Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Prejudice #2 - Romance, sweet romance

Folks, there are a few affiliate links here.  Since most of the books I talk about here are not reviewed on the blog, the links go to Amazon.  If you choose to purchase the book, I will receive a small commission, which will help subsidize my book addiction.

So, last week I told you all how I was able to get over my prejudice against eReading and am now quite the convert.  I thought I should probably start with a success story because, honestly, I'm still struggling with this one.  Yep, I'm one of those people who looked down my snooty nose at romance novels.

It wasn't always like that.  When I was in college, Romance novels were my escape.  After spending hours reading history, Shakespeare, Dickens, science, and whatnot, I needed something to read purely for pleasure.   And I needed something that was pure fantasy.  And I needed something where I didn't need to worry about how things would end. If that is what someone is looking for, Romance will definitely fit the bill.

It also helped that there was an author who I really, really enjoyed. That was LaVyrle Spencer.  She wrote both contemporary and historical romance--and her historical romances were set, for the most part, in the 19th-century Midwest.  I recently thumbed through one of her books and her writing really was as good as I remembered.  I gobbled up her backlist and then waited for baited breath for each new book.

Then, in 1997, she retired.  She explained that she wanted her life back, and I totally get that. I loved Years , Morning Glory , and Bitter Sweet .  Her swan song, Then Came Heaven, was simply wonderful and, frankly, I just wasn't able to find anyone who compared.  Also, by that time, my life had changed.  I was living and working in Boston.  My mind, no longer spending hours in class, was craving meatier writing.  I no longer needed certainty or fantasy.  I began to grow away from romance, and I became a snob.

About a year ago, I started noticing in the book blogosphere a number of "Romance Apologetics."  These books, they argued, were not "junk reading" and the genre was just as worthy as Science Fiction or Mystery.   I'll admit that it took, well, a while for these posts to start changing my mind.  But, ultimately, I decided to give it a try.

That was probably a mistake.

My first few forays into the genre were not exactly classics.  And, after these first few jabs, I gave up and went back to my belief that romance was "lesser" literature.  Still, I kept wondering...was I just missing something?

I decided to tackle this prejudice in earnest.  The first thing I did was take an e-Course on romance novels (technically, it was on writing romance).  What exactly was this genre?  Why was it rubbing me the wrong way?

This class was an eye opener.  Yes, romance is formulaic.  However, I realized that just because a genre is formulaic doesn't mean the genre is "cookie cutter."  The "Formula" in romance is just a framework and, within that framework, a beautiful story can be told.

The second step I took was I started following the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books blog and listening to their podcast.  This blog is practically a bible for Romance fans and Romance wannabe fans.  And the podcast--even if you have absolutely no interest in Romance, you should listen to this.  Trust me, it will be ONE MORE REASON to look forward to Fridays.

So, am I a romance fan?  Eh....let's just say I've read some romances I've really enjoyed.  I've also found an author I love as much as I loved LaVyrle Spencer.  That would be Sonali Dev, who currently has 2 books out.  I reviewed her first, A Bollywood Affair , last year.  It was one of my top 10 books, as well the follow up (but not reviewed) The Bollywood Bride.  Right now, I'm waiting with bated breath for book #3 from her.

Basically, this is my current feeling about romance:  When it is good, it is mind-blowingly fantastic.  When it is bad, it is indescribably horrible.

Because it is so widely read and there is such a demand for it, I think that publishers sometimes have very low standards for what they accept.  I have read--or started to read--several romances from major publishers that are just terribly, terribly written.  I just can't imagine these books being published by anyone if they were in another genre.

Now, the flip side of that is self-publishing.  I have actually read quite a few good self-published romances (and quite a few horrifically bad self-published romances).  The good ones may not exactly fit the romance genre or the author may just not want to play the publishing game, but they are as good as anything a publisher will put out.  It is sometimes hard to find these books.  The best thing I can recommend is to go to Amazon's romance page and scroll through the various lists.  The self-published titles are usually in the $2.99-$4.99 range.  I would recommend looking at reviews--both what the reviews say and how many there are, especially with self-published titles.

Am I going to continue to read romance?  Yes--when I come across a gem, it makes up for all the duds.  And I am developing an appreciation for the genre--although I think I might be more of connoisseur than a "fan." While I won't make a blanket statement that everyone should give it a try, I would recommend that--if you are wondering about it--try a few books and see what you think,

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