Everyone in the romance world is talking about the recent article published by the New York Times called A Roundup of the Season’s Romance Novels. And with good reason, because an article that at first appears to be a nice summation of recent romance books quickly turns into a shameful and condescending attack on the romance genre and the women who read it. Now this is sadly nothing new for romance writers, editors, publishers, and readers but it’s still horribly insulting every time it happens.
Feel free to read the article if you want (though I wouldn’t waste your time) but be prepared to face the following insults:
Insult #1: The article author
The first mistake was the selection of writers for this article. It’s written by Robert Gottlieb who is credited as having “been editor in chief of Simon & Schuster and Alfred A. Knopf, and the editor of The New Yorker”. Now wouldn’t you think that an article about the romance genre should maybe be written by, I don’t know, someone who actually READS the genre or knows anything about it? Hey, what about a woman? That’s a novel idea — pun intended.
Insult #2: Clear lack of knowledge regarding the genre
This one is a bit minor compared to the rest, but it just goes to prove how little this writer knows about the topic he’s addressing.
“The hundreds of romance novels — perhaps thousands, if you include the self-published ones that constitute their own phenomenon — just published or due to appear in the next few months essentially fall into two categories. There are the Regency romances (descended from the superb Georgette Heyer, whose first one, “Regency Buck,” appeared in 1935). And there are the contemporary young-woman-finding-her-way stories that are the successors to the working-girl novels that for decades provided comfort and (mild) titillation to millions of young women who dreamed of marrying the boss.”
While Regency and Contemporary are certainly popular and prolific subgenres of Romance, they are not by any means the only two categories being written. There are other historical romance genres besides Regency, not to mention Suspense, Action Adventure, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Paranormal, and Erotica, just to name a few. Get your facts straight Robert, because this librarian is not impressed.
Insult #3: A backhanded compliment
So this next sentence started out so promising but then comes in with the surprise bitch slap at the end.
“Whichever of these heroines you may be, you are guaranteed to end up in marital (often ducal) heaven, after dealing with one or another of the ingenious obstacles that create whatever suspense the genre can generate.”
So romance authors write “ingenious obstacles” but the suspense they add it paltry and hardly the best? I mean look at that line again: “whatever suspense the genre can generate”. Really?! Yes, there are romance’s with pretty light suspense, but I’ve also read romance novels that kept me on the edge of my seat with thrills and had me wishing to turn on more lights because they were downright suspenseful. While I’ve read so called suspense novels that bored me to tears. Just because SUSPENSE or MYSTERY isn’t listed as the genre doesn’t mean romance authors can’t write these types of scenes, situations, or emotions.
Insult #4: Continuing the myth of Romance = Sex
Any romance writer or reader can spend hours telling you about all the people who have looked down on them or the genre and claimed that it’s nothing more than sex or “mommy porn” (oh how I loathe that term). So I’m disgusted to see it used here in an article that’s supposed to be promoting new romance novels from an newspaper that’s supposed to be respected.
“The only new element in the genre these post-Heyer days is the relentless application of highly specific sex scenes.”
Yes of course, you’re right, there’s nothing but sex in romance novels. Just like there’s nothing but murder and blood in a mystery, nothing but bratty teenagers in young adult, and nothing but space ships in science fiction. I mean, come on man! How about new elements like self-empowerment for women, acceptance and normalization of mental illness, love for all genders, races, orientations, and interests? The romance genre is constantly tackling new issues and finding ways to reach those who have felt alone up to this point.
Insult #5: Dissing not just romances but all genre novels
As Gottlieb begins talking about Nora Roberts as the “Queen of Romance” (about the only nice thing he has to say) he slips in this diss.
“her books are sensibly written and on the whole as plausible as genre novels can be”
Don’t you just love that “as plausible as genre novels can be”. So not only is he taking down romance novels but other genre fiction as well. Talk about acting high and mighty.
Insult #6: Dissing all other romance authors
Because we don’t have enough sweeping generalizations about romance novels, let’s throw another one in there.
“Unlike her leading competitors’ heroines, for whom the ultimate goal remained scoring the ideal mate, a Nora Roberts heroine was encouraged not only to score him but also to find a satisfying career path in life”
While I’m happy that he appears to like Nora Roberts, who I consider to be a master in the genre, he’s also shitting all over other heroines and therefore their authors by claiming they only care about getting married. And yes romance novels end in Happily Ever Afters but the characters also often find personal satisfaction in their work, friendships, relationships with family as well as overcoming traumas, injuries, deaths, and much more to find a happiness they thought didn’t exist for them.
Insult #7: Blatant patronizing language and misogyny
The article nicely (insert sarcasm) sums itself up with a list meant to illustrate how “romance can swing any which way” but is really more confusing in it’s references to fish tacos and Down Syndrome next to wedding planners, ranchers, and dukes. Then Gottlieb asks the question: what effect does this have?
“And its effect? Harmless, I would imagine. Why shouldn’t women dream? After all, guys have their James Bonds as role models. Are fantasies of violence and danger really more respectable than fantasies of courtship and female self-empowerment?”
Yes, why shouldn’t women dream? I mean that’s all we have to hope for right? Because their’s no way we’ll have satisfying lives or relationships, have career successes or fall in love, have romantic partners or self-empowerment unless we’re dreaming it right?
Well, I have just one thing to say to all of that: FUCK YOU!