Janet over at Dear Author weighs in on the Romance Is Never Reviewed Seriously debate. The death of book review sections in many of the nation's newspapers has been hotly debated for months now. I can't believe I'm the only one surprised by this turn of events, but apparently, I am. Who knew?
Newspapers killed the book review section by ignoring the main reason why people want to read - the entertainment factor. I'm not sure how it is in other countries, but here in the U.S., we seemed determined to squash all the fun out of reading. Here's a newsflash folks - people aren't reading like they used to because it's been drilled into their heads that they should only read to "learn something." That fiction with any sort of "fun factor" isn't legitimate. So instead of going to their doctor to get a prescription for Prozac, they stop reading. Period.
I'm not saying that serious lit-ra-ture doesn't have it's place. It does. But it's not the end all be all. Hey, I like to watch serious costume dramas - but I also like action movies. Both worlds can coexist - but to look at the newspaper book coverage they obviously don't think so. This sort of nonsense trickles down until we're eventually stuck with librarians who turn their nose up at genre (OK, romance) fiction. It bothers me. A lot. Then I'm stuck sharing my profession with librarians that I have fantasies about strangling (OK, not really - but I'm easily frustrated).
That said, I don't see a future where romance is widely respected. While mystery has gained some ground, even that genre still gets some sneers. Genre fiction by it's very nature is suspect. That somehow the authors are merely stringing words together and filling out a paint-by-numbers template. Personally I've felt this opinion among the literary "elite" boils down to one thing. Money. People like to read "fun" books and "fun" books make money. What would you rather read - a doom and gloom book where everybody commits suicide at the end, or a thrilling murder mystery where the protagonist saves the day? Yeah, me too. In fact, I think most people would.
I can't be bothered with "respect" for genre fiction, but I can understand how frustrating it is for the authors. They work hard. And to have that hard work sneered at, to have people say, "When are you going to write a real book?" - well it's frustrating as all hell. I get that. But as a reader - I personally can't be bothered. I've taken to telling people to "get bent" - which is probably wrong of me, but I lost my sense of humor on this subject about 10 years ago.
But even if the New York Times decided to put on latex gloves and a surgical mask to avoid The Love Cooties and started reviewing romance - I'm not entirely sure the genre is ready for it. Half the fun of romance (and I'm talking good romance novels here) is that it's subversive. The heroine gets the guy, gets the life, wins in the end. The feminist in me loves this. When romance is bad - well I look longingly at the bleach I keep in my laundry room and think about mixing a cocktail. Which leads us to the question - how do readers find a good romance?
Online. They talk to other readers, read online reviews, visit blogs - all of which are vibrant, exciting and probably wouldn't exist if the New York Times and others weren't so dang snobby. So if you think about it - we should probably be thanking them. I honestly believe the online romance community wouldn't be flourishing if we weren't sneered at and treated like something the literary world stepped in.
Ultimately in order for romance to be taken seriously a lot of change has to take place. Publishers need to scale back on their production schedule, the copy editing needs to improve (although honestly, this isn't a huge issue for yours truly), and no more half-naked, greased up beef cake. I'm sorry, you can't take any book seriously if it's got Fabio leering out from the cover at you. But does romance want any of this to happen? My guess? Not really.
Romance readers have an insatiable appetite for the genre, so publishers are probably not anxious to scale back their production schedules. As for copy editing? Frankly it's bad all over - not just within the romance genre. This is more of a quality control issue and until readers start taking their complaints straight to the publisher(s), en masse, it ain't going to change. So start that letter writing campaign now Punctuation Police. And Fabio and his harem of wannabes? Do the books sell because of the covers or in spite of them? Probably no way to answer that question, and I'm sure publishers (OK, men who work in publishing) think the books sell because of them. Plus for every reader who hates the Fabio-clinch covers there is another reader who loves them. I think we're stuck with him, for good or ill.
Do I see a solution to this debate? Not really. Mainstream, literary criticism and reviews are never going to welcome romance into the fold. Accepting some mystery was a huge step for them, and I think they're still experiencing a case of the vapors over it. I'm a pessimist by nature, and one could deduce from the post that I'm "part of the problem." That as a librarian I should be fighting the good fight and banging on doors. I am - just on a smaller scale. I know how much power I have (the answer = not a whole lot), so I'm stuck trying to change my little corner of the world. Which is how most change happens regardless of the topic.
Instead of knocking on the door of the New York Times and banging our head against the wall - romance should find a way to open up serious debate and criticism within it's own walls. We should make our own New York Times. Will it ever happen? It kind of already has. Just look around online.
But ultimately the real question is do romance readers and authors want serious criticism? Do they want The Debate? My guess? No. The genre is too "fun" and that's why a good many readers read romance. Criticism and debate is not (nor will it ever be) "fun." Which begs the question - why are we even concerned about the New York Times and other newspapers reviewing the genre when it's not really what we want to begin with?