Oh, Librarian, whoever you are. You have made me sad

This post at Library Journal made me sad. It’s a late commentary on the whole Joe “No Such Thing as a Conflict of Interest” Konrath/Amazon review situation (I blogged about that here) and also slightly about some review abuse (which I have blogged about here – sarcasm version and here – the Swiftian version as well as here – This is just wrong version.

It’s pretty clear the author of the post isn’t fully informed about the whole Amazon review thing and missed entirely the disturbing implications regarding the outing of Harriet Klausner. That’s a whole other post. Here’s what this post is about: (Emphasis added):

Sitting around all day reading romance novels hardly qualifies as a life, and romance novels hardly qualify as books.

But it’s also hard to feel sorry for customers who were duped into buying a “bad” romance novel by a good review. After all, they’re all bad books. It’s not like people are reading romances for their literary quality. I almost feel sorry for the people who get so worked up over this.

Right. Anyway, I left a comment and since comments are moderated there, it’s possible mine won’t be approved. Here’s what I said:

Wow. I was with you, kind of, up until this: “romance novels hardly qualify as books.” I’m so sorry you feel this way. I am, as you may note, an author of romance. Like many readers and writers of Romance, I am not only a college graduate but in possession of a graduate degree. (In English, by the way.)

It’s been my experience that most people who go down the “All Romance is trash” path have in fact never read a romance. There are as well a lot of people who read one romance (often years ago) didn’t like it, and now, based on a sample size in single digits and in no way reflective of Romances being written today, decided that the entire genre must be awful. This mutually assured stupidity conclusion about the genre and the people who read it is, sadly, all too familiar.

There are so many talented, gifted authors of Romance and they come from all backgrounds, some are academics, some are librarians, some are even men. Since I write in the genre, I happen to know a lot of authors of the genre. They are lawyers, PhDs, engineers, technologists, teachers. There are also, by the way, many fine Romance authors who did not go to college, but let me ask you this:

Do you really believe that so many smart, educated women (and a few men) would ALL write awful books with no redeeming value? Are you honestly willing to suggest that’s remotely possible?

Please, please, consider the possibility that you are wrong. Maybe Romance just isn’t the genre for you, but I can assure you there are Romances out there as fine, or finer, than any literature you care to name.



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16 Responses to “Oh, Librarian, whoever you are. You have made me sad”

  1. Jibby says:

    “but I can assure you there are Romances out there as fine, or finer, than any literature you care to name.”


    Magic Mountain
    Gravity’s Rainbow
    To Kill a Mockingbird
    The Great Gatsby

    Now it’s your turn

    • These are just off the top of my head. I’m quite sure I’m forgetting others, but I can come back and add to the list.

      Judith Ivory, Black Silk
      Laura Kinsale, Flowers from the Storm
      Patricia Gaffney, To Have and to Hold
      Sherry Thomas, Private Arrangements
      Joanna Bourne, The Spymaster’s Lady
      Sugar Daddy, Lisa Kleypas
      Bet Me, Jennifer Crusie

      (Corrected the title of the Ivory book.)

      Oh, gosh, I knew I was forgetting a major talent, plus this adds some paranormal to my mix.

      Meljean Brook, Iron Seas series, but her story in the anthology Burning Up is astonishing work. If novellas don’t qualify then substitute Brook’s The Iron Duke.

  2. SonomaLass says:

    If your list doesn’t measure up, Carolyn, it will be the dreaded happy ending. One reason a lot of us enjoy Romance is for the optimistic view of the potential of human relationships. I’m not seeing much of that in Jibby’s list, so you may be up against one of those people who thinks an unhappy or ambiguous ending is a hallmark of greatness.

    • I have my quibbles with Jibby’s list, but I don’t think anyone could argue those books aren’t great literature, and for a variety of reasons, too.

      And yes, there are a lot of people who have a problem with a happy ending, and worse, the fact that they’re Romances… already they’re prejudiced.

      My list is pretty eclectic but a bit heavy on the Historical romance. I wondering about including Sugar Daddy since I felt the last chapter was a let down, but as noted, I have quibbles with the books offered up, so hey.

      And oh, lord, I’m off to add to that list because I have left off the amazing Meljean Brook.

  3. Erin Satie says:

    I hate discussions like this.

    Here’s the thing. When someone writes a new piece of lit-fic, we don’t say, “Well, is it as good as Ulysses? No? NEVERMIND, NOT A BOOK!” That would be ridiculous. And it would produce a lot of horrible books, because the only people who sat down to write would be people who thought they were the 2nd coming of Joyce & that kind of arrogance produces crap.

    I can’t say I’m an admirer of Joyce – he’s just not my bag – but I’ve read Ulysses and Portrait and Dubliners, and I respect him greatly. I adore a lot of the books that Carolyn Jewel named but I wouldn’t say they are the equal of Ulysses.

    On the other hand? Oh, I’d take any of them over Michael Chabon any day of the week. Or Iris Murdoch or David Sedaris and probably Balzac.

    • Eris: Yes, you are absolutely right about the nature of the argument. I’m sure Jibby knows quite well the qualities of Ulysses and why that book is unique. And why the Dubliners is worth reading if only for the sheer heartbreak of the last lines.

      But the issue, really, isn’t “What’s the Romance equivalent of Ulysses or To Kill A Mockingbird” but what Romances ought to be included on a list of books people ought to read because they’re damn good books, and should continue to read through the years because they say something important about love and, yes, women.

      Flowers from the Storm has its detractors, but Kinsale tackles some deep, deep issues about the nature of the mind and what it means to be whole when a part of you is, in fact, damaged.

      Likewise with the Gaffney book. The issue of rape, the treatment of women, and the way the hero is brought from repulsive to redeemed is well worth reading and thinking about. Brook’s work in steampunk is transformative of the genre. Period.

      As for Chabon, I LOVED Amazing Adventures. That was major work and belongs in the canon. I’ve not been as appreciative of his other work. I have a fondness for some Iris Murdoch. Sedaris tends not to work for me. Balzac wrote some good stuff (heh) and at least he’s not as dismissive and offensive about women as, say, Flaubert and so many, many, many other male writers (and readers) who think they said anything true about the lives of actual women. Let’s start that list with Hardy and round it out with Franzen.

  4. Erin Satie says:

    Man, if we’re setting the bar at “Thomas Hardy” I could list dozens of romance authors who do better.

  5. Liz Mc2 says:

    (Should I wave my English PhD before entering?) The problem I have with these discussions is there’s no clear basis for the comparison. It’s like those awful student papers: “there are many differences and maybe some similarities between Hamlet and Black Silk.” So?

    What standard of greatness are we using? Who gets to define it and why? How would Jibby compare any two of the novels on his/her list, for the matter of that? Carolyn and Erin are already disagreeing, even though they agree on the general principle.

    Are Hamlet and Ulysses “great” in the same way? I don’t think it is dismissive of genre romance to say that it aims at different things, explores different themes, and has different structural requirements than some other kinds of novels. Is it diminishing Shakespeare’s sonnets to say that we measure their greatness in a different way than we do that of Ulysses or, for that matter, Hamlet?

    I realize that Carolyn, in her annoyance, invited a challenge like Jibby’s. But really it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me to make a case for Bet Me by comparing it in some way to Ulysses (though of course as an English teacher I am confident I could write that paper if pressed). I find the question of “greatness” pretty uninteresting in the end. Thank God, or Joyce and Crusie, that we have both Ulysses and Bet Me, both of which I appreciate very much. How dull if all literature was great in the same way.

    • Thanks Liz. Well said.

    • Erin Satie says:

      It might be more interesting to compare Bet Me to one of Shakespeare’s comedies. Like to like.

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        Pretty sure you could do something with the fact that both Ulysses and Bet Me are playing with older works–mythic/folkloric–for starters . . . . But yes. It struck me that nothing on Jibby’s list is really the kind of literature to which romance is more allied. No Burney, Austen, Bronte. No dramatic comedy. No chivalric romance.

        • Well, I might be wrong, but I suspect the list was deliberately picked. But Liz, you’re right, I invited the challenge, and I’m glad Jibby picked it up.

          I did come up with my list straight from the top of my head, but I think that serves a purpose, in that I did not have to think long or hard about what Romances I think deserve to be widely read because they’re great stories that don’t easily leave you and that invite the reader to think. And isn’t that what literature is supposed to do?

  6. Maria says:

    I’m a public librarian who is a newbie to historical romance novels. I LOVE them! Nancy Pearl (another librarian and author of Book Lust) says never be ashamed of your reading preferences and counts romance as valid literature. I only read well-written books and romance novels certainly qualify. This kind of article (from LJ) just keeps perpetuating the myth. Oh, yeah. Kind of like the same myth that surrounds librarians (quiet, mousy, dull)! And, yes, I, too, I have a Master’s Degree in library science with a major in English literature and minor in History.

    • Thanks, Maria! As you’re no doubt aware there are some really wonderful historical romance authors out there. Writing lovely thought- provoking stories.

  7. Erin Satie says:

    I’m just coming back to make a comment which has been festering in my brain overnight.

    If your tastes are determined by hindsight, by canonization, by the blessing of some superior coterie…you are not exercising taste at all.

    Good taste is easy when you’re just picking from among a batch of winners, narrowed down by generations of other readers. Joyce and Orwell and blah.

    Good taste is really really hard when you’re sitting down with an uncategorized piece of work and trying to find, within yourself, a real sense of whether or not it has valuable qualities.

    It exposes you to the possibility of being wrong & even laughable. When done properly, it requires bravery. There is nothing brave about condemning a whole genre of books and slapping people on the wrist with a copy of 1984.

    • One of the unexpected discoveries of grad school was that I could more than adequately defend my opinion of a text, more so when I’d learned how to situate what I’d read in a given rhetorical framework.

      I would have been impressed if the list provided were less obvious, but then that was part of the point: here’s this list of books most everyone agrees are literature with a capital L. How does Romance stack up against that? It’s a fair question.

      Well, I think there are Romances that belong on lists like that. And I was happy to provide examples to back up my opinion.