories in my head that SEP created. I read that book almost two years ago, so that says a lot I think. Amanda Quick I love because of the way she weaves in spiritual concepts into her stories.

There are a lot of popular authors that I personally am not fond of. I don't think it's because they're bad writers, I just think I don't care for their "voice." The writer's voice has to appeal to me in a work or I just put it down. Voice is as essential as the story itself, and it's like a marriage where the two join together to create a story that really makes an impact.

I confess that I've never been one to delve too deep into what motivated a writer to write a book. Any book. I remember my English Lit courses in college where we read books by Henry James, Dickens, etc. There were always themes that one could find in those books, but here's a thought on that. I truly wonder how many of these fiction writers deliberately and intentionally wrote their works with "a point" in mind. Dickens wrote for the masses, and I wonder if he consciously sought to put the themes in his works that one can find there. I know that when I write, I'm not really conscious of putting in a theme. I simply write. I let the characters tell their story. So dissecting my stories or the stories of others isn't something I do well. I don't know if that makes me non-literary or just a bad writer. Particularly because I'm not certain that my works have themes such as the ones discussed here.

I also have to confess that as a writer, when I hear people finding these themes I immediately begin to question myself as to what I should or shouldn't be doing with my writing. I just want to tell a good story that people enjoy reading. I want to explore the growth of my characters, and the more I write the more I grow my craft.

As for the dichotomy between erotic romance and inspirational, I think a large part of that issue here in the US is based in the wide differences in American culture. One of the biggest divides in this country seems to center around ideological POVs. There is the conservative right and the liberal left with the rest of us somewhere in between, leaning one way on some issues and the other way on other issues. The Puritanical roots of this country run deep, and for so long in this patriarchical society, women were afraid to demand more in their sex lives. Erotic romance has helped them "come out of the closet," as Viv pointed out. However, there are still women who prefer to follow their hearts where their religious beliefs are important. I respect that. However, be on the lookout for a new trend that I think will be popping up in the future. Erotic inspirationals. I think it's a real possibility. I know there are some erotic romance writers who are considering the possibilities. I wouldn't be surprised to see one. Talk about a divergent in the industry! WHOA! That's going to be REALLLY interesting!

Jen said...

(I love the idea of a romance author reading up on gender theory--not exactly the stereotype, is it?)

LOL--I just sold my first two books to Harlequin this year and my undergrad degree is in Semiotics. I'm sure all that Irigaray I read back then has influenced my thinking in ways I can't begin to fathom...

On books to add to your class, how about D H Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover? It breaks some rules of modern romances, what with the adultery and the ambiguous ending, but it blew a lot of doors right off their hinges. Heck, it was very influential to me when I read it as a teen :)

Jen

Vivi Anna said...

Mon, I love that erotic inspirationals...

Could happen. As I recently read an article about a minister preaching about having hotter sex in a marriage will keep couples together during his Sunday sermons. Also, about what foods will make the man's sperm taste better...

I think that's so awesome!

I'd go to church if we could talk about sex!!!

I'll see if I can find the link to the story...brb

Vivi Anna said...

Here it is....very cool!

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/13834042/

amy*skf said...

Well, I get my hairnet off and I see no one needs any more of my opinions.

But, of course I'll still give them.

Marian Keyes--absolutely, I was reading her before I had ever heard the term 'chic lit'she's fabulous.

S. Brockmann book, I second MK's vote with Over The Edge. She's a hell of a writer. And I dug all the manly man stuff as well.

I love that you were reading 'em before you were teaching 'em Eric.

And Janet, glad you're not lurking today--because now you are a bella.

Toni Blake said...

First, as a writer of romance, I want to thank you, Eric, for teaching the masses about the merits of romance novels! Hooray - what a fabulous class!

Has anyone recommended Laura Kinsale's FLOWERS FROM THE STORM?

Or Kathleen Eagle's REASON TO BELIEVE and SUNRISE SONG?

Enjoyed your blog!

Laura Vivanco said...

I truly wonder how many of these fiction writers deliberately and intentionally wrote their works with "a point" in mind. Dickens wrote for the masses, and I wonder if he consciously sought to put the themes in his works that one can find there. [...] I also have to confess that as a writer, when I hear people finding these themes I immediately begin to question myself as to what I should or shouldn't be doing with my writing.

Monica, you've probably studied more Dickens than I have, but he was a reporter to begin with, and he took great interest in social issues, and I'm sure whether or not he was always conscious of it, his views would have informed his work.

Whether writers like it or not, or intend it or not, they tend to have a recognisable 'voice' and they quite often deal with similar themes in different books, or similar types of hero/heroine or a particular type of story. I would imagine that who the author is, and the beliefs that the author has, will tend to affect what they write, regardless of whether they actively set out to have themes or not.

From my point of view, as someone who's been reading romances and finding themes in them, I can assure you that I can find themes and ideas of interest in pretty much any romance. I don't know if that's going to sound reassuring or extremely worrying to you, but at very least it does mean that authors shouldn't feel like they must consciously set out to write about a Big Theme. There will almost certainly be one in there whether you think about it or not. After all, are all romances not about love? And then there there are issues related to sexuality, society, how people relate to their bodies, ideals about beauty, femininity etc etc. I don't think you can escape dealing with at least some of these issues if you're writing romance.

Vivi Anna said...

Oh I think every writer intergrates theme into their books whether they are conscious of it or not.

I didn't realize that I have the same theme in almost every story I write until I did a core story study with another writer, Julie Rowe. With her insight, I realized that the themes in my books always deal with redemption and forgiveness of oneself.

Now do I attack a new story idea thinking okay, I'll put that redemption thing in there?? Nope, but it's there no matter how I spin the tale, it always ends up there.

It's the theme of my life...

Monica Burns said...

And then there there are issues related to sexuality, society, how people relate to their bodies, ideals about beauty, femininity etc etc. I don't think you can escape dealing with at least some of these issues if you're writing romance.

Ok, I'm reassured. LOL My heroines are more ordinary looking than beautiful, they tend to be on the more curvy, rounded side and they ALWAYS get the good-looking Alpha to drool after them because they're not vapid, vacuous creatures, but they do happen to be highly intelligent brainy souls who are tired of women being viewed as something less than the sum of their parts. So they're looking for acceptance about themselves and from others to be just who they are and not meeting other expectations. Guess there's a theme about feminism in there too if I were to look hard enough. *grin*

However, I freely admit that I feel overwhelmed and awed by Eric's and Laura's knowledge in the literary and scholarly approach to romance. I'm a lurker for the most part on the Romance Scholar list, but I'm completely blown away by the in depth analysis of the romance genre.

And Viv, thanks for that link!! It sounds like erotic inspirationals will happen, just won't be me writing them. LOL

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Well, Bellas, I'm back amongst the living and so happy to see how well you're holding down the fort, with nary an outbreak of fisticuffs!

Ciao, lurkers! So glad you've joined us and hope you'll keep stoppin in for the convo.

This week at Romance: B(u)y the Book, www.WNBC.com/romance/index.html, I write a teeny bit about the erotica/erotic romance issue in Toni Blake's "Swept Away" feature.

Mon's on the right track when she discusses the divergence of sales UK v US. The European sensibilities re overt sexuality in the media are much more free than ours.

But I'd rather talk about the study of only "meaningful" romances. I created RBtheBook to present romance fiction to a broad viewership in a manner which defined the genre rather than defended it.

I understood there were influences from lit and philosophy, the sciences, etc, and I wanted to acknowledge them for the romance reader, as well as the non who might be getting their first understanding of romance by stumbling across my columns.

At the same time, I know there are romances that are just gosh darned fun to read, that speak to us because the story is so great.

I count those every bit as legitimate as the most tightly-written, well-plotted romance, and proudly feature them.

If the readers are reading them, we must acknowledge them. If we excise them because we think they're cheesy or don't have literary merit, we're no better than the "outside" world that rejects our genre out of hand.

The fun thing about romance, the thing that shocked me when I went from Lit snob to True Believer, was that whether I examined a romance critically, or read it for the fiction fix, the reading was a joyous experience.

Feel free to read the many AuthorViews at Romance: B(u)y the Book where you'll find writers expressing their core beliefs about the power of the romance.

Laura, you're one of the big cheeses at TeachMeTonight.blogspot.com, and work a lot with Eric. Would you tell us how you began reading romance, and why you study it? :)

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Vivs, were you around for the What's the Word blog with Deanne Gist and Tamera Alexander? Both of them writeInspirational romance in a way that, as Deanne says, "doesn't treat Christians as if they're dead from the neck down."

There's terrif Inspy out there, but I don't think we'll see erotic Inspy specifically any time soon. However, I've read mainstream erotic romance with very strong Christian themes, including conversion to Christianity or Catholicism.

I love that even in the most erotic romance (not talking erotica) there's generally a strong sense of respect for self and fellow humans.

amy*skf said...

I almost forgot to let Eric know how much we love Bingley. In fact I can't say the name without an exclamation point.

Bingley!

Laura Vivanco said...

Laura, you're one of the big cheeses at TeachMeTonight.blogspot.com, and work a lot with Eric. Would you tell us how you began reading romance, and why you study it? :)

I'm a little cheese really, it's just that the bigger cheeses are busy with admin, teaching etc and I'm not, so recently I've been blogging more than they have.

I read Heyer in my teens - my mother approves of her. And I read historical romances such as Anya Seton's Katherine, and Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond books. And of course Austen, Anthony Trollope, the Brontes, E. M. Forster and other classics which are either romance or have very strong elements of romance in them. Even then I always tried to find the ones with happy endings. I'd also been sneak-reading bits of Mills & Boon novels for years in charity shops, but I wouldn't have suggested to my mother that she buy one for me. Anyway, time passed, and there I was at home, looking after a baby, having finished my thesis and got it published, and I needed to write about something. It's a bit like some writers say they feel a bit unhappy if days go by without them writing, and plenty of readers feel unhappy if they don't have a TBR pile and time to dig into it: I begin to get a bit miserable if I haven't done some textual analysis for a while. I was reading historical Mills & Boon romances, discovered romance websites such as AAR, and I decided that I wanted to try writing about romance from an academic perspective. I see parallels between the attitudes that 19th-century scholars had towards 15th-century courtly love poetry, and modern attitudes towards romance novels. The love poetry was seen as repetitive, formulaic... and then some academics started to take it seriously, and they discovered that it was full of innuendo, witty word-play etc.

So, I had a genre I loved to read, it was an 'under-dog' genre, it's pretty much a wide open field as there's been relatively little research done on it, it deals with issues I find interesting - it just seemed logical to start analysing it.

E. M. Selinger said...

Hi, everyone! I love, but LOVE the idea of erotic inspirationals, seriously so, although I must admit, the first thing that came to my mind was a slough of cheesy jokes about the idea. (You know, things like "gee, I already find erotic romance pretty inspiriational!") There's actually a useful book of cultural history that authors could draw on, by Peter Gardella, called "Innocent Ecstacy: How Christianity Gave America an Ethic of Sexual Pleasure" (Oxford UP, 1985). Some of the tidbits Gardella recounts--the serious theology and the odd bits of cultural history--are simply priceless, and the book is readable even for a non-specialist (and non-Christian) like me!

Monica Burns said...

Hmmmm, a book called Innocent Ecstacy....thanks Eric. That sounds like a really interesting book.

That title would also be a GREAT title for a romance book! LOL

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Well, I don't mean to imply that romances only have Christian morality, and I actually thought about how that sounded as I wrote it. But we must agree that, unfortunately, we don't see lots of other religions represented in romance. (Nita Abrams' Regencies explore issues of being Jewish in that period).

I am so pleased that we have this day to discuss Eric's work, and to get a glimpse into the philosophy behind today's romance scholarship.

And, it's always satisfying to read as folks toss around ideas, sometimes agree to disagree, yet always respect divergent opinions.

rachd said...

Yikers! 89 comments to read and me on my way to bed. I'm glad you Bellas had so much fun today! =) Wish I coulda been here for the fun...

Thank you for coming to visit, Eric!

Monica Burns said...

{{{{{Rach!! }}}}How's school going? Oldest was home sick today. We thought strep at first, now we think stress is more likely. They just put to much on these kids. All the pressure is unreal. *sigh*

Monica Burns said...

Well, I don't mean to imply that romances only have Christian morality,

I didn't take it that way, nor would I imagine anyone else around here. But it's interesting that there are so few insprys that feature religions outside Christianity, especially when it's not the number one religion in the world. I can't even remember if it's second. I'm done for. The bed is calling.

Thanks for being her Eric, Laura. As always, reading your posts are a MAJOR learning experience for me. Thank you for helping people understand romance better.

Janga said...

I am really late, and I am a lurker here rather than a poster--and another academic who is a long-time romance reader. But I wanted to add my voice to the Nora Roberts discussion. Barbara Cartland may have sold more books and written more titles (although if NR writes as long as Cartland did, the numbers may tell a different story), but Nora Roberts's influence on the romance genre is far more significant than mere numbers. Last week she had three books on various parts of the NYT bestseller list, a not uncommon position for her. Reissues are everywhere today, but NR's MacGregors started the trend. The MacGregors also gave category romance their first spot on the NYT list. I think any history of romance is incomplete without a consideration of Roberts. Sea Swept, the first of the Quinn brothers series, would be an excellent NR book for classroom study. It is a family story as well as a romance; it even has a touch of the paranormal. Cam Quinn is a wonderful romance hero, but his character and his relationship with his brothers will likely appeal to the males in the class.

Stacy~ said...

Yeah, what Rach said. Geez, the intellectuals were out in full force today...good thing I didn't post and make a fool of myself. I'll catch up and learn something :)

E. M. Selinger said...

Goodnight, everyone! Thank you all so much for stopping by and posting comments. I had a blast, and learned a lot--my favorite kind of class!

Michelle, special thanks to you for the invitation. I can't wait to post questions for Eloisa and Bill!

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to add my Nora Roberts recommendation. I'm not a huge Nora Roberts reader. I like some of her books, but I've definitely put down a few just because I was halfway through and wasn't really excited about the story. I agree that a lot of her books seem similar in some ways, which might be inevitable if you've written as many books as she has. In fact, I can usually tell if I'll like one of her books from the description on the back cover.

If I were to pick one to cover in a class though, I would recommend one from her Chesapeake Bay Series as a good introduction because even though they're not all necessarily her greatest they highlight a lot of the things she does really well. In order the series goes Sea Swept, Rising Tides, Inner Harbor, and Chesapeake Blue. The books take place on the eastern shore of Maryland and the setting is almost a character. The stories revolve around brothers so they have a lot of dialogue between men and men's relationships are a focus of the books. Also, the villain in these books is characterized well. Normally, I don't think much about them once the book is done but Roberts made a great villain in this series.

Everyone's comments today were really interesting. I'm looking forward to the rest of the week!
Jane

Anna Campbell said...

Firstly, Eric, and please forgive the Aussie-ism, but GOOD ON YOU, MATE! That was great! I've read romance avidly most of my life and there are some marvellous books in the genre. I honestly believe that good writing is good writing, regardless of what genre it is in. My personal recommendation for a wonderful romance novel that is worth looking at - and one I use as a 'conversion kit' - is Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase. Another really interesting book is Passion by Lisa Valdez. It uses a lot of the language and convention of erotica while still being definitely a romance.

Diane said...

Interesting link Vivi Anna. I was in Amway many years ago and at our women's conferences they used to tell us about the "48 Hour Rule." Supposedly some minister's wife told all the women in their church that men "needed" sex every 48 hours and that was the way to keep them happy and get what you wanted from them. These fine upstanding Christian women seemed to think this was just fine. I, however, likened it to prostitution. There's nothing wrong or un-Christian about hot sex but please don't tell me how often I need to do it or that I can get a mink coat and a Cadillac for my services.

Nicola Marsh said...

Eric,
your course sounds intriguing and the more people that stand up for romance and be counted, the better!

As for must-reads for next romance syllabus, can I say all of mine? ;)
(tongue firmly planted in cheek here!!)

ev said...

ok, so it is actually Tuesday now, but I hope Eric still sees this. (I've been gone all day.)

do you do anything with romance books featuring older women, or are they only the generation of your students? I am finding more authors who are heading in that direction, and finding myself looking for them. I was wondering, if you did, how the sutdents reacted to the older characters having sex, AT THEIR PARENTS AGES?? Who wants to think of mom/dad doing it?? ew!! LOL

Laura Vivanco said...

Nicola, I've got a blog post I'm working on in which I'm going to mention part of Contract to Marry. I was thinking of posting it later this week, Thursday probably, unless one of the other bloggers has something up.

Ev, thinking back (and it wasn't that long since I was a student ;-) ), people who had careers and were in their thirties seemed quite old to me when I was at university. I wouldn't have thought of them as being part of 'my generation'. At the same time, though, I remember as a teenager reading Heyer's novels, some of which had pairs of lovers, such as The Talisman Ring and the older lovers seemed much more sensible and easier to identify with than the younger ones. Further up the thread Eric mentioned Anyone But You as a possible choice, and that has a 40-year-old heroine, with a 30-year-old hero.

E. M. Selinger said...

Good morning, everyone! I thought I'd pop in and see whether there were any new comments--and here you are! How fun!

So far I don't think I've taught any romances where the age of the hero or heroine made the class go "ew!" Of course, I'm not sure that I would actually notice--these days I'm more likely to notice an age that's too young (as in, what on earth would a __-year old know about love?) than one that's, ahem, closer to my own.

(Had the shocking realization the other day that my kids are closer to the age when I met my wife than I am. Sniff! They're almost married, and they're not even out of elementary school!)

One book that might prompt that reaction, come to think of it, is another Crusie: Faking It. Doesn't Gwen Goodnight get a love scene or two? It would be inspirational for the boys, too--I can just see the T-Shirts now, asking "What Would Davy Do?"

Laura Vivanco said...

The upstairs neighbour in Anyone But You seventy-five, and still has an active sex-life (though you don't get any scenes showing it). Gwen Goodnight does get her own scene.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Buongiorno, Bellas, and thanks for dropping by this am, Eric. And thanks to all you lurkers who delurked to pitch in!

Yes, yes, oh, God, yes, Eric! You simply must study you some Loretta Chase. Mr. Impossible, Lord Perfect are more recent, and I'm sure there are others more knowledgable re her stuff, but she's got it all for the literate contemporary romance reader who loves her some Regencies. I think I gave her my highest rating ever (just one star behind Auntie Jane for P&P. Yes, I do presume much).



You are welcome back ANYTIME, Eric. Please feel free to bring along Laura and your other smarty-pants friends.

Please visit soon to let us know what's new at RomanceScholar! Molto, molto grazie.

btw, when we first talked about Eric and RS here at RBtheBlog, he thought it was funny that I posted David Duchovny, and said feel free to imagine him looking like that -- except that Eric's students have likened him more to actor Edward Norton (Primal Fear, American History X). Well, gosh, then I see Eric's photo, and I'm all like, holy cow! You really do look like him!

Now, I don't want to give Eric the wrong idea, but Edward Norton was part of my fantasy luv sammich last week, along with David Duchovny. Of course EN and Cannavaro might work out in a kind of smart-guy/me/jock-guy kinda way...

Shoot, I said I was gonna try to wax all brainy for just this one week, but I find myself slipping back, back, back to the Dark Side...

Vivi Anna said...

Diane, that's awful. I definitely think that's shit! What about when women want sex? I want it every 12 hours, is someone goign to service me????? LOL

And no one's getting a damn fur coat for that!!

Playground Monitor said...

Eric wrote I had a student once who wrote about the “alfalfa male” hero all through a midterm exam, but that’s a whole other story.

I missed this when I read the blog yesterday. But that's just too damn funny! And we'd love to hear the story, Eric. *g*

Marilyn

Monica Burns said...

Viv, babe, you got that right! We need to be serviced, and my DH is pretty much a happy guy when I demand it. I've never been turned down, unlike him. ROFLMAO

As for fur coats, the DH has to resign himself to the occasional Wendy's meal I allow him to have for lunch. ROFL (I do the books in our family, and I'm one tough finance officer!)

Eric, I ordered Innocent Ecstasy last night. Looking forward to reading your recommendation. Thanks again.

amy*skf said...

That's exactly what I was thinking, Vivi. But that's always what I'm thinking.

amc said...

Loretta Chase is a must-read! Try Lord of Scoundrels and Mr. Impossible (I think they're her best, but she's always great).

For NR, try Born in Fire. The heroine is an unconventional, go-her-own way glass artist (the glass-blowing descriptions make me want to try it myself) with a difficult family. It has a very luminous yet slice-of-life feel to it that I love. I think it one of Nora's best.

Mary Stella said...

Chiming in late here, but with so many titles, I really had to think about my suggestions. There could be an entire story arc on the sexual evolution of women as reflected in romance novels -- beginning with Kathleen Woodiwiss's Flame and the Flower (Surely one of the lightning rods for discussion about 'forced seduction' vs rape.) and moving through to today's heroines. Another discussion could delve into whether story trends in romance mirror what readers are experiencing in their modern world. For example, has the popularity of books with Special Forces heroes (Navy SEALS, Delta Force, Rangers, etc.) increased with greater personal awareness and media coverage of modern terrorism? (I think it has, ever since the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, but that's just my opinion.)