Over the years, I’ve read in different genres, loving every minute of it. Sometimes people expect someone like me with advanced degrees in Literature and Library Science to be more erudite. Not so much anymore. I love genre fiction because it’s a good, fun read. Sometimes it’s beautiful, challenging, scary, and heart-breaking. There are unexpected gems in all the genres. In my checkered reading past, I’ve read science fiction, fantasy, historical novels, romance novels, and mysteries. Sometimes I read one exclusively and sometimes I read a smattering of all of them. Sometimes I read two or three genres at once. No loyalty whatsoever except to a good story, fantastic characters, good writing, and a surprise here and there.
A few years ago, a professor on the college’s writing committee discovered I had published a couple of books and asked me about them, thinking she could invite me to do a committee sponsored writing program. When I revealed that I write non-fiction about Wicca, Witchcraft, Tarot, and shamanism, she recoiled. Yes, just like in the books. In telling the story, I call it a “back the witch up” moment. Later on at a committee meeting, I and another member mentioned that we knew a couple of published writers. When we said they wrote romances and paranormal romances, this professor wailed (she really did!), “Doesn’t anyone know a mystery writer!”
Oh yeah, I thought, the acceptable genre. And that’s it. People judge you about what you read. Of course they judge you all the time. It’s time to get over it; time to stop letting judgy people get the upper hand in your life. Back in the day, when I commuted to work on a bus I always chose my reading material carefully. Fantasy and science fiction made me feel smarter and cooler so I read those. Romance novels I left at home. I believed (and I’ve learned I’m not alone) that people saw me as a lovelorn spinster who could only find love in the pages of a book. Maybe they did and would. Shows how much anyone knows about anyone.
A friend turned me on to a terrifically fun and thoughtful blog, a romp through the delights and foibles of romance novels, or Romancelandia, as they call it. Smart Bitches and Trashy Novels is as much fun as reading the novel, sometimes more. It’s snarky, bitchy, loving and honest look at books, movies, and other not-book things. The blog supports a community of enthusiastic and knowledgeable readers. It’s a joy and delight to read, even if I don’t read the books.
In 2009, these Bitches wrote a book and I just read it and loved it to death. Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels (Simon and Schuster, 2009) is still in print and available in libraries near you. It is a celebration of the books, the evolution of the romance novel, and a great analysis of typical plots and devices. It’s all lovingly and exuberantly presented in a highly readable text. There is laugh out loud moments and some very smart insights.
The majority of readers are women, the majority of book buyers are women, and the largest area of publishing are romances. And yet, as the authors Wendell and Tan point out, the writers and publishers in this genre act like they are a discriminated minority. You can see it in book reviews on goodreads. Romance writers rarely criticize another writer; and romance writers read voraciously! I thought it was very interesting.
I know I’m a very easy grader when it comes to goodreads. That’s usually because I like everything I read to the finish. If I can’t stand something, I rarely read it till the end. Life is too short to drink bad tea and read books you don’t like. I read this book to the finish and smiled and guffawed to the end. Not only is this written with wit, affection, and style, Beyond Heaving Bosoms is a cogent and understanding analysis of the romance novels and the genre’s readers.