For those of you who don’t track my every move, I’ve been on a self-imposed Twitter exile for a few days (and will be Twitter-free for at least a month). So now I have to get my romland kerfuffle news the old-fashioned way: email. Luckily, I have friends who keep me up to speed.
Today’s topic of conversation is a blog post that (a) takes romlanders to task for repeatedly attacking Fifty and its fans; and (b) expresses mystification at why “serious readers” are not “moving on” from Harlequin romances. (Contradiction alert! Oops, too late.)
Apparently, for her, the conventional wisdom is that Harlequin romances are Serious Literature and exempt from the kind of bashing and criticism that Fifty readers are surrounded by.
Huh. I have heard various criticisms of excessive Harlequin love on the part of bloggers, as well as the not-so-subtle implication that bloggers who like Harlequin are basically paid shills for the company. But I missed the transition where Harlequin readers aren’t criticized for their taste. Maybe it’s because when I entered the romland internet, the boards were dominated by Harlequin bashers. Sometimes good reviews of category romance would feature phrases like “I never thought I’d like a category, but this one surprised me. It’s good!” Not every reviewer was like this of course; SuperWendy in particular was always a fan of categories, and The Romance Reader rarely talked like that in a review. But other sites did.
To some degree, blogs that emerged in the mid-2000s were pushing back against what they perceived as elitism against Harlequin by reviewing categories and bigger books in the same way. And since Harlequin was very good at embracing digital readers through multiple formats, frequent sales, and publicity outreach with free books, it was easy for ebook-reading romance readers to pick up Harlequins. When these readers became bloggers, they kept reading them and they reviewed them as well. And what do you know, we have come to a point where not everyone sees Harlequins as the intellectually inferior sibling in the romance family, the dumb blonde who somehow manages to run a highly successful business.
I guess I can understand why, if Harlequins don’t appeal to you, you might find this a little grating. But I’ve been reading categories for more than three decades. I haven’t moved on from them because I like them too much. Yes, they can be predictable, formulaic, badly written, and retrograde in their values. They can also be surprising, innovative, subversive, funny, and really, really smart. Kind of like romance novels more generally.
Here’s a list of the people who have given me shit for reading Harlequins over the years:
(1) My parents
(2) My older relatives
(3) My younger relatives
(4) My long-term boyfriends
(5) My short-term boyfriends
(6) My friends who only read literature or read one of the “acceptable” genres
(7) My pink-collar-ghetto coworkers
(8) My academic colleagues
(9) Bookstore employees
(11) Random people on trains, planes, subways, and boats
(12) Random people on the internet
I care what some of the people on that list think, and I’ve spend a fair amount of time trying to explain to them why I read romance. Some of them have even listened. As for the random people, eh. They don’t know me and they don’t care about me. They just want to hear themselves talk. Blogs don’t write themselves, you know.
Just as I was looking for the right LOLcat for this post, SuperWendy posted on the same subject. Heh. No one can HULKSMASH like a librarian.
Wendy’s a seriously tough act to follow, but I’ll throw this up anyway as an additional contribution. You can never have too many people weigh in against a bad idea.