On Safari: Old Posts for New Readers

I’m heading to South Africa with the family and putting this blog on hiatus — more or less (The surest way for me not to do something on this blog is to promise to do it) — for a few weeks.

In the meantime, if you’re new here, please have a look around. I started Racy Romance Reviews in August 2008. You can find out what this blog is all about here.

If you like what you see, consider subscribing to this blog’s feed.

My journey as a romance reader, beginning in 2007 (The post is called “Why I read romance now”).

The following are this blog’s most read posts and pages:

Top Posts and Pages
1. Top 9 Most Romantic Love Scenes in Romance
2. Reviews A-Z
3. Polyamory, Menage, Erotic Romance, and Culture
4. What (Not) To Do Wednesday: Love, Actually
5. Top 10 Signs You Are Reading Too Much Historical Romance
6. Do Author Comments Have a Chilling Effect on Review Discussions?
7. Review: Definitely Dead, by Charlaine Harris
8. Top 10 Lies of the Romance Novel Hero and Heroine
9. A Rape by Any Other Name
10. Top 11 Signs You Need to Lay Off the Highlands Romance

A few older posts:

Is a Book Review Just One Person’s Opinion?

Come For Me, Baby: Orgasm on Command

The Procrastinator”s Guide to Grading at Home

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger: Alpha Heroes as Nietzschean Supermen

Audiobooks: Reading, or Cheating?

See you in January.

Happy New Year!

Monday Morning Stepback: Books, Blogs, and Things I Loved in 2009

It’s time to say goodbye to 2009. Here are a few terrific things about the year that was:

Romance reading and blogging:
1. A super year for contemporaries: New or new-to-me authors like Julie James (esp. Practice Makes Perfect), Sarah Mayberry (esp. Anything For You), Janice Kay Johnson, Jill Shalvis, and Victoria Dahl, as well as new-to-me reads by old favorites, like Susan Elizabeth Phillips (Ain’t She Sweet?) and Jennifer Crusie (Manhunting).

2. Stand out historicals: Judith Ivory has become one of my favorite writers, and I enjoyed new books by Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran, and new-to-me authors like Jennifer Ashley and Jo Goodman and Jo Beverley.

3. Paranormal in 2009 was more of a mixed bag. But gems included Meljean Brook’s Demon Forged — the strongest ongoing paranormal romance series bar none, Kelley Armstrong’s Bitten, and the continued excellence of Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series, with the phenomenal 9th installment, Dead and Gone.

4. My reading horizons were broadened: I read black and African American romance/women’s fic (I especially liked Dorothy Koomson’s My Best Friend’s Girl), m/m romance (I especially enjoyed Sean Kennedy’s Tigers and Devils), young adult (Rachelle Mead’s Vampire Academy) and fantasy with strong romantic elements (Lois McMaster Bujold’s The Sharing Knife).

5. I got over my hatred of male audiobook narrators thanks to finding a good one for Judith Ivory’s The Proposition.

6. The Winsor Lists — a lark that ended up engaging dozens of bloggers and readers alike. For one day, I got to call myself a community builder. Just so fun.

7. Blogging with family: my husband about Not Quite a Husband, my son about Here Be Monsters! and my Mom about Outlander.

8. One of my favorite bloggers, and a role model for me in blogging, Tumperkin of Isn’t It Romance? agreeing to join me occasionally for joint reviews or one of her trademark thoughtful meditations. Our post on Excruciating Moments is one of this blog’s most read posts.

9. New or new-to-me blogs like AnimeJune’s, Sarah Tanner’s, and MagdalenB’s.

10. Continued excellence, experience, and straight talk (which I always appreciate, even if I disagree) from established bloggers like Kristie, SuperWendy, Karen Scott and Azteclady, Keishon, Nicola, Katiebabs, Christine, Jill, Holly and co, Sybil and co, Kenda, and Jane L and co. I’ve learned something about the romance genre or business from every one of you this year. (And you have each made me tear my hair out at least once).

11. Just plain fun (as well as great reviews/insights) from Ana and Thea and Carolyn Jean. I love watching the Book Smugglers take over the world, and I cannot wait for CJ’s triumphant debut as a published author in 2010.

12. Academics in Romance: Laura Vivanco of Teach Me Tonight, such a great blogger and commenter here and everywhere she goes on line, the IASPR crew, and attending the PCA conference. Can’t wait to see Sarah, Eric, and the gang again in 2010 (and will miss Laura once again).

13. I averaged 4 posts per week, for a total of 192 in 2009, the blog readership is growing, and I still love blogging to pieces.

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Home life:

1. English Shepherd Pups. When our 13 year old border collie mix passed away in 2008, I couldn’t imagine a different dog in my house. A year later, I can’t imagine life without Wellie and Kitchie (Wellington and Kitchener). They are worthy successors to The Greatest Dog Who Ever Lived.

2. Kindle 2.0. Putting aside the issues with DRM and lack of folders, this is a terrific product. I can instantly download tons of books for the best prices, and sometimes even free. Easy to use, durable, and decent for tweeting or surfing when away from my laptop. I no longer read paper books unless I have to.  I love love love it.

PS. And for everyone who told me to “wait to buy an ereader”, my reply is: I’ve had 10 fantastic months of reading with my Kindle 2.0 and haven’t seen a product that is better yet.  I’m very glad I did not take that advice.

3. Slanket. So warm. So soft. So worth the hit to my self-image. And SO superior to a Snuggie (and the views of people in California or Texas or South Carolina who whine when the temp dips below 50 degrees F do not count.)

4. iTouch. I’m not sure what I did before I had the iTouch calendar or the ability to surf the web (and narrowly miss crashing into innocent students and trees) as I walk from building to building on campus. I don’t do much fiction reading on it —  it strains my eyes — but it will do in a pinch. Love it.

5. Quality Gin. We ended up at a party this summer where gin flights were served, and my eyes have been opened to the inferiority that was the Tanqueray I used to drink. Hendricks (small batch Scottish gin infused with cucumber and rose petals), Citadelle (with 18 botanicals including juniper — best w/tonic), and even new-to-me types of gin, like Plymouth Dry, Old Tom, and Holland gin. I’ve been inebriated for 6 straight months. (kidding!)

6. Netflix Download Play. Convenient. Awesome. And now we have a TV we can connect the laptop to.

7. Lancome Cils Booster XL — super-enhancing mascara base. Pure vanity, but I am delighted that I’ve finally defeated my short skimpy lashes.

There was lots of good work stuff, but mentioning that would be the worst combo ever of bragging and boring. I will say that teaching Gaffney’s To Have and To Hold in my ethics and fiction class was a very challenging experience that helped me grow as a teacher. I can’t wait to teach another one.

I’m teaching an undergrad feminist philosophy course in the spring. Who knows … maybe I’ll manage to get a Harlequin Presents on the syllabus.

Happy New Year!!!

In My Feed Reader: The 164 Blogs To Which I Subscribe

No, I don’t read every post, and yes, I hit “mark all as read” on a regular basis. Doubting others will be interested, but this is just to give me a saved snapshot of what I was reading online at the end of 2009.

Suggestions always welcome…

AAR After Hours

http://www.likesbooks.com/aarafterhours/?feed=rss2

AccessRomance

All A-Blog http://www.accessromance.com/blog/feed/

AccessRomance – Readers Gab

http://accessromance.com/gab/feed/

Alison Kent’s Blah Blog

http://www.alisonkent.com/blog/feed

All About Romance’s News & Commentary Blog

http://www.likesbooks.com/blog/?feed=rss2

All I want and more…

http://alliwantandmore.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Alpha Heroes

http://feeds.feedburner.com/AlphaHeroes

Angieville

http://angieville.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Ann Somerville’s Journal

http://annsomerville.logophilos.net/?feed=rss2

Ann Somerville’s Journal

Anna’s Book Blog

http://annavivian.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Ariachne’s broken woof: Sarah Annes Brown’s weblog

http://www.adjb.net/sab/rss.php

avidbookreader

http://avidbookreader.com/feed/

BABBLING ABOUT BOOKS, AND MORE!

http://kbgbabbles.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Bev’s Books

http://feeds.feedburner.com/BevsBooks

Bitten by Books

http://bittenbybooks.com/?feed=rss2

Book Binge

http://thebookbinge.com/feeds/posts/default

Book Bound

http://b00kbound.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

BOOK JUNKIE

http://myfoolishwisdom.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Book Thingo

http://feeds.feedburner.com/bookthingo

BookEnds, LLC — A Literary Agency

http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Books on The Knob

http://booksontheknob.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Books, Books and more Books

http://natuschan.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Booksquare

http://feeds.feedburner.com/booksquare

Breezing Through

http://breezingthroughbooks.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Caffey’s Reads

http://caffeys-reads.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Cheeky Reads

http://feeds.feedburner.com/CheekyReads

ClitLit – Women, Romance Fiction and Patriarchal Discourse

http://clitlit.wordpress.com/feed/

Clockwork Storybook

http://clockworkstorybook.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

closetwriter

http://lea-closetwriter.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Confessions of a Bibliophile

http://feeds.feedburner.com/bookconfessions

Conversational Reading

http://www.conversationalreading.com/atom.xml

Courtney Milan’s Blog

http://www.courtneymilan.com/ramblings/feed/

Cubie’s Confections

http://cubiesconfections.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Deadline Dames

http://www.deadlinedames.com/?feed=rss2

Dear Author

http://dearauthor.com/wordpress/feed/

Den of the Ogress

http://mrsgiggles00.livejournal.com/data/rss

DIK (Desert Island Keepers)

http://dikladiesrule.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Dirty Sexy Books

http://www.dirtysexybooks.com/Dirty_Sexy_Books/Home/rss.xml

Editorial Ass

http://editorialass.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Enduring Romance Kimber An

http://enduringromance.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

EROTIC HORIZON

http://erotichorizon.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Even Redheads Get the Blues

http://blue-succubus.livejournal.com/data/rss

Experimental Philosophy

http://experimentalphilosophy.typepad.com/experimental_philosophy/atom.xml

Fangs, Fur, & Fey

http://community.livejournal.com/fangs_fur_fey/data/rss

FANTASTIC BOOK REVIEW

http://fantasticbookreview.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Fantasy Cafe

http://feeds.feedburner.com/blogspot/fantasycafe

Fantasy Dreamer’s Ramblings

http://fantasydreamersramblings.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Feminist Philosophers

http://feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/feed/

Feministe

http://www.feministe.us/blog/feed/

Fiction Vixen

http://www.fictionvixen.com/feeds/posts/default

Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog

http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/feed/

Five Borough Book Review

http://feeds.feedburner.com/FiveBoroughBookReview

Google Alerts – “Racy Romance Reviews”

http://www.google.com/reader/public/atom/user/15730110078375390203/state/com.google/alerts/8123353416411186952

Gossamer Obsessions

http://gossamerobsessions.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Happily Forever After

http://booklover125.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Heather’s Reading Romance

http://heathersreadingromance.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

I Blame The Patriarchy

http://blog.iblamethepatriarchy.com/feed/

I Just Finished Reading…

http://donttalkjustread.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Isn’t it Romance?

http://tumperkin.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

J. Kaye’s Book Blog

http://j-kaye-book-blog.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Janet Reid, Literary Agent

http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Janicu’s Book Blog

http://janicu.wordpress.com/feed/

Just Janga

http://justjanga.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Karen Knows Best

http://karenknowsbest.com/feed/

Katidom

http://www.katidom.com/feeds/posts/default

kindlevixen.com

http://www.kindlevixen.com/feed

Kiss and Tell

http://kissandtellgirls.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Kiss Me Goodnight

http://katie-mack.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Knowledge and Experience

http://knowledgeandexperience.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Lauren’s Crammed Bookshelf

http://laurenscrammedbookshelf.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog

http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/atom.xml

Leontine’s Book Realm

http://leontine1976.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Love Romance Passion

http://feeds.feedburner.com/ReviewRomanceNovel

Lovin’ Me Some Romance

http://lovinmesomeromance.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Lurv a la Mode

http://feeds.feedburner.com/LurvLaMode

Mark Athitakis’ American Fiction Notes

http://americanfiction.wordpress.com/feed/

Me and My Books

http://bookdaze.wordpress.com/feed/

Monkey Bear Reviews

http://www.monkeybearreviews.com/feed/

Moonlight To Twilight Blog

http://moonlighttotwilightblog.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

My Blog 2.0

http://myblog2point0.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Nalini Singh’s Weblog

http://nalinisingh.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Nathan Bransford – Literary Agent

http://nathanbransford.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Naughty and Spice Blog

http://www.naughty-and-spice.com/feed/

Nocturnal Wonderings

http://cindyl.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Nose In A Book

http://lisabea.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Odd Shots

http://www.theoddshots.com/feed/

OnFiction

http://feeds.feedburner.com/onfiction

Pansy Poetics

http://pansypoetics.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Philosophers Anonymous

http://philosophersanon.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Phyl’s quilts & books

http://phylsquiltsbooks.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Plot Monkeys

http://www.plotmonkeys.com/feed/

Promantica

: http://www.promantica.com/feeds/posts/default

Pub Rants

http://feeds.feedburner.com/PubRants

Ramblings on Romance Etcetera, Etcetera

http://kristiej.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Rape and Adverbs

http://rapeandadverbs.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Read for Pleasure

http://feeds.feedburner.com/readforpleasure

Reading (mostly) romance books down under – Book Thingo

http://bookthingo.com.au/feed/

ReadingAdventures: Let’s Celebrate Book Bloggers!

http://readingadventures.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Realms on our Bookshelves ENG – Index

http://www.realmsonourbookshelves.com/ROOB_English/index.php?type=rss;action=.xml

Redlines and Deadlines

http://redlinesanddeadlines.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Renee’s Book Addiction

http://reneesbookaddiction.wordpress.com/feed/

Renée Reads Romance

http://reneereads.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

ripmybodice.com

http://www.ripmybodice.com/feed/

Risky Regencies

http://riskyregencies.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Romance Bandits

http://romancebandits.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Romance Book Wyrm

http://romancebookwyrm.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Romance University

http://romanceuniversity.org/feed/

Romance Writer’s Revenge

http://romancewritersrevenge.com/feed/

Romance: B(u)y the Book

http://romancebytheblog.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Romancing the Blog | Romance Authors and Readers Who Blog

http://www.romancingtheblog.com/blog/feed/

Romantic Reads

http://romanticreads.net/feed/

Rosario’s Reading Journal

http://rosario.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Royal Reviews

http://theroyalreviews.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

RR@H Novel Thoughts & Book Talk

http://novelthoughts.wordpress.com/feed/

Running With Quills

http://www.runningwithquills.com/atom.xml

Sapphire Romance Realm

http://sapphireromance.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Scooper Speaks

http://scooper.wordpress.com/feed/

Seductive Musings

http://seductivemusings.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Shaymless Aymless’s Thoughts on Books and Life

http://shaymlessaymless.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books

http://feeds.feedburner.com/smartbitchestrashybooks/wRgd

Smexy Books – paranormal romance and urban fantasy reviews

http://smexybooks.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

~ Stacy’s Place on Earth ~

http://trelainastarblazer.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Stumbling Over Chaos

http://feeds.feedburner.com/stumblingoverchaos/gSFR

Tartitude

http://cherrytart.wordpress.com/feed/

Teach Me Tonight

http://teachmetonight.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

THE BOOK BUTTERFLY

http://butterflybookreviews.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

The Book Smugglers

http://feeds.feedburner.com/TheBookSmugglers

The Eclectic Reader

http://teddyree-theeclecticreader.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

The F-Word Blog

http://www.thefword.org.uk/blog/feeds/atom.xml

The Geeky Bookworm

http://thegeekybookworm.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

The Goddess Blogs

http://thegoddessblogs.com/index.php/feed/

The Good, The Bad and The Unread

http://goodbadandunread.com/feed/

The happily ever after . . .

http://theromanticlife.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

The Knight Agency Blog

http://knightagency.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

the league of reluctant adults

http://reluctantadults.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

The Misadventures Of Super Librarian

http://wendythesuperlibrarian.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

The Naughty Bits

http://www.teddypig.com/feed/

The Philosophy Smoker

http://philosophysmoker.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

The Pursuit of Harpyness

http://www.harpyness.com/feed/

The Rejectionist

http://www.therejectionist.com/feeds/posts/default

The Romance Dish

http://www.theromancedish.com/feeds/posts/default

The Season Blog

http://historicalromancereleases.com/wordpress/feed/

The Sisterhood of the Jaunty Quills

http://jauntyquills.com/feed/

The Story Siren

http://www.thestorysiren.com/feeds/posts/default

The Swivet [Colleen Lindsay]

http://theswivet.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

The THRILLIONTH page

http://thethrillionthpage.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

The tyranny of reading

http://thetyrannyofreading.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

There’s No Such Thing As Too Many Books

http://nosuchthingas2manybooks.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Thrifty Reader

http://thriftyreader.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

(title unknown)

http://smokinhotbooks.com/blog/feed/

trueromance

http://bordersblog.com/trueromance/feed/

Vauxhall Vixens

http://vauxhallvixens.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Victoria Janssen

http://victoriajanssen.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Welcome to

http://loveromancesandmore.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Well Read

http://jenre-wellread.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

What Kate’s Reading

http://whatkatesreading.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

What Women Read

http://whatwomenread.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Witchy Chicks

http://witchychicks.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Womanist Musings

http://www.womanist-musings.com/feeds/posts/default

WriteMinded

http://www.writemindedblog.com/

DNF Smackdown: Grandma Racy v. Outlander

You know those success stories where romance novel readers convince their skeptical friends and family to try a romance, and they love it? This is not one of those.

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Grandma's Fridge

To my delight, my mother, who is a voracious reader of nonfiction and literary fiction, picked up a copy of Outlander a couple of months ago. She lives down the street, and whenever I visited, I would surreptitiously glance at the placement of the bookmark to see what progress she was making. At first, she seemed genuinely enthused and the bookmark moved steadily forward. After a few weeks, as the bookmark stalled, I started to doubt her protestations to the effect that “I’m reading it, really”.

Finally, I confronted her with the evidence: the bookmark had been at p. 233 for a month. She looked at me, took a deep breath, glanced at my husband (my husband! the traitor!) for moral support, and said “It’s awful honey. I can’t finish it.”

After I removed the dagger from my heart, I asked her to at least explain herself on this blog.

J: What motivated you to pick up Outlander?

GR: My younger daughter was very interested in the genre. I saw the Gabaldon books, and they looked interesting.

Mr. Racy: Cuz she was feeling a bit randy.
GR: Aye lad.

*Ten minute digression into faux Gabaldon speak.*

J: What do you usually read?

GR: I read everything. My area of abiding interest is Russian and English literature, but I am equally interested in exploration and maritime history. And I like poetry.

J: What are a few of your favorites?

GR: My favorite novel of all time is Anna Karenina. I also loved The Grapes of Wrath, which I first read about 25 years ago. It had a profound impact on me and opened my eyes to poverty.

J: What did you expect Outlander to be like when you started reading it.

GR: I thought it would be a good, fun read. I’m very interested in the Scots heritage and was looking forward to that.

J: And after the first few pages, what did you think?

GR: I was bothered by the constant stream of dialogue between Claire and Jamie, and the dialect that I thought was overused. It is a good tale, but there were elements in the way the book was constructed that prevented me from giving over to the story and the fantasy.

Mr. Racy: “Git yer haggis, right here… chopped heart and lungs… boiled in a real sheep’s stomach… tastes as good as it sounds! Good fer what ails ye, eh?”
GR: [gales of laughter]

J: [fuming] What else?

GR: Because I know something about that period in time, the fact that nothing really horrible happened to Claire after she went back in time, was too unbelievable. I also thought Clare’s assimilation was also unbelievable. No one would have had anything to lose by taking advantage of her sexually or otherwise. So why didn’t they? Surprisingly, I had no problem with the time travel. I thought the author handled that really well.

J: But how about that Jamie? Isn’t he-?

Mr. Racy: “Ah, ya silk-wearin’ buttercup…”
GR: Fegs!!

J: You guys, cut it OUT!

GR: He was a very typical hero. I thought, “Oh, here he is. Here’s the guy. He’s going to sweep her off her feet, save the day. The Scottish superman.” I mean, any normal guy would have been dead many times over.

J: So is it the fantasy elements that you didn’t enjoy?

GR: The number one reason I did not enjoy the book was the dialogue. I just don’t think Claire would have been able to understand most of what was said, for one thing. All the Scottish-ese just got in the way.

Mr. Racy: Aye woman, get me my haggis!!!
GR: Aye, me laddie!
Mr. Racy: Yer a bonnie lass. (shouting towards the living room) Where are me wee bairns??!!

J: (Growling) But back to Jamie. So is there something problematic about the fact that you have a hero and heroine and you know they are getting together problematic?

GR: I was hoping for a heroine who was going to get through the book without a Jamie. I don’t read anything with fantasy usually. I’m reading the Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White (1859) right now, which was written for a popular audience, and it’s predictable, but I like it. It’s not the predictability I don’t like, which the Wilkie has. I’m against predictability that isn’t well done.

I loved Exodus, for example. Ben is a hero. He leaves America and goes to Israel, and does superhuman things and gets the girl. But to me, he was believable.

And I loved Chewbacca, and Incredible Hulk. So I don’t have a problem with fantasy.

J: (changing tacks) Did you know you bought me my first romance novel when I had mono in 7th grade?

GR: (horrified) I didn’t.

J: (triumphant) Yes, you did. It featured a woman doing it against a tree with the hero. I had a dread fear of splinters after reading it.

GR: [hangs head, rubs eyes.] What was wrong with me? [Silence. Looks up.] You must have asked me for it. I never read them.

J: Didn’t you have friends who read romances?

GR: Yes, but not me. When I think back on it now, the woman was the heroine in the books I loved as a teen. Nancy Drew, the nurse novels [can’t remember titles], Wonder Woman was one of my favorite characters.

J: Why do you think you have never read romance novels?

GR: Cause I never had to fantasize about having a man.

Mr. Racy: [loud guffawing, followed by silence and a puzzled look.]

J: (Splutters in outrage) What? I’m happily married!!!!!!

GR: Well (backtracking), I think I’m just rooted in concrete reality. The romance novels around back in the day didn’t have the female heroines I would have liked to read about. You have to remember that I went all though Catholic schools. The strong women in that literature were always punished severely for stepping outside the role prescribed for women. I didn’t want more of the same as an adult.

J: You haven’t mentioned anything written by women among your favorites so far.

GR: Oh! Edith Wharton, Eudora Welty, Mary McCarthy, Zelda Fitzgerald are some of my favorites.

J: Was there anything you liked about Outlander?

GR: Yes, I liked the part when Claire was figuring out medicinal techniques, and how to mix herbs. I liked Claire in general, and how she translated her talent from the 20th century to the past.

J: Will you ever finish Outlander?

GR: No.

J: Will you ever read another romance novel recommended by your youngest daughter?

GR: No.

J: Why not? You don’t like love stories?

GR: [The woman is not giving in. Sooooooo typical. Can you win an argument with your mother? I can’t.] I do enjoy love stories. I loved The Age of Innocence, Anna Karenina, the BBC Cranford series.

J: But things don’t end up well in those books for the lovers.

GR: They just seem to struggle more realistically.

J: Have you ever read a love story that you liked which ended happily?

GR: Geez, I read so much, Jess, I can’t remember. I guess if it ended happily it wouldn’t be worth writing.

J: Why not?

GR: I think human beings are naturally attracted to tragedy and are always sort of looking out at how people go through tragedy and how they solve it. It’s resolution that the reader wants, one way of the other. I think Anna Karenina would have been a successful novel if Anna had gone on with Vronsky and her husband looked the other way, which he was willing to do, but that’s not resolution.

J: Why do you read?

GR: Reading is my hobby. I love books. I love books all around me. I hate giving them away, although I do. It’s like parting with friends, but there are people who love to read and can’t afford their own books. It’s therapeutic, it’s educational, it leads me to new places.

J: What do you make of your youngest daughter’s reading habits.

GR: I find them amusing. That’s all I’m going to say.

[Just wait dear reader. This is a woman who always has something to say.]
[five seconds, 4, 3, 2, 1–]

Ok… I’m not judging it. I think it’s a very, very interesting activity, that whole genre. The romance novels served important functions for women who were at home 50 years ago when I began parenting. Most of my friends devoured them and exchanged them. You’d have a cigarette and sit down and read your story. You took it everywhere. But I never read them even then.

J: What did you read, then?

GR: I first got serious about reading in 1956-7 when I began to read Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Dreiser. I began my journey with the American novelists.

J; Who did you talk to about those books?

GR: Women I knew didn’t really talk to each other in those days. And they didn’t acknowledge reading them to each other. It was not considered appropriate. There was a bias against meeting other women during the workday, when you were supposed to be taking care of your kids. Our roles were very clear. Remember when JFK ran for President, and people started having coffee klatches to talk about politics. So we began to have coffee hours, and that was the beginning. Invariably, the discussion would turn to other things.

J: When did you read a feminist book? Was it Betty Friedan? Late 1960s?

GR: Yes, but I had had very strong role models. All she did for me was legitimize what I was already feeling. In my own family, my mother and my aunts were very strong. The prescribed role for me in the 50s and 60s felt like being in a strait jacket.

J: Was there any connection between your fiction and nonfiction reading?

GR: I don’t think I realized the impact of my reading on me, until the late 1960s. Then I was able to put everything I knew and read and experienced into a context. That’s what Friedan did for us.

DNF Reflection: The Palace of Varieties, by James Lear

*Note: This reviews contains material that is not suitable for minors.

This book was recommended to me. It was one of my 2009 resolutions to read more m/m romance, erotica, etc..

In looking about the web in preparation for this review, I discovered that James Lear is the nom de plume of the novelist Rupert Smith. He lives in London and is the 2008 Winner of Erotic Awards “Best Writer”. The UK’s Guardian published a fascinating reflection by Smith on his sideline, “Dirty Sexy Money: The writer Rupert Smith on his lucrative porn-lit sideline

While romance readers complain (for good reason) that romance is not taken seriously, Lear notes that genre fiction is at least “out”. The situation is worse for erotica, especially gay erotica:

Erotic fiction, gay or straight, is the most reviled of all genres. While science fiction, horror, crime and romance have their own well-stocked sections, erotica languishes in a dog-eared corner at the back, near the lavs. Some straight smut makes it into airports, to refresh the tired business traveller, but gay material remains beyond the pale.

He is very clear on the purpose of his Lear books:

Rupert Smith hopes to make you laugh; James Lear hopes to make you come.

And there, forgive me, is the rub. Erotic fiction has a purpose, and it’s not a very highbrow one. James Lear’s novels are designed specifically as aids to masturbation: two good orgasms per chapter for younger readers, one for the over forties. Each encounter gives the reader a variation on the theme, keeping the interest fresh. The plot exists to carry the reader from one orgasm to the next.

I think that erotic literature serves the same purpose as other genre fiction, but with a more literal outcome.

I find myself contrasting Lear’s bluntness with the protestations of female erotica writers that they are not doing the same thing. Why is that? How is this any different from a Spice Brief, and why is it so important to those writers to minimize the intent of erotic writing?

Lear also talks about who reads him and who writes gay erotica. I thought this remark was very interesting, in light of the Lambda fiasco earlier this year,

James Lear’s most enthusiastic fans are straight women, who love reading about male/male sex.

In the world of literary fiction, an author’s sexual preference has a massive impact on the way his or her books are marketed, reviewed and sold; in porn nobody cares much.

It’s a field dominated by women, who approach any and every kink with gusto. There are Surrey housewives turning out explicit male homosexual porn.

I was glad to have found that Guardian article, because it helped me to pinpoint exactly why I can’t finish this book: I am not turned on by the sex in it, and since that’s pretty much the point of a book like this, there’s nothing else to keep me reading. The issue for me is not the homosexuality — I’m straight, but over the past year I have read books with same sex encounters that I found very sexy — it’s that the sexual encounters take place between strangers, and that’s not my thing. It functions primarily as fantasy — everyone is gay or up for gay sex, everyone is well-equipped, and everyone is always hard, ready to go, and ready to go again immediately. But because it’s not my fantasy, I was bored and finally put the book down.

This book is very well written, very very funny (the humor was my favorite part), and immerses the reader believably in interwar London’s seedy theatres, back alleys, washrooms, and pubs. It is narrated in the first person by Paul Lemoyne, a young gay man who comes to London, get’s a job in a theatre, and begins a career as a prostitute. Paul is insatiable sexually. Nothing throws him, and that’s part of his charm. Here’s an example:

…the sudden appearance in the room of an unexpected third party. For a moment it flashed across my mind that I had been lured here to be the meat in some kind of sandwich — a thought that, since my amorous initiation in the toilets of Waterloo station, only increased my excitement.

Or this,

Excited as I was, I was somewhat concerned by the task ahead of me. I could barely get my hands round it, so how on earth was I going to get that huge prick in my mouth — or my arse? I experienced a moment of trepidation — but, being the thrill-seeking little slut that I was, it was soon replaced by mindless, drooling lust.

If I had a criticism, it was that I felt I could hear a bit too much of Lear in Paul, who didn’t read as authentic, a bit too much knowing winkage, perhaps a bit of interfering distancing (if that makes sense) between Lear and Lemoyne. I’m no literary critic, and it’s not easy to put my finger on it.

I think anyone who enjoys this kind of book would really enjoy this one.

Review: Wicked Gentlemen, by Ginn Hale (and contest)

Contest: I will send you my copy if I choose your name at random from among commenters. Leave a comment by midnight EST on the 24th of December to enter.

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Word on the Web:

Fantasy Cafe: Very positive

Uniquely Pleasureable, Ann Somerville, Very positive

Dear Author, Janine, A-

Mrs. Giggles, 85

In Hale’s steampunk (alternate Victorian England) world, a corrupt theocracy runs things with its special unit of power abusing priests, called the Inquisition, who, like their real historical namesakes, employ brutal methods to obtain “information” — usually in the form of false confessions. In a distant past which is not sketched in much detail, the priests convinced the Lords of Hell, fallen angels including Lucifer, to leave Hell and be saved, offering a Covenant of Redemption. Nowadays Hell is an eerie empty place, and the descendants of those demons, known as “Prodigals”, live in stench and squalor as second class citizens in Hell’s Below. Prodigals have pointy ears and teeth, brightly colored eyes, and black fingernails. After generations of inbreeding with humans, they are less powerful, but still have various special gifts, such as flight, which they are forbidden to utilize. They are not allowed to leave the capital.

Wicked Gentlemen is split into two sections. The first is written in the first person, in the voice of Belimai Sykes, a tortured soul, a cynic, an orphorium addict, and a Prodigal who occasionally works as a kind of private investigator. Inquisitor Captain William Harper shows up at Belimai’s door asking for his help in locating a missing woman. Joan is William’s sister-in-law, a member of the Good Commons Advocacy Association, which fought for suffrage for women and Prodigals.

The first half the the book is devoted to solving the mystery of Joan’s whereabouts, as well as the identity of the person who has been gutting Prodigals, probably to steal their organs to make powerful potions. As Belimai gets involved in the case, he and William begin sleeping together. Although not heavily focused on the romance (one brief love scene, for example, the rest are alluded to) I believed in the instant attraction between these two men, and I also felt that they just liked each other.

Interestingly, except for one mention of the abbot’s view of “filthy sodomites” the fact that Harper is a gay priest is given no attention. I would think gays and lesbians would not be far above Prodigals in the Inquisition’s esteem. Prodigals often try to “pass” by wearing gloves and coloring their eyes — do gays and lesbians have to pass? Perhaps I am being dense, and the big stumbling block: that Harper is respected and well to do, and Belimai is a devil, is supposed to stand in for this.

The second half of the book is told in the third person, from William’s point of view. It felt odd, especially when the author switched back to Belimai’s first person voice in the epilogue. I didn’t mind a shift in perspective but I minded the shift in points of view. I felt a first person point of view for Harper would have worked better. Then again, I like symmetry.

The second book (or second novella — although the characters don’t change, the mysteries are pretty contained in each half) focuses on a murder and cover-up which reveal to Harper the extent of the corruption within the Inquisition and force him to take desperate action.

At about 200 pages, this is not a long book, but a lot happens in its pages. Like many readers, I would have liked to stay in the world Hale created a bit longer. I have read that steampunk is not distopian, but Hale’s world is definitely a gloomy scary place, with segregation, minority oppression, corruption, abuse of power, poverty, drug abuse, rats, bad smells, you name it. It is always raining, cloudy, or foggy. It’s not clear what the government is, although there doesn’t seem to be a queen and I doubt it’s a democracy. Theocracy?

I thought the setup was really unique and had lots of possibility (once you get over the idea that the princes of Hell would consent to be baptized). The way Hale worked the religion into the architecture of the world was ingenious. To take just two examples, Belimai was once tortured by “prayer engines” and Hale never stoops to telling us exactly what they are: she doesn’t need to when the scriptural scars are evident on Belimai’s body. At one point in the story, Harper has to find his way among the pipes underground, which are labeled by biblical verse.

On the other hand, I did feel that the atmo was overworked. Too much rain, too many smells, too many repetitive mentions of gaslights.

The story moved along at a fast clip. It was actually hard to put down. There were a few moments of genuine horror — really pretty grisly — and suspense, and one terrific triumphant moment of amoral revenge taking.

I liked Belimai a lot. He is reed thin with crazy hair, and has the ability to fly. He’s very attuned to the air and the wind, almost like a leaf himself blowing in it. This made him perhaps an unusual choice to narrate a mystery — he’s really not a protagonist in the true sense. at first, I thought we were getting a truly amoral character in Belimai, but it turns out that he is deeply heroic. His addiction is actually a consequence of his heroism, and he cures himself of it completely in one fell swoop. So much for his early compelling comments like this one: “Everything they seemed to love about me came from the needles they detested.” In fact, nothing about him seems to be affected once he gives them up.

On the other hand, Hale mixes it up by letting us know that Belimai’s act of heroism was a bit quixotic, and by making Harper more complex in the second half of the book. While I didn’t understand some of his motives, I appreciated the fact that at the end, Belimai seemed more interested in justice while Harper was decidedly less so: the triumphant revenge moment is all his. Quite a tricky reversal!

I really liked this book. Wicked Gentlemen was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Foundation for Best Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror book of 2007, and although I have absolutely no basis for comparison, I would guess the honor was deserved. I will be reading more by this author, especially if she publishes that planned sequel.

Monday Morning Stepback: PM Edition: how to gift an ebook?

The weekly links, opinion, and randomness post

1. Links of Interest

Books on the Knob is a good bet for finding out about free or inexpensive Kindle reads.

The controversial LA Weekly article on the m/m phenomenon, with commentary from Teddypig.

My real life persona got friended on Facebook by Steve Fellner. I have no idea who he is, but his blog, Pansy Poetics, is a lot of fun. And here’s a very funny interview he did at Almost Dorothy.

Another blog I have been enjoying is Conversation Reading. Check out this post on Negative and Short Reviews.

Romance Buy the Book has a good post on the class at Yale to be taught in spring 2010 by alums and romance authors, Lauren Willig and Cara Elliott. I had the pleasure of meeting Willig at the PCA conference in April and I’m betting that’s a terrific class.

The whole health care “reform” situation is too upsetting and too much like work for me to blog about (the blog is my happy place), but I had to share this from David Waldman as quoted by Ezra Klein in his WashPo piece on the abortion compromise:

The problem with leaving the decision up to the states, he says, is that it doesn’t go far enough. “I think states should leave the abortion question up to the counties,” he explains. “Then I think counties should leave the abortion question up to municipalities. Then the neighborhoods should leave the abortion question up to each block.” And each block, as you might have guessed, should leave the abortion question up to each household.

This guest column at RtB by Heather Massey of the Galaxy Express on physical violence between heroes and heroines is very interesting. I am not sure how I feel about it, actually.

Tumperkin is offering some thoughtful reflections, and hosting a great discussion, on reader beliefs and values and how they interact with the story.

2. Gifting e books

A number of the m/m books I have been reading (and yes, I will eventually post all of the remaining Ham/mukah reviews) are e-format only. I only just realized I cannot give those books to readers. Apparently Fictionwise has a “buy for a friend option” but other sites do not. Someone on Twitter said that she buys the ebook for herself and then sends it via email to the contest winner. Though this is a violation of copyright, it is hard to see what is wrong with it, assuming she has her own copy already. What do you think? Do you give away ebooks on your blog? How?

3. Merry Christmas!

Here’s a typical conversation in my neck of the woods:

Hair stylist: So, what are you doing for Christmas?
Me: I don’t celebrate Christmas. I celebrated Hanukkah.
Hairstylist: (long pause) But you decorate?
Me: No, I don’t celebrate Christmas. I enjoy other people’s decorations, though.
Hairstylist: Huh. So what do you put on your tree?
Me: *Sigh*.

I hope everyone has a great time doing over Christmas whatever it is they plan to do, even if it’s nothing. My mother celebrates Christmas, and she was kind enough to retire and move up to the hinterlands to be near us (5 doors down actually) four years ago when she could see were were doing a rather shoddy job of trying to have careers and raise our children while staying sane. Since then, I have never had to worry about where the kids will go after school, what I will do if one of them has to stay home sick or on vacation and I have to work, and I have had free babysitting every weekend (the kids call it “Camp Grandma” and some weekends they go to her even when Mr. Racy and I are staying in). When I think about the blessings in my life, my mother is foremost in my mind, despite the fact that she just quit reading Outlander 1/3 of the way in, telling me “it’s awful”. We go to her house Christmas morning in our jammies and open presents and have a big breakfast. It’s very nice.

4. Coming up on the blog

More m/m reviews, a review of Bitten by Kelley Armstrong and Pleasure and Purpose by Megan Hart, and I feel a bout of ridiculousness coming on, so stay tuned for silly posts.

Happy Week!

My Own Damn Harlequin Bundle*

If you are like me, when you heard about Harlequin contacting bloggers to issue e-bundles of Harlequin titles not available in electronic format, you gnashed your teeth and railed at the fates for unfairly excluding you were so pleased for them and immediately unsubscribed from their blog feeds and blocked them on twitter sent congratulatory emails. You may even have sent Harlequin a note, reminding them of your email address, because surely they had overlooked you in error, thanking them for being so creative and blogger friendly.

But after all that’s done, what next? Instead of starting a whisper campaign against those annoying bloggers, and then burning all of your Harlequins in your backyard of waiting for others to ask, simply go to your local pre-read bookstore and make your own bundle!

Other bloggers have chosen certain authors to bundle, but I in my infinitely superior wisdom which Harlequin is too ignorant to detect decided to pick a theme. And I am ready with my first bundle!

The theme is: these are the books my fingers touched when I closed my eyes and reached out to the stack of Harlequins

Look, I’m very pleased to be doing this. Here’s proof of my joy:

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So, my lucky readers … what does this bundle include?

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Of course, since it’s my bundle, I get to reimagine their titles, like so…

1. “Gee, I Wonder if That Hero is Really Smart? I see the Glasses, Beaker, Computer and Big Brain, but I’m Still Not Convinced.”

2. “Beware of Men Crushing Silk Scarves in Close Proximity to Your Jugular. Especially When they Sport Porn Staches”**

3. “Sheena Easton Takes a Pool Boy”

4. “What? The Pool Boy Traveled Back in Time and Became a Laird!”

** alt. title for #2: “See That Santa with the Head Beard and Eyebrows of Rage? I’m Pretty Sure He is Trying to Kill You.”

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Happy Weekend!

*with apologies to Carolyn Crane, whose summer post on her absence at RWA 2009 inspired this one

Who Speaks For Romance Readers? And what do they say about us?

I decided to look at the New York Times’ coverage of romance for some answers. (FWIW, I did the same search on USA today and found basically the same coverage). I have no big thesis, just a lot of quotes and random observations.

I enjoyed this little trip through time. I hope you do too.

A 1982 article on the genre’s growth, and on the Romantic Times and RWA conferences, is very respectful and neutral on readers. (OT: This article raises questions about the commonly accepted notion that romance coverage is improving all the time.)

In this article, the journalist speaks for readers, for example:

Now there’s something for every kind of reader, from the teen-ager to the woman who uses a walker, from the high-school dropout to the Ph.D. Both Harlequin and Silhouette are starting lines to provide longer reads and a more sophisticated treatment of sexual encounters.

In a 1987 review of the documentary on the romance industry Where the Heart Roams, Vincent Canby refers to romance novels as “paperback junk”. To our great misfortune, and his, Mr. Canby speaks if not for, at least about, us:

Mr. Cicsery doesn’t make fun of the women – he doesn’t have to. That’s the sad part. It’s ineffable because the sight of so many people devoting themselves so earnestly to such easily parodied wish-fulfillment leaves one nearly speechless.

This review hands down the nastiest thing I have ever read about the genre. Don’t click on the link unless you want to get annoyed.

A 1996 article in the NYT (in the NY Region section, not in books) entitled “Swooning Women, Bare Chested Men: A Magazine for Romance Novels and the Women Who Love Them“. It profiles Romantic Times founder (and Fabio discoverer) Kathryn Falk.

Others who speak for readers in this article are an Avon editor (who says romance readers are “voracious”, a word used in nearly every article  I read for this blog entry. I’m thinking there’s some unconscious association there with “sexually insatiable”), the CEO of Kensington, two RWA communications directors (one former and one then current):

”One faction would like romance to be respected as women’s fiction,” said Maria Ferrer, former communications director for Romance Writers of America, an organization of 8,000 writers and aspiring writers.

The other faction?

”Well, they have the bodice-ripping covers, the Fabio covers, the pageants for cover models.”

In other words, they have Ms. Falk: a discoverer of the model Fabio, founder of male cover-model beauty pageants, in which muscular men pose in abbreviated Viking or pirate or cowboy costumes in front of hundreds of hooting women. ”I hate to use the word degrading, but it’s all I can think of right now,” said Catherine Carpenter, communications director for the writers’ group.

[OT, but Harlequin CEO Donna Hayes make the exact same “2 camps” comment in a 2009 article in USA today on the Princeton Romance Conference]

Here’s another interesting quote:

”The writing in some will knock your socks off,” said Helen Holzer, who reviews romances for The Atlanta Constitution, one of several mainstream publications now reviewing romance fiction.

[Note: It doesn’t appear to me that they ever reviewed much romance. And the AJC fired its book review editor in 2007.]

Edited to add: That was wrong. I’ve had an email from Ms. Holzer which clarifies that she wrote a regular romance review column for the Atlanta Journal Constitution. I very much appreciate that she took the time to correct the record, and share a bit about her own fascinating career:

I have been a journalist since 1972 and began reading romance novels when I lived in Paris in 1989-90.

You mentioned my interview with the New York Times. I had started my monthly romance review column for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that ran for 3-1/2 years in print (1996-2000) and six months online in 2002 before I left the paper.

[Here is a review snippet from a 1998 review of Elizabeth Thornton’s You Only Love Twice.]

I also was a mainstream book reviewer and have reviewed most all genres over the years, but romance is my passion. I now write book covers and press releases for a worldwide book publisher, Strategic Book Group, among my many other freelance jobs.

Just so your blog is correct, there was indeed a romance column in the AJC for many years and I wrote it. It was called Heartbeat in print and Love Bytes on the paper’s Web site.

In a 1999 article covering that year’s RWA entitles “Romance Novelists: Profits without Honor“, readers are not represented except through authors and editors, but it is another example of a respectful article (with the exception of the use of the word “cattiness” to describe the air of desperation among aspiring authors at RWA.)

There was even one seminar called ”Defending the Genre,” in which the novelist Valerie Taylor listed the most frequently heard insults of the genre: it’s anti-feminist, it presents too many woman as needing to escape abusive relationships, all the books are the same, it’s just pornography for women, it’s unrealistic, it’s fluff, and it can’t be serious if half the population doesn’t care about it. She offered advice on how to respond. For instance, for insulters who read literary fiction, she advised her listeners, ”Give them well-written books that deal with slightly darker things.”

The overall point was that the romance genre is large and various, its pulpiness and sugar-coating offered in a range of doses, its plots and settings vastly differentiable, its sentences not necessarily execrable. Not unlike, say, science fiction, horror fiction or mysteries, all of which have well-known practitioners whose work is often treated with seriousness by readers and reviewers

A bit OT, but I found Jennifer Crusie’s remarks so interesting I had to include them:

Genre fiction, she said, is defined by reader expectations.

”In literary fiction, the expectation is for the language,” she said, ”but if you are a genre reader you will put up with a lot of bad writing if you are interested in the plot and the characters. The primary thing I have to accomplish on the page is character, and I will sacrifice language for it.”

Another difference is that ”literary fiction looks ahead” and ”genre fiction tells us what everyone was thinking five minutes ago. We’re reactive. We don’t challenge as much. In my last book, I challenged the assumption that a woman should lead her life for the expectations of other people. Well, that’s kind of a ‘duh.’ ”

Ms. Crusie does despair that commerce drives romance writers to minimize their artistic impulses. What, after all, to make of a seminar that urges writers to deepen their characterizations by learning more about the eight female archetypes? (For the uninformed, they are: the nurturer, the crusader, the librarian, the waif, the free spirit, the spunky kid, the survivor and the boss.)

In an August 2001 article called, “Forecasts of an E-Book Era Were, It Seems, Premature“, romance is again linked to the ebook revolution:

Janice Goodfellow, a 47-year-old former office manager who lives in rural Michigan, usually devours about a half-dozen paperback thrillers and romance novels a week. But her home is about 15 miles from the nearest bookstore, in Novi, Mich. She heard about electronic books from a romance readers Web site. So on a snowy winter’s night a year ago she tried downloading a novel from a site, and she liked it.

“I’m lazy and sometimes I don’t want to drive,” Ms. Goodfellow said. In the last year, she has read about 20 electronic books sitting at her desktop computer. “I’d buy all my books this way if they were available from major publishers and they weren’t expensive.”

But Ms. Goodfellow has not yet bought any from the major publishers because they usually charge more than $15 ? generally asking more for the electronic book than the paperback.

Instead, she buys her electronic novels from a tiny start-up called Hard Shell Word Factory for about $3 to $6 each. She buys them for the same reasons she usually buys paperbacks instead of hardcovers: they are cheap, she can buy several at once, and she can throw them away when she is done. “Even if you buy a novel you are not loving, it is just three bucks,” she said.

In yet another RWA article, this one from 2003, several readers are quoted. Some examples:

”[Suzanne Brockmann] is a wonderful author,” said Danielle Hessel, a keeper at the Bronx Zoo who lives in Westchester. ”She does a lot of research, and it shows.”

Jill Land, who lives in Manhattan, pronounced Ms. Brockmann ”awesome” and blushed when asked about the sex scenes in her novels. ”She had a really outrageous one in her second book,” Ms. Land whispered. ”It had to do with chocolate and handcuffs.”

Tatia Totorica, a calculus teacher and mother of three from Boise, Idaho, bought 12 books to add to her collection, already over 1,000. ”My husband doesn’t like them,” Ms. Totorica said, ”but he’s supportive.”

”Harvard’s Education,” which follows the lives of an African-American couple, helped earn Ms. Brockmann a loyal black following. ”I couldn’t believe she wasn’t black,” said Lynette Holder, an African-American lab technologist from Brooklyn, who stood in line for nearly an hour to meet Ms. Brockmann.

In a 2004 article that predicts a “slow death” for Harlequin and romance in general (ROTFLMAO!), “‘Sorry, Harlequin,’ She Sighed Tenderly, ‘I’m Reading Something Else‘”.

Many readers say they are seldom wed to a single genre or publisher. Anne Curtis, a Manhattan resident who said she had been reading romance fiction for more than 20 years, looks for a new book not on the Harlequin racks but throughout the romance shelves.

”Sometimes it can be a mystery, others a straight romance,” she said, but the story is always more important than the publisher. When she chooses an author, she said, it is often a former Harlequin author, like Janet Dailey or Nora Roberts.

Here’s an article on ebooks in the technology/books section from the ancient days of 2004, which highlights the importance of romance readers to the then emerging technology:

Both Cargill and Compson represent another surprising shift in the e-book market. Retailers say that the market, which used to be dominated by computer-savvy male readers of science fiction, has expanded in the past year or two to include a growing number of female readers. And while science fiction remains a top seller, female romance readers now compose one of the fastest-growing markets for digital books, perhaps because many are voracious readers who race through all the sequels in a series.

One such reader is Rebecca Kroll of Scotch Plains, N.J., a live-in caretaker for an autistic teenager, who says she burns through three or four books a day and purchases 50 to 100 a week, an expensive habit that she says costs her up to $400 weekly. ”Storage is a big issue with me,” Kroll says. Before she discovered e-books a little over a year ago, 12,000 books crammed her apartment from floor to ceiling, leaving her desperate for more shelf space. Although Kroll says she was initially ill at ease with computers, she now does most of her reading on a laptop and stores thousands of romance and science fiction fantasy novels on two computer disks. Another advantage of the laptop, she says, is that it permits her to listen to e-books that are formatted with a text-to-speech option while she’s cooking or knitting.

Kroll also likes the relative anonymity of purchasing e-books from Web sites that specialize in female-oriented erotica, some of them available only in electronic form. ”It’s a lot nicer, especially if you’re embarrassed to go into a bookstore,” she says.

In a 2004 article in the Circuits section, a librarian is quoted on the subject of digitizing the collection.

E-books’ short history has already begun to yield some lessons. At the Cleveland Public Library, Patricia Lowrey, head of technical services, thought technical manuals and business guides would be in greatest demand.

“We were dead wrong on that,” Ms. Lowrey said. “There are a lot of closet romance readers in cyberspace.”

A 2004 article on ebooks called An Idea Whose Time Has Come Back:

When heading for the doctor’s office, Janet Cargill, a 75-year-old retiree in Westbrook, Me., loads several romance novels into her hand-held Garmin G.P.S., or global positioning system, which she also relies on to give her voice-activated driving directions.

In her 2005 Op-Ed with which I am sure most readers are familiar, Mary Bly (Eloisa James) speaks for readers, both criticizing them for eschewing literary fiction, and defending their reading tastes via defending the genre.

In a 2007 story on the Harleqin/NASCAR teamup in the Books section (imagine that!) , reps from Borders, Harlequin, and Kensington, as well as a PR guy from NASCAR, speak for readers. (Perhaps not shockingly, Kate Duffy from Kensington — who passed away this year — was skeptical of the venture, while the HQN and NASCAR folks were very optimistic).

This 2007 article in the Your Money section on how to make a bestseller is the first time I see bloggers mentioned:

The hunt for the key has been much more extensive in other industries, which have made a point of using new technology to gain a better understanding of their customers. Television stations have created online forums for viewers and may use the information there to make programming decisions. Game developers solicit input from users through virtual communities over the Internet. Airlines and hotels have developed increasingly sophisticated databases of customers.

Publishers, by contrast, put up Web sites where, in some cases, readers can sign up for announcements of new titles. But information rarely flows the other way — from readers back to the editors.

“We need much more of a direct relationship with our readers,” said Susan Rabiner, an agent and a former editorial director. Bloggers have a much more interactive relationship with their readers than publishers do, she said. “Before Amazon, we didn’t even know what people thought of the books,” she said.

Although the romance industry is often criticized for not paying better attention to readers on issues such as cover art and diversity, apparently we’d be even worse off with other publishers, who do even less market research:

An exception is the consumer research gathered by the Romance Writers of America, a writers’ association that publishes a regular market study of romance readers. It reports survey information on, for example, demographics, what respondents are reading, where they are getting the books and how often, and what kind of covers attract them. Romance authors and publicists use the information to create promotional campaigns.

Bloggers and academics are the two big additions to the group of those who speak for readers in the past 3 years, although bloggers tend to speak more authoritatively and directly for readers than academics. So, for example, on the slew of articles over the past 18 months on romance novels as recession proof, you have comments like this one:

“Given the general dismay and gloominess,” said … an avid romance reader who runs a book blog under the pseudonym Jane Litte at dearauthor.com, “reading something like a romance with a happy ending is really kind of a relief.”

Litte’s comment is alongside the usual crew: book buyers, publishers, librarians, etc.

And, what’s this? Someone actually passed by an opportunity to use the word “voracious”??? Yup, this is from the article author: “Romance readers have always tended to buy in much higher volumes than people who read other genres like literary fiction.”

[OT, I felt very conflicted about the spate of articles on romance being “recession proof.” They often included claims to the effect that people read more romances when times are bad. I never felt I was given any evidence for that claim, and it fed into the idea that people only read romance for escape — like, if your life was going well, you wouldn’t be reading this shit.]

There are two broad categories of academic participation in romance news articles: (1) the social scientist trying to figure out why women read them, and, (2) a newer phenomenon, the literature professor talking about romance novels as … wait for it … literature. Coverage of the Princeton Romance Conference earlier this year featured the latter group, whereas the this week’s LA Times article on m/m romance featured the former.

This bit is typical for the LA Times piece:

Why are straight women turned on by watching two men having sex?

“Why not?” counters UC Santa Barbara’s Professor Constance Penley. “That’s really the question. Would you ask men why are they so turned on by two women together? We take it for granted that guys love their girl-on-girl. Why shouldn’t women have an appreciation for guy-on-guy? It is as deep-seated a fantasy as the male fantasy of putting two women together.”

Here’s a New York Post article with another blogger, Sarah Wendell, who did a lot of press promoting her book (co-authored with Candy Tan), Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches Guide to Romance novels

It’s not your Aunt Suzie who can’t miss “her stories.” These are smart – and often feminist – women. Like superfan Wendell, who is emceeing the next Lady Jane’s Salon on April 6 at Madame X.

“There’s always a rock-hard chest,” she concedes. “These men are manly. And there are times when the heroine might throb. And, you know, heat will flood. Things like that.”

Here’s Alison Kelley, Executive Director of RWA:

According to Allison Kelley, executive director of Romance Writers of America, “If you ask readers of romance why they read it, they all say the happy ending.”

Thanks probably to a number of things — the popularity of their blogs, Litte’s special knowledge of epublishing, Wendell and Tan’s book coming out in 2009 — they have done the lion’s share of readers speaking for readers in the past year or so. There are a few really good things about this. The first is that the major news outlets are writing about romance at other times of the year than when a big romance conference is held. Conference attendees provided the bulk of reader perspective prior to the late 1990s The second is that, like any true fan, they know what they are talking about. The third is that they are unlike the stereotypical image of the romance reader.

Just recently, a CNN.com story on vampire romance included a quote from Sandy Coleman of AAR:

Coleman said there is no longer a stigma about being a romance fan. Her site has been online for 11 years and has about 360,000 visitors a month, she said.

The site is often a place where intelligent women come to discuss their favorite romance novels, Coleman said.

“There’s nothing to be embarrassed about when it comes to reading romance anymore,” Coleman said.

I was glad to see Coleman quoted, and would like to see even more bloggers in the mix, as well as different readers, not just the gals at the RT convention, and not just the bloggers, but all kinds. I don’t agree with Coleman 100% (I still think there is a stigma, although it is lessening), or Wendell (her recent Huff Post article defending the genre, while terrific in other respects, included a line “Books that rest the conflict of the relationship upon sexual congress are not romance” with which I disagree, and I already gave an example of a Litte quote about romance and recession I don’t endorse. But it’s our differences that give lie to the stereotypes and I’m glad for them, because they give us so much to talk about here in Romanceland.

I looked to see who was speaking for other genres, such as sci fi and mystery, and I found basically nothing, which reflects, I think the different kind of coverage those genres get, and the sense that romance is the most market driven and least “literature-like” of the genres. In some ways, I think even asking one person for a quote about “what romance readers want” is slightly problematic as it reflects the idea, on some level, that we are all alike, and it also tends to feed into the notion that NOT reading romance is the default normal position, such that reading it needs “explanation”. The readers quoted above from the conventions were speaking for themselves only (although the journalists probably meant them to represent other readers, so maybe there’s no getting around the problem). I would just love it if a journalist would quote an opposing reader viewpoint — to get that diversity within the article itself.

More and more, I see recognition that the genre itself is diverse, and, although a bit more slowly, the same recognition that its readership is similarly diverse.

Whew this is a long post. I’d better stop now. Hope you’ve enjoyed this little tour!

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