Friday, July 04, 2008

The Prejudices of the Romance Genre

This past week, many blogs were posting the list of top 100 books read on LibraryThing, one of the many book catalogue sites on the internet. Kristie(J) posted this list a few days ago and some others followed suit. I decided to join in, but rather than post the whole list, here are the ones I have actually read:
The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Angels & demons by Dan Brown
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
The complete works by William Shakespeare
Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Atonement: A Novel by Ian McEwan
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
I don’t know if I should be upset at myself for only reading 18 out of the 100 titles, and as you can see there is not one Harry Potter book in the bunch. Should I feel ashamed for neglecting such classics or critically acclaimed novels?
The LibraryThing list has me thinking, especially after reading Karen Scott’s post on why romance authors are never nominated for any major book awards. Her post was very educational and I have come the conclusion that the romance genre is still considered the neglected step-child in the publishing industry, even though these books rake in billions of dollars for the publishers and booksellers. Look at these statistics from The Romance Writers of America 2006 ROMStat Report:

The overall decline in the publishing industry was not evident in romance fiction, as sales remained steady in 2006 with $1.37 billion in estimated revenue and approximately 6,400 new titles published. Romance fiction was a strong seller—overcome only by the religion/inspirational category.
Romance: $1.37 billion
Religion/inspirational: $1.68 billion
Science fiction/fantasy: $495 million
Classic literary fiction: $448 million
Mystery: $422 million
Graphic novels: $128 million

I still cannot understand why romance is treated with such disdain and ridicule. To this day I get snide comments thrown at me whenever someone sees a book with cover that has semi-naked couple in a clutch or words in the title that say “SIN” “PASSION” “LUST”. Remember my friend who thought I read romance because they are perfect to masturbate to? That pissed me off to no end. To be that ignorant is so sad. BTW, I asked her if she has read the books I gave her and of course she gives me some lame excuse why she hasn’t even cracked open one of these books even though she has a two-hour train ride back and forth to work each day where she could read.
Why does the thought of sex in a book make people uneasy? Just because there are sex scenes in a novel, does not take away from the quality of a book. Even though I haven’t read Harry Potter, I heard that there were some violent acts from the murder of Harry’s parents to various characters getting killed off. That would irk me, especially if my young child was reading this. But the minute J.K. Rowling writes a love story between Harry and a girl or another character where kissing is involved, the public looses it because, “OH NO! Even thought Harry is a teenager and should date, the thought of engaging in such an act where kissing could be involved is not allowed!” So murder is okay but any form of intimacy between a teenage girl and boy is not?
What are the requirements for a book to become worthy of winning prestigious awards? I would assume it is in the writing and the storytelling. Why, so many romances I have read in the past five years deserve this praise and should be placed on all the major book lists. Last year alone, I could name at least 10 books that transcends any label and should have been considered the best of the best for 2007. But they weren’t because they are considered romance.
I am so sick of reading People Magazine, Entertainment Weekly and other such magazines and never seeing one romance book reviewed. And when one is so lucky to be reviewed, it is given a small blurb in some column on the side of the page.
I am so saddened and disgusted by people’s prejudice about romance. I will never forget a few years ago, when I went on and on about Anne Stuart’s A Rose at Midnight as one of the best books I have ever read. My co-worker was interested and when I brought in my paperback and yes, it is that one with a man and woman in a passionate clutch, she looked at it, gave it back to me and with a lemon face said, “Sorry, I don’t read this trash.” Didn’t she ever learn, do not judge a book by its cover?
I realize everyone has different tastes and I respect that, but I hope someone will respect mine and not make assumptions on what I am reading. And maybe one day these people who decide which books should be nominated for these prestige awards, will get their heads out of their asses and judge romances not on the covers, or the titles, but the wonderful words inside.

Katiebabs (KB)


Christine said...

I agree with your sentiment, Kate.

What also gets me is that if our favorite romance novels--whether historical, paranormal, urban fantasy with romantic elements, romantic suspense, etc... --were made into movies or series for television, people would be all over it. But for some reason, to READ it makes it trash?

I think the majority of women are actually wired to crave romance. We want it in real life, why not want read about it in books, too?

We can talk this talk till the cows come home, Kate, and chances are we still won't convince the dissenters that romance is a worthy genre. Once people hold a prejudice against something (or some people), they very rarely change their views. Its a sad fact of life. :(

azteclady said...

The whole thing is BS, as far as I'm concerned.

There are those who want to feel superior, and the only way they can is by putting others down.

Yesterday I realized that I read 18 different books in 28 days. How many of those people who can't be bothered to read "that trash" (meaning a romance novel) read even one book a month?

And remember the big deal the Today Show made early in the year about that woman who read ohmygoshstopthepresses! 50 books in 2007? I know more than a few romance readers who easily read that many books in a month.

Of course, then we have the argument that "they" read complicated stuff and that we (romance readers) only read meaningless crap. Whatever.

Tracy said...

I completely agree and think you said it very well! People just don't understand that it's not ALL sex. Some don't even have sex in them! My husband has no problem with me reading romances but when asked about it just says it's porn on paper! wtf?

The population in general needs to be more open minded.

I also completely agree with Christine that if they were made into movies people would be all over it! bah!

kmont said...

Couldn't agree more! In fact, I'd had a similar post in the bag, waiting for my blog, after I saw one reader ridiculing those that did not like Lover Enshrined, basically saying that SHE wasn't only in it for the sex. This was after comments from others readers talking about how much they missed the LOVE story, which I think most BDB fans have agreed that Ward does exceptionally well. For the most part.

It's a damn shame romance readers have to get the same flack you're talking about from other romance readers too! So it's not just from folks that don't read romances. LOL, I think you just prompted me to post my rant as well. Not saying yours is a rant, but mine sure is. :D

That list that's making the rounds of blogs though, it IS a good list. There are certainly a lot on there I'd like to pluck out of my TBR pile too or buy or borrow from the library. But yeah, I'm wired pretty hard for romance books. *shrug* It's no biggie at all and folks that dismiss it out of hand are being prejudiced and at times a bit snobbish. I agree, don't bust chops for what I'm reading and I won't do the same for some other genre another is reading.

It sounds simple, but Christine is right too; some people are always going to pull the jerk routine and whittle your favorite genre down to nothing but dirty sex. To that I say, NO, it's dirty sex AND love, ya putz. And a plot. And great, yall know. I'z preaching to the choir.

Bottom line: You do not HAVE to like what I read and vice versa, just put a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T in the convo if you have to mention it at all.