Yes: romance. That most denigrated of genres. One can admit to dabbling with Jane Austen as part of ye old school curriculum. Or even a touch of Marquis de Sade if you want to present an esoteric facet to the world. But not Barbara Cartland or- heaven forbid- a 1980's Mills and Boon with the cover missing and horribly insensitive gender dynamics. Perhaps even worse: Sweet Valley High. I bet admitting to having read those on Facebook would tank your career quicker than a video of you repeatedly slapping a Gerber baby look-alike.
Which is a damn shame. As a writer, I should probably say something inane like "I appreciate all good literature" Well, I don't. Literature is a word that needs to be avoided by middle-brow folk like m'self. Culture should be approached organically, subjectively, idiosyncratically. Have a penchant for prize-winning works that no one else understands? Fine. Like children's books even though you are an adult? Great. Can't sleep unless you have read several chapters of horror to help you either have nightmares or avoid them? Rock on. Read whatever the hell strikes your fancy because you're awesome like that? Awesome.
I do two genres intensely. Speculative fiction, because it is deeply meditative material that teaches me politics, history and science*. But my cornerstone has always been, and remains, romance. Long before the age of ten I stole my older sisters' poorly hidden stashes and discovered the fascinating world of social science.
A lot of people have been introduced to the saucier versions of romance by the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon. Sigh. If you must. But please believe me when I tell you that you could do better, even if you want to read erotica- which, for the record, is not exactly romance. It's porn, but classier because you have to read the words and make the pictures in your head**.
But back to the topic. What's the attraction to romance novels? For me it's the micro-sociology, the psychology and the insanely good character studies. Oh, and the vocabulary, the social commentary, the travel aspect, the amazing research that goes into some of it. As a genre it has a pretty basic formula: girl meets boy. blah blah love blah blah complication blah blah happily married ever after. Act one. Act two. Act three.
It's what people can do within the confines of an artistic format that separates the goats from the leopards. There are people out there writing romance that is devastatingly good. Romance that makes you work at it, in the company of a good dictionary. Romance that is subtle and fine and deep and utterly satisfying. Romance that makes the world a darker place, or a lighter place. Romance that reorganizes everything you thought you knew about people. Romance you need to read twice, or once every two years because you have to grow into understanding it.
So I would like to direct your attentions to a few peeps you might want to sample if you've always suspected the genre of being beneath you. Try it when you're feeling open minded- you might be pleasantly surprised. Please understand that this is a rather slim sliver of a very large and diverse genre. Here goes.
The charmingly funny: Jennifer Crusie's earlier stuff, Susan Elisabeth Phillips
The group format: Susan Elisabeth Phillips, Suzanne Brockman, Julia Quinn
The pulp: Barbara Cartland, Nora Roberts
The compelling and unusual: Georgette Heyer, Susan Napier
The darker side: Lisa Kleypas, Judith Ivory
The caters for many tastes: Amanda Quick and all her other aliases.
The neo-historicals: Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran
The bent fairy tale: Teresa Medeiros, Meredith Duran
The no sex please: Mary Balogh, Georgette Heyer
The chicklit: sorry. hate it too much to even try.
The 21st Century: vamps and wolves and honestly I am too old school to read this stuff and give you a perspective.
A little comment on diversity: in romance, if it has an "ethnic" focus, you can pretty much guarantee that it's going to be awful. Want to see some color in unexpected and interesting (though admittedly American) ways? Suzanne Brockmann and Susan Elisabeth Phillips might put an unexpected smile on your face.
Another note: yes, the genre has been accused of selling the marriage ideal for years. I suppose there are people who get conned into believing in the One Two Wuff fantasy through romance, but you have to have the IQ of a peanut for that to happen. It's fiction, get a grip.
Final note: romance has kept the publishing industry afloat for years. Betcha didn't think of that.
Happy book day. Word is life.
* next year's book day theme? hm.
** Seriously, the two should not be confused. There is overlap, but that's it.