Yesterday Twitter exploded when an intern posted a dismissive article about why the prose in romance novels could never manage to equal that in “real” literature, by comparing Nora Roberts to Vladimir Nabokov.
Let’s ignore for a moment that this argument compels us to believe that a beautifully written book about PEDOPHILIA is superior to a romance novel about consenting adults. After all, the intern wasn’t arguing about content, were they? No no, they were arguing about PROSE. And what romance author could ever hope to have as complete a command on the English language as a Russian man?
Let’s also forget that the article began with a sneering remark about 50 Shades of Grey. Oh, 50 Shades, how I love that this ONE book is now the touchstone for all discussions about romance and erotic romance fiction. Let’s ignore, naturally, the decades of authors who came before EL James, and focus solely on her trilogy as if it were the only example of the genre available.
Wait… no. Let’s NOT.
I will not discuss my feelings about James’s books here, primarily because I’ve only read a single chapter of one.
“But why?” a handful of you may ask.
Is it because of my English Literature degree (which I do have) or perhaps my BA in History (which I also have)? Does being an educated woman make me dismissive of the romance genre? Perhaps it was the inclusion of the Tess of the D’Urbervilles first edition (this, being my favorite book of all time, I should naturally despise the “As Featured in 50SOG tie-in editions… which I actually do). No. It was none of these things that made me set the book aside. I simply didn’t connect with it.
If I listed the last handful of books I’ve read, it would feature several X-Men graphic novels, biographies by David Sedaris and Keith Richards, the gloriously written Art of Fielding, and a half-dozen romance novels. I read a lot, and a lot across genres, so I’d like to say this is not just a rant by a romance novelist defending the genre, it is a rant by a voracious reader of all genres, who happens to be fed up with the stigmatization of romance novels.
The last two books to make me cry?
A Fault in Our Stars by John Green, which is, without a doubt, a romance novel.
Making it Last by Ruthie Knox, which tells the brutally honest and totally compelling story of a married couple trying to rediscover their footing in a flagging marriage.
That’s the thing about romance novels that I love. The good ones feature heroines I can see myself in. Strong, intelligent, funny, wonderful women who are experiencing things I have experienced. Break-ups, make-ups, fabulous and sometimes awkward sex, all while balancing real lives, friendships and careers. Romance novels aren’t always about women in low-cut bodices fainting into the embrace of a greased up Fabio. I’ve come to loathe the term “bodice-ripper” as a synonym for romance novels.
Quite frankly I’ve come to loathe the discourse that suggests being a fan of romance novels is something I should feel shame over. I don’t buy romance novels on my Kindle because I’m too embarrassed to buy the paperbacks. I buy them on my Kindle because I like getting a book at 2am, not to mention the amazing selection of Ruthie Knox’s, Lauren Dane’s, Cara McKenna’s and Charlotte Stein’s who publish in an ebook-first world. And those women I’ve just mentioned? Not a single one of them writes stupid books about stupid women. Their characters are real. They are strong and passionate and they are a representation of what REAL women are like.
So, not to put too fine a point on it, if you don’t like romance novels, that’s fine.
But don’t suggest I’m less intelligent than you because I enjoy them.
Don’t get in my face, or all over my internet space, and sneer dismissively at me because I write these books, and don’t tell my fans and my peers that they are less deserving of respect because they like a certain genre.
Quite frankly, you can take that kind of elitist snobbery and shove it up your ass.
I’m a romance writer.
I’m a romance reader.
And neither of those sentences should make me “less” than someone who reads and writes mainstream literature.