Quotations Weblog

Reading Romance Novels Shamelessly

April 11th, 2009 by Laura Moncur in Literature

Pemberley Manor by Kathryn L. Nelson at Amazon.comMy current reading obsession right now is Pemberley Manor by Kathryn L. Nelson. I’m about halfway through it after spending every free moment yesterday reading. I have the Amazon Kindle Reader on my iPhone and I pulled it up at every minute to read: during lunch, while waiting in line, and sitting in my comfy chair. The luxury of carrying around a book with me wherever I go has made me read more. Well, that and the fact that no one can tell I’m reading a romance novel when it’s on my iPhone has completely freed me to read EVERYWHERE.

I can’t say I found this out on my own. Felicia Day gave me the idea:

Now for the “come clean” part: I’ve read like, 6 books this week and ordered about 10 more. And no ordinary books: Pure unadulterated TRASHY-ROMANCE books! Check out my GoodReads shelf vaginal-urban-fantasy, it’s bloating to an alarming degree. It’s stuff I never would have checked out at the Barnes and Noble, because the gleaming and oily man chests would have made me blush too much (unless I was drunk, but that’s a previous blog entry :D ). I’m delighted to be reading ridiculous werewolf/demon/vampire-Alpha-male fiction with no guilt.

That’s what got the Kindle on my iPhone. Like her, I’ve read a surprising number of books in the last few weeks. Amazon has made more money off me than I’d like to admit. I didn’t think a second thought about it until I read this entry from “Jane” last week:

I still do that — read books as quickly as possible, but the books I read now are usually what is politely called “genre fiction” and colloquially “trashy romance novels.”

Jane continued her blog entry about how she has joined a book club to “put some class back in her diet.” I gritted my teeth, hoping for a good recommendation for a romance novel that doesn’t border on soft core porn while she talked about her book club reads. Finally at the end of the entry she did recommend some romance books and defended them handsomely:

In short, literary books are about the death or deterioration of relationships, and romance novels are about their birth or growth. Literary books point out everything that is inherently flawed in the human need for companionship, and romance novels celebrate our desire to be connected and grounded in one another, especially in a soulmate.

Is one of the forms more “true” than the others? Where literary books succeed in communicating ambivalence and uncertainty and endless searching, I suspect they are. But is death any more “real” than birth? Death is certainly usually more self-aware and examined. But I like birth. I like closing a novel, coming back from some escapist fantasy, and feeling renewed and recommitted to loving on the people I am stuck with, even if they do like to get their hands dirty.

Old Man's War by John Scalzi at Amazon.comWhy do I feel guilty about loving Pemberley Manor so much? Why do I feel more guilt than when I was reading Old Man’s War by John Scalzi. The cover of that book wouldn’t have embarrassed me in a crowded restaurant. Why are death, destruction and spaceships more acceptable in my mind than handsome men and expansive estates?

I was going to call this entry, “In Defense of Romance Novels,” but someone has already written that entry for me.

All of this couldn’t be more wrong. These ideas are all products of a society that likes to privilege what they see as “high” culture–literary novels, foreign films, classical music over lowly romance novels, horror movies and country music. There is the implication that if you like the one, you are smart and if you are a fan of the other, then you are stupid.

It goes beyond the difference between high culture (literary) and trashy, however. Science fiction has long been considered trash. Murder mysteries are also a genre that has been categorized in the low class category. I have no shame carrying around a murder mystery or a sci-fi book. The shame only affects me when I read anything that is considered romance.

And then it hit me. I am ashamed of romance novels because I’m ashamed to admit that I’m a woman.

Just when I think I’ve siphoned out all the self-loathing for my sex that I could, I find another reservoir of it hiding in the dark corners of my psyche. I can read COMIC BOOKS without shame, but romance novels are hidden within my iPhone or in the back corners of the bookshelf where visitors can’t see them. It’s a CLEAR case of self-loathing that has done this to me.

To be even MORE honest, the only romance novels I allow myself to read are continuations of Jane Austen stories. That’s because Jane Austen crossed over from being trashy to being Literature (with a capital L), so the continuations written by other authors are elevated in my mind just a bit.

Romance novels aren’t trashy (stupid, worthless, or poorly written) any more than any other type of fiction. Fiction is supposed to be ENTERTAINING! Fiction also gives our culture a universal story to bind us together and use as allegory. Elizabeth Bennett is just as capable of teaching me lessons as Inspector Morse, Miles Vorkosigan or Atticus Finch.

Reading romance novels shamelessly is a feminist act. It’s celebrating literature written strictly FOR women. It’s the one genre that has been tailored specifically to women, even in a male-dominated society. I should rejoice in reading romance novels and release the shame I’ve felt all these years.

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