I have largely stayed silent on the Robert Gottlieb piece (Seriously?! Robert Gottlieb?!) because I’m tired ya’ll. I mean how many ways can Little Miss Crabby Pants provide commentary on the latest “hot take” du jour written by writers who have done, like, zero research on the genre or its history. All these hot takes say the exact same thing in the exact same tired cliched manner. Oh there’s sex! *titter titter hee hee* Oh women really like to read this trash! *titter titter hee hee* Although you have to hand it to Gottlieb. He reached into the void and was not only condescending and snide but managed to throw in some racism with a side of fries.
“Oh, yes — Zoe and Carver are African-Americans, though except for some scattered references to racial matters, you’d never know it. (Well, you would from the cover.)”Translation: Don’t worry white people! It’s OK for you to read Deadly Rumors by Cheris Hodges because you’ll never know it’s about black people!
I just…seriously? Racism is deeply embedded in this country’s fabric. It’s an open festering wound that can’t scab over. But the New York Times actually let that sentence fly out into the world. Think on that for a minute the next time your friends and family thump their chest over taking a knee and the NFL’s brand of faux patriotism.
Anyway, others stepped in to throw some shade on the Gottlieb piece, I resorted to my best side eye, and called it a day. I'm so old and frankly expect this sort of thing with the regularity of the sun rising that I couldn't muster up any fresh outrage.
That is until the the New York Times decided to double down and managed to make the whole mess that much worse.
Radhika Jones, editorial director of the New York Times Books section, decided to write a response that basically encompasses a “Oh well we tried!” excuse and proceeds to school upset romance fans on what “criticism” is because we’ve obviously addled our brains by reading too much tripe to understand the concept.
No, Ms. Jones, as shocking as this may be to understand, romance fans do know and understand what criticism is. More importantly we also know what condescension and respect are. Gottlieb’s piece had a heaping helping of the first and none of the latter. Romance readers, bless our hearts, can smell snide like a fart in a car. I don’t think anybody has a problem with Gottlieb writing a piece for the New York Times on romance. What we do have a problem with is his utter lack of respect for the genre and the staggering racism that flew right past your editorial desk.
You know what romance readers want? What we really want? Fair treatment. I think many of us can agree that the late Roger Ebert was a talented and notable film critic. He loved some movies and he hated others. But never, during his entire career, in all my years of reading his work or watching him on TV, did I feel that Robert Ebert didn’t respect film. He greatly respected film. What I felt when I read that Gottlieb piece? He doesn’t respect romance. The genre, the books, the authors, the readers. That’s what we got our panties in a twist over. Not that Gottlieb isn’t a “fan.” It’s the disdain in that article. Like he lost a bet or dropped his pants during office happy hour one Friday evening and you assigned him this piece as punishment.
Romance readers are smarter than anybody ever gives them credit for. We know what criticism is. We don’t need you to school us on it. We understand that there are good books and bad books. We can talk about them intelligently, the authorial choices made, the “why” something works or doesn’t. Some of us are even nerds about genre history. We can speak to you eloquently about the bodice ripper era, the history of Harlequin, and the rise of erotic romance as a sub genre. We understand that you don’t have to like, hate, agree or disagree to write intelligently on a subject. We. Get. That. We don’t need you to educate those you perceive as the poor unwashed masses.
Look, romance readers are tired. Romance writers are tired. Librarians who are champions of the genre have been exhausted for at least the last 40 years. We get bombarded with pieces like Gottlieb’s on a regular basis (Lord save us from editors looking to fill column space in February!) but then you went, double downed, and made it worse. Look, this isn’t that hard. You cannot like romance, just as I cannot like science fiction or high fantasy. But some respect would nice, and frankly – that’s not too much to ask.
The truth of the matter is that romance doesn’t need the New York Times to write about us. We never have. We have flourished as a genre for decades while you’ve turned up your nose and looked the other way. And you know what? You do you. But honestly I think I speak for romance readers everywhere when I say that you simply ignoring us is preferable to the original piece and your response. Do it right or don’t do it at all.