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Saturday Book Discussion: Genre spotlight: Romance






Where do all those Scottish lords find the gym equipment they need for those physiques? Or hair mousse?


Note: Some of you have asked me where I come up with my topics and how long it takes to write them. It depends. There are some that I work on for a while prior to the day I post them. But since I'm essentially a lazy person who always started writing my college papers the night before they were due, most Saturdays I am wracking my brain trying to decide what to write about as I eat breakfast.

Thus I have concluded I need some quick'n'easy topics to fill a Saturday with when I haven't any better ideas or much time, like today. Hence, let's talk about a genre I never read. According that SBD's poll, 4.6% of you read romance regularly (scoring just ahead of horror, but well behind most other genres).

Now, while you and I may not read much romance, according to the Romance Writers of America, romance earns the lion's share of publishing revenues. I have been told by many bookstore owners that romance is what pays the rent so the rest of us can sneer at the flowery red and white covers on our way to the SF&F aisles.




I don't even.... "Moon Flower" and... there's a panda and... what?


Now, "romance" does not, strictly speaking, have to mean what we think of as the modern romance genre which is mostly highly formulaic fiction written under pseudonyms by middle-aged librarians. Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights are often labeled romances. (I disagree, except maybe about Jane Eyre, but that's a matter of semantics.) Gone With the Wind is definitely a romantic epic, but it's about a lot more than Scarlett and Rhett's love story. Also, interestingly, Pride & Prejudice and Jane Eyre would qualify as "romances" under current publishing definitions, but Wuthering Heights and Gone With the Wind would not. Why?

The HEA



I was actually surprised to learn that there is a rigid requirement for a book to be considered a "romance" novel today: it must end in a Happily Ever After. Sometimes you can get away with being "edgy" and end it with a "HFN" - Happy For Now. But if you dare to end a novel without the hero and heroine being together, your book is emphatically not a romance. It may be a "love story," but not a romance.

In other words, romance purists want to be absolutely sure they know the ending before they even start reading. I have to admit, this is one of the reasons I have a hard time respecting romance as a genre. As well-written as some of those books may be, the point of a book for me is to engage and interest me, and I can't be engaged and interested by predictable comfort reading where I've already been promised a predetermined outcome.

This ironclad HEA contract between romance authors and readers is why Nicholas Sparks is absolutely not a romance writer.

Romance => Paranormal Romance => YA



Romance is steadily taking over other genres. The "PNR" or "Paranormal Romance" genre now makes up a significant percentage of fantasy sales. Twilight wasn't the first, nor were Anne Rice and Laurell K. Hamilton, but they certainly helped establish the formulas that now produce most of the carbon copy imitations series about Moon-Called-Wolf-Woman-of-the-Fae and her Magical Boyfriend. PNR, in turn, is bleeding into the "Young Adult" genre, to the extent that increasingly, "YA" means "Magical Boyfriend book."

Would you read it?




Hitting the Brakes

... Nascar romance. Nascar romance!!!


My mother reads romances. She calls them "bubble gum fiction" and freely admits that they require absolutely no thought to read and are forgettable the moment you put them down. I think to her they are kind of like playing Minesweeper - something to do when you want to keep a few neurons firing in your brain but you don't actually want to think.

I have read exactly one "romance" novel (i.e., labeled as romance, flowery cover with some body builder baring his chest in front of a lake, HEA, embarrassed to be seen with it in public). I can't remember anything about it except that it was boring. I remain convinced that 99% of all romances are formulaic boilerplate extruded word processor product. You never hear romance fans talking about "genre classics" or "core books" that everyone has read. There are favorite authors, there are subgenres, but each individual book is pretty much like the next.

But if you're a romance fan, stand up and speak for your genre. Are there any romance novels you truly believe qualify as good literature, worthy of being read independently of the "romance" label? Why do you like romances? Is it just wish-fulfillment, something to read with no attention required, or are there unexamined depths in this genre?



Poll #1819882 Romance

Do you read romance novels?

It's my favorite genre
0(0.0%)
Sometimes
25(35.2%)
Rarely
20(28.2%)
Never
26(36.6%)

What do you think of romance novels?

Formulaic crap.
23(32.4%)
Sturgeon's Law applies, but some romance is genuinely good fiction.
31(43.7%)
Mostly indistinguishable, but no worse than most genre fiction.
13(18.3%)
Romance is no different than any other kind of fiction.
4(5.6%)

If you are a romance fan, what one book or author would you give to a non-romance reader to convince them that romance can be worth reading?





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  • Waking Gods, by Sylvain Neuvel

    In the sequel to Sleeping Giants, Earth is invaded by giant robots. Del Rey, 2017, 336 pages As a child Rose Franklin made an…

  • Agent Running in the Field, by John le Carré

    Brexit and Trump take all the fun out of being a British spy. Viking, 2019, 282 pages Nat, a 47 year-old veteran of Britain’s Secret…

  • Starship's Mage

    Starship's Mage by Glynn Stewart This is the first volume of a series but works on its own. It's also a compilation of independent…