Friday, September 22, 2006

Bill Gleason GuestBlog: What Do (Reader) Chicks Want?

Prof of English at Princeton, Bill Gleason is one of the nicest guys I know. When I met him, I was 25 and didn't have my degree yet. I remember his still treating me as if I had intelligence and something to say.
Today, he wants to hear what you have to say about romance novels, and is asking some very important questions, the answers to which should be listened to as we define romance for ourselves and the "outside" world.
Oh. One lucky commenting Bella wins Diana Gabaldon's "A Breath of Snow and Ashes!" Another, Toni Blake's steamy "Swept Away." Professore, the podium is yours...

Greetings everyone!

Wow, this has been such a fun week. Can we get a quick round of applause for Michelle for putting this all together? Thanks, Michelle!

Here’s my story: I teach English and American Studies at Princeton University, including courses on the history of American popular literature. For example: I teach an undergraduate course on “American Best Sellers” that runs from the colonial era to the present. We start with a thunderous Puritan poem called THE DAY OF DOOM (a catchy ballad about judgment day) and work our way through some of the most widely circulated American texts of the past couple hundred years, with heavy sampling from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

I try to include examples of the most popular genres—seduction, adventure, romance, the sentimental novel, the western, detective fiction, children’s literature, and so on—and I focus primarily on the massive best sellers, books like UNCLE TOM’S CABIN, LITTLE WOMEN, TARZAN OF THE APES, GONE WITH THE WIND.

In my experience, many of the students come to the course feeling interested in, but also a little superior to these books. (“Well sure, they were popular, but they can’t actually be any good, can they?”). Others take the course because one book on the syllabus—almost always GONE WITH THE WIND, but sometimes LITTLE WOMEN—is their favorite novel of all time. (Interesting combination, no?)

So it’s not a romance fiction course per se, like the ones Eric teaches, although sometimes we do read “real” romance novels. But the idea of romance, and particularly the appeal of the romantic plot, enters our discussions nearly every week. (Did you know that the subtitle of the first Tarzan novel was “A Romance of the Jungle”? Talk about your alfalfa male!)

And so here’s where I could use your help. Whatever the genre, I try to get the students to think about literary and cultural history (what helped make these books so incredibly popular in their particular moment?), about audience (who was reading these books, and why?), and about narrative power.

It’s the middle topic—who was reading and why—that critics and historians of popular literature traditionally have the hardest time figuring out, because most spend no time talking to actual readers. So:

If you could give a guest lecture in my course, what would you tell my students about romance readers and romance reading? What assumptions do you think college students have about this genre, and what myths would you want to dispel?

You could talk about what makes one romance novel better than another for you, or any other details about your reading, from the profound to the mundane:

Where and when do you read? How do you pick your next book? Do you reread your favorites, or prefer to keep moving to something new? Why?

I’m probably not even asking the right questions. Maybe a better question is: What should students interested in romance readers and romance reading be asking you?


Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Buongiorno, Bill, and welcome! It's really nice of you to visit, and very cool that you're the one who's come to learn!

So, lemmee get this straight: Eric teaches romance novels, Eloisa teaches Shakespeare as if the Globe Theatre were Graceland, and you and your class sit around jawin about Tarzan...what the heck do you guys get paid for? What's next? Philosophy from Daoism to Homer Simpson? Doh!

We're glad to have you, and, believe you me, more than happy to tell you what we think. You may regret getting us started...

Anonymous said...

Great questions.

The where and when of reading are variable for me. I work a day job, and I write, so my reading has to be slotted in between. I like to read a book in a nice chunk, so I try to put aside a few hours so I can really sink into the story and fall in love with the prose. Unfortunately, life sometimes gets in the way, LOL! So second best is grabbing a few stolen moments before the day-job, or before I sit down to work on my own writing.

I do order books online sometimes, if I have a particular release that I'm watching out for, but my preference is to go to the bookstore and browse the aisles, searching for releases from my favorites, and hoping to find a new author whose work I can latch on to.

I wonder if students (and others) have their own stereotype of the "typical" romance reader. I consider myself the typical reader of romance: someone who loves the romance genre. I see these stories as great works of fiction, with tales woven like the finest tapestry, multicolored and rich in detail. To me, romance novels are stories of strength, perseverance and love. They are testaments to the human spirit.

ev said...

I think one of the biggest misconceptions non-readers of romance fiction have is that non-educated, lower income women read them. Must be, since so many people look down on those of us who do read them. Or they are just too embarrassed to admit to reading them themselves, so they put on the superior act.

We know for a fact that that is just plain wrong. Look at the people in this room alone. We are educated (or as my daughter would say edumacated), we have careers, and can speak coherently and knowledgably on the subject of romance (and men and sex), what we like, don't like and WE DON'T HAVE THE HANGUPS MANY OF THEM DO!!

Did you ever notice romance readers who are not afraid to admit they read romance, tend to be a more open, accepting and giving bunch of people?

In general, I don't re-read books. There are just too many books to read out there- and not just romance either.

ev said...

eve- it's got to be something in the name. I hadn't even read your post before I posted mine. In fact, when I started there were no posts in the blog at all. Is it scary that some of us think along the same lines at the same time? LOL

Oh, my bad, but welcome Bill!!

Michele- this has been one heck of a week here. Maybe I can catch up on the posts over the weekend. :)

ev said...

going back quickly to Wednesday's post regarding pop culture- Tony Bennett is on the Today Show, with Billy Joel. At the age of 80 (or so) who would have thought someone like Bennett would be appealing to my daughter's generation? it is amazing the "comeback" he made a few years ago and that he is still right up there- definately part of today's pop culture. Although some of us have loved him for forever. He keeps getting better with age, like a fine wine. Good thing I like the older ones......


I find that it depends on what type of romance stories you want. The traditional woman meets successful rich man and falls in love a after a bit of conflict are mostly Harleuquin type of books. The erotic romance books aka romantica stories have more steamier sex - depending on the author some story lines are better than others plus they seem more geared towards futuristic-paranormal-vampire-werewolves genres.

Shuck Ying said...

I found when I was younger I would read the Harlequin books but now I like the more steamy novels such as the Brava line of Kensington books.

amy kennedy said...

Bill, welcome. I can't answer any questions yet, because I'm still stuck on Tarzan. As a very young girl I adored the Tarzan movies, watched them every Sunday. I think most of it had to do with living in a tree house and Jane's cool outfit, or maybe Tarzan's...hmmm.
It wasn't until much later that I realized that Tarzan was a series of books first.

I bought the first one, I bought the second (you can see where this is going, right?)I kept buying them until they started to repeat themselves for me, I think I ended up with 14.

Today, I still have the first two--they have everything--action, adventure, and, yes romance. What an alfalfa. But what the movies never portrayed was his intelligence--he taught himself to read and write. And then the first human language he learned to speak was french!

Well, I do go on.

Next post, I'll answer a question.

Deborah Chan said...

Welcome Bill, it is a misconception that women who read romance novels have their head in the clouds waiting for prince charming. Sure these stories sound great that you meet a rich, handsome and successful (millionarie usually) and wham you fall in love. Get real, lol!

Kati said...

Where and when do you read? How do you pick your next book? Do you reread your favorites, or prefer to keep moving to something new? Why?

Hi Bill - Wow! Cool class! I wish these classes were being taught when I was in college. Well, let's see, the answer to where and when do I read is: anywhere and everywhere. I read daily -- without fail. I read almost exclusively romance (probably 90%). I read so quickly that I have to re-read, and my keeper shelver probably hold over 150 title, which are all in rotation, although I have a core collection of "comfort" reads.

Anonymous said...

Hi Professor Gleason,

Since romantic themes appear to be a overarching theme in your class, it might be nice to differentiate what sets 'popular romances' apart of previous books like Pride and Prejudice and Little Women, that contain romantic elements and were targeted towards female readers and the romances of today. What makes these books diffferent? How are they the same?

Also, it would be interesting to take a multi-disciplinary approach to looking at gender, the feminist movement and romance novels in the American Studies Program. Much like texts and artwork were used in American Places to delve into the political and social conflicts of the time and to piece together who these people were (like the midwife from Maine), romance novels of the past thirty years provoke questions of 'should women be equal to men, in what ways' (like in Sweet Savage Love). Bodice rippers were big in the days of ERA amendment. It would also be interesting to incorporate a psychological persepective on 'escapism' and fantasy.

I think lots of college students see romance novels as porn for ladies, but there are all sorts of interesting questions to ask about what purpose romance novels serve in reader's lives.


amy kennedy said...

Marykate--I too have comfort reads, Tarzan, apparently being one of them. Re-reading a book or parts of a book is like seeing a favorite movie--you know the outcome and are comfortable with it, but maybe you've forgotten the details.

I think I'm like most of these women--I read whenever I am able. I work in a library, so I'm surrounded by books all day--lovely--I always love it when people assume I get to read all day because I work in a library. Ah, if only.

Like Eve, I like to read in chunks, but I'll take tidbits. Sometimes I stay up until 1:00am just for the uninterrupted reading time.

And like Eve and Ev, I don't think there is a stereotypical reader of romance--except, she's happier than most.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

See, Bill? Didn't I tell you how cool these chicks are? We are readers, librarians, writers (Eve Silver has come up with terrific neo-Gothic romances), students...

I'm thinking about nearhere's discussion of psychological escapism. I'm very interested in the psychodynamics of readership and that of writers when they're creating present day romance novels (which nearhere does a good job distinguishing).

Post ERA, when we can luxuriate in the hard work done by the Betty Friedan's and Gloria Steinem's et al., women don't feel so guilty admitting we, some of us, like the old school romances w/ aggressor alpha males, and even scenes of what we now call "forced consent." (not to be confused w/ rape)

Lots of readers enjoy their erotic romance with a kind of bondage/dominance/sadism/masochism lite, and still others enjoy their erotic romance way ramped-up with those interactions in actuality.

Here's what we understand now from psych studies of womens' fantasies, which your students may or may not know, but which is really quite important:

Women don't always want to happen to them the things about which they fantasize.

In layman's terms it's the I'm OK, You're OK maxim of sexual fantasy for women:

If it turns you on, don't let nobody tell you there's anything wrong with it.

Often, romance readers find this very freeing, this idea that there's not something wrong with them because they're a high-powered corporate attorney who likes novels about virgin peasant girls being ravished by Medieval warlords, then falling in love with the bastards.

Women read romance novels to escape, for entertainment, to feel good, to feel sexy, to get themselves through hard times, to overcome sexual abuse, to reclaim their sexuality...and on and on...

Playground Monitor said...

So many questions! Too many for this rainy, stormy morning in Alabama. So I'll just answer the when and where: whenever and wherever I can. When I run errands, I generally carry a book in my purse so I can read if I decide to stop for lunch or coffee. I can't read while riding though -- makes me carsick -- plus the DH thinks it's my job to keep him entertained. *rolleyes*

Days like today were made for a romance novel. And I plan to curl up on my sofa with a glass of sweet iced tea and try to finish this book I started on Monday. I'm a slow reader so I don't re-read books. There's too many new ones out there. How do I pick? First pick is generally the new book by a favorite author. Then there will be recommendations by friends or co-bloggers (remember the Nora discussion earlier this week? I have the Chesapeake books in the pile now).

Why romance? I love reading about love even if the path to that HEA is rocky. And the hot sex is good too. *grin*

Myths to dispel? That romance readers are somehow stupid. Our group at the Playground is far from stupid. We have 8 degrees amongst the 5 of us (maybe more since I don't know if others have a dual bachelor's degree like me). And then there are the readers with a diploma from the school of hard knocks, which in my book is quite an impressive degree. I'd like to ask the naysayers why liking to read about love makes you stupid?

Off to curl up in my jammies and read.


amy kennedy said...

Michelle, very freeing, indeed. I can remember the nuns telling us, if you thought about sinning it was just as if you did sin. So if I really liked Susie's black patent leather shoes and wished I had hers. BAM! Mortal sin. Think of the guilt a little Catholic girl carried. Once I finally realized that thoughts were not sins, I was free.

The great part about that lesson was I know I can fantasize about anything I want--and it doesn't make me a bad person, wife, or mother. And I can get lovely fantasies handed to me in any form I want, be they a Regency Rake, an immortal vampire, or Tarzan rescuing me from the clutches of Kerchak.

We have so many choices today in Romance.

amy kennedy said...

Marilyn, I used to read such sad, sad books, because I thought I should. I am a happier person for reading Romance. I still can run the gamut of emotions--but the ending will be satisfying.

It always seems funny to me that not only are the readers of romance lumped in one category but the books of romance are as well. We know better. To label all romance as insignificant is hardly fair.

And Marilyn when you talk about your group, you're talking about your writing group, yes?

amy kennedy said...

Eventually I have to get some work done but for now...I just re-read Michelle's post and I was thinking about the last line, why women read romance, I hadn't really thought about reclaiming my own sexuality, but it's true. And, no, I won't give out TMI. Maybe a little. It just seems as if I am so much more at ease with my own sexuality now. And that in itself is freeing.

Kati said...

Marilyn - I'm comin' over to your house today. Sweet tea, jammies and a book, you're my kinda woman! ;0)

I agree with Michelle about the "I'm OK, You're OK" maxim. I read a lot of erotica. And some of what I read is extremely racy. There are plenty of aspects of it that I enjoy reading about, but don't understand the appeal IRL. I particularly enjoy Black Lace books. They are well written, almost always feature an happy ending (although not always an HEA), and they are H.O.T.!

The Bellas know that I read on the Metro in DC to and from work. That's 45 minutes of uninterrupted reading for me, each direction. I have no issue whatsoever with showing that I'm reading a romance novel. I figure it this way, I'm a well dressed (generally in full business garb) woman happily consumed by a romance novel. I see plenty of others reading romance on the Metro. It makes me happy. I do have to say though, that I appreciate that covers of romance novels have toned down some from the clinch covers. Not that I mind, but I do like that current novels tend to be a little tamer. Nothing against Fabio and his amazing pecs, I just find that other covers are more to my taste.
I can tell though occassionally that someone looks at the cover of whatever I'm reading and is judging. They get a look on their face, I call it the "I just smelled something stinky" face. And they're judging. Whatever. I'll be happy to engage with them in the debate. I've got plenty to say about the topic. And I can do it in a way that in non-confrontational, but clearly articulates the arguement of why reading romance doesn't make you sex starved, deviant, or pathetic. LOL! In fact, I love having that conversation!

bill gleason said...

Sorry to be so late jumping back into the conversation! -- and thanks for all the very helpful details on the hows and whens and whys of romance reading. The answers so far make me curious to ask a few follow-up questions:

--marykate says she reads 90% romance; is that true for many of you? Or is romance just part of a larger mix for you?

--shuck ying mentioned shifting from Harlequins to the steamier stuff as she got older; is that true for others, too? Or are Harlequins more like a "gateway" series, and then readers move into the genres that appeal to them most, since there are so many different kinds of romance books?

--nearhere asked if we might compare popular romance fiction to earlier cousins with romantic plots targeted to women, like PRIDE AND PREJUDICE or LITTLE WOMEN. What differences do you see? Or are they fundamentally the same kind of story? (LITTLE WOMEN gets interestingly complicated when Jo marries Prof. Bhaer -- whom some readers think is ideal, and others find creatively and emotionally stifling...)

Laura Vivanco said...

Nowadays, I just read romance.

Or are Harlequins more like a "gateway" series, and then readers move into the genres that appeal to them most, since there are so many different kinds of romance books?

There are lots of different sorts of Harlequin romances, though. The one thing they have in common is that they tend to be shorter than single-titles, but the length varies from one line to another. Harlequin Historicals, for example, tend to be longer than Harlequin Presents. Harlequin (selling as Mills & Boon in some parts of the world) have an impressive range of series - from Inspirationals all the way through to erotic romance, with different settings (in place and time, as well as paranormals).

Re Pride and Prejudice, I'd classify it as a romance, as does Pamela Regis. If a novel has a central love story and a happy ending for the couple, then I'd call it a romance.

Vivi Anna said...

Welcome Bill to RBTB!

I have to agree with Michelle...romance novels are freeing. We women can have our fantasies without persecution.

I love paranormal romances, where there are vampires, lycans, demons, witches running around causing trouble and seducing the heroine. If there is a sammich in there somewhere all the better!!

Does that mean I want a vampire to burst through my window and ravage me, biting me on the neck and turning me into a vamp of the night? Hell no! I like my life thank you very much. But I sure can fantasize about that. Well, if he looks like Gerard Butler, and screws like he looks...I might amend my statement.

I read at night before I go to bed...every night.

I don't usually re-read, because there are so many great books out and coming out, I dont' have time. But there is oen book I reread once in awhile, Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King, my favorite book ever. It is what I aspire to, and yes, it has a great romantic story in it.

Why do I read romance? If it's a good book I'll read it, if it's been recommended to me I'll give it a try. I read other genres too, (fantasy, horror) but lately all the good books have been romances, paranormal romances.

krissyinva said...

I have to say that I don't read romance for the sexual selections. Truthfully for me at least I enjoy the storyline and interaction of all of the characters more than the few sexuallt heated scenes. To me reading a witty romance novel is like watching a romantic comedy, except it's so much more in depth.

Where and when do you read? How do you pick your next book? Do you reread your favorites, or prefer to keep moving to something new? Why?
I usually read at home, I am a stay at home mom right now but that doesn't mean I am sitting on the couch reading and eating bon-bons all day. I don't take a book when I go out normally. I take my daughter to dance every week and spend about 3 1/2 hours there, but I don't bring a book. I however am not ashamed of reading romance books, I just feel that that's time better spent by talking to other parents.I have many authors that I love and I tend to pick up their books at the store before anything else. I also love to try new authors, usually based to recommendations from other readers. I do re-read quite a bit, I tend to read pretty fast if it's a great story. I often run out of books in my TBR (to be read) pile and I guess I love re-reading mostly my favorites, It's like watching a movie you love over again.

Unknown said...

Where and when do you read? I read the most at night in bed.

How do you pick your next book? I go through some books on my tbr shelf, the one that I like the most, I read.

Do you reread your favorites, or prefer to keep moving to something new? I do reread my favorites.

Monica Burns said...

Hi Bill,

Your class sounds TOTALLY AWESOME!! Is it a Long-distance learning class by chance???

...what would you tell my students about romance readers and romance reading?

Romance readers are among the most prolific readers in the US.

Romance accounts for more than 50% of the mass market fiction in the US.

Romance is often used by physicans and counselors in sexual and marital therapy for women who may not enjoy sex or need stimulation that their husband either is not or cannot provide. (My GYN at my annual visit asked when my next book was coming out so she could recommend it to women with performance issues.)

Romance is very anyone who wants to stay young at heart.

What assumptions do you think college students have about this genre, and what myths would you want to dispel?

Myth 1 - Anyone can write a romance WRONG! Romances are just as HARD to write as any other fictional work. They're DAMN hard to write, probably because romance readers seem to have higher expectations that other readers. Everytime I hear some say they're easy to write, I politely challenge them to write one. When I start rattling off that they need to have plot, motivation, depth of emotion, great dialogue, detailed research and a host of other things, they go glassy eyed. No one's taken me up on my challenge yet.

Myth 2 Romances are poorly written with all that flowery language WRONG, while there were definite euphemisms used in the past those days are long gone. How women view themselves has changed in the last 30 years, and romance reflects those changes.

Romance writers are some of the best and brightest crafters of the written word in mass fiction. They're dedicated to providing not only a good story, but three-dimensional characters. Great literature always makes makes the reader invest in the book. There are a lot of books outside of romance that I've enjoyed reading, but haven't made me invest in the characters.

Myth 3 - Romance is nothing but sex (translation - porn) for women This myth I find the most interesting, amusing and frustrating of all. Judging a book by it's cover can really limit a person. I can't believe how long I waited to buy the DaVinci Code because I assumed it was going to be another boring book on religion! My BAD!

As an erotic romance writer, there is a lot of sex in my books. However, the sex MUST drive the story forward, there MUST be a plot/storyline, the characters MUST have motivation and be sympathetic to the reader, and there MUST be a HEA. I happen to have a lot of men readers. I know they buy my books first and foremost for the sex, but several have commented they were surprised to get a good story in the bargain.

Where and when do you read? How do you pick your next book? Do you reread your favorites, or prefer to keep moving to something new? Why?

I generally read between writing my books. I have virtually no time anywhere else in my schedule. I work full-time (welllll, I work when I have to and play here! LOL) I don't like to read someone else's work when I'm writing because I'm afraid it might influence something in my book.

I generally pull from my TBR pile, which is either fed by my trips to B&N and the bookseller's recommendations, reviews or other people's recommendations like the Bellas here.

I have reread favorites, but those are few and far between. I generally like new stimulation when I read. I like to see what the new trends are, what the author of the month has done differently to create such a HUGE following (JR Ward anyone??)

What should students interested in romance readers and romance reading be asking you?

Someone else here mentioned psychology (nearhere?), and I think that thought is DEAD ON! There is a great deal of psychology going on in the reading of romance. I've been debating on my blog and at the GabWagon with another writer as to why women read romance. I'm firm in my belief that they're about fantasies, and the dreams of things readers will never experience.

I'm also firm in my belief that romance is safe. The HEA makes it safe. Readers can handle certain fantasy situations more easily in a romance because they know it will all turn out good in the end. They can see a bad boy redeemed in a book, when in reality a bad boy might not be redeemable.

WHEW! I guess that's a thesis paper in itself! Great topics Bill!


Monica Burns said...

I want a vampire to burst through my window and ravage me, biting me on the neck and turning me into a vamp of the night? Hell no! I like my life thank you very much. But I sure can fantasize about that. Well, if he looks like Gerard Butler, and screws like he looks...

Viv! Speak for yourself girlfriend, I'm definitely up for GB or any other good hunk that makes me gorgeous and immortal. Aren't all heroines gorgeous?? ROFL

Julie in Ohio said...

Welcome to RBTB, Professor!!!!
Michelle's been talking you up so much (all good, I promise), you feel like a friend already. :o)

I read 99.9% romance. I need to that "feel good" feeling at the end of the day (middle of the afternoon, first thing in the morning) that it gives me. If a book doesn't have a HEA to it, I don't need to read it. :o)

I will read any sub-genre of romance. I used to be able to say that historicals were my fav but lately I've been reading more paras and contemps. *shrug* Again, if there is a HEA, I'm there.

I love rereading books. It's like revisiting friends. Everytime I read them, I find something that I missed the first time. My keeper shelves are so full, I'm working on my hubby to get me new ones. :o)

As for LITTLE WOMEN, I'm still mad at Jo for not marrying Laurie... :P

MsTypo said...

Welcome Bill!

Let's see if i can give you all your answers without writing a novel of a post. :)

People think romance novels are fluff designed for the illiterate or semi-illiterate of society. They look at the basic plot of (boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets her back and marries her) as trite and rather pedantic i think. In truth; however, many of these books are well researched, well written and yes, admittedly a little fluffy. But there isn't anything wrong with that either. (True story: a historical romance i read once helped me pass a law exam about the Magna Carta!) Escapism is both essential to general sanity and rather fun in my opinion.

I read anything, anytime and anywhere. Since i had read all my books en route to my parent's house, i'm currently reading a book of my mother's: a memoir about communism in China. This weekend i'll be headed out to Chapters to buy a book about football (evidently "throwy guy is the wrong term for the guy who throws the ball) and some romances by JR Ward who recently blogged here. Books are too much fun to be bogged down by one genre or another.

People who don't read romances and look down their noses at it should be asking themselves this: Why? What's *my* problem with this genre that i can't open my mind to it enough to give it a fair shake? These are students at a fine institution of learning who open their minds to new ideas every day and yet they think that popular fiction is beneath them. Look inward young scholar for answer lies within yourself.

Nairobi Typ0 (currently in Toronto)

bill gleason said...

It's great to learn that several of you re-read favorite romance novels, because that helps dispel the myth that some book historians have created to explain what they call the "reading revolution" of the 19th century. Those historians have argued that as opportunities for reading multiplied (because of better printing technology, better distribution networks, etc.), reading flattened out -- that is, people began to read "extensively" (book after book after book) instead of "intensively" (the same book over and over). And these historians disdain the "extensive" reading model because they see reading as simply a form of debased commodification -- cheap pleasure without intellectual or spiritual or emotional sustenance. But knowing that readers of popular fiction often *re-read* that fiction disproves their argument -- it suggests that such texts can be deeply engaging, even nurturing. People are slowly uncovering that kind of evidence for 19th C. readers, so I'm glad to know that it's still a pattern for many today.

Laura Vivanco said...

I'm firm in my belief that they're about fantasies, and the dreams of things readers will never experience.

I like romances where the characters are people I can relate to, who I feel would be friends if I met them in real life. And because I like them, I want them to be happy. For me it's got nothing about fantasies, rather it's that romances reaffirm what I already believe, and what I've experienced myself, which is that being happily in love is a wonderful thing.

Is there a mushy, blushing emoticon to use round here?

MsTypo said...

By Monica:
Myth 3 - Romance is nothing but sex (translation - porn) for women

I get that one from my husband quite frequently. He refers to my romances as “chick porn.” It always brings to mind a line from a movie I saw years and years ago: “You think sex is dirty. You have a dirty mind.”

Monica Burns said...

Or is romance just part of a larger mix for you?

I've always read romance predominantly, although I do read outside the genre, but it's my favorite, and has the most shelf space at home.

...shifting from Harlequins to the steamier stuff as she got older;

I blogged about a conversation I had with my Oldest girl. She said she wouldn't read books that had experiences in them that she'd not had because they wouldn't be anything she could identify with. That made a lot of sense to me. The older I got, the more I put aside the HQ books and progressed up the line to the more steamy romances. I still remember a book called Caravan that my Mom told me not to read. I read it when she wasn't around. *grin* I think it's an age and experience thing for most readers.

compare popular romance fiction to earlier cousins with romantic plots targeted to women, like PRIDE AND PREJUDICE or LITTLE WOMEN. What differences do you see? Or are they fundamentally the same kind of story?

Ok, heretical response here. I've never enjoyed Jane Austen's work. I love the movies, but I never could get past her dry writing. DO NOT shoot me Okay!! LOL I did grow up enjoying Little Women, although there were times I wanted to smack a couple of the whiners in the family.

I see P&P as romance for the reasons that Laura cited. Romance is pretty central to the story and there is a HEA. Little Women was more about families with a little romance thrown in for good measure IMHO. I do think you could use The Scarlet Pimpernel, Jane Eyre and other classics as excellent examples of romance. Jane Eyre in particular is a FANTASTIC love story/romance. It's got the Alpha tortured hero who suffers and pays a price for trying to have what he wants, but it has the HEA that I adore. Mr.Rochester is the ULTIMATE Alpha for me!!

Laura Vivanco said...

it suggests that such texts can be deeply engaging, even nurturing

Oh, I think that's definitely the case. There are lots of romances which raise the reader's self esteem. For example, if someone's something of a bluestocking, and then reads Regencies, she'll get the message that a woman can be both intellectual and attractive. There are romances about women of all sorts of different shapes, sizes and abilities finding friendship as well as romance. There are people dealing with bereavement, addiction etc (hopefully not all at once ;-) ). And I think that's nurturing of the reader. And if a reader's not feeling in the mood to read about something which is too similar to her/his own situation, she/he can choose one of the 'lighter', more humorous romances.

Because the characters in my favourite romances feel like friends, I like to revisit them. I definitely re-read.

Vivi Anna said...

I think as you'll see Bill, romance readers are not all the same. We all read them for different reasons. I don't read them for the HEA. I don't need that HEA to make it a good 'romance'. I read for the plot, characters, and if there is some great sex in there, I'm a happy camper. I like the interaction between the sexes...I get off on that.

Monica Burns said...

I think as you'll see Bill, romance readers are not all the same. We all read them for different reasons.

And to Viv's point, I think it's one of the reasons why there is such an extensive variety of romance books today. eBooks have played a major role in this from the standpoint of opening up subject matter that wasn't available in traditional print markets.

eBooks made it ok to buy certain subgenres of romance in a way that didn't make the reader feel uncomfortable. Now that erotic romance and erotica are hot, women seem to be less worried over what the covers of their books look like when they read romance. Or at least the women I know are like that. *grin*

Anonymous said...

marykate says she reads 90% romance; is that true for many of you? Or is romance just part of a larger mix for you?

I read a variety of genres, from the latest text on human anatomy (a far more fascinating read than you might think, LOL!), to the latest Christopher Moore, to horror, to Manga, to graphic novels, and yes, even comic books. I love to read. That said, romance remains my top pick. Everyone has rough times, and for me, romance novels help get me through those times. They are the genre of hope. Uplifting. Enlightening. Positive. The level of sensuality is irrelevant to me, so long as it fits the story. I read the gamut, from sweet to hot. A great story is a great story.

Playground Monitor said...

Myth 1 - Anyone can write a romance It IS difficult. I have two unfinished romance novels buried on my hard drive. I just can't make them work, despite having read probably 300 books in the line they're targeted for.

And Marilyn when you talk about your group, you're talking about your writing group, yes? Yes. Shameless plug here for The Writing Playground and our own blog.

And come on over marykate. I'll make a fresh pitcher of tea, pull an extra afghan out for you and you can have the opposite end of the sofa. It has the pull-out foot rest and reclines. GREAT for reading -- and napping. *g*


Anonymous said...


Welcome! I minored in literature in college & sure wish I could've taken a class like yours!My women in lit class never tackled romance, hmmmm? What would I tell your students about romance readers & romance reading? I would say that most are well educated women, who are successful whether they elect to work outside the home or stay at home. Women make up the majority of all popular fiction readers - not just the romance catagory.

We read romance because we are the glue that holds our families together and have to deal with the hard facts of life everyday (illness, death, abuse, divorce, etc.) and reading romance affords us an escape into a known universe where the men treat us like gold (eventually) and most of the time there is a HEA. Romance has many sub-genres now, so there is literally something for everyone. I personally don't care for futuristic or paranormal romance and love a good thriller, humorous chik lit or steamy historical. Romance is sooooo much more than the "bodice rippers" many people envision.

Romance writers are some of the best writers out there. I will put down a book if I can't get into the characters or the dialogue. My romances HAVE to feature a strong female character, otherwise it goes into the trash. That's not to say that they have to be a strong person at the beginning of the story - but they do have to learned & gained self confidence by the end.

Nora Roberts is an popular writer because not only does she create great characters (male & female), but she has realistic dialogue. She also does an imense amount of research for her books and has puts those details in her books. Jennifer Crusie, Janet Evanovich & Susan Phillips write books with a great sense of wit. Suzanne Brockmann writes about Navy SEAL's and humanizes some great alpha guys while delivering enough action to satisfy many male readers.

Do I re-read books? Yes. As an aspiring writer, I will re-read books to get the sense of style that I like. As a reader, I go back to favorite stories now and then, because I fall in love with the characters. Julie Garwood & Linda Howard are in my keeper collection.

I always have a book with me and read when I'm waiting on my daugher to finish volleyball practice. I read in the evenings while my husband watches t.v. because there isn't much on there that holds my interest. I read to unwind.

I started out with Harlequins (my best friends mom had stacks of them & read them voraciously!)and graduated to the steamier stuff as I've gotten older. Nothing like reading a great love scene to put one in the mood - my husband has definitely reaped the benefit of my hobby on more than one occaision.

With women, romance is a mind thing to start out with - so reading romance reinforces that.

The one thing I would definitely say to your male students - if they want to know how to woo a woman, how to turn her on, how to make love to her - READ A FEW ROMANCE NOVELS. Better than any article in Esquire any day!

Vivi Anna said...

Here, here Nina! Well said. Any man would do well by reading a few romances. That's not to say I want my man ripping my bodice open every time...I like that only once in awhile...

Or read an erotic/romance together in bed. ;-)

And I have to say, people that read romance are more open to other genres. I find most scifi-fantasy readers are just that, and won't read outside that genre. Same with mystery readers. But romance readers are not snobs and we will venture outside our genre and read any good book.

Anonymous said...

ps I read about 90% romance, although I'm an avid reader of many subjects. Pride & Prejudice is one of my all-time favorite books because of the great interaction & dialogue between the two main characters. I also like to read many of the popular authors like Grisham, Patterson, LeCarre & Brad Thor. I refuse to read Nicholas Sparks anymore because someone always dies in his books and I have enough of that crap in real life.

Monica Burns said...

Or read an erotic/romance together in bed. ;-)

You know, the DH reads my books when he thinks I don't know it. But it comes shining through in a lot of different romantic situations! I LOVE IT!!

When I mention that I'm not really "in the mood." The DH is notorious for telling me "well go write something then so you'll be IN the mood!" LOL

As my GYN doctor pointed out when we were discussing the issue of women who have trouble experiencing sexual pleasure, she indiciated that for women, sexual pleasure begins in the mind (didn't Nina say this??), but that the pleasure MUST be tied to a loving situation. That's why she recommends sexy romances to her patients experiencing lack of sexual interest.

One of the nicest compliments I've ever had from a reader was that the story she read made her feel sexy for the first time in her life. I think that women want to feel loved and valued, but a lot of them want to feel sexy too. I think romance gives that to a lot of women.

Anonymous said...

[i]But knowing that readers of popular fiction often *re-read* that fiction disproves their argument -- it suggests that such texts can be deeply engaging, even nurturing.[/i]

I think that the romance community is unique in that you'll find people talking about their 'keepers' books they'd take on a Desert Island constantly. In fact, recently AAR released the results from its 'comfort' poll, books that readers enjoy reading over and over and find both nurturing and comforting.

I think this has to do with the fact that a central aspect of a romance is the Happy Ever After Ending. Despite whatever nonsense might befall upon the two characters, readers feel safe knowing that an ultimate HEA will be the result. This is different from mystery novels, where while a mystery is solved there in the character's world, more mysteries hypothetically wait to plague the hero. In other words, there is no nice conclusion.

Toni Blake said...

I haven't had a chance to read the other comments (I'm on deadline here, I'm afraid) but here's why I think romance novels are tres important in our society:

They're the only genre primarily BY women, FOR women, ABOUT women. And the woman always wins. Very empowering all the way around.

And hey Michelle - thanks for giving away a copy of my book! How fun! You rock!

Now back to the grindstone ...

Unknown said...

The reason romance gets such a bad rap is because it's primarily written by women for women and men don't like that. Obviously that's a sweeping genralization because there are also a lot of women who think it is 'unfeminine' to read romance novels because they disempower women.
But they don't.
I love to read a good romance novel where two people work out their problems and end up happily ever after. I can differentiate between fantasy and reality, I'm not wanting something I don't have.
I read widely but always come back to romance novels because they ground me and I can relax into the story and know that it will have a HEA.
I write erotic romance because I think women are taking charge of their own sexuality in an entirely new way and ER is an interesting part of that.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

I'm so glad Bill asked this question because I've really had a hankerin lately for us to talk about why we like romance, plain and simple.

Now, I'm thinking about Nina's point re men reading romance to learn how to woo a woman. I worry that they'd get intimidated and think we wanted them to be as skilled (and have the same attributes) as the heroes. But there are plenty of books that are more realistic. We just need to find them and leave them around the house, open to the good parts.

I've often thought, and told you guys, that I'm going to pick the perfect romance novel to give my son when "that time comes" so he gets the bigger picture about love and romance and sex, etc.

Eve Silver told us a cool story about her 8th grade son writing a book report on JR Ward's "Dark Lover," and how the guys in his class think he's totally cool for it.

Now, we talk here a lot about how our reading affects our husbands and partners, how they're pretty gosh derned happy about the residual effects of our being turned-on by romance.

This summer past, we were at a shindig on Cape Cod with a bunch of my husband's college friends, Bill included. (and let me say that Bill agreed then to GuestBlog after I worked as hard as I could to get him to blush a few times with romance novel-related stories. He also talked to me about romance as if it counted).

Anyway, some of the wives, whom I like and admire much, were jumpin a little condescending about the romance thing, talking about books they like and why, but never asking me what I like about romance and why I do what I do.

So I waited until a husband or two came around and I said, "you know, there's anecdotal evidence that men whose wives read romance have more and better sex."

Then I smiled, got up, and walked away.

Behold, the power of romance.

Vivi Anna said...

ROFLMAO Michelle! I love you for saying that!

You so rock Bella!

bill gleason said...

Hi again -- back after a long meeting!

Many of you have commented on how important romance fiction is for women's empowerment -- by giving a reader a stronger sense of possibility or hope, by increasing her self-confidence or helping her cope with particular difficulties, or simply by energizing one's own romantic or sexual life. Some critics of popular fiction on the other hand (not necessarily romance, but various genres) have suggested that in addition to helping readers on a personal level, popular narratives -- by the very fact of their massive popularity -- also help societies work through larger social or even political issues. In other words, these critics suggest that popular narratives, sometimes directly, more often quite obliquely, tackle issues of oppression, or social equality, or intellectual freedom, and so on, in ways that are ultimately useful to the society reading and writing these texts. Do you think this is true of romance fiction? Does my question make sense? Some of you have touched on this already, I know, but it's something that I'm curious about.

Anonymous said...

For me reading is an escape. I guess that is way my favorite genres are fantasy and paranormal because I love reading about otherwordly creatures and whole different societies. I think romances can also teach life lessons. I have read some historical romances that have tackled issues of oppression so some romances can truly give you insight into social issues as well.

joelle said...

I read romance but many times the novel is historical or has great depth so it intrigues me. Romance as romance is not enough for my taste.

alissa said...

I have been reading romance for many years but I preferred books that were sagas though they had romance within the novel itself. These were enthralling books that mde me think and I went back to them again and again.

ellie said...

I enjoy reading so many types of books but ones that really kept me riveted to the page were novels with depth and meaning. I read all of Daphne Du Maurier's novels and could never find anyone to replace her.

sharon said...

There are so much to choose from nowaways compared to when I started reading. The choices and selection are varied and wonderful. When I was much younger it was so limited. The scope is fabulous now. Chicklit if that appeals to you, romantic suspense, and much more.

pearl said...

reading is more than a pastime with me. It is a must but I am selective and particular. I love reading in a quiet place and certain romance novels appeal to me more than others. This craze has really reached a high point at this time.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Are you referring to the conclusions from the Radway, Bill? About women reading romance in response to feeling powerless in a patriarchal society?

Bill directed me to the Radway when I first created RBtheBook, Bellas, and it was my first taste of romance scholarship.

Like any research of a popular genre, it doesn't take too long for the conclusions to become outdated. And as we discussed when Eric was here, not all researchers who examine romance do so cause they love the genre.

On 9/11, we discussed whether we read more romance after the WTC bombings. Not many of the women responding said they read more necessarily, though they did say they made the choice to read positive literature (as opposed to intense, somewhat maudlin offerings we're told are more acceptable literary choices for chicks) because they have enough tragedy and negativity in their everyday lives.

A blogger earlier wrote about this same phenomena.

But do we read romance to "rage against the machine" or empower ourselves politically in a society that's still pretty patriarchal?

I don't hear a lot of readers mentioning that's why they read romance, but that doesn't mean none doesn't. But we certainly can read plenty of academic research finding political and gender issues layered throughout and affecting romance.

I will say this, romance readers who are Feminists often have to allow themselves the right to enjoy novels with themes we now consider sexist.

I don't think romance readers are very quick to judge each other about what they read, but I'm concerned when someone putting forth a thesis and looking at, i.e., feminine acceptance of masculine aggression in romance of the 70s, condescends to readers who enjoy those novels just because s/he, the reasercher, finds the themes morally reprehensible.

I'm not crazed for heroines who sleep with the hero in the first scene of a traditional romance. Doesn't mean I'm not gonna find the best out there with that type of hn to tell readers about.

Pollyanna here'd just like to see everybody let everbody else be.

Laura Vivanco said...

these critics suggest that popular narratives, sometimes directly, more often quite obliquely, tackle issues of oppression, or social equality, or intellectual freedom, and so on, in ways that are ultimately useful to the society reading and writing these texts.

Sometimes romances reinforce certain societal norms, and sometimes they challenge them. Sometimes they do a bit of both. How seriously the issues are dealt with, and how conscious the author is that they're dealing with them really does vary a lot from one romance to another. For example, someone might write a romance about a governess marrying a Duke without thinking 'oh, I am reinforcing the idea that a woman can achieve success just by working hard, being intelligent and attractive', but that's one way the story could be read. At the same time, though, that story could also be interpreted as one which reinforces the idea that the existence of a hereditary economic and political elite is acceptable.

Many romances can be read as saying that women should find sexual pleasure within marriage, but many also put limits on this, since they seem to imply that she should be a virgin (or at least non-promiscuous) in order to deserve this sort of marriage, even though the hero may be a 'rake'. Other romances, however, depict much more sexually experienced heroines and don't reinforce the sexual double standard.

I notice, in reading American romances, that there are rather a lot which feature members of the armed forces and the police. I don't know if this has always been the case in romances by American authors, or whether it's changed post 9/11. But it's interesting how certain professions are cast as intrinsically heroic. Then again, there are some romances which depict some soldiers/policemen behaving in less than honourable ways, and having to be defeated by the hero (who may be a member of the same profession), so that would give a somewhat different slant on the same issue.

Romances, like all literature, deal with issues, but, again like all literature, each author will have her/his own perspective on them.

bill gleason said...

--Are you referring to the conclusions from the Radway, Bill? About women reading romance in response to feeling powerless in a patriarchal society?

Actually, at that moment I didn't have Radway in mind, but was thinking about a critic named Jane Tompkins who did pioneering work on "sensational" literature of the 18th/19th centuries, arguing (for the first time, really) that popular fiction, and particularly fiction by and for women, did more than simply titillate or pacify, but also (in some cases) should be read "as attempts redefine the social order." More specifically, she says popular fiction should be studied because it offers "powerful examples of the way a culture thinks about itself, articulating and proposing solutions for the problems that shape a particular historical moment." What I was wondering was whether this is ever a conscious element of contemporary romance reading, or whether that's something that may (or may not) be going on in the genre, but isn't necessarily part of the actual, day to day reading experience. Does that make sense?

Anonymous said...

Romance always deals with contemporary issues because they're written by women who deal with those issues everyday. Look at Suzanne Brockmann who writes about alpha SEALS's. If you didn't read her books, you would never know that one of her running subplots is about a gay FBI agent. Since her books deal with the same SEAL group you really get to know some of the characters after several books. The funny thing is -readers have been clamoring for this character to have his HEA - even conservative women that don't really know any gay people. Suzanne has tackled this issue because her son is gay and it is important to her that people are aware that gay people are sons, brothers, uncles and friends of so many of us.

And romances change over time as mores change. Anyone who picks up many an 80's romance can tell right away when it was written. But that is true of a lot of popular literature, not just romance.

ps Michelle, in the middle of reading Ladies Man by Suzanne,Thanks!

Laura Vivanco said...

What I was wondering was whether this is ever a conscious element of contemporary romance reading

On a couple of romance review sites there are currently debates raging about large/overweight heroines and how they're depicted in romance (many posters would like to see more of the larger heroines) and race (why are African-American romances segregated in bookshops? Would white readers pick them up if they weren't segregated?). In both cases readers are asking for, and getting, book recommendations. So yes, I think sometimes readers do consciously choose romances which deal with particular issues/types of protagonists.

Jennifer Y. said...

Great questions! I hope I don't sound like an idiot as I try to answer them. I haven't read everyone's responses yet, but I hope mine is okay.

I am not much older than college students myself (I am 23). One myth I would like to dispel is the "Romances are bodice rippers" or "Romances are just about sex." That is definitely not the case. Most romances feature a touching love story with the sex being secondary. Also, while romances in the past may have had more forceful heroes and weak/dependent heroines, those of today are finding the h/h to be almost equals. The heroines do not always need the hero to save the day. I think a lot of people judge romances based on those from 30 years ago and miss out on some great stories. There are so many different kinds to choose from today. (sorry for rambling)

Where and when do you read? How do you pick your next book? Do you reread your favorites, or prefer to keep moving to something new? Why?
-I read whenever and whereever I can. I have always been a reader, but discovered romances at 13 and became hooked.
-I like to vary my reading...somedays I will read a historical and other days a contemp or paranormal.
-It depends on my mood. I do reread my favorite books...they are my comfort reads. When I am feeling down or not in the mood for something new. I will pick one up and read it. I can guarantee myself a good story.

What should students interested in romance readers and romance reading be asking you?
Why Romance? Of all the genres out there...why pick romance as a favorite?
My answer: The reason that I read romances is because they help me to escape my reality for just a little while and because the majority of them (at least the ones I have read) end happily. I love happy endings and get sad (and sometimes disappointed) if a book I am reading ends on a sad or depressing note. There are enough bad things happening in the real world, I don't need to read a book about them. When I read I like to escape to a place better than the one I am at…not to one that is even worse. Romances help me to do that. They allow me to believe in happy endings, in the idea that the right person is out there for everyone, and in possibilities. They provide hope, but do not give me unrealistic expectations.
While it is true that there are other forms of fiction and non-fiction that could possibly do this, I prefer romance.

Vivi Anna said...

I think there are some romances out there with particular messages, written for that reason. To promote soemthing that author beleives in...

Why not? Romance authors have politcal and social opinions too. Some more than others.

I write to entertain, period. I read for entertainment, and that's whether I'm reading a romance, a fantasy, a thriller, or a contemporary. I don't read historicals, because I just can't get into a book where the heroine isn't carrying a big knife, swearing like a sailor, and kicking-ass.

bill gleason said...

Jennifer Y -- I think your Q/A for students is terrifically useful. What they would discover through your post is that a romance novel can be simultaneously an "escape from reality" and a vehicle for hope -- which is a way of coping with reality, of feeling that things -- real things -- might change for the better. I think this may be part of what Tompkins (whom I mentioned earlier) is saying when she suggests that popular fiction can "articulate and propose solutions" for real problems, even while providing a form of "escape" from that very same reality. It's a powerful -- and empowering -- paradox, really.

Monica Burns said...

...critics suggest that popular narratives, sometimes directly, more often quite obliquely, tackle issues of oppression, or social equality, or intellectual freedom, and so on, in ways that are ultimately useful to the society reading and writing these texts. Do you think this is true of romance fiction?

Bill, this is a really interesting question. I think romance, like any other genre has the "potential" to act as the medium for social change. The question for me is, does the genre morph and prompt the change discussion or does it mirror society and the changes it sees in society.

In reflecting on this question, I debated for a little while, and I've come to the conclusion that I don't think a mass market fictional work effects change. I see mass fiction as mirroring social change.

I know that in the last 30 years, romance has gone from the sweet, virginal heroine who always had a man looking after her, to heroines who are strong, independent women who choose what they want to be and that in a number of cases they can be the rescuer of the hero. They are partners in the relationship, the heroine's not just a side dish.

To me this mirror's how women have viewed themselves in society. The went from the 60s & 70s where it was still the "little woman" mentality, which gave way to the 80s when sex was ok for women to enjoy to the 90s and 2000s where women are speaking out what it is they want in the bedroom.

Any work of fiction has the potential to change viewpoints, but to effect social change of a magnitude that could be measured would be rather difficult for fiction to accomplish I would think.

Vivi Anna said...

I don't know Peggy Webb's book up for a Pulitzer could effect change in the way we treat the elderly...I believe the book is actually being used as a tool in the system for those in the industry to read.

Also Lucy Monroe's book, I'm sorry I can't remember the name, deals with a certain womanly condition, and now can't think of the clinical term, and is being used as a positive tool in making people aware of this condition. Damn, let me go to her site, and i'll come back with the name of the book and whole correct story....

Jennifer Y. said...

Thanks Bill! You said it better than I could...LOL. Romances do provide me with an escape and with hope. I started reading them at a young age, but really became a huge fan during a difficult time in my life in high school when I was sick and in and out of hospitals. I think they did help me to cope with reality in a way, as you said so well in your comment.

I know some people who will only read angst-filled fiction or non-fiction. When asked why, some will say they do it sometimes to remind themselves that there are others out there who have problems worse than them...or that things could be worse. Well, I already know that. I am grateful for everything that I have and know that I am lucky and blessed when compared to others. I am reminded of this everytime I turn on the news or pick up a newspaper or go anywhere. So when I read a book for pleasure/entertainment, I don't want to be reminded of what is wrong with the world...I want to see what is right or what could-be. While some romances do have some social messages, they still manage to be positive. LOL...This probably made no sense or is not relevant to the discussion...LOL.

Also, in real life, I am probably more of a pessimist. Reading romances allows me to at least pretend to be or feel like an optimist for a little while...LOL.

Jennifer Y. said...

Vivi: I believe the condition in Lucy's book is endometriosis...something I suffer with.

Laura Vivanco said...

Vivi, is the Lucy Monroe book you're thinking of Blackmailed into Marriage? I blogged about it here a while back and typed out the author's note to readers. It dealt with vaginismus.

Jennifer Y. said...

Hmm...that is interesting Laura...Lucy seems to write about women with different difficulties (which I think is a good thing)...In The Scorsolini Marriage Bargain the heroine has endometriosis (another female ailment).

Laura Vivanco said...

That is interesting, particulary as hers aren't medical romances. Seems like she's setting out to let readers know that (a) they're not alone in having the problem and (b) the problem needn't stop them finding a HEA. I wonder if she's done any others involving heroines with gynecological problems.

robynl said...

If you could give a guest lecture in my course, what would you tell my students about romance readers and romance reading?

Romance readers are from every walk of life and are not stereotypes any more as once thought. The rich, poor, stay-at-home and working class read them. They help one to escape to another time/place for awhile and forget the mundane, everyday things of life. They give you insight into new places where you can learn about them.

Where and when do you read? How do you pick your next book? Do you reread your favorites, or prefer to keep moving to something new? Why?

I read whenever I can and usually in bed. I definitely re-read favorites because I like to re-visit the h/h and get re-acquanited with someone I loved in a book.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

My, God! I'm so loving my Bellas!

Bill wrote:I think this may be part of what Tompkins (whom I mentioned earlier) is saying...

Got it now, Bill. I'm wondering if, because the idea of the sensual novel was outrageous in the 19th century even to women who wanted to read them, they had more impact socially? I mean, because there was farther to go in terms of social reform relating to gender equality than today. (Again, don't flay me, anybody, I'm talking generally here. I got my own glass ceiling issues)

Further, today, the romance actually works against women socially, especially when you realize how other women look down on us for reading romance, and don't consider it literary.

So we can't affect reform on the general public who don't accept our novels as legitimate, and we can't expect support from our sisters who are part of "the struggle."

Personally? As much as we work to promote romance positively, and as fine as is the scholarship being worked, I don't expect to see romance accepted in the mainstream for the long haul any time soon. It may be on the verge of a fad acceptance, however.

Still, maybe we shouldn't care so much whether anyone accepts us. Are we going about this all wrong by raging against the machine?

Let me ask you, Bill: why do you think it's important that we study and try to promote romance? what sort of effect is reasonable to expect

Vivi Anna said...

Laura, yes that's the one. Thank you!!

Adn Jennifer I suffer from endometriois too. Have since I was 12. Didn't get diagnosed till I was 27 though. and having a baby only helped for a couple of years....then it came back with a vengenance!! LOL

Jennifer Y. said...

I was diagnosed when I was 17 Vivi Anna, although I suspect I always had it. My case is/was pretty severe according to the doctor who diagnosed me. It is a very painful condition and I have tried various ways of treating it. My sister also has it and has had two kids.

Playground Monitor said...

Popping in quickly cause we're having bad weather -- tornado watches and a warning or two in neighboring counties. Oh fun. NOT!


Vivi Anna said...

I hear you Jen. I've had surgery for it, a laposcopy or something like that...but that only helped for a year. Now, I just have extra strength Advil and an electric heating pad and I'm good to go. I'm usually only in pain for 24 hours, then it alleviates. When I was younger, it lasted 3 for 4 days. I still remember I had to be out of school and my mom had to feed me while I lay in the fetal position crying....LOL Not a fun time!!!

Jennifer Y. said...

I understand Vivi Anna...I unfortunately still have the pain for days. I have had two surgeries for it and been on various meds (one of which they beleive triggered my migraines).

Jennifer Y. said...

Oh, and Michelle...I have really enjoyed this week and have learned a has really made me think...but I must say Romance School is hard...LOL. There won't be a test will there? LOL

bill gleason said...

Hi again, and apologies for being offline so long.

"Why do you think it's important that we study and try to promote romance? what sort of effect is reasonable to expect?"

Good questions, Michelle -- I would say that more study and promotion might accomplish quite a bit. It might gradually help break down stereotypes about romance readers and romance reading; it might lead to broader interest among non-romance readers; and it might bring new writers into the field. Any broadening of a genre also helps to take away its stigma as something weird or abnormal. I don't know what sort of timetable we might be talking about, but I think we can expect that the climate around -- and options for -- romance reading should be markedly better 10 years from now, much as the climate is better now than it was a decade ago.

Maybe that's too optimistic (or self-serving!), but I can't help but see more focus on and energy behind the genre as a beneficial thing! :)

Monica Burns said...

Ok, don't flay me for my thoughts, I'm open to changing them. *grin*

Most important of all, I have no desire nor intention to slam romance. I love romance. I love what it does for me when I read it. I love what it does for me when I'm writing it. But as a realist, I also know that that there are limitiations to everything. Or at least there are limitations that I personally have or set.

I think it's important to define what is meant by social change in relation to romance writing as there are a couple of different parameters for defining social change. For me personally, social change is something that affects ALL of society, not just a small part of it. For me, social change would be something on the scope of Martin Luther King peacefully working toward equality for blacks in America. Ghandi using nonviolence for Indian independence. Something on the scope of Dickens addressing the issues of the poor.

As a BIG fan of Lucy Monroe, I admire the fact that she and other authors bring out women's issues in their books. If they reach even one individual who knows nothing about a particular woman's health issue or other matter, then that's one person more that's been helped. However, we've already said that women who read romance are educated, so it would stand to reason that the majority are familiar with a lot of women's issues that might be discussed in a romance book. So logic leads me to believe that while these books educate the few still uneducated about a particular health issue, it does not have actually change society's structural framework for the betterment of all society.

Ann Herendeen's book, Phyllida and the Philander, is more in line with what I would consider influencing social change because it deals with a topic that creates such passion in so many. If her book were to initiate more diaglogue about homosexuality/ bisexuality on a grand scale, then that would be social change driven by a romance novel (provided it qualifies as a true romance, which means it must have a HEA - I can't address that issue because I've not had time to read the book. Time, time, my kingdom for some time).

As for Peggy Webb's book, I've not read it so I can't comment on whether the content could have a social impact of significant duration. However, the Pulitizer Prize nomination is a critical step, and a terrific achievement, toward the romance genre being recognized as a valid literary medium. That reflects social change within the literary world. But are we limiting our considerations to the literary world or to society as a whole. If we are discussing society as a whole, then the prize nomination has limited impact. It does not lessen the value of Peggy's extraordinary achievement. It simply means that it might not have the impact for ALL society

I simply put this out on the floor because a) I love debate as it helps me grow intellectually b) I think playing devil's advocate is a good thing because it can show flaws in arguements or solidify ideas that one might have about an issue. I don't think there's a right way or wrong way to answer the question. Everyone's opinion is valid, and no opinion is wrong. It simply is what it is. Opinion.

And Jen....if there's a test, I'm skipping school that day. We'll just have to play hookey together. *grin*

bill gleason said...

Great points, Monica. I agree that it's important to keep a sense of perspective on the ability of any book, romance or otherwise, to effect meaningful social change. As you say, literary impact is one thing, and large-scale social impact quite another. But I do believe that popular books and esp. genres can help nudge a culture or a society from one belief toward another. It's a slow process, and its not always a nudge in the right direction, to be sure (my students are appalled at the racism underwriting much of the Tarzan series, for example, which surely didn't nudge early 20th-century American culture toward broader racial understanding), but its something.

This isn't to argue with you at all -- just to say that since literature is itself part of society, even tiny changes in one part of the web can shimmy along, eventually, toward the center...

In case this is my last post tonight, let me close by saying THANK YOU to everyone who took time to read, post, and share thoughts today. You're quite an amazing group!

Monica Burns said...

Thank you Bill, and I didn't take your response to be arugmentative at all. I took it exactly as you meant it to be. A learned opinion with points for me to consider. Sure wish you had long-distance learning for your class. *grin* I can always stand to learn something new. Thanks for being here today. You've given me LOTS to consider!


Jennifer Y. said...

Thanks for coming Bill!

Michelle Buonfiglio said...


"...literature is itself part of society, even tiny changes in one part of the web can shimmy along, eventually, toward the center..." -- Bill "I like vacation time off so much I wrote a book about the history of work and play in American lit" Gleason

Man, can I quote you on that? Inspiring, and gives me hope, and validates what we Bellas believe, too.

Molto grazie, Bill, for encouraging us to discuss issues which are not only important to the study of romance fiction, but also for encouraging us to enumerate the reasons -- and to remember and detail with joy -- why we read romance.

I'm sure you've never heard this, but some people think academics (and of course not you, Eloisa, or Eric) can suck the joy out of a subject.

Oh. You have heard that? Well, my point is that you and your "Back to School Week" colleagues have shown us that you look critically at romance and genre fiction with an eye toward enjoyment, too.

Even better, you make us feel like you respect what we have to say, that it's part of what will be considered as we define the "modern day" romance novel.

So, thank you for joining us, and please do visit again. Maybe next time we'll just discuss Tarzan and jungle love...

Stacy~ said...

Oh man, what a great topic! This is one I could go on and on about, but I think the ladies covered it very well. Michelle, I'm keeping a link to this post to bring out whenever anyone gets all condescending about romances.

Vivi, I love Lucy's books, and I think you might be referring to is Vaginismus. I posted a topic about her awhile back at my blog about some of the women's issues she's addressed. Here's the link if anyone's interested:

I have to get ready for work, but I plan on checking back...

ev said...

:why are African-American romances segregated in bookshops? Would white readers pick them up if they weren't segregated?:

Actually, it's so that the target audience can find them. African/American women tend not to read romance or search the titles for them, so they are making sure that they can be found.

Romance tends to be the only section that is segregated in many ways so that the target audience can easily find what they want and not be forced to look thru everything else (Christian, erotic, etc.)

ev said...

there are just so many postings I can't get thru them all!!!!waaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh

KimW said...

Great discussion! Sorry I missed most of it.

I read for the sheer pleasure of it. I enjoy picking up a book and escaping away. I'm one of the light readers and don't really analyze what I read. A "keeper" romance for me is one that has me turing pages till the end to find out what will happen. I suppose one that has a little suspense in some way, whether it be finding out who committed a murder, exposing a truth or lie, or if the hero or heroine will finally admit their for each other.

I figure each one of us do something in life that one could "roll their eyes at" as they say, so I'm not that concerned what others think of me because I read romance. IMHO, they are missing out on one of the great treasures in life.

Where and when do you read? Easy question. Everywhere I can. I always have a book with me and read every chance I have.

Do you reread your favorites, or prefer to keep moving to something new? Why? I haven't reread my favorites only because there are so many good stories waiting out there for me.

Lucy Monroe said... looked like I missed a party I really would have enjoyed! But you all know that a woman who gives workshops like "Romance, A Life Changing Force" is going to have something to say on this - if belatedly. I believe romance novels can effect societal change? The answer is, I believe they already have. And yes, continue to do so.

The Victorian view that women are not supposed to enjoy sex permeated our culture long after Vicky's monarchy got passed on to the next generation. While the feminist movement gave loud voice to altering this opinion, the grassroots message found in romance did its job every bit as effecitively. Maybe even more so...many women who did not consider themselves feminists adhered to principles beautifully depicted in romance for years before the feminist movement echoed them.

I firmly believe that popular genre fiction can be and is an agent of social change, education and benefit. While it is true that romance readers are often well educated, it is also true that women's issues continue to be ignored in many ways in our society. So, a woman may have an MBA and be clueless about her own health. If the number and type of letters I received on any of my so-called issues books is any indication, there are lots of women who may be educated academically and incredibly bright, but because of the stigma attached to discussing sexual and/or female only related issues openly, they have no idea that conditions like vaginismus exist or that so many other suffer from endometriosis.

However, the point of those the point of all my books...was not to highlight a particular condition, but to illuminate the truth that a person does not need to be perfect (neither physically nor emotionally) to be worthy of love and have a hope of sharing that emotion with another.

Do I believe this message can be a vehicle for social change? Absolutely. Frankly, I'm far too much of an activist not to be writing something I believe has more than entertainment value even if entertainment is its primary function.

I understand not all other authors feel the way I do, and not all of my readers notice or care about the deeper message in my books, but just as I find it in the books of my favorite's always there, waiting to touch a heart, to change an attitude, to give hope and maybe even feed faith in a future none of us can see.

Anonymous said...

This is quite a topic you've given us to comment on.

I guess I'll start by saying that I've been hearing or reading love stories all my life. The first ones were between parents and children, something that as a child I could relate to. Next came stories of love for animals, e.g., "The Black Stallion" series or for siblings or friends, e.g., "The Bobbsey Twins" depending on which came next in your life in reality. Next we read stories more particularly about adventures and mysteries with "The Hardy Boys", Enid Blyton's series and "Nancy Drew".

That is where the romance between the sexes started and, I believe, the differences between those who loved to learn history with their romances. I was introduced to these by my father. They were written mostly by men and contained a lot of fictionalized history, mainly in the form of war stories in the U.S. These stories were by Frank G. Slaughter, Frank Yerby, Samuel Shellaberger, Thomas B. Costain, etc. and a little later by a few women: Anya Seton, Elswyth Thane and Gwen Bristow, though Seton and Bristow also wrote some contemporary novels and mysteries. As a part of the history of the main character, somewhere a woman came into the picture as a matter of course; sometimes not with a very big part but for the propagation of the species man-woman relationships were of great importance. Were these books history? No, probably not entirely but many of them were well-researched and even if they were not totally correct, they gave you a sense of the times as seen through the lens of that writer and his times.

There were also those who wanted nothing to do with history. They wanted to see adventures of people living in their time and frankly, I'm a little more at a loss to find appropriate authors since I loved history too much to read more contemporary novels. They mainly explored the Cold War with spies probably taking over the lion's share of the market. Between the two world wars there were different types of mysteries. Some were the noir mysteries of people like Dashiel Hammett and the sometimes more cozy mysteries of Agatha Christie.

Again after WW II there was also a flourishing of mysteries especially as the incidence of crime rose. Sometimes you come up against the age-old question: Is art is mimicking reality or reality mimicking art? However, I believe that there is a certain co-incidence in writing.

Since the possibility of war with the USSR has appeared to lessen, we are experiencing a boom in paranormal romances, science-fiction and fantasy, in erotica. Everything seems to be labeled "sexy" from certain males and females to cars to clothing to furniture to advertising to...whatever you want.

Yet besides all this, there are innumerable wars going on; wars between countries that are claiming hundreds or thousands a day; wars, or at least battles, to survive one more day even in the wealthiest countries in the world, never mind the ones ravaged by disease, poverty, starvation.

Do we read romances because they enable us to escape reality or because we don't want to see reality? We should probably also mention that the word "roman" in both French and German simply means a novel. In about 1300 the word "romance" first refered to the story of a hero's adventures. (See The Online Etymology Dictionary for further information ) Later it described chivalric adventures and by 1667 it was extended to mean "a love story". It's interesting to see how the word developed.

That is probably why they feature alpha or "alfalfa" heroes. Men that don't have any "alfalfa" in them are unlikely to be chivalric or try to win any battles.

On the whole I think we read romances because we need to find out what the male/female relationship is all about. This has now extended to other sorts of relationships as well. But essentially it was male/female. I think the best romances in both the adventure and love story sense can teach us something about how to relate to each other. At worst, they'll give us entertainment and a time to laugh if that's intended by the writer or to hold our breaths in dangerous situations. All's fair in love and war, I would say, except deliberate cruelty.

I don't know if that answers the question exactly. But when you see the range of people reading romance--from teenagers to homebodies to business people to people with Ph.D.s--you realize that it truly depends on whether you love reading or not. To a certain extent individual preferences play a big role. Some do not like romances and that's fine. Some people read only factual writings. Some of us mix things up. You can't force anyone to read something unwanted unless they have signed up for a particular course in school or college. And there you might find out that you don't disdain a certain type of fiction as much as you first thought. That happens continually. How can you appreciate something you don't know? You really have to try it before you know if it fits you.

Sorry, this is too long but I've been reading well over 50 years and sometimes a question like this does make me think about the many aspects of reading.

Anonymous said...

As a "white" reader, I made it a point to pick up books by African-Americans. In our bookstores in Canada, they are no longer segregated. I also know now which authors I enjoy and can look for these. Unfortunately, I do miss some but I miss books by other favoritewriters as well as I found out when I came home from a little bookstore jaunt today.

I must make a little list. I must make a little list. I must....

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Thanks everyone for stopping in. I think, perhaps, we'll have a GuestBlog soon about market share, the "urban market," how books are placed, etc.

Black folks do, indeed, buy and read romance, but the imprints are marketed differently, but perhaps not in a way that gets them in front of non-African-American readers.

More's the pity. But this is an important blog for another day, Bellas.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Excellent point, Mary. Someone just yesterday commented about the increase in characters able to contol weather since Katrina.

I have to thank you for using the term "forced seduction." I've been using the term, "forced consent," all week, meaning, of course, the former. I was thinking, I guess, "informed consent, " which has nothing to do with the subject at hand.

I feel like such a doofus. :)

Mary Stella said...

What assumptions do you think college students have about this genre, and what myths would you want to dispel?

Twenty years ago, I took an Advanced Creative Writing Course at Rutgers. Even though I'd graduated from college four years prior, I didn't expect to run into a generation gap. When they heard that I wanted to write romance novels, my fellow students behaved like I was a literary leper. Full-fledged scorn every day of the class.

I think the biggest, most enduring myth about romance novels is that they're alllll about sex with cookie-cutter plots at best and cardboard characters. So, my guest lecture would explore character development and conflict.