Romance Readers and Reviewers Are More Than the Sum of Their Parts.
Anybody remember the woman dubbed Miss Lonely Heart in the Alfred Hitchcock uber-classic, Rear Window? I’m thinking of the scene where she dresses up, paints her face, sets the table, pours a glass of wine for an imaginary beau, even carries on an imaginary conversation before she bursts into tears and collapses over the table. I’m guessing that Miss Lonely Heart fits the public perception of a woman who reads romance – alone, isolated, depressed, even suicidal without love and companionship. Therefore she’s a sucker for a bodice ripper. To quote Marlon Brando (Stanley Kowalski is memorable even if he’s not a particularly admirable character) in A Streetcar Named Desire: “And do you know what I say? Ha! Ha! Do you hear me? Ha! Ha! Ha!”
For your reading pleasure, in their own words, I bring you intelligent women who not only like to read romance and it’s various sub-genres, they like to discuss it.
Jessica Tripler, of Read React Review – “I’m a philosophy professor who discovered romance novels in 2007. I was on vacation, shortly after earning tenure, and I realized I actually had time to read a novel. For fun. So I ran into a drugstore in Orlando, Florida and grabbed the first book that looked interesting. It was J.R. Ward’s Lover Revealed, Butch’s story. I could not put it down, so of course, I had to read the other books in the series. Then I moved on to Christine Feehan and Sherrilyn Kenyon. Then to historical romance, and then contemporary, and then erotic romance, and finally m/m.
“I teach feminist theory, and my view of these books and their readers was heavily influenced by feminist critiques of the 1970s which held that there is basically one romance novel being written over and over, and that the women who read them are alienated from their true self-interest by the capitalist patriarchy. I learned pretty quickly that the romance genre is very very diverse and constantly changing and evolving. I have come to have tremendous respect for romance writers, and I believe their work is unfairly marginalized, both because they are women and because they write about romantic love. I’m proud to be a member of the romance community, a complex community of varying ages, races, socioeconomic status, genders, sexual orientations, and educational levels. Ironically, the romance community is way more diverse and inclusive than any feminist philosophy conference I have ever attended.
“In the space of three years, I went from being pretty secretive about my romance reading to having a blog, and including romance novels in the courses I teach. Far from thinking romance novels are in tension with my feminist commitments, I now think reading and talking about them is part of my commitment. Although I have moved into reviewing, researching and teaching romance, just plain reading them is my favorite thing to do. I am finding new authors and books I love practically every day. It’s the best hobby I’ve ever had!”
Susi, who blogs on both The Geeky Bookworm and Book Lovers, Inc., is a post graduate student in engineering. She lives in Germany. “Yes, I love the romance genre with all my heart, but unfortunately loving romance doesn’t pay the bills so I have an actual life outside of the romance blogland. I’m studying Civil Engineering at the University for Applied Science in Magdeburg, Germany. At the moment, I’m completing my internship semester, spending most of my time planning the construction of roads and sewers and calculating the enormous costs for the actual construction of those. I love this work and I’m one hundred percent certain I will love this job later – actually creating something that will help the community. Building something that will stand for years is a really heady feeling. Yes, I admit it, I’m a geek and I’m really good with numbers and with physics in general. I can talk about a physics problem with my boyfriend for hours and yes, we talk about this stuff at family parties. In a year I will be done with the University and hopefully I’ll find my own way and perhaps start my own little company, but romance will remain my first love – it has all the emotion my real life job is missing so it’s a great balance to the numbers and figures I must focus on.”
Stephanie, who blogs and reviews on her creative site, Fangs, Wands and Fairy Dust, is another academic with a yard-long resume. She’s also an artist and she is deeply involved in charitable organizations. Her primary focus is Paranormal Romance, but her tastes are quite eclectic so you can find a variety of genres reviewed on her site. “I approach blogging about romance as a business. I love it, so it may be the one thing I do that never feels like a job. Volunteering has lately eclipsed painting as I am the first dedicated website administrator for the Junior League. Once I’ve gotten that website under control, I plan to start another blog and resume painting.
“I would like to leave a mark on the world through my volunteer work. Every child we help, every family we feed – that is how I will make a difference in this world. I’m also involved in preserving history. Understanding our past provides us with a way to understand our present. I’m involved with The Tate House Museum. If one person makes an informed decision because of the program I worked on, I will have achieved one of my goals.” (Does Stephanie fit the profile of Miss Lonely Heart? Nah…I don’t think so!)
Penelope of Penelope Loves to Read is one more academic. She labels herself a big science nerd. Her resume includes an article in The Journal of Marine Biology – Nitrate Reductase Activity in Zosteria Marina, and a chapter in a textbook, Integrated Pest Management for Turfgrass and Ornamentals, entitled Fate of Pesticides in the Turfgrass Environment. “My undergraduate degree, from Vassar College, is in biology. I concentrated on botany and ecology. My masters degree, from Cornell, is in horticultural science and plant taxonomy. My research at Cornell focused on the fate of turf-applied pesticides in the environment. I have had lots of cool plant-centric jobs, including volunteer jobs at the Shaker Museum in Enfield, New Hampshire – also working on the organic gardens there – as well as recently working at the Margaret Ferguson Greenhouses at Wellesley College, helping with their education program.
“I taught physical science and biology to middle schoolers and coached field hockey, basketball and lacrosse for many years too. I never even read a romance novel until I was in my thirties. Then I became obsessed with reading them, writing them, and reviewing them. I guess I have an obsessive personality!”
TJ at Dreams and Speculation rounds out the guest list. I can personally attest to the fact that she is a pragmatic and plain spoken young woman with an enormous hunger for speculative fiction and sub-genres of romance. “First and foremost, I’m a passionate student. I study English with a minor in history at a University of California campus, and I’ll be in law school next fall. I’m also a blogger who spouts my opinions about speculative fiction over at my blog, Dreams and Speculation. I’m a lot of things – I’m a wife, I was a soldier in the army. By nature or experience, I’ve become a very straight-forward person dedicated to my own individual path.
“Frankly, when I’m reading fiction, I want to read stories that remember there’s no one way of living or thinking. I guess that makes me a picky reader. In fact, I think if any of my friends saw my name on a list of fans of romance, they’d probably scoff or laugh. I can understand the reaction because I am such a picky reader. Most of the time my reading generally falls under the Speculative Fiction umbrella – science fiction, fantasy, horror, graphic novels, so my encounters with romance fall under one of those genres. For example, I read fantasy/romance, Ann Aguirre’s Sirantha Jax series or Connie Willis’ To Say Nothing of the Dog, or the odd paranormal romance – Marta Acosta’s Happy Hour at Casa Dracula. Any one of those stories has kept me enthralled and impressed me so incredibly that they’ve received some of the highest ratings at my blog. However, for every book I’ve rated highly, there have been others I’ve whined and complained about, and, well, that’s why my friends would laugh at me for being called a fan of romance.
“But I don’t think that tells the full story. After all, I haven’t read To Say Nothing of the Dog in about a year and I can still quote the most romantic line in the book: “And he kissed her for a hundred and sixty-nine years.” Very few protagonists rouse the affection and admiration I have for Graceling‘s Katsa or her lover, Po (Kristin Cashore).
“Then what is it that makes me, an admittedly picky reader, have such strong reactions? Well, I don’t want to read a romance that has no basis whatsoever in reality. I do not want the same old fairy tales or happy endings. Personally I want to read stories where the hero and heroine feel real, no matter how fantastic the setting. I’m particularly enamored of female protagonists who don’t just follow the social commandment that says your life goal is to fall in love and make babies. That’s not fair to women because it’s not what every one of us wants. I could go on and on about romance because it’s the genre I’ve grappled with most – both for good and bad. In the end, I may be a critic of how romance is often portrayed, but it’s lovingly done because I know how powerful the genre can be.”