The following rant won’t be groundbreaking. I share the opinion of most thinking people I know on this topic, and many of them are stirred up about this today. But sometimes you have to speak up even when your voice is only one among the hordes.
At the hairdresser this morning, the woman in the chair next to me was reading a bestselling thriller, the sort that usually has a larger-than-life good-guy who will ultimately save the day against incredible odds. It’s the kind of book my dad chooses most often when he reads fiction. She was engrossed, and I was delighted, as I always am, to encounter someone else who carries a book around with her.
It didn’t occur to me for an instant to consider the possibility that by reading such a traditionally masculine book, she was eschewing all things feminine or that, perhaps, her choice of reading material meant she really longed to be involved in foiling a terrorist plot. Her book didn’t, and the ones my dad reads don’t, suggest to me that they don’t understand the line between fantasy and reality or that they don’t know a good read when they see it.
But for reasons best known only to themselves, some people continue to believe that women who read romance are lacking in critical faculties, don’t understand what’s real and what isn’t, or are, at heart, anti-feminists who long to be dominated by men. The latest of these of which I’m aware is Palash Ghosh, whose article in the International Business Times http://www.ibtimes.com/damsels-distress-why-do-so-many-contemporary-women-read-old-fashioned-romance-novels-1512548 is offensive on a whole bunch of levels. Go read it and come back, if you like. I’ll still be here.
If there’s nothing new in my post here, the same is certainly true of ol’ Palash’s article. The only surprise here is how woefully uninformed he is about the industry, citing surprise at how well these books sell: at one point he says, “I had thought that romance novels accounted for a very small fringe corner of the literary market – so I was quite surprised that this segment has such enormous popularity.”
The rest of the article is dreadful: disdainful, judgmental, snobbish, and filled with ridiculous attempts at armchair pop psychology.
He’s no easier on the writers than he is on the readers, claiming “These ‘romance’ stories are to literature what hot dogs are to cuisine — quickly made, tasty, filling, temporarily satisfying, but with no nutritional value whatsoever.” Strong words coming from a guy who has clearly never actually read a romance novel. There are so many things wrong with this statement I could write pages on it. I’ll refrain. Even if I am tempted to point out, for example, how some of the best writing teachers I know are romance writers, because they have to work their butts off to create good, original, well-told, engaging stories that keep readers wondering how the happy ending they expect can possibly arrive. No mean feat, that.
What I will do is attempt to answer this question Palash posed in the article: “But I must wonder why so many women – forty years after the women’s liberation movement, Roe vs. Wade and the pill have transformed the lives of women in the most dramatic of ways – continue to indulge in the fanciful tales of females so unlike them who live in fantasy worlds light years removed from their reality?”
People read “fanciful tales of [people] so unlike them who live in fantasy worlds light years removed from their own reality” because that is WHAT FICTION IS. Books about people who live in worlds different than our own. Or books about people like us in different circumstances or people whose stories excite us or make us laugh or make us cry or take us to a different place or make us think or touch us or let us ignore the stresses of our own lives for a few hours or remind us of the good in the world or scare the pants off us or let us dream or or or…. As Jim C. Hines says, “stories matter.” It doesn’t matter what kind of story.
For once and for all, could we please agree that reading is good, and that reading romance novels is no different from, no better or worse than, reading thrillers or mystery or science fiction or literary fiction or any other kind of book in the known universe? Read what you like and don’t judge others for doing the same. Seems pretty simple. Why do Palash and people like him find it so difficult, especially when the readers are women? Enough, already.