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March 02, 2008

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Those responsible for sacking the people who have just been sacked have been sacked.

Remember, you can reach the ombudsman at ombudsman@washpost.com. Probably more productive than emailing Allen directly.

Isn't amazing how one of the surest ways for a woman to get published on an op-ed page is to insult other women? This is an unusually blatant example of the genre, of course, but there's also a huge % of Maureen Dowd's oeuvre, and the whole work-family dialogue, which goes approximately:

Caitlin Flanigan: women who work are betraying their husbands and children! This is all their fault!

Linda Hirshman: women who take time off, work part time, have more than one child, or choose careers that "contribute to society" instead of getting as much money and power as possible are betraying feminism! This is all their fault!

Male editor: ah, balance achieved; my work is done.

The bulk of that article doesn't deserve anymore response than you've so eloquently given it. But I'd like to make a point about what the heck's going on with all those women fainting at Obama rallies.

I worked a Michelle Obama rally out here in LA and watched a woman collapse. Barack was no where to be seen. (Oprah, however, was so do with that what you will). While I don't have enough empirical evidence to say for sure, I'd posit that the ladies are toppling over because they've been standing for hours with out food or water, not because they've gotten took with the Kool Aid.

Could Richard Cohen be secretly female?

I can't wait to read (Part 2)!

I must admit, though, it had never occurred to me that romance novels are "the female equivalent of porn." Hmmm. And sold right out in the open at Borders and Barnes and Noble.

What, then, about Cosmo and such sold at supermarkets?

Fourth: doesn't the Post have editors whose job is to prevent this sort of trainwreck? If so, the editor responsible for allowing this column to waste perfectly good space in the Washington Post should be fired.

Since when is space in the Washington Post perfectly good anymore? IMHO ever since Katherine Graham passed away they have set their sights on becoming a National Enquirer for the inside-the-beltway set, only with bigger words and less entertaining pictures. You have to admire the determination with which they've pursued their dream.


It's rare that a single editorial inspires this sort of immediate reaction. I've gone to a dozen blogs already today, and almost every one of them has some version of this post, whether short or long. If nothing else, Charlotte Allen has succeeded in uniting the left blogosphere behind one principle--that if we were lobotomized, we might just be smart enough to write for the Washington Post's Op-Ed page.

if you find yourself having to argue that you are an idiot in order to make your case, you might consider the possibility that an idiot like yourself is unlikely to get much right about women, or for that matter about anything.

Really you could have stopped after this point. One would hope that "we" could get universal agreement on this. What is in the water coolers over at the Washington Post?

TLTIABQ: It's perfectly good space. It's just what fills it that's the problem.

In other WaPo idiocy news, check this out for more examples of stuff "we" supposedly do. E.g.:

"We watch these shows in horror, with a judgmental eye on their cast members, but how different are we from them? In real life, we want what we want and we want it now. No delay. No aggravation. No hassle, pain-free, our way, right away. We're a highly technical society in a land of plenty. We place a premium on efficiency and convenience. Tiny annoyances and inconveniences foul our moods and affect our behaviors. Why?"

Grr. Speak for yourself, Dan Zak.

"What, then, about Cosmo and such sold at supermarkets?"

Soft(er)-core porn.


Well said, hil... as usual.

Note to Charlotte Allen: if you find yourself having to argue that you are an idiot in order to make your case, you might consider the possibility that an idiot like yourself is unlikely to get much right about women, or for that matter about anything.

Oh my gosh, thank you, hilzoy! This is *exactly* what I was thinking in my head, but I couldn't translate it into words; it was feeling too amorphous. But what you said here is exactly what I was trying to say.

Note to Charlotte Allen: if you find yourself having to argue that you are an idiot in order to make your case, you might consider the possibility that an idiot like yourself is unlikely to get much right about women, or for that matter about anything.

Oh my gosh, thank you, hilzoy! This is *exactly* what I was thinking in my head, but I couldn't translate it into words; it was feeling too amorphous. But what you said here is exactly what I was trying to say.

We want what we want and we want it now

Said best by Woody Guthrie (as with so much else).

Another day, another professional hater and self-hater gets front-of-the-opinion-section real estate at the Post.

Molly Ivins wrote about the career-enhancing potential of dissing your own in a classic column on Camille Paglia; I'll post an excerpt and link if I find it.

Meanwhile, Charlotte Allen's provided that desirable balance for years for editors at "even-the-liberal" L.A. Times, Atlantic Monthly, New York Times, Washington Monthly, and New York Observer. Head to Writers Reps when you want some of that right-wing flava.

Gems like "Jena: The Amazing Disappearing Hate Crime" are reserved for her regular gigs at the Weekly Standard. No, I'm not linking to it.

"Second, romance novels are not 'books', as that word is normally used. They are either tools for relaxation or the female equivalent of porn. They should therefore be compared not to War and Peace, but to either Ultimate Sudoku or the Hustler centerfold."

Um.

I recognize this is understandably written in the heat of fury, and rightfully so.

So I hate to stand up in the middle of a good rant.

But, well, although I've never worked on romance novels myself -- although I've worked on stuff with cross-over appeal for a variety of companies -- I spent years working as an editor for a company, Avon Books, whose bread and butter was romance novels, as well as freelancing for many years with my houses with romance lines.

I worked every day for years side-by-side with romance editors. We had offices and desks next to each other, just a couple of handfuls of editors. I learned a fair amount about the field, and its similarities and differences to other genre fiction over the years.

What Hilzoy said is, I regret to say, a load of class-based, ignorant, anti-genre, elitist, crap.

It's the identical kind of crap dumped ono genre writers of every sort, be they mystery writers, sf or fantasy writers, children's books writers, romance book writers, or what have you.

In every genre, there's a lot of crap, there's a lot of mediocre stuff, there's some good stuff, there's some great stuff, and there's some occasionally brilliant stuff. That's as true of the genre of "literature," or "mainstream" fiction as it is of any flavor of fiction or nonfiction.

There are no firm boundaries or borders between genres, and there's no homogenity of quality whatever.

There are no divisions into "this genre is all worthy" and "this genre is such garbage that we can't even call what we put it in "books," let alone call the producers "writers."

[...] "Second, romance novels are not 'books', as that word is normally used. They are either tools for relaxation or the female equivalent of porn. They should therefore be compared not to War and Peace, but to either Ultimate Sudoku or the Hustler centerfold."
And what does that make the writers, and the editors?

This is seriously offensive stuff, Hilzoy. How would you feel about someone writing a rant like this about philosophy professors, and their work?

Should I give you some phone numbers of romance novel writers and editors, so you can tell them you've carefully considered their careers, their decades of work, and their individual novels, and that you've evaluated them, distinguishing the quality of one writer and none novel from the next thoughtfully, and that this is your valuation and verdict on their work?

Or should they just come by the blog, maybe after some links, to read your opinion of what they do?

I hope you'll consider rewriting this. I realize that I'm really seriously offended by it; wait until some of the actual romance folks see it, if you want a real unhappy reaction.

But it turns out that us folks who produce such horrible and worthless nonliterature are actually really people, who have weird delusions that their work isn't pseudo-porn trash to be pissed on by people who feel superior to it, and to its readers.

The upper end of the romance genre is Jane Austen. What's appealing is the stories, and the characters, and the writing. Want to pick on an individual work, or writer, as lousy? Fine. Go do it.

Want to trash an entire genre, and all its writers and readers?

This arouses unwelcome responses, including impulsive and rude imperative suggestions involving recommended actions, that I shall decline to make.

But they weren't terribly original suggestions, and thus I leave them to dwell in the reader's imagination.

Ironically -- but not -- War And Piece is stuffed with romance genre elements, by the way.

(If anyone tells me "[X] isn't a [Genre Y] story/novel! It's good, and it transcends its genre!," I shall fly to where you live, come to your home, shoot you in the head, and leave. Don't do it, please, for both our sakes.)

"Or should they just come by the blog, maybe after some links, to read your opinion of what they do?"

Rereading this, I realize it may read as if I was making a threat to do this. That wasn't what I was trying to say at all. What I meant was that inevitably, if that stands at all, it's apt to get seen by someone in the romance writer's community, and then they'll descend with fury, which won't be fun. I didn't mean I would be doing anything about it.

Secondly, where did this vile attack on romance novels even come from? The only relevant bit I see in what Hilzoy quoted is "and read chick lit to our hearts' content." Is there more?

I mean, Jane Austen is literally the epitome of what people mean when they refer to "chick lit."

I had a few similar thoughts to Gary Farber, but I understood the thought hilzoy was making. I think she was speaking more about literary eroticism than romance novels as a genre. Because Laurell Hamilton definitely falls into the former and she's billed as a science fiction/fantasy author.

Perhaps the better analogy would between high quality erotica in both its literary and visual contexts. Men and women like to be titillated. Nothing wrong with that.

"In other WaPo idiocy news, check this out for more examples of stuff 'we' supposedly do."

A lot of people are prone to that kind of arrogance.

Including about what "we" read, or write.

I thought this from Zak's piece was pretty sound, myself:

[...] "Whether you are tempted to interrupt someone or are trying to get around a slow car -- when you're under stress you tend to react rather than respond," says Nathan, who specializes in stress. "Look at what you're telling yourself about your world and how you are interpreting it. We sometimes interpret the world as a set of 'shoulds,' 'oughts,' 'have to's,' 'musts,' 'deserves.' Those are exaggerations. It's a very competitive world we live in, so we easily get frustrated."
I've been paying a lot of attention lately to try to remind myself that lots of stuff is petty nonsense there's no good reason to get upset about, so I find this to be good advice, myself.

Although one of my worst faults is interrupting people; I have a long way to go on that; it's one of the blessings of writings that that can't be a problem (outside IMing).

I don't have any personal feelings about it, but Gary has a point regarding romance novels and he does a great job ramming it home by mentioning Jane Austen.

C.S. Lewis wrote something sympathetic about "bad" literature once--iirc, his point was that people who love badly written books often love them for the same themes and ideas that are found in classics. The difference is in the level of execution. So there's no point in dissing an entire genre--if someone likes romance novels, maybe they need to be introduced to Jane Austen to see what a superbly written romance novel looks like.

I'm just repeating Gary's themes and ideas without as much passion. I leave it to the reader to decide which of us is the "quality" commenter in this genre of genre defense. (I'd vote for Gary, but I think citing C.S. Lewis as a defender of genre literature contributed something. Of course Lewis wrote and loved SF and fantasy, two other widely despised genres, so he had his own personal stake in this.)

90% of all romance novels are crap.

All I have to say is thank goodness this was not penned by a man.

Gary: Rereading this, I realize it may read as if I was making a threat to do this.

Er, no – coming to your home and shooting you in the head sounded a wee bit more like a threat to me…

Being in the industry, (you not me) I understand where you are coming from. But this comes across as particularly harsh. People outside your industry see things differently. And “romance novels” have been known as female porn for much of my life. This is not something new hilzoy came up with.

Thanks, Donald. I wrote and deleted an even more passionate rant, responding to Xanax's brief remark, where I digressed into writing about working for magazines, but I decided to work on feeling a little less insulted. (I don't promise I fully succeeded, as I haven't.)

This is just indefensible, in my view, though: "Second, romance novels are not 'books', as that word is normally used. They are either tools for relaxation or the female equivalent of porn."

I don't expect Hilzoy to start issuing ukases on which pieces of bound text are and aren't worthy of being called "books," but this claim basically enrages me. I don't care what the adjective used in the place of "romance" is -- it's indefensible offensive garbage, whatever content is plugged in there to make a claim that no one has the standing to make.

It's purely "what I read and write is worthy; what you read and write, I care too little about to bother to know anything about, but I claim the right to sh*t on you and yours, and declare all your work unspeakable filthy effluvia, because I'm worthy, and you inherently are not, you are garbage, because I and my respectable friends say so."

It's disgusting. And it's pure ignorance. Contempt based on ignorance is always disgusting.

These are strong words, but no stronger than those I see as have been applied to my friends and colleages, and by extension, to myself. Whether this is about romance novels, or mysteries, or fantasy, or science fiction, or what-have-you, it's the same exact damn thing, over and over and over, decade after decade after decade. The insults and contempt for genre literature, and the people who produce it -- some of whom are some of the best writers of their time, I'd contend -- just never stops.

My favorite passage in Molly Ivins' 1991 piece on Paglia might violate the posting guidelines, so here's the link: .pdf, text.

It's the last paragraph. How I miss Molly Ivins.

For what it's worth, I am in total agreement with Gary.

You're welcome, Gary. Actually, I used to have strong feelings about this as a fan--it would drive me nuts to see people dissing LOTR or fantasy in general. I used to read critical arguments for and against LOTR and looked up Edmund Wilson's famously negative review and would get upset thinking about how wrong he was. (That cartoon about people getting upset because someone else is wrong has wide applicability--the internet was created, I think, expressly to allow people to finally vent over issues that they could never discuss with most of the people they knew in real life, because none of them cared.)

Eventually I just said to myself, oh screw it, I know LOTR has flaws, but I also know it's great, and there's just no point in caring what people say who think otherwise. No doubt if I had actually worked in the field I wouldn't be able to brush it off.

Gary: To put this in terms I can get my head around – should I feel offended every time someone bashes some software? People hate Windows. People hate Macs. People hate Linux. Many of those people have more passion about their hate than in your field I think.

I write and edit (code review) software for a living. It’s my career. Should I get upset every time anyone bashes some aspect of the field? I’d be in a permanent state of rage if I did. You’ve made disparaging remarks about software recently. Should I get pi**ed at you for that?

I'm trying to imagine Fabio playing Mr. Darcy. He might have made a credible Madame Bovary.

Heathcliff coming down off the moors to learn that his beloved, consumptive Marge Simpson has breathed her last doesn't give me the vapors like my beloved K(C)athy.

Didn't Jane Austen have the men do all the fainting?

Ayn Rand was the ultimate romance novelist, in my opinion, if your idea of a romantic evening is trying to get the Chrysler Building into bed by reciting Milton Friedman's rhyming couplets to it over raw meat.

The Beatles once remarked that the odd thing about playing early concerts in France was that the audience was almost exclusively swooning, screaming, 20-something young men.
Brian Epstein was a genius.

I once fainted at a Who concert but my brain was occluded via pharmaceutical miscalculation.

Speaking of fainting, I went to a coed military academy (well segregated back then) in the muggy Midwest as a 11 to 13 year old and on Parade Sunday, the guys dropped like flies, their rifles and sabres rattling as they fainted in the hot sun. The girls didn't seem to have much of a problem with fainting, because they listened better when they were told not to lock their knees and to breath normally.

I never liked hunting because calculating spear trajectories was beyond me, so I chose to stay home with the kid, but I always ate the berries on the way home from gathering. The lady of the house would get home after a hard day at work, look into the refrigerator while scratching herself, and ask .... "where the hell are my berries?"

The kid and I would look up innocently from our game of Uno.

I don't know about female Supreme Court Justices, but male Supreme Court Justices believe they know porn when they see it, which is why they excuse themselves to see "Debbie Does Dallas" again, for legal reasons. Clarence Thomas asks no questions.

Sappho AND Margaret Thatcher. With that kind of diversity, who needs men?

It has been said that a person would do well to read only Shakespeare, because his plays include all things in the world. Very true. I have the same opinion of "The Simpsons".

Didn't Lady Macbeth spend most of her time dropping everything to put smelling salts beneath her Thane's nose, him having tossed his cookies and fainted away in a cold sweat at the mere thought of it?

Donald Johnson wrote: "C.S. Lewis wrote something sympathetic about "bad" literature once--iirc, his point was that people who love badly written books often love them for the same themes and ideas that are found in classics."

He would, he was an avid SF fan (and a pretty good one himself, too). And apropos philosophy departments, I think his theological/philosophical work is far better than 90% of what comes out of them ... not so much on originality, but in sheer eloquence and clearness of presentation.

[Curious fact: I found Obsidian Wings googling for discussions on C.S Lewis, found Hilzoy's articles]

90% of all romance novels are everything is crap.

Fixed.

Hey, WaPo has gotta sell papers and attract eyeballs. Mission accomplished.
Its not really worth it trying to response to these " arguments". Take a chill pill, hilzoy, and move on.

"Gary: To put this in terms I can get my head around – should I feel offended every time someone bashes some software?"

Up to you.

But the analogy doesn't hold, OCSteve. Declaring that a genre of fiction is irredeemably valueless and offensive to many people ("porn") is singling out a category or set of categories of fiction, and declaring one set Good Literature and the other set Irredeemable Sh*t.

So the analogy you could make would be if someone declared that one particular type of software, or category of software, or software in a particular language, perhaps, was all disgusting stuff that only an icky person no respectable person would associate with would work on.

And if you do or don't want to believe that, I have no opinion. It's not an area I'd know much about, so why would I have an opinion?

So whatever you want to believe in that regard, it's fine with me, to answer your question.

But if you want to come tell me that my work, or the work of my friends, or the work of my colleages, makes them producers of the equvialent of porn, no, I will not take that well.

(An argument that would seem to be based on the claim that software has literary value isn't one I'm experienced with, but I imagine it could be made; however, it's not clear to me that you intended to make such an argument.)

To make this more concrete, Lois McMaster Bujold's series of Miles Vorkosigan books, for instance, were marketed as science fiction, but also have elements of romance in them, and also sold well to many romance fans; a clear semi-crossover.

The same can be said of a number of books I've worked on, and of the books of plenty of writers who are good friends of mine. (In a couple of cases, past lovers.)

But I'm told this makes their work, no matter how award-winning, no matter how well-written, no matter how thoughtful, no matter how smart, no matter how insightful, no matter the depth of the character and themes, no matter how enjoyable, no matter how powerful, nothing more than "novels [which] are not 'books', as that word is normally used. They are either tools for relaxation or the female equivalent of porn. They should therefore be compared not to War and Peace, but to either Ultimate Sudoku or the Hustler centerfold."

Works that people invest years of their life in creating are not to be allowed to be compared to Real Novels, but to "Hustler centerfolds."

Tell me, if someone said that of whatever your wife, or sister, or friend, or co-worker spent years of their life creating, which won awards, which hundreds of thousands of people have read and appreciated for years, or decades, would you not give momentary thought to punching the person who said that in the mouth?

"Novels [which] are not 'books,' as that word is normally used."

"They are either tools for relaxation or the female equivalent of porn."

"They should therefore be compared not to War and Peace, but to either Ultimate Sudoku or the Hustler centerfold."

This is not weak-tea, inoffensive, language, and these are not defensible claims.

There's something fishy about that Sturgeon guy.

Gary is quite wrong on "romance novels" being the same as sf, mysteries or any other genre. "Romance novels", as I understand the term, refers to the books released by Harlequin, et al. and have a rigid structure with firm guidelines as to what is and what isn't "allowed". There are novels which are not subject to these restrictions that may have some of the same elements as "romance novels", but these are not printed by the same imprints.

Austin was the prototype for the modern "romance novel" and her work would almost certainly be accepted by any of the major houses. Most of the current work isn't up to her standards, but the basic rules apply.

Of course, it's worth remembering that it's only relatively recently that the guardians of literary respectability would have judged any novels as more than trash entertainment. Just read Fielding's preface to Joseph Andrews, essentially an extended defense of the genre, or read what Austen's characters say about their own reading.

Ayn Rand was the ultimate romance novelist, in my opinion, if your idea of a romantic evening is trying to get the Chrysler Building into bed by reciting Milton Friedman's rhyming couplets to it over raw meat.
...
I don't know about female Supreme Court Justices, but male Supreme Court Justices believe they know porn when they see it, which is why they excuse themselves to see "Debbie Does Dallas" again, for legal reasons. Clarence Thomas asks no questions.

Someone needs to collect Thullen's gems such as these and bronze them (someone, that is, besides me).

I'm so furious about that article I'm shaking. I don't give a rat's behind for any romance novel, from Jane Austin to Belinda Bosomy. None of those are going to harm my daughter's self image. When we have a chance at getting the Post, she grabs whatever section I'm not reading and she would probably have beaten me to that. How in the hell am I supposed to raise a daughter who's proud of who she is if the Post, supposedly a good paper, is run by people so abysmally ignorant that they can't see that strangling the article at birth would have been the right thing to do.

And I'm pretty sure they put this out to drum up more of the sympathy votes for Hillary because "the papers are being so mean to her again". And it's going to work.

"Gary is quite wrong on 'romance novels' being the same as sf, mysteries or any other genre."

Sure, Jeff. I don't know what I'm talking about as regards romance novels, because I only spent decades working in publishing, which doesn't compare to your professional publishing experience and surety of knowledge.

Is this like how I didn't know what EBT cards looked like, because I didn't google them, and I only explained repeatedly that I'd used them for years in both NYC and Colorado?

"'Romance novels', as I understand the term, refers to the books released by Harlequin, et al. and have a rigid structure with firm guidelines as to what is and what isn't 'allowed'."

Jeff, I've worked for, in no particular order, Avon, Ace, Penguin, Signet, Baen, Bluejay, Carroll & Graff, Random House, Ballantine, Putnam, Berkley, Doubleday, Pyramid, Dell, Delacorte, Tor, Pocket, Simon & Schuster, and a whole lot more, since 1975. I just go through explaining how I worked for years at Avon, whose bread and butter was romance novels. I've known plenty of Harlequin editors, I've been to romance book conferences, I've met countless romance writers, I've spent hundreds of hours over years sitting at editorial meetings of one of the leading publishers of romance novels in the world, spending all that time talking about strategy of publishing romance novels, details of working with romance authors, what does and doesn't work in the romance market at a given moment, what the strengths and weakness of a given author are, what elements of story affect what aspect of the story's strengths, what the varying approaches of our competitors in the romance field are/were, how the romance field has been evolving, and on and on and on.

I've forgotten more about the guidelines and ins and outs of romance publishing than you're apt to ever know.

But, sure, I'm "quite wrong" and you know more about romance publishing than I do. Whatever.

About romance novels: see update above. I was really, really unclear. Gary might not agree with my newly explained point, but at least I will have made it clear what that point was meant to be. Sorry.

(An argument that would seem to be based on the claim that software has literary value isn't one I'm experienced with, but I imagine it could be made; however, it's not clear to me that you intended to make such an argument.)

Dude – when I encounter a chunk of beautifully written code, elegant, simple, powerful – it is the exact same feeling for me as when I read a powerful passage in a great novel. And yet some people who hate the architecture, or the OS, or the vendor, will totally dismiss it.

By Sturgeon's law, 90% of everything is dreck.
Genre fiction, non-genre fiction, non-fiction, magazines, poetry, Usenet postings, weblogs; everything.

Some porn is not dreck.
Some romance novels are not dreck.

The interesting parallel between romance novels and porn has nothing to do with quality, or the lack thereof: it has to do with unrealistic wish-fulfillment.

In much porn, unrealisticaly sexually desireable people are unrealistically eager to have unrealistically exciting sex. The reader or watcher can fantasize that such persons would wish to couple with them.

In much romance fiction, unrealistically romantic people are unrealistically centered on their emotional lives in unrealistically dramatic settings. The readers can fantasize that such romantic and dramatic events might swirl about themselves.

Both run-of-the-mill porn and run-of-the-mill romance fiction are often consumed out of unmet needs for intimacy and real attachment.
That's why the market for each is large.

Ah, look at all the lonely people ...


hen I encounter a chunk of beautifully written code, elegant, simple, powerful – it is the exact same feeling for me as when I read a powerful passage in a great novel.

(me too.) (Or well, maybe not "exactly the same feeling" -- but a feeling which has important characteristics in common with.)

hilzoy: Again, though, I was deeply unclear, for which I am sorry.

FWIW, I thought you were quite clear and that Gary’s reading skills seemed to have deserted him.

First off, the romance novel thingy that deranged this particular thread needed neither update nor clarification. My personal experience with this particular form of literature has been limited: as a teen, speed reading to the "good" scenes and dog-earing them for later, umm, review. So my experience is an unenlightened male one, thankyouverymuch. But I still somehow managed to get Hilzoy's point.

Please keep in mind that one-off funny/rant comments in blog posts are never going to include sufficient qualifications to withstand serious scrutiny. And paragraph after paragraph of apologia after the fact is kinda dull too.

Second, so far as I can understand the logic of this article, it is as follows:

1. I am a stupid woman; therefore,

2. All women are stupid.

Which makes, like, total sense.

Seems like this was connected to the photo on the front page (#5 in this slideshow).

Well, hopefully this thread puts to rest the burning controversy re: whether or not Gary polices thread drift.

;-)

Anyway, getting back to Charlotte Adams and her misogynistic (and, it should be noted ad infinitum, unrelentingly stupid--oh, teh [lack of] irony!) op-ed that the opinion editor of the Daily Mail Washington Post (!) felt was worthy of publication, Jessica Valenti @ Feministing lists some of Allen's greatest hits (eg, Katrina victims: whiny ass titty babies!). Valenti also encourages readers who don't think the Post should be providing a forum to the half-baked hate speech (yes, hate speech--replace "women" with "black" or "gay" and imagine the justifiably outraged response) of a self-loathing misogynist to write the editor and/or obmbudsman.

How in the hell am I supposed to raise a daughter who's proud of who she is if the Post, supposedly a good paper, is run by people so abysmally ignorant that they can't see that strangling the article at birth would have been the right thing to do.

Perhaps you should consider canceling your subscription? I don't subscribe but I can't imagine continuing a subscription to a paper that would publish this filth.

Also, I don't believe that the Post is supposedly a good paper. The Post has some decent reporters on staff and many idiots; the decent ones sometimes manage to get a good piece out despite being hamstrung by idiotic editors. That components of that assessment don't add up to "good" no matter how you arrange them. But YMMV. If you think that the Post has, in general, excellent editors, I'd welcome some evidence on that front.

Well, hopefully this thread puts to rest the burning controversy re: whether or not Gary polices thread drift.

;-)

Anyway, getting back to Charlotte Adams and her misogynistic (and, it should be noted ad infinitum, unrelentingly stupid--oh, teh [lack of] irony!) op-ed that the opinion editor of the Daily Mail Washington Post (!) felt was worthy of publication, Jessica Valenti @ Feministing lists some of Allen's greatest hits (eg, Katrina victims: whiny ass titty babies!). Valenti also encourages readers who don't think the Post should be providing a forum to the half-baked hate speech (yes, hate speech--replace "women" with "black" or "gay" and imagine the justifiably outraged response) of a self-loathing misogynist to write the editor (letters-at-washpost-dot-com) and/or ombudsman (ombudsman-at-washpost-dot-com).

Jeff, why is romance different from SF? Yes, there probably are romance novels with pretty strict rules for what they are going to look like... but are you suggesting books by Timothy Zahn or R.A. Salvatore don't?

(Disclosure: I've read both Star Wars and Forgotten Realms franchise fiction, and I did enjoy it at the time. Sure, it's a little cheesy sometimes, but one has to look at the qualities it has, rather than the ones it's not really meant to have anyway)

Hilzoy's update:

[...] First, a clarification: I meant, and should have said, genre romance novels. I did not mean Jane Austen.
*smacks head*

I'm now heading to your house to shoot you. (I'm kidding!)

This is exactly the classic "I don't mean X is in the genre! X is good!"

Unbeeffingleivable. It comes up every damn time.

But it's inevitable. It's a tautology.

Moreover, I meant genre romance novels, not genre fiction generally. In general, I do not think that points made about one type of genre fiction apply to all types of genre fiction; in this specific case, I think that both science fiction and fantasy, for instance, are quite different from romance novels in some of the respects I was thinking of.

[...] Genre romance novels are, in my experience, written according to very serious constraints. There are plot constraints, characterization constraints, all kinds of constraints. I don't really know enough about science fiction to make a comparison, but it would not surprise me at all to learn that the strictures on romance novels are much more stringent than those that govern SF.

I'm sorry, but this all remains wildly unjustifiable generalization.

I think, with respect, that you are clueless about the different publishing programs, what the constraints of any of them are or are not, how they evolve, and what they are, and that you have absolutely no idea which publishers, and which writers, and which books -- nice that you'll agree now that they're actually "books," which is hardly a point any person not trying, however momentarily, to be deeply offensive would try to make -- have what level of quality and "worth," even in your own view, they possess.

That's just effing ignorant bigotry: smearing everything with a name as unworthy of sorting out, because, after all, it's mostly constrained garbage, the literary equivalent of porn.

This is just another variant of the same old same old "you're not one of the bad ones, you're one of the good ones."

Want to be fair? Fine. Talk about individual books. Talk about individual writers. Talk about individual publishers.

You want to claim that the genre as a whole sucks? You want to claim that "genre romance novels" as a whole shold be sneered at, so long as we distinguish that it's not all constrained crap?

No. You're still insulting everyone who writes and reads the genre. You're just saying that there are some exceptions.

"Note: this does not imply, and I did not mean it to imply, anything about the quality of genre romances."

I can't see that this claim is compatible with the rest of what you're saying.

You're arguing that writing within any constraints is inherently inferior to writing without constraints, and is inherently of less quality.

Whereas the commonplace within genres is to note that a) there are always constraints; and b) constraints just give you a structure to go around, beyond, turn inside out, and see how they can be successfully violated.

All fiction is constrained within limits, starting with comprehensibility and points of common reference. There are merely faint differences of degree for every work.

Quality comes from what you do within and beyond those always-existing constraints.

Beyond that, that's where it's necessary to talk specifics.

But to stop and generalize that "Assessing genre romances is different, precisely because there are so many rules" is condescending, ignorant, bullcrap. It's not different at all, it's exactly the same -- you judge success and quality, however subjectively or objectively -- and it's only prejudice that is leading you to draw a line around "genre romance" to claim that somehow "[a]ssessing genre romances is different."

[...] I do not think badly of a particular genre romance because the author should not have made the hero so strong, noble, and self-contained, or because its heroine should not be so completely ignorant of her own charms, or because some complication prevents the hero and heroine from recognizing their attraction to one another until they are forced into close proximity by some unexpected turn of events. Those are the rules.
No, they're your ignorant stereotypes. If a story is poorly done in some fashion, it's poorly done. Being a cliche that's poorly done doesn't make it okay "just" because it's in a genre.

That thinking is exactly why most people not aficionados of a genre can't write it.

All a romance requires is that two characters have an attraction, and that their relationship evolves in some fashion from beginning to end of story.

That's it. The rest of it is your own ignorant prejudice, based on the lower common denominators of the genre.

Characterizing a genre as made up only of its bad and mediocre stuff, and defining anything good as not-genre, is the classic boot-stomp of dismissal. The good and great books and stories of a genre are every bit of that genre as the crap.

It's the defining a genre as only consisting of the crap that is the ultimate error, and the ultimate insult.

So "[f]irst, a clarification: I meant, and should have said, genre romance novels. I did not mean Jane Austen" is simply emphasizing that you really are trashing the genre, and defining it as inherently excluding anything of quality.

That's my point.

No, this doesn't help.

Finally, although you've added an asterisk, you still claim that "Second, romance novels* (update below the fold) are not 'books', as that word is normally used."

I repeat, in the face of your standing by leaving this claim, that it is indefensible.

But oh-it's-just-genre-romance-that's-the-same-as-Hustler doesn't change your argument from what I said it was in the first place. I mean, that was my complaint, so specifying that, yes, it's not Jane Austen, just genre-romance that should be considered as having no more literary worth than porn, doesn't improve the defensibility of this claim.

[...] For better or for worse, I think that genre romance (again, I'm agnostic on, because largely ignorant of, other genres) is a different thing than non-genre fiction, and different in large part because it is best seen as a highly constrained performance -- as more like the compulsory program in figure skating, while non-genre fiction is like the freestyle part, where you really can do whatever you want.
So you believe yourself capable of identifying which novels are properly in the romance genre, and which should be cast out? Or is it that you can identify all novels with worth, and which should be cast out as only genre romance?

This is the ancient error of insisting that genres have discrete boundaries and identifiable characteristics.

They don't.

Genres are permeable and inclusive, not discrete and exclusive.

Trying to come up with "definitions" that completely include and exclude within discrete genre boundaries is an impossibility and a fool's game.

So is trying to draw a clear line around genres and "non-genre" fiction.

Genres are a convenience of the publishing business. Making declarations about the content, or quality, or worth, of any given work, based on its genre label, or publisher, is inevitably going to rapidly go wrong.

It's not defensible.

"I do think genre romance novels are a different sort of thing from non-genre novels."

What meaningful distinction are you trying to draw, then?

"But that doesn't imply anything at all about whether the kind of thing they are is a better or worse thing to be."

I'll be interested in your response, of course, but if you weren't trying to "imply anything at all about whether the kind of thing they are is a better or worse thing to be," than what exact point were you going for when you wrote that "they are either tools for relaxation or the female equivalent of porn. They should therefore be compared not to War and Peace, but to either Ultimate Sudoku or the Hustler centerfold"?

So far as I can tell, you were trying to distinguish between reading for an empathetic experience with imaginary characters, combined with thought-provoking intellectual stimulation -- or something along those lines -- and solving a puzzle or masturbating.

And you directly assert that if you read a genre romance fiction novel, it's not for the same or similar purposes as other fiction reading other than pornography, but simply, you imply, to obtain a desired emotional response.

Which is in no way, you claim, like what anyone gets out of any other kind of fiction.

That's an incredibly arrogant and ignorant claim about what other people read for, and it's, yes, indefensible, and wrong.

She could have saved a lot of time by just telling the old classic.

Why was Helen Keller a lousy driver?

Because she was a woman.

I know.... but still, wasn't that about the gist of it?

And as been mentioned already, we shouldn't be suprised that someone would write that column.

But the Washington Post puts it in their paper?

Good thing they have a female Ombudsman I guess but still...

I must fervently object to a gross technical error in your essay. You wrote "What do you mean 'we', white man?" As I recall, the original joke used the line "What do you mean 'we', Kemosabe?" Tonto would NEVER have used the phrase "white man"; he ALWAYS referred to the Lone Ranger as "Kemosabe".

Wishing to insure that this objection was technically sound, I researched the sentence on Google and discovered 1700 references to your version versus a mere 400 references to my version. Which means that your version is in fact the linguistically correct version, regardless of the realities of the Lone Ranger universe. This is rather like the phrase 'parting shot', which gives me palpitations, because the source is 'Parthian shot', but those ignorant of ancient history have degraded the phrase to its current sad state.

Nevertheless, I must ask, "Where were you during the 1950s?"

And now it is time for me to ride off into the sunset. Hi-ho, Silver, away!

Erasmussimo, I think you posted in the wrong thread. Also, you miss the point: Tonto is using a form of address he would never have used hitherto, precisely because the situation has developed in a way which is not to the Lone Ranger's advantage (as Emperor Hirohito might have put it).

Gary: point out the place where I said anything about quality, in the original, as opposed to in the update, where I was trying to say that I was not talking about quality.

I mean, I said: they aren't books. This implies "they are not as good" only if you assume that anything that is not a book is worse for that fact. That would be absurd. A sunset is not a book. My cats are not books. I am not a book. Whoopee.

I am sorry if I was wrong to assert that there is such a thing as "genre fiction". Also, to take it as obvious that when someone writes the original from which a genre is derived, there are reasons other than snobbery for not including their work in the original genre.

Erasmussimo, it looks like the most popular version is "What you mean 'we', white man?" (no "do"). I'd've expected "paleface" myself, which does do better in the "do"-less version than "Kemosabe" but still not as well as "white man".

It's not surprising that Tonto would abandon the "Kemosabe" honorific if he's abandoning the Lone Ranger.

On reflection, I did say, in the original, that measured against porn or sudoku, romance novels come out fine. So I did talk about quality. But I did not impugn romance novels' quality.

About Tonto: I had always understood the "what do you mean, "we"" to be apocryphal; I think I once tried to track down the original and failed. I prefer the "white man" version to the "Kemosabe" one, when I am using the quote, because it makes it clear why Tonto is saying it.

Um, Hilzoy, if I pointed to a journal article written by a philosophy professor and said "this is not a paper! it is more akin to a hustler centerfold", well, that sounds extremely insulting to me. There are certainly alternative readings of that sentence that are not offensive, but you'll forgive me for not latching onto them right away.

Professionals are to some extent defined by their work product -- to just declare that the work product of one class of professionals isn't even in the same category as that produced by other, similar professionals seems to imply that the first class aren't really professionals. I mean, if romance novel authors produce things that are not books, then why are we calling them published authors? Arguments that somethings which are not books are also good seem to miss this point.

The version I first heard, decades ago was: "What you mean we, Paleface?" Of course there should be no "do" in there; Tonto's grammar goes native along with his allegiance.

Ah the memories -- this brings back Johnny Carson's job interview of Tonto...

Q: "Last employer?"
A: "Kemosabe."
Q: "Reason for leaving last job?"
A: "Him find out what Kemosabe mean."

Kevin, Tonto's grammar wasn't going native, as an indication of shifting allegiance. It was always like that. Hence the SNL skits with Tonto, Tarzan, and Frankenstein's monster.

I tend to think that the 'romance genre' (by which I mean romances of the kind that Harlequin publishes, but rather than identify the genre with a particular publisher, I use the quotations to try and get the same meaning across) as the basic equivalent of Japanese yaoi manga. Same market, different product realizations.

Kevin's point about the apocryphal Tonto quote makes me realize that part of the fun of the quote is that that his grammar suddenly chooses this opportunity to improve. It reminds me of a joke that makes the point more explicitly

A person from the West is at a banquet in Africa and finds himself sitting next to someone dressed in a dashiki and kufi, and the guest, looking to make conversation, smiles, and very slowly says 'you likee soup?'. The man smiles and nods. Reassured by the success of the communication, he follows with a 'You likee party?' The man smiles again and nods. Then the emcee stands up and gives a brief introduction of the kind for someone very accomplished who has a list of honors to long to note, and the man in the dashiki stands up and proceeds to deliver a perfectly crafted, impeccably delivered speech in an obviously Oxbridge inflected accent about the theme of the banquet that has everyone impressed. And as the man returns to find his seatmate trying to crawl under the table in embarrassment, he smiles and says to him 'You likee speech?'

Um, Hilzoy, if I pointed to a journal article written by a philosophy professor and said "this is not a paper! it is more akin to a hustler centerfold", well, that sounds extremely insulting to me.

I think a better story to illustrate the point at issue here is this one: suppose I observe hilzoy reading Samuel Richardson’s Pamela in her spare time, and I say “How very female! I’m sure a male philosopher would never read such tripe, even in his spare time!” Would I not reveal myself to be a right twerp by saying this? And suppose hilzoy responds by saying: “The relevant comparison here is not with the serious books my male colleagues read when they are working, but with their leisure interests, like sudoku.” Are the fans of Samuel Richardson justified in taking umbrage at this?

KCinDC: fair enough, as long as we’re agreed that there’s no “do” in that sentence.

Well, we may not have solved the problem of misogyny, but I sure learned a lot about the Lone Ranger and Tonto!

"Gary: point out the place where I said anything about quality, in the original, as opposed to in the update, where I was trying to say that I was not talking about quality."

Second, romance novels* (update below the fold) are not "books", as that word is normally used. They are either tools for relaxation or the female equivalent of porn. They should therefore be compared not to War and Peace, but to either Ultimate Sudoku or the Hustler centerfold.
Hilzoy, you're saying that you picked War and Peace as a random example of fiction, rather than, say, Valley of the Dolls, or A Girl of the Limberlost, or, let's see, Danielle Steel's Sisters, not because it's famously supposed to be one of the "best" novels ever, but simply randomly?

Any of these current non-genre fiction best-sellers would make the same point for you?

And that you picked "the Hustler centerfold," with no judgments in mind, and that you'd be as comfortable with walking into a colleague's office to finding them perusing a Hustler centerfold as you would be if it were a copy of Newsweek?

"I am sorry if I was wrong to assert that there is such a thing as 'genre fiction'."

I don't know why you should be sorry; I don't recall ever disagreeing anywhere with such a thought or claim.

"A sunset is not a book. My cats are not books. I am not a book. Whoopee."

Books, however, are books, and novels are novels.

If I said "you are not a philosophy professor, you aren't even comparable to the category of philosophy professors, you're comparable to a Hustler centerfold," I'm doubtful you'd find "A sunset is not a philosophy professor. My cats are not philosophy professors. Whoopee," to be a refutation of the notion that that you are, in fact, a philosophy professor. If you were fine with being told that you were, instead, comparable only with a Hustler centerfold, I'll take your word for that.

"But I did not impugn romance novels' quality."

You're saying that asserting that they're not even novels, that they serve an entirely different, and incomparable function from that of all other fiction, doesn't "impugn [their] quality"?

I have to disagree. If you can explain to me how saying that romance genre novels are incapable of having the same qualities as other fiction, but that asserting this doesn't impugn the degree of their holding the same qualities, well, here's where I need a philosophy professor to untangle that for me, I'm afraid.

Seriously, I'm sorry to be so strong about this, and I certainly don't mean to offend in return, and I don't hold putting some perhaps not best-considered thoughts down in perhaps not the most clearly thought out way, against anyone, least of all you, since I do that all the time, and you're a brilliant wonderful person I rarely disagree with.

But I think you got the wrong end of a stick here, and perhaps might not want to use it to dig any deeper.

There's nothing magically different, for all the mediocre romance publishers with strict publishing guidelines which frequently results in mediocre and limited romance fiction being published, about romance genre writing that makes it incapable of being as rich or deep or ambitious or successful or insightul or "literary" as any other kind of fiction.

And the people who read a book labeled as "romance genre fiction" read it for all sorts of reasons, from all sorts of different writers, doing all sorts of different things.

Locking all these writers and readers (and publishers and editors) into a box, and declaring that none of the novels they produce, publish, and read, serves the function other fiction does is just wrong.

It's a mind-reading claim to know what someone is reading for, just because you stereotype them.

And it's just wrong to claim that romance genre fiction is inherently totally different in function, or form, from other types of fiction. Do I really need to defend that point?

"and says to him 'You likee speech?'"

I take it you've never seen The Wind and the Lion.

I wasn't clear about grammar "improving", so I'll tell another joke.

When I was studying horn, one of the grad students was this very sweet woman who had a soft spot for kids, and when a friend of a friend brought his kid, we got the kid to go up to this grad student and ask the following questions

-What kind of instrument is that?
The grad student launches in a long explanation of how it's a 'horn', but some people call it a 'French horn', with lots of clearly enunciated words and head nods

-How long have you played it?
She explains when she started and adds some bits of information that a child who was perhaps making his first contact with a horn might want to know.

-Why does your horn look different from the others
The grad student, seeing that the kid is clearly a sharp cookie, starts explaining that she is playing a Holton.

-Why don't you play an Alexander, I think that the pitch is a lot more accurate.
The look on her face was worth all the coaching (and promised bribes) to get the kid to memorize his lines.

Well, I had a comment to LJ, but Typepad won't let me post it, even after the link is removed entirely. This is fun.

I'm going to step up and defend hilzoy (which is a treat in itself since she so rarely needs defending). hilzoy isn't saying that romance novels and porn are related classes of works that are roughly comparable in terms of originality or literary merit.

Instead, she is making the following, very different, claim: Before sneering at women (and discounting their intelligence and literary taste) because women read romance novels (as Charlotte Allen does) it is worthwhile to see how men fulfill their similar needs. And it turns out men fulfill those similar needs with porn. hilzoy's *point* is that if you make the fair comparison between men and women along this dimension it is hard to see how that comparison would make you discount *women's* intelligence and literary taste.

And as a man who enjoys both romance novels and porn (and whose wife also enjoys both romance novels and porn), both claims seem obviously correct to me.

"and says to him 'You likee speech?'"

I take it you've never seen The Wind and the Lion.

"Instead, she is making the following, very different, claim: Before sneering at women (and discounting their intelligence and literary taste) because women read romance novels (as Charlotte Allen does) it is worthwhile to see how men fulfill their similar needs. And it turns out men fulfill those similar needs with porn."

Yes. She's saying that fiction published as under the romance genre label has no value in common with other forms of fiction, but only with porn.

You're correct about what I'm disagreeing entirely with.

Romance writers don't, in fact, all write with goals and means that have nothing in common with other fiction, but only with porn (or puzzle-solving, if you prefer). That's wrong.

Ah Limberlost! Make a fortune catching moths! and being perfect in every way, but very modest about it. Back in the day, young women had standards to meet.

Wow. I can't believe you had to write a long clarification of what you meant with your comments about romance novels, which was crystal clear to me. (And in no way offensive; indeed, it was very much along the lines of Janice Radway's book, Reading the Romance.)

Gary, the joke is also in Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, but both of them are with Japanese coming out on top, and I think that it works better with an African context, especially in regards to language, in that there are more Africans who are native speakers of English than Japanese.

There is also my personal context to consider, in that making the Japanese come out on top might not be as funny, especially if someone was thinking that I was trying to make a comment about Japanese-Western relations.

Gary: She's saying that fiction published as under the romance genre label has no value in common with other forms of fiction, but only with porn.

No, she isn't.

Do women not use porn?

Gary: I was not saying what you thought I was saying. I admit to having been unclear, since the "it's more like porn" made it natural to think I was saying "it has no value". That's why I tried to clarify. I was trying to make the point sexyhusband says I was trying to make, which is not, as I understand it, anything like: "fiction published as under the romance genre label has no value in common with other forms of fiction, but only with porn."

However, since I've already tried and failed to make myself clear, I'm not sure what trying again would accomplish.

OK – my big insight from this weekend - I’m spending way too much time on the intertubes and somewhere out there life is passing me by.

"No, she isn't."

Good, then.

I meant to write "seems to be," to be sure, and apologies that I slipped on that.

LJ: "and I think that it works better with an African context, especially in regards to language, in that there are more Africans who are native speakers of English than Japanese."

But the "you likee, you washee," "you [fill-in]ee" construction is the old American anti-Japanese stereotype, specifically, isn't it? Anti-Asian, at least. It's in zillions of old movies and fiction.

But I don't recall anyone ever engage in this bigoted stereotypical usage by portraying that construction and language as ostensibly coming from Africans, or faux Africans. The racist anti-African stereotypes are different. (Bones in noses, grunting and waving spears, etc.) Have I missed all that?

I mean, not that I was prevously addressing anything other than "hey, that old joke was in this old movie," but since you bring it up, isn't that a bit of a problem? Asians don't talk like that, but the bigoted stereotype was that they did. If there was no such stereotype about Africans, how does the joke make any sense at all? Are jokes based on stereotypes interchangeable because all stereotypes are interchangable? Or what?

Wow.

Sexyhusband, bitchphd, Kevin -- thanks from someone who was finding a lot of this thread hard to stomach, but having a hard time knowing where to start in terms of saying so.

I have to say this thread exerts far more bytes arguing the merits of romance novels than I would ever have predicted.

I'm having a hard time imagining a universe where it actually matters, that hilzoy said "Hustler centerfold" when discussing the relative merits of teh romance.

I'm sorry this thread got hijacked from the topic at hand, which is Charlotte Allen's claim that women are trivial creatures and apparently can't be trusted to vote rationally. Never mind that men are voting for Obama in greater numbers -- they must be doing it for rational reasons while women are swooning over his looks and charisma.
and never mind that the reasons given for voting for Bush was he seemed a good guy to have a beer with. That, according to Allen, must be a coldly logical reason for voting for him.

No, it's actually Chinese, which is why it is more out of place when used to speak to an African and using it there avoids the problem of linguistic stereotypes, which I think provides a bit of useful distance.

If the joke didn't make sense to you, my apologies, but it seemed that it did, unless you believe that the joke can only be used if the protagonist is Asian. I don't think that is the case but mmv, of course.

Furthermore, I believe the joke is a reversal of prejudice and stereotypes, but if you don't agree, you are welcome to explain why.

If you would like to read up on why stereotypes in jokes are not necessarily interchangeable, there's an excellent discussion in one of Douglas Hofstadter's books, though I'm not sure which one without pulling them down from my office, which I won't be in until tomorrow at the earliest, but I will post it then.

"That's why I tried to clarify."

As a rule, you put strikeovers over statements you don't stand by. I appreciate that you've added more explanation of your POV and what you wish to say.

But I do take you to stand by the words you've posted. You're still "saying" them, so far as I know, and standing by them, unless you withdraw them.

So so far as I know, you've added explanation, but are still declaring and asserting precisely that "Second, romance novels* (update below the fold) are not 'books', as that word is normally used. They are either tools for relaxation or the female equivalent of porn. They should therefore be compared not to War and Peace, but to either Ultimate Sudoku or the Hustler centerfold."

If you're not standing by this, fine. But it's what your post currently asserts, along with some added words.

You further declared that "First, a clarification: I meant, and should have said, genre romance novels. I did not mean Jane Austen."

So you're specifically distinguishing "genre romance novels" and -- I'll leave it to you to fill in what words best describe what you were giving Jane Austen as an example of.

You write "When I assess a non-genre novel, I assess it as a work of imagination, in which the author is free to do as he or she wants."

Am I wrong in understanding you to be distinguishing this from assessing a genre novel, which you do not "assess it as a work of imagination, in which the author is free to do as he or she wants"?

If you weren't distinguishing between the need for two distinct approaches here, any further explanation of what you were saying would be appreciated by me.

If you were so distinguishing, as I take you to be, then, again, I disagree that all novels published in the romance genre must be so assessed not "as a work of imagination, in which the author is free to do as he or she wants."

This is something we may simply disagree over, and about which I believe you are wrong, insofar as I believe strongly, from my observations and experience that this is a great insult to a lot of writers and readers in the romance genre because it is based on false premises as to what many writers in the field attempt to accomplish, what some succeed at, and what many readers derive from those writers' works.

I think you're reducing everything published under the genre label to its least common denominator by making such an assertion that there is no commonality between genre romance fiction, and "non-genre" fiction. I think this analysis isn't supported by actual thorough knowledge of the writers in the field, or their readers, or the publishers, and that its premises and conclusions are wrong.

But if I'm misunderstanding you at all, please do explain where. What point were you trying to make by saying that books published as genre romance "are not 'books', as that word is normally used. They are either tools for relaxation or the female equivalent of porn," if not that genre romance novels are not "novels" and not "normal novels," and that a genre romance "isn't a book in the normal sense" as you've since expanded?

"I do think genre romance novels are a different sort of thing from non-genre novels."

"Different" to the point that they're not "normal."

And you explained:

[...]With this as backdrop, when I said that "romance novels are not "books", as that word is normally used", I should, first of all, have said not books but novels, and specifically non-genre fiction.
So genre romance novels are not novels. They're "different," and not "normal."

All of them. Inherently.

Why?

I'm so glad to find out that I shouldn't be worrying about finishing my master's in mathematics education, since apparently I don't have the mental capacity to do so....after all, I'm just a girl.

Women like the Washington Post author scare me, and more frighteningly give Ann Coulter room to make pronouncements that women shouldn't have the right to vote at all.

More to the point, the reasons I support Obama have nothing to do with his gender and everything to do with his voting record, his platforms, and the fact that Hilary sold out years ago.

I believe the most important observation underlying what Gary is saying is pretty simple: if you haven't read very much _____ and you're going mostly by secondhand knowledge, then you might not know as much as you think you do, and there may be more diversity than you think. I've observed that this is true for a number of different values of _____ (I've seen some people make startlingly dismissive and ignorant comments about 19th century Russian literature, for example), and, among other things, it's true of romance novels.

Ten or so years ago, I made some dismissive comment on Usenet about romance fiction. Someone else pointed out that I was making just the same sort of dismissive comment that I would have resented if it had been made about something that I knew and cared about, and that I was probably making it out of ignorance. After thinking about it, I realized that that response was right: I really didn't know much about 20th century genre romance fiction, and it was silly for me to judge it just by looking at covers while I was walking past the romance section in the bookstore. I asked for some advice about good authors to start with. I still won't say I'm well read in the field, but I know a little more than I did and I know that at least some novels that are sold as genre romance are worth reading.

Look at the bright side! Ignorance is equivalent to opportunity. If there's a whole field of fiction out there that you've been ignoring up until now, then it means there are a lot of books out there that you might enjoy and that you might get to discover for the first time.

Let me put this another, short, way: if all you want to say, Hilzoy, is that for some people, some genre romance novels often function in a way different from that which much other fiction functions for them or others, fine, I completely agree. And there are plenty of other variants of lesser statements along those lines I'd agree with, and see no problem with.

It's making flat declarations about the entire genre of romance fiction and every work published in it and how it functions for all readers of all genre romances that's crazy and wrong and offensive.

And it's what you wrote. You wrote nothing but flat declarations and assertions about "romance novels."

Period.

And then reemphasized "genre romance novels."

Period.

If you actually mean something far more limited, great, go ahead and clarify that you mean something much more limited.

Otherwise, since some folks think this is a "hijacking," I'll try to leave that as my final comment on the topic.

Let me start by saying that I don't read very many novels that could be described as "romance genre". The thing that is confusing me about Hilzoy's original post together with the subsequent discussion, is that (just like SF and westerns and mysteries and "general fiction") some romance novels might be characterized as "pornographic" or "soft porn". Also, though individual romance novels differ subsets may have similarities that might result in calling them formulaic. But some (I'm thinking of several by Georgette Heyer) are wonderful novels, and I believe have more in common with, say, Converse plays or other "comedies of manners". I think these plays, which are always studied in literature survey classes and thus presumably considered worthwhile by some literary authorities, are themselves quite formulaic. Yet they are often bitingly funny and contain veiled commentary on political and social issues of the time. Being formulaic is not of itself a derogatory description. As Gary points out, it's how the formula is used.

Since I really respect Hilzoy for her well written and usually excruciatingly well researched posts and think everyone, no matter how talented, can have a bad day, I choose to think that perhaps she herself has only happened onto the formulaic soft porn section of the broader category of "romance novels." Perhaps that subset might be compared with the Hustler centerfold more accurately. So I think she was careless in this post for lumping unlike things together in a quite derogatory way that Gary rightly took umbrage about. But everyone is entitled to a strike out now and then, especially when their batting average is so very high.

I believe that if you do a literature search, you will find that normal variations in brain size (measured in cubic centimeters with MRI, taking size into account) are correlated with tested IQ around 0.30.

Gary, perhaps the disconnect here, as bemused suggests, lies in what one thinks of as belonging to the set "genre romance novels." Those without your experience in publishing, such as myself (and apparently others on this thread), think of books with covers that could reasonably feature Fabio and a woman in imminent danger of having her clothes fall off.

Since we are apparently not familiar with what constitutes "genre romance novels" in your experience, how would you suggest that this subset of books be referred to?

(I might add that I have read multitudes of what I call "trashy romance novels" and some authors are hacks, and others are quite talented. To my recollection, I have only picked up two TRNs that I could not bear to finish due to the poor quality of the writing -- I would suggest that the formula is a very great part of the appeal.)

"Those without your experience in publishing, such as myself (and apparently others on this thread), think of books with covers that could reasonably feature Fabio and a woman in imminent danger of having her clothes fall off."

No, that's fair enough.

There's a whole cliche about that, as it happens.

Otherwise, I refer you to the last sentence of my prior comment.

"Genre romance novels are, in my experience, written according to very serious constraints. There are plot constraints, characterization constraints, all kinds of constraints. I don't really know enough about science fiction to make a comparison, but it would not surprise me at all to learn that the strictures on romance novels are much more stringent than those that govern SF. They are certainly more stringent than those that govern fiction generally."

Speaking as a writer who is getting married to a woman who's worked as an editor and literary agent handling mostly women's fiction and a big chunk of genre romances, I can tell you this is exactly right, hilzoy. If you wanna write for Harlequin, there are rules you gotta follow -- they're not interested in your deviations, no matter how creative.

@moff: That was a terrible first sentence, but to clarify: I've been party to a lot of talks recently about the writing of Harlequin romances (and have even done some copy and line editing of such), thanks to my relationship with a professional in the field.

Hilzoy, I love your posts. And this was one of my favorites.

A thought on the presence of rules making genre fiction different: could you not make the same argument for haiku, or a sonnet, or an iambic pentameter poem, or indeed any art form? It's always been my sense (and experience) that the rules, properly understood, don't restrict the artist, but instead provide the foundation for artistry.

You could take the argument further: any medium will itself involve inherent restrictions, whether the range of the musical scale, the dimensions of a canvas, the rules of grammar. Maybe the better argument would focus on the effect, including limitations on the range of possible expression, of particular rules, rather than the presence of rules themselves?

Okay, back to my latest genre manuscript...

:)
Barry

I don't understand how there is anything gender-specific about Clinton's campaign mistakes. Giuliani and Fred Thompson ran campaigns which were at least as stupid at their most stupid and had none of the successes that Clinton did have (a phenomenal operation in California).

And it's laughable to say that she's not a good debater, because she's had a few missteps against someone whose blood seems to run at an almost reptilian cool. She's a fantastic debater. She's probably a little better than Obama, but he's been able to play a prevent defense of sorts these last few debates, and she has had to strain to gain some ground against him, and it hasn't worked out. She's got just a little more detail than he has. And it's almost creepy how she simply never misspeaks. Even Obama can meander with an answer at times.

There are going to be indulgences particular to different temperaments. It would be very easy for someone to write an article describing just how stupid professional football is and just how stupid it is that grown men spend so much of their leisure time following it, hinging their emotional ups and downs to it. If there is this stereotype that women in the workplace talk about Botox (something I have never seen to be the case), what about fantasy football (something that is actually becoming a major problem at many companies)?

And one study about how women and men compare at driving as evidence of intelligence inequality? Look, I could write a pretty stupid article titled: "We Rape, We Diddle the Kids, Lock us all up!" Frankly, the XYs are overrepresented amongst the populations of rapists and pedophiles. It seems a lot more relevant to me than a slight difference in average accidents per mile.

As far as men not making catastrophic mistakes, I can only laugh. Simply name any one of the history's famous catastrophic mistakes. Napoleon marching on Russia? Hitler marching on Russia? The Iraq War? All of WWI? Just take your pick. None of these were perpetrated by men?

Barry, that whole riff is Hofstadter to a tee. I can't give book titles (my office floor is being waxed), but if you are at all interested in the question of how strictures interact with creativity, you should read his stuff.

Barry: There is a great quote from Robert Frost -- "I would sooner write free verse as play tennis with the net down." -- that gets at the heart of the issue of the relationship between rules and creativity. Frankly, often it's a *constraint* that's responsible for creativity, because without a constraint there would be no search for alternatives to the obvious idea. Rules, in the hands of the talented, actually provoke artists and thinkers to greater creativity.

But I think there is a deeper idea here that in some ways, without rules, there is simply no such thing as creativity in writing, as we traditionally think of it, because there are no constraints within which we are seeking alternative solutions. One of the reasons we value creativity, at least in art, is that there is something engrossing about the surprise of encountering a truly creative and unexpected solution to a problem. You can imagine rules as defining a problem space. Creative ideas are solutions to that problem space that satisfy it in unexpected and surprising ways.

Shorter me: It's actually harder, not easier, to be creative when there are no wrong answers.

Given that bloggers on this site seem to define democracy as, "a system of government designed to protect me from the desires of the common people" hilzoy's attempted redefinitions of the words "book" and "novel" do not surprise me.

It comes of as an incredibly snobbish group of comments...but that does not surprise me.

Perhaps we should all continue the discussion of the poor taste of the vast majority of the electorate that you very serious people are counting on to save your government. While we are at it, we can decide that what the hoi-polloi listens to is not "music", the structures in which they live are not "architecture", their beliefs about the after-life are too simple to constitute "religion", etc. It will be fun for the whole gang and we can all bask in the glow of presumed superiority.

I have resisted talking about whether I have or have not read and enjoyed romance novels until now, since I thought it was beside the point. But for what it's worth: I have. (Not all the time -- not jut now, for instance; it goes in waves.) If anyone thinks I meant to condemn the readers of romance novels, they should be aware that I would be condemning myself.

now_what,
Given the doubts raised about your understanding of democracy in this thread, it seems that your comments are more rooted in anger at getting taken to task than an honest defense of romance novels.

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Whatnot


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