The New York Times’ Bestseller list is flooded with romance fiction. The Fifty Shades Trilogy is holding four separate spots in the top 10, and E.L. James is joined by Jennifer Probst and Sylvia Day. But in that flood of literary estrogen, there stands the usual detective fiction and, in the top 10, Abraham Lincoln-Vampire Hunter and Game of Thrones.
Yet, despite the popularity of the books they want to read, it is women who feel embarrassed and ask for bags to hide their purchases; men buying Vampire Tales or the very Booby-licious Thrones apparently do so without a qualm, according to the HuffPost.
In fact, the proliferation of e-readers has been correctly paired not with the convenience of buying books anywhere but primarily with the privacy to buy what you want and to read what you want–while letting no one else know.
As a matter of fact, the first generations of Kindles, when clicked off, feature author-covers of the great and respected writers of the world. Turn off your kindle reading Nora Roberts and it looks to all and sundry that you’ve been reading Auten, or Elliot, or Twain.
Now, no one wants to be labeled ashamed–there is certain weakness in admitting you even feel it. Were someone to tell me I felt shame about what I read, well, I would roast them on the spit of my fiery indignation. I am not ashamed. I read it all the time. And here’s why… Then, depending on my audience, I might launch into one of several directions: 1) my mother read romance and, given that I started reading adult novels by the time I was in third grade, I was weaned on the stuff; or 2) romance fiction is the popularized development of domestic fiction; or 3)
despite all appearances it is rather good (no one’s going to believe that…) romance authors and readers are a very educated bunch…
The list goes on, but the problem is that I feel I have to explain myself at all. Although we agree that the books are good, others do not; and, while we believe them to be good, even we don’t all find them respectable or valuable. And why would we?
What “serious” book critique applauds a romance writer? What teacher celebrates the works of fiction that we read? Even Stephen King–Lord and Surveyor of the pop-book-best-seller market–declares that his own work is the fast food of fiction. And my God! The covers of romance novels! In a single sweeping glance, the covers label all the books as sexy, smutty, replicas of one central formulaic story: heaving bosoms and nearly naked males.
Now, I won’t tackle the formula-equals-trash debate today, though, my goodness, do I have a lot to say about that! But let’s simply assume for the sake of argument that all romance fiction is not good, is not art, and is–at best–trash novels to read in your spare time or on holiday. (Again, I emphatically do not believe this.) But let’s just agree for the sake of argument here.
Fine. It’s trash.
What I cannot accept is that the good trash/bad trash lines must be gendered. Why does female trash have to be hidden? Why are women ridiculed for reading stories of love, but detective-novel trash that is equally formulaic (essentially the novel form of a rather long Scooby-Doo episode) gets far less flak. No one is asking for a bag to carry the recent Tom Clancy out of the neighborhood Barnes & Noble.
This past year, I shared a classroom with another educator (and I use the term loosely) who felt compelled to denounce Twilight. Ironically, he enjoyed comparing Twlight to the Hunger Games which also–seemingly beyond his awareness–functions predominately as a love story, which is, let’s be real, typical and rather ordinary if you take out the dystiopian setting. But I digress.
One afternoon, quoting Stephan [sic] King to denounce Twlight, this teacher had, as was common, another incorrectly spelled word on a prompt he had just handed out. A female student–one who happens to love Twilight–calls him on it and tells him that she knows how to spell it because of Twilight. He says snakily, “Well, I guess that’s one thing that can be said for that book.”
Yet… the man who abominates Twilight and teaches his students that it is trash and should not be read has a copy of Dan Brown’s Digital Fortress on his desk with a book mark about midway through. Clearly, this teacher is of the literati, a man who understands art and enjoys only the purest forms of word craft!
Of course, in my humble opinion, I offer that Dan Brown is pure unadulterated crap—brown, steamy crap. I hate Dan Brown. But I acknowledge that he might be an interesting read for some; one could enjoy Brown because, very democratically, he/she embraces all the trash. What I can’t stand, though, is this pick-and-choose system where female trash is bad and male trash is good.
Male fiction has at its core conspiracy, action, adventure, explosions, bombs, boobs, and hot chicks that are often bedded and forgotten. How is this better and superior to stories that have love and commitment at their center? Quite frankly, they are not superior.
And you shouldn’t be made to feel shame over someone else’s snobbery.
You read because you love to read. And the stories you enjoy are about love, and strong women, and men smart enough to appreciate them. There is nothing shameful in that.
You, too, are not a bit foolish or stupid because you love romance fiction.
You are smart and have read more than any person you know. With all the books you’ve read, you have traveled more and lived more and experienced more. Now, tell me, should you feel ashamed?
More Books with Benefits for you might like–>
Categories: Love Letters: Editorials