Book Review: Chick Porn

Inbed_328Before I went on vacation to Puerto Rico last month, I asked readers for book recommendations. Wendy suggested The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie, a romance novel. Lord Ian has autism, which I think marks a new weirdness in the autism literature genre. I downloaded it and read it by the side of the pool at the resort.

For multiple reasons, I found this book pretty horrifying. In order to purge my mind of this book, I needed to read a different book pronto. Based on recommendations by Amazon readers, I downloaded In Bed with a Highlander by Maya Banks.

I haven't read a romance novel in years. I probably went through my last romance novel spree back when Ian was born, and I was stuck breastfeeding for hours and hours. I was shocked to learn that romance novels are way more porn-y than they used to be. Just to be sure, I read the other two books in the series, Seduction of a Highland Lass and  Never Love a Highlander. Yep, lots of porn. In addition to traditional maiden deflowering, I got some bondage action, lots of oral, and some sex with highland wenches who were still asleep.

There was always good sex in romance novels, but the authors would slowly work their way to it after a hundred pages or so of misunderstandings, tempestuous personalities, and jealous wenches throwing up roadblocks. Now, we zoom into the sex after 20 pages or so. The drama doesn't revolve getting into bed for the first time. 

At one point, I looked up from my iPad and checked out my fellow vacationers around the pool. Like me, the middle aged women in various Lands End one piece bathing suits were all reading romance novels. Wow. You're reading porn. And you're reading porn. And you're reading porn. 

Romance novels always sort of pretended to based in a historical time. The authors used to throw in some wikipedia references to important battles or real historical events. These books didn't bother with history and didn't pretend to be placed in any historical context. The heroes were metrosexuals who cared about grooming. The women were constantly in a bathtub. Their wispy tendrils of hair curled up in the hot water, which servants had happily carted up the stairs to the bedroom. In one of the books, the hero decides not to bed the maiden on her wedding day, because she was going to have to travel on horseback the next day and he didn't want to make her maiden spots too tender to ride. 

 Which brings me to Fifty Shades of Grey: Book One of the Fifty Shades Trilogy. Well, not quite yet. I'm downloading it this weekend. Anybody read it? 

Advertisements

67 thoughts on “Book Review: Chick Porn

  1. Florence King has some very funny stuff on this. She got into writing “sweet savages” at one point, starting with “The Barbarian Princess” (1978), which has a 5th century Roman Briton. At the time, the rules of the genre as explained by King’s editor were, “Remember, keep the heroine a virgin as long as possible, and never let her have sex willingly with a man she doesn’t love.”

  2. in the Army and cut off from all usual sources of reading matter, I read a surprising number of Mills & Boone novels, some of which weren’t bad at all. That was thirty years ago now. Those were nothing like what you describe – I’d have remembered that πŸ˜‰
    Inspired by Jo Walton’s “Among Others”, I plan to go and read some Mary Renault for a change..

  3. Argh. Romance novels are not porn. I apologize for reccing The Madness of Ian Mackenzie. I actually never finished the book myself, but everyone else in romance fandom was gaga over it.
    Go read some Jennifer Crusie or Susan Elizabeth Phillips, please.

  4. I’d agree with Wendy – the genre isn’t just porn. There are a lot of good authors writing in the field and novels range from traditional “sweet” levels of erotic content to some that truly are erotica.
    Speaking of “Fifty Shades” – I saw it when it was still Twilight fanfic and wasn’t much impressed. From picking up a copy in the bookstore and flipping through it, I don’t think there’s any real improvement (i.e. editing) evident in the printed version so I’ll pass on paying good money for bad fanfic.

  5. Two people in the last 24 hours have told me to read 50 Shades. Although, I’ve never read a romance novel ever, so maybe that’s too much of a jump for me. (I understand it’s more erotica than romance.”
    I am, however, a member of the Georgia Romance Writers because they have awesome panels and conferences that are helpful to writers of all genres. On a panel at the conference last year, an editor from Harlequin said that the difference between romance and erotica is that romance is really more about the relationship even if there is a lot of sex, where erotica is really just about the sex.

  6. Yes, please take a look at Jennifer Crusie! Especially Bet Me or Welcome to Temptation or… well, they’re all fun, though some are better than others. There’s also Sherry Thomas. And Meredith Duran. And Julie James (just her first two, though). And Kristan Higgins, Just One of the Guys or The Next Best Thing. There are some wonderful romance writers who are not writing porn. Maya Banks is known for what you’re talking about. She churns them out FAST and they’re, yep, closer to erotica. Makes her piles of money, not too surprisingly, but she’s only representative of a certain subset of romance, not the whole genre.
    Wendy, I need to read one or two SEP books before I head to RWA in July. Can you tell me a favorite?

  7. I love fanfic. And I’d agree that a lot of fanfic *is* porn. The goal of fanfic is to get to imagine the characters you love having sex. I’ve read a ton of Buffy fanfic (and even written a few myself), and basically, the goal is to watch these characters have sex because aside from small parts of Season 6 of Buffy, you couldn’t actually see it happen, so you had to imagine it.
    50 Shades reads like fanfic, from what I read of the first several pages. There’s a kind of rushedness to it, like the only purpose of writing about these characters is to get to The Sex. If Ana and Christian were Buffy and Spike, I’d be all over it. And I’m sure it worked when it was written for Bella and Edward. But I expect something different from fanfic than I do for a romance novel.
    A friend of mine whom I met in Buffy fandom is a longtime romance novel editor for a very well known publisher. It used to drive her crazy when friends of ours who were good writers would write fanfic because she thinks fanfic is lazy. The characterization already exists for you; you’re just writing the plot/situation. Maybe that’s what I’m saying 50 Shades feels like. Characterization is done so shallowly, so quickly. Good romance novels develop character so much more richly.
    Btw, some other fanfic writers have moved on to become published writers, like Cassandra Clare (from Harry Potter fandom) and Seanan McGuire (aka Mira Grant, Hugo nominee).

  8. Tamar, we have similar tastes. I have already pre-ordered Sherry Thomas’s new book, due to upload to my Kindle on May 1. πŸ™‚
    Re SEP: Everyone loves It Had To Be You, and it is good, but my all-time favorite is Dream a Little Dream (and you have to read Nobody’s Baby But Mine before that one). The beginning of NBBM is a bit tough to take (the heroine is TSTL at first), but I like how it develops. So I’d rec NBBM then DaLD.

  9. Thanks, Wendy! I’ll pick those up. (BTW, I remember you from Veronica Mars fandom. I had an LJ and wrote a few fics. Had a blast doing it. Now I’m a Golden Heart finalist with a romance novel. The two facts are not unconnected. πŸ™‚ )
    You can include Naomi Novik in your list of published authors who have written fanfic. I know others too. And there’s an enduring rumor that Lois McMaster Bujold started by writing Kirk/Spock slashfic. I believe there are actually quite a lot of successful writers who have written fanfic. The instant feedback is addictive, and the character shortcut your friend complained about can work as training wheels. I get sad, though, when I see a talented writer who doesn’t move on into original work. Some people get stuck in that feedback loop.

  10. I didn’t mean to criticize romance novels for being porn. I have no problem with porn. That trilogy may have been more porn-y than other books, but it was really the bad writing that killed me and the silliness about all the baths. There were some awesome unintentional LOLs by the side of the pool.
    I will definitely check out the other books that you all recommend here.
    Tamar tell us more about your book.

  11. That Bujold started with the Spock fandom isn’t rumor – she said so herself on the Nexus. πŸ™‚
    Others have said all I wanted to about Romance != porn, so will only add that I still find noone comes close to Heyer for Regency romances, so I prefer to read contemporaries from other authors.
    M

  12. @Anjali – “Two people in the last 24 hours have told me to read 50 Shades.”
    Same here. The recommenders in my life know I’m someone who hated “Twilight” and “Hunger Games” because (among many other reasons but mainly) there wasn’t enough sex. Hmm….

  13. M, thanks, didn’t know that. I had heard she’d denied it. Glad she fessed up. πŸ™‚ I love Bujold.
    The romance=porn thing is a hot button, I’m afraid. Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Books wrote a great analysis of the whole thing, centered on the hubbub about 50 Shades. She’s mostly discussing porn and shame, but here’s an apropos quote about romance: “Romances are not about sex; romances are about courtship. Sometimes there’s sexuality in them. It’s an important difference.”
    Laura, I’ll reply about my own book separately.

  14. My daughter is named after a Heyer heroine, M. πŸ™‚ But if you’re not reading Carla Kelly, you’re missing out. And Mary Balogh, damn her, still has a 70% making-me-cry success rate. I don’t know what it is about her prose.
    Tamar, heh that you know me from VM fandom. I stil have … feelings about that fandom. And I still want Jason Dohring to get on a show. Congrats on your GH finalist status! I agree, fanfic is a good training ground, but you can tell those who will stay in fanfic, no matter how wonderfully they write, vs. those who will move on. What fandom did NN write in? Ooh, I also found a site that says Meljean Brook wrote Batman/Wonder Woman fanfic.

  15. Okay, so my Golden Heart finaling manuscript. I originally wrote it with the thought that I’d pitch it as a Harlequin Blaze, which is a pretty steamy category line. So this definitely has the sexy built in, but for all that, it doesn’t have tons of sex. I’m more interested in story and in emotional conflict.
    (The book got longer and more complex as I wrote it, so I entered it in the contest as a single title (ie: not category romance).)
    Here’s the blurb I’ve been sending agents (all of whom so far have asked to see it, which shocks and delights me):
    She thought they could never be together, no matter how much they both wanted it. The job would never allow it. He could never let himself break the rules. And their shared past is too painful. But a sudden blackout gives them an unexpected opportunity. Tonight, in the dark, they can both pretend she’s someone else. Tonight they can be together.
    Tomorrow is another matter.
    ——-
    I had a blast writing it, and I do love the characters. The concept makes me blush a bit, but I’m working on that. Especially since I’ll have to be answering this question a lot at the conference.
    I’ve posted the first chapter on my brand spanking new alter ego’s author website. I’m obviously being pretty transparent about the pen name…

  16. NN’s Temeraire series was apparently originally Master and Commander fic, (Patrick O’Brien). Apparently it’s obvious if you know the original, which I don’t.
    Didn’t know that about Meljean Brook! Fun.
    Do you remember Utsusemia from VM fandom? She’s Alaya Dawn Johnson, and she has a delightful UF series set in ’20’s NYC, published by St. Martin’s Press. She also has a fantastic dystopian YA due to be published in 2013 by Scholastic. She says she still wants to finish her unfinished VM fic. πŸ™‚
    And oh yes, Jason Dohring, what happened with him? I’d have thought he’d have a lead role somewhere by now. Not these secondary roles on cheesy nighttime soaps.

  17. Is this the sort of Highlander where you have to worry about him cutting off people’s heads, or people trying to cut of his head, with lightning flying around, and people saying “there can be only one”? If not, I’m not interested.
    I’d never heard of “50 shades” until a few weeks ago, so I skimmed a bit on Amazon. I was truly shocked at how awful, just flat awful, the writing was. I hope there was some porn bits (there wasn’t on what I could see in a few minutes at Amazon) as otherwise it would be really depressing that people would read such terribly written stuff.

  18. Uh, OK, so I totally can’t follow the fanfic commentary here, but I can say that after a hospitalization in 2010 I was given Crusie’s “Welcome to Temptation.” I had not picked up a romance novel since I was in college in the 80s and in general always felt them to be icky and anti-feminist. Crusie’s book reintroduced me to the entire genre and it’s now my favorite guilty pleasure reading.
    Confession 1: I will only read romance on my Kindle, where no one can see the cover.
    Confession 2: I won’t put up with a romance novel where the heroine is a virgin, or a passive victim.
    Confession 3: Turns out, for a whitebread Midwestern girl, I have more tolerance for bondage fiction than I *ever* thought possible. I might have to check out this Fifty Shades business. (Blush.)
    Confession 4: Reading romance has been good for my marriage. (Again, blush.)

  19. As a reader of your blog and romance novels too, I find it heartening to see that so many smart women (aka your readers) read romance as I find few women will admit this (myself included). One of my colleagues posted a question on FB the other day – why do so many women read romance but are afraid to admit it? I’ll totally confess that’s me – I wouldn’t even respond to her FB post. I’d LOVE to see you do an Atlantic (or something like that) article on this. While I wait for that article to appear, I’m going to check on some of the recommendations here.

  20. “why do so many women read romance but are afraid to admit it?”
    Because other people go around saying romance is porn? πŸ˜‰
    I started reading romance novels when I was a teenager. I wasn’t a huge fan of the Mills & Boons/early Harlequins, so I found myself reading Janet Dailey’s Americana romances and a new line called Harlequin American, in particular a quirky writer named Beverly Sommers. Then I eventually moved into Regencies (Mary Balogh, Charlotte Louise Dolan, etc.).
    People used to say to me, “Wendy, you’re so smart! Why do you read that garbage?” And I’d say, “Well, since I’m the smart one, maybe *you* should be wondering what *you’re* missing.”

  21. Another romance reader. I was embarrassed about it for years until I met a woman in grad school in the early 90s who had read them too, and who told me about the scholarship on it.
    Interesting link about calling romances porn, Wendy.
    I don’t care what they’re called, and if most people calling them porn intend to shame women then we shouldn’t call them that. I would just say that I started reading them around 14-15, and stopped completely when I took the pill for several years for medical problems and lost my libido. Recently I stopped taking the pill and started up again within one month(!) I think it would be inaccurate to say that I read them for emotional or other nonsexual reasons.

  22. It kinda is porn. Not that’s a bad thing. I think that romance book readers should just own it. People read romance books for the sex, not for the character development or the genius plot lines. I think it is kind of bizarre that people claim that it isn’t porn. Is it to scare boys away from reading it? Whatever. That doesn’t bother me.
    I didn’t pick up any wildly feminist themes in these books and was kind of put off by the passivity of the female characters.

  23. Just to add in, I’m a big fan of fanfic. I write it, I moderate a fanfic community (not terribly active these days now that the series, BSG, has wrapped up), I beta-read for others and I read a tonne. I love gen fic (i.e. general audiences fic) and ‘ship fic (i.e. abut relationships which can include sexy elements). And, yes, some amazing authors in a lot of genres – YA, romance, mystery, fantasy – have come out of fanfiction. Also, some really bad authors – but that’s why there’s a back button on your browser!
    I don’t care if someone thinks writing fanfic is lazy or immoral. I don’t want to write original fiction right now: I have enough publishing projects on the plate, thank you very much. I want to be a part of fandom and so I’ll spend a bit of my free time on that and not feel a twinge of guilt.

  24. Again, Laura, you aren’t reading the right books. I’m not claiming they’ve all got feminist elements, but some surely do. And I hate passive heroines. I avoid them.
    Also, half of the books I recommended in an earlier comment stop at the closed bedroom door. How is that porn? And how do you explain the entire subgenre of inspirational romance, which is chaste by its very nature? Seriously, people do not all read romances for the sex. In fact, I have often skipped or skimmed the sex scenes to get back to the story, and I’ve heard many other readers who say the same.
    To reiterate: yes, some romance is indeed quite erotic. And yes, it is valuable to own it. And yes, sometimes women read books mostly for that. But some is also very much not erotic, and those do just as well in the market, so titillation is clearly not the only force at work.
    I think you’re extrapolating from way too little information right now. If you do write this Atlantic piece, please talk to me. I’ll send you to some people who can give you a deeper understanding. For example, there are academics now who focus on romance, and not with the condescension I’m still hearing in your tone. (There’s a yearly symposium at Princeton.) And Sarah Wendell, who I linked to earlier, has been on NPR, etc, and is extremely articulate on this type of subject.

  25. “I think you’re extrapolating from way too little information right now.” Yes, and I’m not sure a weekend is a good amount of time to become an expert. I devoured romances at the rate of 1-6 a day when I was in HS (I read fast, and they’re fast to read), which gave me a strong foundation, and over the years I have intermittently gorged. Your article might be better if it’s about readers and their responses to romance writing than it is about you and your reaction and/or conclusions about romance writing. You’re going to get torn to pieces by people who’ve read a ton more romance novels than you have.
    Lisa, interesting what you say about how romance reading is linked to your libido. My big issue with reading/not reading romance has to do with time. I read quickly, and I’m used to being able to read a book in one sitting. When I can’t do that, it’s harder for me to finish any book. So I read less in general, including less romance, the busier I am. I read shorter things (web reading or books with stand-alone chapters) when I’m busy.
    Janice, by no means do I want to diminish fanfic as a literary form. I just think it works best in its context and I think it relies on characterization that has already been developed, and that’s its appeal. I can’t read fanfic for fandoms I’m not part of–hell, I can’t even read it for pairings I’m not a fan of.
    IASPR’s conference is in York (England) in September, and their CFP is still open. I should be brainstorming a paper idea out of this. The theme is “the pleasures of romance.” I’ll think about this while I get some gardening in before the rain. πŸ™‚

  26. “I think it relies on characterization that has already been developed, and that’s its appeal.”
    Another question this raises is whether stuff like PD James’ new novel, Death Comes to Pemberley is fanfic, or even Bridget Jones, in a way (or the gatrillions of Austen “sequels”). Fanfic is really part of the remix cultural moment we’re in.

  27. Ah, right you are, IASPR moves from year to year. I was thinking of this, but I didn’t realize it was a one-off. I think I got the two mixed up in my head.
    It is interesting about the growing trend toward what you could call mainstream fanfic. Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter is RPF, after all.

  28. A book review is, by definition, an opinion. There is no right or wrong answer. Some people will like a particular book and some people won’t. It’s a matter of taste.
    The existence of an academic conference on a subject is not proof that that subject is a matter of quality. Come on! I know how these things work.
    Also, I’ve read more than a weekend’s worth of romance novels. I haven’t read one in a while, and that’s why I was surprised by the upped up sexy bits, but I read a chunk of them every ten years, when I need something mindless to read. In high school, I used to be fan of Katherine Woodwise (sp?) books.
    So, give me three or four of the absolute best romance novels that came out in the past year. I’m not going to read every single romance novel ever written and then write a fan letter to the books. Actually, give me the titles of two books that you think exemplify the best of the genre. And then give me the titles of the most popular romance novel of the year. (I guess I can go look it up. I chose the Banks books, because they had the most comments on Amazon. ) As I’m writhing this, I’m thinking that I might not be interested in writing a review about romance novels. I think I’m more interested in thinking about why they are popular. Roiphe had a good article about this in Newsweek. I might write an article responding to her. hmmmmm. thinking and plotting.

  29. Temeraire is totally Patrick O’Brian with dragons. I hope Novik’s letter to prospective agents or publishers wasn’t much longer than those four words, because that should have been enough to close the sale.
    Anyway, if you haven’t read POB, Tamar, they’re a treat. He’s much droller than NN, and deeper too. Plus there’s that debauched sloth.

  30. “And how do you explain the entire subgenre of inspirational romance, which is chaste by its very nature?”
    I’ve only read one boxed set (a grandma gift from high school), but the author seemed to be getting a lot of mileage out of the evil baron (or whatever) chasing our chaste heroine around the barn.
    “Temeraire is totally Patrick O’Brian with dragons.”
    And less elliptical and better explanations of technical detail for non-sailors? If so, I’m sold.

  31. I would like my money back after downloading 50 shades of grey. It was basically Twilight without vampires. The dude (grey) was scary and kept warning the ingenue away, claiming that he could hurt her — except he wasn’t a vampire. He was just a kinky weirdo.
    Maybe it’s the fact that I’m a domestic abuse survivor but I have a really hard time finding anything romantic about a man beating a woman — or believing that any woman really likes it. (Apparently there’s some kind of brouhaha over at Slate because Katie Roiphe said more or less the same thing — that crap like this sets women back. It’s also a little disturbing to think that if a guy is rich enough he can buy a woman and do anything he wants to her.)
    I found myself engaging in psychobabble/sociological reflections on whether the coincidence of novels where women get romantically beaten and the mancession is just random. . . Also it read like a rehash of 9.5 weeks. Here’s hoping they don’t make a movie of it!
    And one more thing: I hated the way that every time she came it talked about her “splintering into a million pieces like tiny shards of light” or some such hocum. I found it inaccurate and redundant. (and I’m also in a really crappy mood because I’ve been grading finals and the grade-grubbing has begun in earnest.)

  32. I still mostly read nonfiction. I’m learning about the Boxer Rebellion and waiting for the part where they start earth bending.

  33. Actually, give me the titles of two books that you think exemplify the best of the genre.
    I don’t claim enough data to be able to exemplify. But I do know what I’ve liked. I tend to read romantic suspense in addition to plain ole romance, and my top 2 would be Unlawful Contact (Pamale Clare) and Jaci Burton’s Play by Play series (take your pick, they’re all strong).

  34. “Here’s hoping they don’t make a movie of it!”
    There’s a near 100% certainty of that happening.
    How plot does the thing have, anyway?
    (The Twilight comparison is very interesting.)

  35. Check out the action on the amazon.com site. There’s over 1200 reviews of the first one in the series, most saying that it’s the worst they’ve ever read and questioning the intelligence of anyone who ever liked it. (Apparently it started out as a fanfiction about Twilight, according to some of the reviews.)
    If you were looking for an angle for the Atlantic piece, it might be fun to interview some people who loved it and some people who hated it, and think about what that says about the different types of women in the world today.

  36. It’s also a little disturbing to think that if a guy is rich enough he can buy a woman and do anything he wants to her.
    According to sources in Columbia, even more disturbing when he doesn’t pay after saying he will.

  37. I doubt that women hate it or love it for its intelligence, and I wouldn’t assume that you can judge women’s intelligence by whether they love it or hate it.
    And what are these different types of women? I’m glad women are becoming more open about their interests in erotica, and I wouldn’t shame them for liking a particular type of erotica just because it didn’t interest me!

  38. Places to look for recs for the best romance fiction:
    likesbooks.com
    http://www.likesbooks.com/top1002010results.htm
    Their Top 100 Ever. Your favorite romance novel came in at number 10.
    dearauthor.com
    If I had to rec:
    Welcome to Temptation or Bet Me, by Jennifer Crusie (contemporary)
    The Viscount Who Loved Me, by Julia Quinn (Regency historical)
    The Unsung Hero, by Suzanne Brockmann (contemporary suspense)
    Not Quite a Husband, by Sherry Thomas (Victorian historical)
    The Iron Duke, Meljean Brook (steampunk)
    I kind of dislike paranormal romance, so I defer to others.

  39. Because other people go around saying romance is porn? πŸ˜‰
    Wasn’t it one of the results of 70’s feminist research that when women like this stuff, it’s “erotica”, and so okay? (In truth, this did involve a totally artificial definition of porn, one that basically no one else used, that did make it so that not too many women liked it. Or too men men, for that matter.)
    half of the books I recommended in an earlier comment stop at the closed bedroom door.
    There’s a long tradition in this stuff of the guy having “rigid probing finger” and the like, of course. I assume it’s something like someone who will look at the bra adds in the circular from Macy’s, or a victoria’s secret catalog- one wants to be titillated, but not, you know, too titillated.
    I don’t doubt that there are some books that fit this style and are reasonably well written. There’s so many of them, it would be a surprise if not. But surely people who _mostly_ read them for the writing are about as rare as people who _mostly_ read playboy for the articles. (My understanding is that Playboy sometimes has pretty good articles, too, though I have to take other people’s word for it.)

  40. I’m about 200 pages into the book and got to the bondage room scene. I having a hard time suspending my disbelief, but I’m still reading it.
    I had no idea that so many of my readers were into fan fiction. I don’t know anything about it. What’s the deal?
    The Roiphe article at Newsweek is picking up a lot of steam. Here’s a response. I’m not reading the articles until I finish the book.

  41. “But surely people who _mostly_ read them for the writing are about as rare as people who _mostly_ read playboy for the articles.”
    That makes about as much sense as if you said “But surely people who _mostly_ read mystery novels for the writing are about as rare as people who _mostly_ read playboy for the articles.”
    Romance is genre fiction. In the same way that mystery novels aren’t good unless they have a good *mystery*, romance novels aren’t good unless they have a good *romance.* The genre expectation is the draw. Solve the mystery. Have a HEA. And as Margaret Atwood says, “So much for endings. Beginnings are always more fun. True connoisseurs, however, are known to favor the stretch in between, since it’s the hardest to do anything with.”

  42. “I’m about 200 pages into the book and got to the bondage room scene.”
    Ew. Wouldn’t most of us want to have it swabbed down with disinfectant before touching anything?

  43. Wendy, I think I love you.
    Matt, reading your response about romance and porn just makes me tired. You really haven’t read (or perhaps believed) any of the articulate comments on this very thread. But thanks for the O’Brian rec. Sounds good.
    Laura, my comment about the conference wasn’t to suggest it proves romance novels are high art. It was to suggest that you talk to people who have studied it. IOW, educate yourself. Otherwise, Wendy’s right. You’ll be eaten alive by smart women who are passionate about what they read and already hypersensitive to kneejerk judgmental responses to their choices.
    Also, I gave my list of recommended reads back a ways in this thread. They may not be written in the past year, but most are from the past few years. Ideally, I’d want to know what you like to read (funny or emotional, historical or contemporary, kick-ass paranormal heroines or what) and not give general recs. Same as with any genre. I wouldn’t necessarily hand someone who loves cozies a hard-edged gory thriller. I just wish you didn’t sound so much like you’ve already made up your mind about romance. It’s a huge, wide ranging genre.
    BTW, is 50 Shades as poorly written as it sounds? It really sounds… ugh.

  44. “Ew. Wouldn’t most of us want to have it swabbed down with disinfectant before touching anything?”
    Dude, what’s the point of having Submissives if they won’t disinfect your bondage room for you???
    I also point you to this Tumblr: 50shadesofsuck.tumblr.com/

  45. I don’t know what genre subcategory they fit into, but Elizabeth Peters’ Vicky Bliss archeological mysteries are always fun. There tends to be a love interest. One thing I like about Elizabeth Peters is that when she provides a heroine with a dark, mysterious, possibly dangerous love interest, he usually turns out to be the bad guy, inverting the gothic convention that he’s misunderstood and really quite sweet (see Twilight, etc.).
    This isn’t a good research idea for Laura, though, because EP’s best stuff is old.
    Peters also has a 1984 mystery called Die for Love in which her librarian detective is trying to solve a murder mystery at a romance writers’ convention. It’s been a long time since I read it, but the Amazon page suggests that it’s a very funny take on the romance world of the 1980s.
    http://www.amazon.com/Die-Love-Elizabeth-Peters/dp/0380731169

  46. The 50 Shades of Grey Tumblr linked above is hilarious.
    Florence King has a novel called When Sisterhood Was in Flower (1982), which is about life in a women’s commune (the whole novel is in the Florence King reader). King’s heroine has writer’s block with the gothics she’s been doing (the “brooding-and-riding-crop genre”) and she starts writing much more lucrative and less plot-y pornographic novels for men. That section of the book is very funny. There’s a list of editorial guidelines from the publisher. Example: “Get right into the action on page one. Leisurely descriptions of scenery and setting are always fatal. Our readers don’t care where anybody is.” There’s also an interesting discussion of why pornographic writing is bad, and bad for the writer.
    “I was fooling no one but myself; pornography is virtually a synonym for bad writing. The pornographer’s first rule–genital’s must be described in minute detail–results in cascades of adjectives guaranteed to destroy controlled prose. I realized just how bad matters had become the day I left a note for the electrician that said: “The fuse at the top with the pointy red shiny glass covering that swells into a bulbous mass underneath has emitted, sharp, crackling, staccato sparks whenever I turn on the round button with the deeply depressed circular rim on the left side of the heater.””
    “Around this time, I came across an anti-porn essay by Pamela Hansford-Johnson, who claimed that the literary worthlessness of porn can be proved by transposing its style to a description of the boiling and eating of an egg.”
    I will spare you the writer’s attempt to do exactly that, which proved PHJ’s point.

  47. There’s a very funny review at the top of the Amazon reader reviews. This is purportedly from an older guy (the character reminds me a bit of the serial killer/cinephile from Red Letter Media who did the huge video reviews of the Star Wars prequels):
    “At my age, my arthritis flared up just reading about Ana’s sexual gymnastics. And for some reason, I kept thinking about her contracting genital warts. Soon, however, Ana’s endless pyrotechnic climaxes resembled repetitively watching porn: after a while, it leaves me bored and yawning. That said, there was a definite infectiousness to the plot; and taking Viagra to stiffen my resolve, I persevered.”

  48. Read several Carla Kelly/Mary Balogh etc. as I really wanted to find more regency-type books. But no. None of their books grab me. I’ve given up and gone back to Heyer for the umpteenth re-read when I want some regency πŸ™‚

  49. M, can’t argue with Heyer being the master of the genre. πŸ™‚ But I do love Miss Chartley’s Guided Tour (by Kelly) and will often name that book as my favorite all-time book when pressed. Interesting aside: Kelly is, like Stephenie Meyer, a Mormon. And come to think of it, her characters only have sex when they’re married. She’s also been writing more romances that are set in 19th century America and some that are more explicitly about Mormons.
    If anyone wants to know a little more about fanfic, someone on LJ pulls together a weekly posts on links about fanfic in the media here: wneleh.livejournal.com/689258.html
    You can also go to fanfiction.net but it’s a monster. I have a preference for Spike/Buffy fanfic, so if you want to try out some good stuff, I’d go to allaboutspike.com.

  50. I know other commenters have recommended it before, but if you want to think critically about romances, reading “Reading the Romance” is a must if you haven’t already.
    The only romance genre stuff I read is Elizabeth Peters, mainly her Egyptology/Amelia Peabody series but I’ve also read the Vicky Bliss stuff. EP has a PhD in Egyptology, so all the historical and archaeological details are accurate, and the books are written with a bit of a wink, but they’re also lots of fun. It’s true it’s all pretty old, but I think she’s still writing about Amelia Peabody, even though the character is probably almost 70.

  51. I’m reading the 1-star reviews. It’s very enjoyable. The author apparently has a very tenuous grasp on Pacific NW geography and on American idiom. Loved this line from a review:
    “My first clue should have been the gushing interview with the woman who loved it, who hadn’t read a book in NINE YEARS!”

  52. Interesting review of 50 Shades by an erotica writer here:
    remittancegirl.com/blogpost/fifty-shades-of-twilight-a-fifty-shades-of-grey-review/
    Btw, the new commenting system won’t let me HTML up a link. FYI.

  53. So, I read the first book. It’s badly written erotica with some icky belt whipping S&M. I’m not sure that I can add more to the commentary on this book.

  54. I assume it is really tricky to write a belt-whipping scene that doesn’t come off as icky to a large chunk of the population.

  55. I haven’t read the book, but I wonder if it might not be more credible if the author had located it in the UK (or maybe NYC). A pervy Brit is more believable than a pervy Northwesterner. More cinematic, too.

  56. Re: fanfiction, well there’s fanfiction and there’s fanfiction. Lots of frogs, a few princes.
    Coming back to the Romance Genre: I haven’t seen Dorothy Sayers mentioned in this thread so far, but while not contemporary (her last book is set in 1938), the best “romance” – ever- for me, is Gaudy Night. The book’s theme, unfortunately, is still only too relevant, IMO. You do need to read the series to understand how/where Gaudy Night fits in though.
    (very briefly – the hero is a English upper-class detective, who starts in Bertie Wooster mode and has PTSD from WWI, Love-interest is an Oxford educated writer of detective fiction, whom he saves from the gallows (wrongful conviction) – and no, she doesn’t fall into his arms in gratitude.)

  57. Peter Wimsey is a super rich, super accomplished fantasy admirer type, but Sayers keeps him and Harriet Vane apart for a very long time. After being arrested and tried for poisoning an overbearing former lover and then saved from hanging by Wimsey, Vane doesn’t want to mix gratitude and romance and just wants her freedom and some pleasant companionship (and to write her books and solve a mystery or two). Figuring out how to square love and being a person in her own right is the business of Gaudy Night (oh, and there’s a mystery, too, and lots of women professors).

  58. I try not to get hung up on the Genre label. I read “The Mists of Avalon” for the first time last year, and was loving it, and then I realized, “Hold on a second, this is all a big romance novel!” But, it turned out to be so good, I didn’t care. Even though I don’t go for bodice-rippers (even on the privacy of my Nook.)
    My newly-evolved reading program involves reading books that I know are part of a long BBC mini-series that I can stream on Netflix when I’m done reading. Just finished Dickens’ “Bleak House” (the BBC series starred Gillian Anderson from X-Files), and before that was George Elliot’s Daniel Deronda (where the Earl of Grantham played the bad guy for the BBC.)
    Probably good stuff out there, too, for people who don’t automatically gravitate to 19th century novels about lawyers and Jews.

  59. Also — advanced tip for lovers of 19th century writers:
    Mark Twain’s travel writings — like “Innocents Abroad” — get twice as fun if you use David Sedaris’s voice in your head when you are reading it. And it works because most of the things Twain says about traveling around Europe with a bunch of idiots uses the same sort of jokes that Sedaris used 150 years later.

  60. Zero time to read all the comments (but I’ve already downloaded four samples to my Kindle) but
    (1) I adore Heyer’s regency romances. ADORE.
    and
    (2) The night before final interviews for a big post-grad scholarship, I read two of my aunt’s stash of Harlequin romances. My mother asked me, what will you say if they ask the title of the last book you read? I’d lie, I said without looking up from the book. (But it wasn’t really the sort of question asked in that room.)

  61. I hope you’ll have the chance to read “Beyond Bodice-Rippers” by Jessica Luther at the Atlantic soon. It’s everything those of us who read romance and reject the “romance is porn” trope were trying to say. For example: “Grant puts it succinctly, “romance is one of the few places where a woman is a subject in sex, rather than an object.” ”
    http://bit.ly/XTGW93
    I read several books recommended by your commentators, and can especially recommend “Bet Me” — great fun all around.

  62. Yes, I did read that Atlantic piece and was chatting about it on Twitter and through e-mail with various people. Let me whip out a quick blog post before things get too crazy around here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s