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March 02, 2008

Comments

Hi, I came over from SBTB for the romance discussion, but it's been debated so well that I have nothing to add on that.

However, reading the article bits (I don't want to give the WaPo site a hit for it), I thought "I can do better than this woman". I can make an even broader and more sweeping generalization that demeans men; can I get prominent space in the WaPo to flesh this article out?

"Men are dumber than women because they play videogames for entertainment where women read.

Men are the primary consumers of videogames, and everyone knows that videogames are stupid/worthless/mind-numbing/violence-inducing. Likewise, everyone knows that books are better than videogames. Women are more likely to read a book than play a videogame, therefore they are smarter and more worthwhile. Men should be kept away from jobs requiring thought and judgement, since obviously all they are good for is hand-eye coordination."

***
Just in case anyone misses my sarcasm, I know that all of the statements made are either wrong or unproveable. But I sure could write an interesting article using this premise; do you think it would get published?

hilzoy: I actually didn't mean to grant that assumption

Of course I know you didn't grant Allen that assumption in the sense of accepting it as true. What I took you to be saying was that even if, for the sake of argument, we accept Allen's disparaging assessment of Samuel Richardson et al., she still hasn't made her case.

Enough already. I'm off to the pub. That's how us superior males use our leisure time, not reading mushy romantic fiction. ;)

Hilzoy, what's your definition of a "book"?

You seem to be saying that what separates romance from other things that are books is that people read romance to daydream and fantasize and escape from the world.

What's unspoken is the opposition: what is it that people do with actual books that they do not do not do with romance novels?

Because that's where I'm getting stuck in your analysis. I think people are actually disagreeing with you about what women use romance novels for.

What I hear you saying is this:

Charlotte Allen is wrong because she compares woman's love of "romance novels" with man's love of "great literature." But "romance novels" do not fill the niche for women that "great literature" fills for men. It instead occupies the female equivalent of the male niches of "porn" and "Sudoku" and so her comparison is inapt.

And I think that what people are trying to say is: No, you have also gotten the wrong niche. "Romance novels" fit in the "book" niche. They do not fit in the "porn" niche. Nor do they fit in the "Sudoku" niche. They firmly occupy the "book" niche--and I suspect that whatever it is you think "books" do that "romance novels" do not, there are a plethora of examples of "romance novels" that will do for the reader precisely whatever it is you think that "books" do.

And when you say that people read romance to escape and fantasize, the unspoken subtext is that romances do not challenge readers to think, and that readers do not pick up romances to be challenged. I understand you're not placing a value judgment on that--but value judgment or no, it's no more true of romances than it is true of any other section of the bookstore.

"....but if a writer's output was of works that were rejected a (one might say 'the') major romance company and were published by a company that built itself on publishing manuscripts that the mainstay publisher had rejected, doesn't that speak to the nature of the 'genre'?"

Since that describes about 99.9% of all writers of all genres, I'm at a loss as to what it might "speak."

It's pretty rare for an unpublished fiction writer to find their first manuscript bought on the first submission, LJ.

What's common is for an unpublished writer to write a bunch of novels, and submit them all around, have them rejected, and finally get one accepted somewhere. And then go through the difficult "second novel blues," and either start building a career with another couple of books whose sales build on the previous, or failing, and either more or less quitting, or trying to start over, possibly under a new name.

Nor is it in the least unusual for a writer to move to another publisher, or have several publishers.

Since this is true of all the genre fiction publishing I'm familiar with, and this is the way it's always been done since the dawn of modern mass market publishing, I have to wonder what the heck you're talking about.

(Not to mention that suggesting that selling to leading romance publishers other than Harlequin is some kind of insult is... not well founded in reality as we know it. Harlequin isn't exactly the first, best, choice of how to get your book best published, maximize your advances and career, or get good reviews. As anyone with the faintest clue about romance publishing knows. [Cripes, you're talking to a former Avon Books (junior) editor.])

"Also, when talking about the genre, if it is more susceptible to plagiarism, doesn't that suggest that the genre (but not individual works that may distinguish themselves) has some of the characteristics that Hilzoy described?"

You have a cite to indicate that romance novels are "more susceptible to plagiarism" than... what? Cite?

"That you have taken the genre and made it into something worthwhile is great, but it shouldn't be thought of as pulling all the rest of the genre up to the same level that you have attained."

"Your stuff is good, not like the rest of the genre!"

Thanks, LJ, for yet another version of the Eternal Slur.

You probably don't know, but this is such a cliche since the 1930s, and so infamous to people in the sf field, and other genres, that people have been making fun of it since before I was born. My old pal Dave Langford has been running a series of "As Others See Us" quotes from mainstream interviews and articles, in Ansible as "As Others See Us" since he took over the newszine from Peter Roberts when it was Checkpoint, back in the late Seventies.

Samples. Just please click this link ten times or so.

And, if you don't get it, the point is how stupid and ignorant these claims are.

And they're stupid when said about any genre.

So, in no genre or medium of fiction or creativity is the majority of work above average: quite an indictment, that.

Slarti: "Clearly it is important, to some, and I find myself re-interested."

For the record, I actually wrote a brief response to you yesterday, pointing out that you were apparently incapable of imagining millions of people who clearly think it's important, and specifically saying something like "apparently you are unable to imagine the existence of these folks."

But since you've several times in the past made the same comment to me about an issue that other sets of zillions of people people find highly important, but you do not, I figured I have zero credibility with you, and it was pointless, and best left to the inevitable showing up of romance folks after Hilzoy's comments are inevitably run-across if left standing.

You have a consistent habit of announcing that because something is unimportant to you, obviously I'm a [derogatory implication] for going on about it, no matter that, in fact, whole industries and worldwide communities do find that thing quite important, which is why I go on about it, no matter that you're clueless about the topic, and the people it matters to.

For the record, and the next time this happens.

And I like and respect you anyway. Not that you likely care.

Hilzoy: "Saying 'the way you assess genre romances is different from the way you assess works of straight fiction' does not mean, or imply, that good work can't be genre fiction."

But romance novels can't be "good work," let alone a "good novel," when it isn't even a "novel" and isn't even a "book," which is the claim you are standing by.

Your assertion doesn't seem to make any sense, Hilzoy. How can a novel that isn't even a "novel" be a good novel? How can something that can't be compared to novels be a good novel?

How does your claim make any sense? There are good non-novel, non-book romance novels? How can a non-novel be a good novel?

Incidentally, if you believe romance non-novels can be good novels, could you name three, please? Thanks.

I've made this point essentially several times now, but I missed any response.

I refer you again to my my 08:03 PM comment of March 2nd.

"...but I actually don't agree that genre romance (and I specifically did not include and other genre fiction) are to literature as McDonalds is to fine dining."

Taking "and" to mean "any," you're still asserting that romance genre fiction is uniquely distinguishable from other genre fiction. Is that by the publishing imprint? Or by what means, please?

This is a serious question: could you please define "romance genre fiction" as you use the term, and offer some explanation as to how, absent the cover package/publishing information, explain how you'd issue rulings, were you a professional mass-market editor, on which manuscripts count as "books" and which count as "non-books"?

Folks with professional mass-market novel editing/publishing experience are used to making quick decisions on that which is "bad" and that which is worth considering publishing, and we can also usually conclude whether something is a story, or just ideas and fragments, but as a rule, I've never heard anyone suggest that a novel ceases to become a novel depending upon which imprint we decide to publish it under.

"Also, as a general note: I do not strike portions of what I've written unless I seem to myself to have made a factual error. I elucidate instead."

Naturally, you should act as you see fit, and hold to whichever policies work best for you. I don't expect anyone would want to try to bully you into doing otherwise.

However, I do contend that the statement "Second, romance novels* (update below the fold) are not 'books', as that word is normally used." is factually in error. If you can find a source that verifies your statement as a fact, I shall withdraw my claim.

"I got to the part about women's alleged literary preferences, and thought: look, this is the wrong comparison. I think that romance novels generally are where many women go for what I guess you might call romantic, and sometimes erotic, daydreaming."

You're confusing the reasons some people read romance novels with what romance novels are. The views of some fans of a work don't define the work, and they certainly don't define the genre.

This is just insupportable reasoning, which I think you'll see if you think it through.

"What's hard about finding the right comparison..." is that you're continuing to insist that the entire genre of "romance novels," and every single work published as one, or that you define as one, isn't comparable to that of "real" novels, and that they uniformly serve a different function for all their readers.

This claim is wrong. That's your problem: that you've yet to understand that. You can struggle for the next decade trying to find a way to explain it, and you'll never find one that holds up, because the claim isn't defensible.

You're generalizing what could be fairly said of how some romance readers read some romance novels sometimes to a universal and absolute ukase that that's the only possible way all people read all romance novels.

That's where you go wrong, and until you you get this point, I can't see that you'll get out of the contradictions you've placed yourself between: there's just not going to be an analogy that justifies that absolute generalization.

Which was my sole point from the start.

Well, as to the Charlotte Allen piece, like her earlier defense of Larry Summers and the "women are innately less capable of science and math" ridiculousness, this one underwhelmed me with its complete lack of anything resembling analysis (i.e. conclusory statements emerging from unsubstantiated premises do not arguments make).

As to the discussion of Romance novels, which, it seems to me, is very appropriate given Allen's demonstration of how women do and don't characterize other women, I add my thanks to Gary Farber for his articulate explanations.

As an academic myself (Ph.D. literature, J.D.), I am caught between amusement and frustration at the judgments cast at Romance -- amused because before I read them I shared the disdain, and frustrated because now that I am a genre reader I understand the ignorance behind such disdain.

As to Hilzoy's argument that genre Romance is of a different character than other literatures, I just can't agree, especially if the measure is why women (who make up only part of the readership, BTW) read Romance. Besides the inevitable inaccuracies in any such singular thesis (i.e. women read for some kind of escape or "wish fulfillment"), there is the fact of Romance's varied and rich ancestry, from Classical Comedy, High Romance, the comedy of manners, the novels of sentiment and sensibility and gothic novels of the 18th and 19th centuries, Victorian morality tracts, and captivity narratives, just to name a few.

As a genre, Romance is concerned with the concept of the family as the basic unit of society, and especially with marriage as socially transformative (i.e. based on love rather than class or convenience). It is strongly concerned with romantic love not merely as fantasy but as a cultural ideal within societies that conceive the family as the ideal social microcosm. It is very interested in gender roles and class differences and, depending on the subgenre, with race and cultural conflicts. Genre Romance, like SF and some of its literary ancestors (esp. Comedy) is very much a genre of social critique, even when it appears to reinforce the status quo, because its central problem is the viability of the social contract of marriage (or at least romantic love, which has begun to replace marriage as the end point in many Romance novels). Romance novels run the gamut from socially reactionary to transformatively subversive.

Yes, there are crappy Romance novels, and for many of us who read them, the covers and titles continue to be an embarrassment. It is not fair to say, however, the category Romance (i.e. Harlequin) is uniformly low brow, as some of the most subversive Romances I've read have been category novels, nor is it accurate to say that all Romance is alike.

If genre Romance as a whole is of a different *type* than other fiction, it is only distinguishable in the same way that SF is of a different *type* of novel than Fantasy or Gothic fiction. As Gary pointed out, ALL writing conforms to certain formalistic boundaries, and in the case of genre fiction, those boundaries are definitive *as they relate to form.* I'm not, for example, one of those people who believes that literary fiction is merely one more genre, but at the same time I would never argue that genre Romance is of a different *essential character* than literary fiction, any more than I would argue that horror is of a different *essential character* than lit fic. That they may have different *characteristics* is different, IMO, and a more reasonable basis of distinction.

But to marginalize genre Romance by asserting is more comparable to Hustler or sudoku than to other types of fiction just doesn't hold for me as a logical argument, especially given that genre Romance's pedigree can be traced more directly through other forms of literature than, I dare say, Hustler. Just try Judy Cuevas's (aka Judith Ivory) Black Silk or Laura Kinsale's For My Lady's Heart or Patricia Gaffney's To Have and To Hold and then try to forward that argument.

Gary - I appreciate all that you are saying, but Harlequins are not the dustbin of romances either. Many huge name authors got their start there: Tami Hoag, Tess Gerritsen, Nora Roberts, Jennifer Crusie, Suzanne Brockmann, Linda Howard, and the list goes on.

Further, while there are heavy constraints in the Harlequin categories, there are actually wonderful top chef sort of books being written and published through those category lines.

What Gary said.

(Thanks, Gary)

For the record, I actually wrote a brief response to you yesterday, pointing out that you were apparently incapable of imagining millions of people who clearly think it's important, and specifically saying something like "apparently you are unable to imagine the existence of these folks."

Sorry, Gary; evidently I missed it. Still not seeing it, actually, but point made, and taken.

But since you've several times in the past made the same comment to me about an issue that other sets of zillions of people people find highly important, but you do not

Wow, I thought I actually did that very rarely. I'll try to choke back the impulse, from now on. Mostly, as I said in my last comment, I said anything at all because it appeared to me as if you were making the same arguments repeatedly, without getting agreement from hilzoy. If that's me misreading you, my apologies.

I figured I have zero credibility with you

That's not true. You do annoy me on a fairly regular basis, but that's got nothing whatever to do with what credibility I give you. FWIW, anyway. Furthermore, I have absolutely no authority or influence, here, beyond what the average commenter possesses, so my opinions relative to what you're writing should have the same or less weight as anyone else's.

And I like and respect you anyway. Not that you likely care.

That actually means quite a lot to me, Gary. Thank you. I can't say that I always like you, but I do have a high regard for the sheer volume of reading you've gone through, as well as the care you take to research your opinions.

Hilzoy: "I know. I just wish I hadn't said it. I did, though. *kicks self.*"

Yeah, but you're still standing by it. Your post, and thus you, are still making the claim.

If you actually want to disclaim it, or withdraw it, that would be different.

If you don't want to stand by it, actually withdrawing the claim would seem to be more productive than saying "I'm kicking myself" while standing by the claim.

But I may not understand the logic of preferring to continue to make the asssertion instead. Strike the "may." But I constantly don't understand how other people work.

Jane: "Gary - I appreciate all that you are saying, but Harlequins are not the dustbin of romances either."

Point taken; I didn't mean to sneer at Harlequin, or their readers or writers. I just get a little tired of people using the imprint as a synonym of All Romance Novels, and of confusing category romance with leaders, super-leaders, and other types of mass-market genre paperback publishing. (Not that people outside the biz even know how a monthly line works, or what difference it makes where a book is placed on the schedule, or perhaps even why one publishing house would have a bunch of imprints, and what difference that makes.)

Thanks for the kind words, Nora and all.

It's highly unusual for me to disagree with Hilzoy, although it happens from time to time on matters such as this where our background and perspectives differ strongly.

As a rule, though, we see most things eye-to-eye. Hilzoy is quite brilliant and articulate, and is usually right, but we're all human.

(I've heard rumors from time to time that I have been known to make an error or poorly put claim, but surely that couldn't be true!)

Anyway, if you look at other posts at this group blog, whether past, or in future, you can find some fine stuff by Hilzoy and others, as well as a terrific bunch of commenters (with a few jerks wandering by, of course, and some of us regulars have our ... quirks). Just saying in case you'd like to stick around, or come back, for other discussions and threads.

One of my regrets, incidentally, about my time at Avon is that I never could get anyone at the weekly editorial meeting of the 14 of us to agree on finding a manuscript with a romance featuring a chiropracter, so as to explain why, in the cover illo, the Manly Chiropracter With Rippling Chest Revealed was apparently examining the back of a woman very closely with his skilled, professional, fingers, as she leaned over backwards.

Surely a chiropracter romanance setting was perfect?

I just don't understand why this notion wasn't snapped up.

I guess this explains why I worked on sf, mysteries, action fiction, nonfiction, science books, politics, woo-woo, movie tie-ins, a Vietnam War line, our Latin American line, and pretty much everything but romance, cook books, sports books, and business books.

;-)

Gary: "But romance novels can't be "good work," let alone a "good novel," when it isn't even a "novel" and isn't even a "book," which is the claim you are standing by."

I do not take you to have missed the part of my update in which I said that I should not have said used "book" when I meant to say "non-genre fiction". or to believe that if something is not a work of non-genre fiction, it cannot be "good work" of any sort. Given that fact, though, I am at a loss as to how to interpret what you say here.

"However, I do contend that the statement "Second, romance novels* (update below the fold) are not 'books', as that word is normally used." is factually in error."

-- I took it to be obvious that I was not claiming that they were not, literally, books. I mean, they are bound and printed works produced by publishing houses and sold in bookstores, etc. Thus, I thought that this more or less had to fall in some category like "stupid thing to say", "point I should have expressed differently", etc., as opposed to "misstatement of fact", and this that whatever problem anyone has with what I said, thinking I was factually in error wasn't an option. Sorry if this was unclear.

"you're still asserting that romance genre fiction is uniquely distinguishable from other genre fiction."

No, I'm just responding to people who think I am talking about works that are plainly not genre romance, on the grounds that (apparently) what I say about genre romance must be what I think about genre fiction generally.

~I took it to be obvious that I was not claiming that they were not, literally, books.~

I get that. But what you're saying here is that they are less than books outside the Romance genre. These are BOOKS, but these? Not so much.

I would like to know the answer to what I asked earlier re reader expectations in genre fiction, and why you feel by having them, as do all other genres, Romance is less.

Which is the only way I can interpret this:

~No, I'm just responding to people who think I am talking about works that are plainly not genre romance, on the grounds that (apparently) what I say about genre romance must be what I think about genre fiction generally.~

So why is my work, to be personal, less than a work by a Mystery writer, or SF, or Horror?

When I read Hilzoy's first attempt to deal with romance novels, I thought "whoooo boy, someone is going to blast her for that one." And Gary rose to the occasion and was -- wrongly I believe -- accused of hijacking the thread.

I spent some time writing the following (long) comment, but in the meantime the thread had wound down, so I didn't post it. The thread has come alive again with participation by some leading romance authors, academics and people who are active in the "romance fiction community." So I'm posting this mini-essay because it tries to define some of the terms that the thread has been struggling with and addresses some of the "category" problems Hilzoy is wrestling with in her follow-up comments.

Given how superb Hilzoy normally is with using categories and comparisons (philosopher that she is), and given how sensitive she is to elitist and sexist assumptions, I was surprised by her remarks. Like "bemused", I'll put it down to Hilzoy having an extremely rare bad day. But I find the conversation quite interesting -- and not a hijack, since it's dealing with the sorts of cultural assumptions that Charlotte Allen so lazily exploited -- so I'll add my two cents worth.

First off, I think I understand the point Hilzoy was trying to make -- if Allen is going to take female reading preferences (or any other female-dominated activity) as evidence of women being less intelligent or more frivolous or whatever than men, Allen should examine analogous activities men choose to engage in for similar purposes. And if Allen did that, she'd find her arguments wouldn't hold up very well.

But I find Hilzoy's own choice of analogy and her subsequent clarification bothersome, because I don't think she'd make the same sort of argument with respect to other art forms -- such as movies -- or other genres of fiction. I think some confusion in both Hilzoy's remarks and the comment thread comes from mixing two different notions of "genre" -- an artistic category and a marketing classification system. So before I respond to Hilzoy, I'll start by discussing how we might think about some terms in the broader context of popular culture -- including genre more generally.

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I. What is "genre" anyway?

The "romance genre" debates are in some sense merely a subset of the "genre wars" that rage over how we should approach popular fiction of all sorts. But the "romance genre" presents special issues because it is produced and consumed primarily by women.

Genre is used in one sense as a system to classify and compare artistic products -- fiction, film -- on the basis of shared elements or characteristics. In fiction and film, every work can be classified according to genre, and some works can be classified as belonging to more than one genre. We create similar classifications for other art forms -- poetry, non-fiction, theatre, painting, sculpture, architecture, music -- though we don't usually apply the "genre" label to those classification systems. As several commenters have noted, an artist never truly works on a blank slate (or blank page) -- all artistic works, even the most innovative, conform to one degree or another to genre conventions or "rules" or the artist is reacting to, playing off of, or subverting genre conventions or rules.

In the sense of "genre" as an artistic category, therefore, the fact that the "romance genre" has a particular set of "rules" governing form and content doesn't make "romance" something other than one of many "genres" of fiction or film. It's the "rules" for each genre that distinguish one genre from another in a classification sense, but there is no hierarchy of genres -- that is, the "rules" of each genre don't make one genre inherently superior qualitatively to other genres. So novels are novels, just as movies are movies, regardless of the genre(s) each belongs to.

As Gary explained, when we use "genre" in this sense, what constitutes a work in the "romance genre" is pretty simple -- a novel or film which focuses on the development of a romantic relationship between two people (him/her, her/her, him/him, or throw in an alien or two). As Gary also pointed out, there are many works that fall in other genres, such as mysteries or thrillers or westerns or science fiction or fantasy or even literary fiction, which should also be classified as "romance."

The second use of "genre" (and sub-genre) is as a marketing category. An identifiable audience has emerged for books or movies or TV shows that share certain elements (and don't have other elements). Artists and those who finance the production and distribution of works -- publishing houses, movie or television studios -- make and market products with that particular audience in mind. From the standpoint of the audience -- potential readers, movie-goers, TV audience, DVD consumers -- the fact that the product is marketed as being in a certain genre or sub-genre creates an implicit "contract" between the artist and the audience that certain genre conventions, or audience expectations, will be met. The conventions can be played with or subverted, but only in ways that will nonetheless satisfy the audience, will allow the audience to stay with the artist even as the artist twists or challenges or breaks genre conventions.

It's not just publishers like Harlequin that produce and market according to genre conventions. Movie studios go to great lengths -- including choosing alternative endings after test screenings -- to try to ensure that audience expectations of genre conventions will be satisfied in the sense that the movie doesn't lose the audience, even if it challenges audience expectations. And TV production has been dominated by the "pilots" system.

The more purely "commercial" a product, the more closely it will adhere to the "rules" of the genre of the sort that Hilzoy described, where the publisher or the studio has a fairly rigorous checklist of elements they think the audience enjoys and other elements they think the audience (and in movies/TV the censor) is likely to reject. From a potential consumer's point of view, genre marketing can be a big plus -- the distributor is telling me that "if you loved X and Y, you're probably going to enjoy Z".

But as Hilzoy pointed out, the fact that a work is "commercial" -- is produced and marketed with a target audience in mind -- doesn't tell us anything about the "quality" of the work. Most will be inferior knock-offs of some sort -- "vampires" are popular, so suddenly there are legions of me-too books with paranormal elements, or a superhero movie was a blockbuster, so a queue of superhero movies is set for summer release. However, a few works will stand out, either for originality or for strength of execution, or both. And an even smaller subset will eventually become "classics."

There are lots of positives about producing with a particular readership or audience in mind, especially because it gives the author or film-maker/show-producer a sense of communication with the potential consumers of the work. There are also some major downsides, aside from the risk of producing something that is purely formulaic and hopelessly derivative.

The biggest problem is "genre ghettoes" -- works which could appeal to multiple audiences or have cross-over appeal get pigeon-holed in a narrow genre and don't find the wider audiences they could reach -- the sorts of concerns that Gary described in some detail. The entire field of speculative fiction -- if we group science fiction, fantasy, alternative history, etc together -- suffers from a "genre ghetto", especially in not receiving the sort of attention from newspaper and magazine reviews and short-lists for literary prizes that many works in the field would otherwise merit.

"Genre ghettoes" create problems for consumers as well. For example, if a reader was first introduced to "science fiction" by reading a "hard" SF work and didn't like it, the reader may now believe he or she won't like anything in the genre, even though "hard" SF is only part of what constitutes SF. Or some movie-goers may stay away from anything labelled "fantasy" because they think it must have dragons or wizards or elves.

The "genre ghetto" problem extends beyond the SF boundaries to all other genres. Mysteries and thrillers and horror and romance and historical fiction, though representing market segments often far larger than those for "literary fiction", also don't receive much attention from "serious" reviewers. And when a novel by a "serious" author conforms to a popular genre, it's typically going to be reviewed as something other than the genre -- either the genre is ignored or the work is deemed to be uniquely differentiated from what is implicitly assumed to be the inherently poor quality of the popular genre. This seems to be the sort of distinction Hilzoy tried to make between Jane Austen, who wrote "novels", and other romance novelists, who write something else.

The flip side of a consumer thinking "I liked X and Y so I'll probably like Z" is "I didn't like X so I won't like Y and Z", which may or may not be accurate. The most frustrating downside of "genre ghettoes" (for artists or distributors or fans who would like to see a novelist's work more widely read) is a consumer's assumption that "since the people who like X are people I don't identify with (geeks, young women, old farts), I know I won't like X or Y or Z." That's a problem that the "romance genre" suffers from more than any other -- it's read mostly by women, so it comes with a built-in bias against it for most men and some women. And the Fabio covers just reinforce that bias.

But we all self-identify with consumer groups -- that's what so much of advertising (and book covers) is all about -- so the pros and cons of genres as marketing categories are facts of life that artists and distributors will try, on the one hand, to exploit and, on the other, to circumvent.

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II. Hilzoy's Remarks

So with that background, let's return to Hilzoy's comments. Here's how I parse her comments.

1. "Romance genre fiction" (using genre as a marketing classification, not an artistic category) is different in kind, not just degree, from "real" novels.

2. "Real" novels are composed of (a) the "Jane Austen" exception -- some subset of romance genre fiction (using genre as an artistic category) that the marketplace views as "literature" (and therefore in a "classic" marketing category, not a "romance" marketing category) plus (b) some undefined subset of novels in all other genres (used both as a marketing and an artistic category), and (c) all "literary fiction" (treating "literary fiction" as both an artistic and marketing category).

3. This difference in kind is based on form/content rules unique to the "romance genre" (marketing category) and the distinctive motivations of consumers of "romance genre" products (marketing category).

I am a big consumer of fiction (though little of the contemporary "literary fiction" category), and this set of distinctions doesn't work for my reading experiences. I have two problems. The first is that I see Hilzoy's distinction within the "romance genre" (as artristic category) -- between "real" novels and something else -- as having at its heart the old, familiar debate about elite versus popular culture. The second is the distinction implicit in Hilzoy's description of the "romance genre" that, as compared with other genres (used in the marketing sense), "romance" is something other than a genre of fiction -- which, since I doubt that anyone would make the same claim with respect to other popular genres, seems to reflect some sexist assumptions.

A. Distinguishing between "real" novels and un-novels within the "romance genre"

I'll start with the distinction Hilzoy tries to make between "real" novels in the romance genre like "Pride and Prejudice" and fiction which is something else, let's call them un-novels, which are being produced today and which share many elements (form and content) with "Pride and Prejudice". Hilzoy seems to be saying that the un-novels are "romance" in the marketing sense, whereas Jane Austen is a "classic novel" in the marketing sense -- though it should be noted that the explosion of Austen-related movies and TV adaptations has also placed Austen in the "romance genre" in the marketing sense in recent years. However, Gary is pointing out that, in terms of artistic categories and what may be of interest to readers, both romance un-novels and romance "real" novels, as defined by Hilzoy, are novels in the "romance genre". Furthermore, Gary stresses that there are many novels that are in other genres (marketing and artistic categories) that also fall in the "romance genre" (artistic categories) and could be marketed as "romance".

First, let me reiterate what others have noted about the "rules" of the romance genre (using genre as a marketing category). Within the "compulsory figures" that Hilzoy describes, there's an enormous variety. Though the romance genre taken as a whole, like all popular fiction, has become more sexually explicit (and more violent), still today, some romance un-novels have no more than a chaste kiss, and others are highly erotic from page one. Some are comedies of manners and others are rousing adventures. Some are light and sweet and others are dark and brooding. Some have "alpha" heroes and clueless heroines, and others have feisty competent heroines or nurturing heroes.

i. Elite vs popular and "art" vs "commerce"

Hilzoy is focusing on what I believe to be a marketing distinction, which is an artificial distinction in "kind". It merely reiterates the past two centuries of empassioned but mostly unproductive cultural debates over high-brow/low-brow, elite vs popular culture, "art for art's sake" vs commercial production, "serious" works vs "light" or "escapist" pablum, etc. The debate shows up in all categories of "art" -- especially literature (think recently graphic novels), music, architecture, and more recently, movies and television.

The "Jane Austen" distinction is like arguing that Mozart created "real" music but that Miles Davis or the Beatles created something else, some sort of un-music. Or arguing that seminal romantic comedies like "It Happened One Night" or "Bringing Up Baby" are "films" because they've become classics but the romantic comedies of recent years pushed out by the studios, like "When Harry Met Sally", are just escapist entertainment, just "movies" we consume along with our popcorn. In marketing terms, Mozart and the Beatles are certainly in different categories of music (or genres if you will) -- classical and rock-and-roll or pop -- but they're both "music". Same with "classic" romantic comedies and contemporary romantic comedies -- different in marketing terms, but not in artistic kind.

Gary, having spent much of his adult life in the science fiction/fantasy or speculative fiction universe is especially sensitive to that debate since a lot of great fiction of the past half century has been relegated to the "not serious literary works" category by the sort of mentality which defines works in popular genres as inherently less worthy or valuable than works aimed at a more "intellectual" market. It's not that anyone is claiming that all SF/F merits attention as great literature, but rather that the maintenance of genre walls gives power over defining what is good literature to a small elite. Which, dare I say it, is a bit "elitist".

The attempt to distinguish between "real" novels and "something else" seems to be based, in part, on the argument there is a difference between "art" and "commercial production". I think such a distinction is both artificial and fluid. I speak from my own reading experience. Most of what I read would either be labelled "genre" fiction -- SF/F, historical fiction, historical romance, "who-dun-its", police procedurals -- or 19th century literature, with a few 20th century authors mixed in. A substantial chunk of the 19th c authors I adore were very "commercial" -- Dickens, Trollope, Scott, Dumas, Balzac -- and produced for a particular market in mind. These authors had to produce within certain commercial conventions in order to fulfill their audience's expectations -- the implicit "contract" between author and reader -- just as most of today's "genre" authors do. The commercial dimension doesn't make their works any less "real" as novels.

ii. "Serious" vs "light" reading

Hilzoy also seemed to be suggesting that "real" fiction should be distinguished from "something else" on the basis of why readers choose to consume a particular work -- that "real" novels aren't read for relaxation, or that a piece of fiction read for relaxation or that can stimulate sexual interest isn't a "real" novel. Again, I find the distinction between "serious" and "entertainment" fiction doesn't really lead to a difference in kind between "real" novels and un-novels.

Personally, I don't invest time in reading anything that I don't find "entertaining" or that isn't at least to some degree "escapist" in the sense of taking me to worlds I've never seen or people I've never met. (That's the basis of my bias against much "literary fiction" -- it often doesn't take me to places or people I'm interested in.) That "romance genre" novels are relaxing and entertaining doesn't make the genre something other than a genre of fiction. I read both Proust and Georgette Heyer to "escape" or to be entertained, though Proust demands more of my complete attention because of the complexity of his prose -- but it's also possible to read both authors closely as commenting on romantic relationships within European class and gender constraints. If I've had a demanding day and want to relax, I'm more likely to pick up PG Wodehouse than Tolstoy, but certainly both produced great writing, and both explored romantic relationships. I read neither as a self-improvement exercise or to put hair on my chest.

iii. Qualitative comparisons within and across genres

So I don't think that trying to identify "real" novels on the basis of distinguishing between "art" vs "commerce" or "serious" vs "entertaining" holds up very well. Rather than try to distinguish between "real" novels and "un-novels", I think we should view fiction within various genres (including "literary fiction" as a genre in itself) as on a continuum of quality dimensions the way we do movies.

The fact that all movies can be classified by genre, both in terms of art production and of target audience, doesn't mean that we can't make distinctions among movies on the basis of different dimensions of quality. But nor does it mean that we can automatically assign "quality superiority" to certain genres over other genres. The majority of movies are and have been highly derivative of movies which came before. Though all movies are marketed to meet audience genre expectations -- which is one of the main purposes of trailers -- a few distinguish themselves by originality and/or perfection of execution. But all of them are movies. They are all made with the hope they will reach a large number of paying viewers, either in theatres or through other distribution forms. They all hope to entertain. The fact that an X-rated movie will produce sexual arousal that some viewers (men and women) prefer to a Hustler centerfold doesn't make an X-rated movie an un-movie. Just because "Pirates of the Caribbean 1" was hugely successful and didn't try to do anything other than provide escapist entertainment didn't make PotC an un-movie. Though the majority of movies, even the most popular, can be classified as "trashy" or "mediocre," some are more serious than others, some challenge the audience more than others, some are executed better than others, some (a very few) will become classics watched for generations to come.

The same can be said about "romance genre" fiction (whether we are using a marketing or artistic classification) -- all are novels, whether written in 1815 or 2008. The majority are "trashy" (though even the "trashy" have to be reasonably well executed or the author or publisher won't sell in the future), a few are very good novels, and even fewer are great.

B. Distinguishing between "romance" and other genres

The second problem I have with Hilzoy's clarification is that her description of what constitutes a romance genre "un-novel" could be applied to any popular genre. It's true that she explicitly states she is not commenting on other genres because of her lack of familiarity with them, but I think it's hard to keep other genres out of the discussion. Let's set aside SF/F -- which as a "genre" has its own self-definition challenges and internal genre wars -- and just look at other forms of popular fiction with which I'm sure all of us, including Hilzoy, are familiar even if we aren't regular readers in those genres. It seems to me that, regardless of what you personally believe of the quality of their work, we'd never say Arthur Conan Doyle wrote "real" novels, but Elmore Leonard or PD James write un-novels; or that Edgar Allen Poe wrote "real" novels but Stephen King or Anne Rice write un-novels. But it's all too common to find the sort of suggestion Hilzoy makes -- that Jane Austen wrote "real" novels but contemporary "romance genre" authors write "something else".

"Who-dun-its" and spy thrillers and westerns are every bit as much defined by the "rules" of the particular genre, and authors who write genre novels are well aware of the genre's conventions. The reader has certain expectations -- such as, in a "who-dun-it" that we will learn the answer, that the author doesn't cheat, and that by the end, some sort of order, which had been upset by the murder, will be on the way to being in place in one fashion or another. The author can bend or break the "rules", but if the author loses the reader, doesn't meet the reader's basic expectations for the genre, the book is going to be a wall-banger.

Much of popular fiction -- and movies and TV shows -- is formulaic and fairly non-demanding -- sort of "macaroni and cheese" comfort food. Or what dutchmarbel called "braincandy." But the familiarity element doesn't convert popular novels into un-novels any more than a big boxoffice grossing action-adventure movie is somehow an un-movie. Some of that "braincandy" is very tasty even if it's not terribly nutritious, and some of that "braincandy" has some vitamins and minerals lurking within.

I also don't think "reasons for consumption" is a helpful way to distinguish between romance and other genres. The novels in other popular genres are every bit as much consumed -- by women and men -- for relaxation and stimulation as romance un-novels. The principal distinguishing characteristic for "romance", as anyone marketing "romance" fiction will tell you, is that women taken as a group enjoy relationship stories more than men taken as a group, and anyone looking for relationship stories knows s/he can find them in the "romance section" -- so women are the primary consumers of what is marketed as "romance".

I'm not going to get into the "porn" debate because it's a hopelessly murky category and we'll never agree on the basic definitions necessary for a discussion. What we should note, however, is that the range of sexually explicit or arousing prose in the "romance genre" is enormous -- from absolutely chaste "inspirational" romance (yes, the fundies have entered the romance field as a sub-genre) to erotica. Still, we can make the same observation for the huge range of romantic/sexual elements that can be found in many of today's thrillers or detective stories or literary fiction. And (outside of a few school districts and libraries in certain US states), we don't lump those other "bound volumes of words" (otherwise known as books) into the "porn" category.

There are two main differences in terms purely of sexual content between "romance" and other genres (including literary fiction). First, because a "romance" focuses on a relationship, any sexually explicit content will stand out, or be more visible in terms of plot and characterization. And second, if you're hunting for sexually explicit writing, it's easier to locate it in the "romance section" of your bookstore or Amazon than it is in other popular genre sections or in literary fiction -- not that there's necessarily lots more of it in "romance," but it is definitely easier to find.

So to that extent, I'd agree with Hilzoy that, for some women, some romance novels are analogous to Hustler centerfolds for men. But for much of "romance" fiction, the sexual element is about on a par with going to the movies to oggle the eye-candy, whether it was Clark Gable looking up the stairs at Vivien Leigh (my beating heart, fan, fan), or choosing a movie today because it stars Johnny Depp or Daniel Craig or Brad Pitt or George Clooney.

To conclude: A work of fiction of any genre (including "literary fiction") that is consumed primarily as "entertainment" is no less a "book" or a "real" novel than a work of fiction that is "serious" or has merited the appelation "classic" literature. That "romance genre" novels (in the marketing sense of genre) conform to certain genre conventions and are most often read for "entertainment" doesn't make them un-books or un-novels any more than any other genre of fiction. The primary, and overwhelming, distinction between "romance genre" fiction and other genres that are consumed as "entertainment" is simply that women are the major consumers of "romance." That distinction shouldn't make us view "romance genre" fiction as different in kind from any other form of fiction, which also must satisfy the conventions (reader expectations) specific to its genre.

"Sorry, Gary; evidently I missed it."

Sorry, I meant to write "I wrote a comment yesterday [...] but then deleted it."

Apologies that I was unclear in letting that fall out.

As it happens, I write a fair amount of stuff into these little comment boxes that I end up deleting in whole or part, just about every day that I comment here.

"I'll try to choke back the impulse, from now on."

Thanks. It's not a big thing; I like and respect you, and you have a few habits in writing that annoy me at times. That's all.

That's true of a number of folks, though their number is vastly smaller than the people who annoy me whom I don't like and respect.

I have had few friends in my life with no annoying characteristics. Probably none, but I'm leaving open the possibility.

So having a few annoying qualities isn't a big deal for me.

And, obviously, I have more than a few annoying qualities myself. I wouldn't dream of arguing otherwise. I annoy myself at times, and not even only just retrospectively.

So while I'll, of course, still defend myself if I feel the need, and if I believe that the specific complaint about my having been annoying in some remark was a misreading, or unjustified, I would never deny that I amn't genuinely in the wrong or at fault, at times.

Thus I'm dependent on other people whom I like and wish to be friends with finding my own annoying characteristics forgiveable, if not necessarily for an hour here or there, and so I'd never regard being mildly annoyed with someone I regard as a friend as a big deal.

This is, after all, why we call them "annoyances," and not "lifetime deal-breaking things we can't put up with."

Those are different.

"...so my opinions relative to what you're writing should have the same or less weight as anyone else's...."

Me, I weigh the importance of people's opinions according to my own feelings for the person, how much respect I do or do not have for them, how much respect for their opinion in a given area of knowledge I have, and a bunch of other variables about that individual, and the importance of the opinion, and the context in which it's uttered, and the like, myself.

And I like you, Slarti, aside from when you annoy me, and I respect you, although not necessarily every opinion on every topic, particularly when it's in an area you don't know much about, and most particularly when I can't figure out what you're referring to.

But there isn't anyone whose opinion on everything I always have the highest regard for.

Now, back to the caber-tossing.

Nora: I don't think your work is less than a work by a mystery, SF, horror, etc. author. I never meant to say that romance was less valuable than other genre fiction, or for that matter than non-genre fiction. All I wanted to do in the relevant bits of what I wrote was to say: look, I don't know much about SF, and I am absolutely not trying to talk about it for that reason, so please don't take what I say about genre romance to apply to genre fiction generally. I said that because, at some point, people were talking as though whatever I said about genre romance had to be something I thought was equally applicable to horror, SF, etc., and I didn't think that at all. I mean, genres differ. But I didn't mean anything about which are "lesser".

For Gary, about standing by what I say: I tend to think that when I make a factual statement and it's wrong, I might actually mislead someone, and should correct it; whereas when I make a stupid judgment, I should clarify instead, leaving my original stupidity evident to the world.

the business has (as I understand it) a lot of ties to organized crime, something which pornography shares with the drug trade

It **had** ties to organized crime. These days anyone with a camera and a house can make porn -- there's no way that organized crime can limit porn. (That might be as true in other countries, such as Russia, Belarus, etc)

===============

... and the Story of O are certainly pornography, but they aren't visual.

The Story of O was made into a fairly seamy movie (unlike the movie versions of Fanny Hill), so, in at least one form, it was visual.

===================

Every genre has basic reader expectations. In Romance those are: A central love story, emotional commitment, sexual tension, conflict, a happy or uplifting ending.

What would you say are the reader expectaions of a "genre" mystery (I would think that a crime and a "Playfair" solution would be among them), or SF or Fantasy?

"Given that fact, though, I am at a loss as to how to interpret what you say here."

Reading your post, and what you say: it's unchanged, and you stand by it.

I'm just responding to your post. To what you say in it.

As I said, if you weren't standing by it, that would be different. Feel free to amend your post to withdraw those assertions if you don't stand by them.

Meanwhile, you're claiming what you're claiming what you're claiming.

With added explanation.

So: are there romance novels that are good novels? Can you name three? Are romance novels "novels," or not? Are romance novels something that can't be compared to "novels," or not?

"I took it to be obvious that I was not claiming that they were not, literally, books."

So what are you claiming?

If I hand you ten manuscripts, and said "show me which ones are novels and which aren't novels," what will be the criteria that you, Hilzoy, professional book publishing editor, use to determine which ones might not be "novels" because they are "romance non-novels"?

You're making a claim that shold be falsifiable in reality. So: what are the criteria we can use to falsify your claim?

If it's defensible, falsifiable claim, we can test it. So: criteria?

"No, I'm just responding to people who think I am talking about works that are plainly not genre romance, on the grounds that (apparently) what I say about genre romance must be what I think about genre fiction generally."

Okay. Please, if you can, define how you know what is and isn't "genre romance," the category that is uniquely unlike all other fiction, and which isn't comparable to fiction in any way, but only to puzzle books and other not-fiction, please, when handed ten manuscripts.

Thanks muchly.

As a secondary question, do you have any explanation why professional fiction editors and publishers haven't, that I've noticed, noticed that romance novels aren't novels, and are uniquely unlike other genres in that novels aren't novels?

Why do you think it is that there don't seem to be many genre fiction writers across the board making this claim, or holding to that notion as conventional wisdom?

Do they just not recognize the reality due to their prejudices? Or how do you explain the non-prevalence of this view among professional genre editors and writers? Does most everyone just have it wrong?

The second use of "genre" (and sub-genre) is as a marketing category. An identifiable audience has emerged for books or movies or TV shows that share certain elements (and don't have other elements).

I would add that I've heard that bookstores put pressure on publishers to assign books to one specific genre (is a book about a cop invetivating werewolves "mystery" or "SF/F"?). This way, the bookstores can shove the book into the pigeonhole you describe below.

Wow.

Who knew?

I may need to pay a visit to my local Borders.

Thanks -

To conclude: A work of fiction of any genre (including "literary fiction") that is consumed primarily as "entertainment" is no less a "book" or a "real" novel than a work of fiction that is "serious" or has merited the appelation "classic" literature.

Especially since some of what we now deem "classic" was itself the popular and/or commercial fiction of its day (and, to be intentionally obtuse about the "book" concept, some of it was serialized, only being assembled into book form later).

Ultimately, I think Hilzoy is trying to argue that her point was to critique Allen's analogy *as an analogy* and that therefore she was saying nothing inherently derogatory about genre Romance. But as you and Gary
have pointed out, Hilzoy's own argument against Allen on that point was built on certain assumptions and implications that DO involve judgments about Romance fiction. Whether they conform around the speculative "why women read them" or around their formalistic characteristics, those judgments cannot be negated by focusing on the original analogy critique, IMO, because they are not merely elements of logic but are rather value judgments in and of themselves.

Me: What nadezhda had the patience to say.

(Among other things I bring to this discussion is having gone through about eight million iterations of this topic, and its arguments, and innumerable essays on on it, over the past forty years, so I can't begin to have the patience to adequately start recapitulating more than a few bits and pieces: that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.)

~Nora: I don't think your work is less than a work by a mystery, SF, horror, etc. I never meant to say that romance was less valuable than other genre fiction, or for that matter than non-genre fiction. All I wanted to do in the relevant bits of what I wrote was to say: look, I don't know much about SF, and I am absolutely not trying to talk about it for that reason, so please don't take what I say about genre romance to apply to genre fiction generally.~

But then how *aren't* you saying it's less than other genre or non-genre, when the statements you've made are--Romance is constricted--which all genre is, and your list of constrictions was inaccurate. That you perceive real novels as works of freedom and imagination. When you perceive then as something women read in order to daydream, and that you must assess genre Romance (not genre fiction) differently from other books--I can only conclude that you're stating the genre, and the work inside it, is less than other areas of fiction.

I found Nadezhda's comments really helpful. For what it's worth, I took the difference between genre romance and non-genre fiction to be (in her terms, which clarify a lot) the existence of a particular implicit contract between writer and reader, one that involves certain particular rules. I also excluded Jane Austen largely because I think that whatever she was doing, no such implicit contract could have been a part of it -- as I think I said earlier, when you basically invent a whole genre (or: write something that is subsequently taken to be one of the models for a whole genre), you aren't doing the same sort of thing as someone who works within that genre once it's already established.

If I had been writing a whole post about romance, instead of just tossing off a stupid remark, I would probably have thought about what things about me I knew, but other people might not, and so I should (a) make explicit, or at least (b) think about so that I didn't just stumble into an ongoing war that I hadn't noticed because it's a war I don't care about. I didn't, and that was dumb. So, for the record:

I have no interest in the split between popular culture and highbrow culture, or in dissing popular culture. I do think that the expectations people have of certain sorts of books, and the reasons they read them, differ, and in some cases differ according to genre, and that this is good to bear in mind when making the kinds of claims Charlotte Allen made.

I like at least some of the genres in genre fiction. I never really got into SF, at least recent SF. Horror is almost entirely lost on me. The genres I like best are mystery and romance. The (contemporary) romance novelist I like best, and would cite in response to whoever asked about that above, is Nora Roberts.

I generally find the reasons people read different things fascinating. I don't tend to think that allegedly highbrow reasons are better than allegedly lowbrow reasons, etc., etc. I do think that asking why people tend to gravitate towards one rather than another type of fiction illuminates both the people and the fiction in question.

But I didn't do that, and that was a huge mistake.

I would say that basic reader expectations of genre mystery are: A mystery, puzzle or crime, the perpetrator and the protagonist, motive, clues to the resolution of the mystery, puzzle or crime, and the resolution of same.

But while I write suspense, and some police procedurals, I'm not, essentially, a Mystery writer. One who is might know better than I.

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 ...
Posted by: joel hanes

Nonsense. I don't know anything about porn, but I read and write romance novels, and it's silly to say that it's about "unmet needs". Romance novels are mostly read by women. Many, many women. Do you think most or even many womrn are deeply lonely, have many unmet intimacy needs? Huh? The same people who have families and children and lovers and friends and jobs-- who teach and design things and work in offices and schools and hospitals?

You really, really don't know what you're talking about. Readers in general, and I'd submit (knowing many more romance readers than you do) romance readers in particular, have lots of intimacy and attachment. What they seek in their reading is often an escape from the responsibilities attendant upon intimacy and attachment, just a little space at the end of a very busy day where they can follow their own interests. Nothing pathological-- no more than tennis or whatever the heck you do to relax. Doesn't mean there's anything wrong with their lives.

The problem is, I suspect, that this is a woman-dominated profession (though Gary Farber, I'd adopt you if I could :), and a woman-dominated genre, and whenever you have thoughtless and uninformed denigration like this, you have to wonder if sexism is involved. Why would what interests a lot of women indicate "the need for intimacy and attachment"? I mean, really. If you're going to choose one gender with attachment and intimacy problems, why women? Think it through.

All reading is a form of escape from the everyday world (along with much else, of course). To assume that means that "the everyday world" of readers is empty or boring or wrong shows a lack of understanding not just of reading, but of life. There's plenty of time for all sorts of fulfilling activities, and none of us should have to answer to joel or anyone else for our choices. But since I'm doing that-- I know literally hundreds of romance readers. They are pretty much like everyone else, except they read a lot, and they're predominantly female. And they don't let anyone tell them they're wrong or miserable or whatever to read what they choose to read.

"...whereas when I make a stupid judgment, I should clarify instead, leaving my original stupidity evident to the world."

We're talking about fine points of blog etiquette, which of course reasonable people can have reasonable different preferences as regards, but I'm in no way suggesting that you disappear your previous words. (That would be something I feel is Not A Good Technique, myself, but others will differ, and their views are no less valid than mine.)

I was suggesting that if you wish people to take you as withdrawing or not standing by your words, that you do so, and by that I mean marking them in such a way that it is clear they are withdrawn. Such as with a strikeover, or by bracketting them with "I withraw this," or however you find it most aesthetically pleasing, nor not displeasing, to so indicate that which you are withdrawing.

Disappearing what you wrote in favor of a rewrite is not what I was suggesting.

Merely that if you don't want to make a claim you've made, that you withdraw it. Or not.

But if you're not withdrawing it, then you're standing by it.

Adding stuff isn't withdrawing stuff, or not standing by it. That's all.

And, obviously, if you wish to stand by what you said for all eternity, you're free to do so.

But so long as you stand by it, it's your stated opinion, so people may disagree.

"But I didn't mean anything about which are 'lesser'."

How can a non-novel be an equally valuable and worthwhile novel as any other novel, when it isn't a novel? I don't follow.

How can we compare two novels, if one isn't admitted to be a novel, and it's claimed that there are no commong points by which they can be judged?

This doesn't seem to make any sense to me: could you please explain how that works? Thanks.

The point is that, in fact, there's plenty of commonality between a good novel published as genre romance, and a good novel published otherwise. Publishing choices do not, in fact, change the quality of a piece of writing.

And real people have to sit there and decide what imprint to buy a novel under. It's not an abstract theory.

But I've never heard of anyone saying "well, that might be better for our X mystery imprint, rather than our G, H, or I romance lines, but shucks, since we could do okay with it as a leader next March under the H imprint, it's not a novel after all, and thus we can't do it as a mystery!"

This doesn't describe the real world of publishing. Or genres.

"...I would add that I've heard that bookstores put pressure on publishers to assign books to one specific genre"

It's not a matter of bookstores pressuring publishers; it's a matter of the simple fact that you have to market books so as to best reach the people who would want to buy them.

This is an awkward business, and the less stereotypical a manuscript is, the more awkward (and less likely to be successfully published and reach its audience) it is apt to be.

But it's not anything anyone at any level of the book business with a clue has to be told, let alone "pressured" with.

But this is why book covers wind up as semiotic signifiying tools: they're marketing tools, and that's all, along with whatever artistic/design qualities they hold, of course. And it's why genres exist.

But it's also why genres don't have anything like clearly defined borders, and can't.

And thus why making absolute generalizations about what is and isn't published in a genre is absurdly impossible.

It just factually isn't so.

And Hilzoy, Modleski, though interesting, is hardly considered cutting-edge in romance fiction scholarship. She and Janice Radway always seemed to write about romance readers as "the other", which is intriguing, but if you happen to be "the other," you spend a lot of time reading their work and saying, "Huh? That doesn't sound like me." Radway especially had a lot of (I think unexplored) class issues, and anyway, the major work of both of these writers is pretty outdated just because scholarship moves a lot slower than genre publishing.

If you want a more updated academic response to romance fiction (and genre fiction in general), check out this blog:
http://teachmetonight.blogspot.com/

Right, I know I said I was going to stay out of it, but since Jane Austen's name has already been thrown into this conversation I thought it only right to let her have her own say, so here's an excerpt from her own 'Defense of the Novel':

"Let us leave it to the Reviewers to abuse such effusions of fancy at their leisure, and over every new novel to talk in threadbare strains of the trash with which the press now groans. Let us not desert one another; we are an injured body. Although our productions have afforded more extensive and unaffected pleasure than those of any other literary corporation in the world, no species of composition has been so much decried. From pride, ignorance, or fashion, our foes are almost as many as our readers. And while the abilities of the nine-hundredth abridger of the History of England, or of the man who collects and publishes in a volume some dozen lines of Milton, Pope, and Prior, with a paper from the Spectator, and a chapter from Sterne, are eulogized by a thousand pens, -- there seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the novelist, and of slighting the performances which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them. "I am no novel-reader -- I seldom look into novels -- Do not imagine that I often read novels -- It is really very well for a novel." -- Such is the common cant. -- "And what are you reading, Miss --?" "Oh! it is only a novel!" replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. "It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda"; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language. Now, had the same young lady been engaged with a volume of the Spectator, instead of such a work, how proudly would she have produced the book, and told its name; though the chances must be against her being occupied by any part of that voluminous publication, of which either the matter or manner would not disgust a young person of taste: the substance of its papers so often consisting in the statement of improbable circumstances, unnatural characters, and topics of conversation which no longer concern anyone living; and their language, too, frequently so coarse as to give no very favourable idea of the age that could endure it."

You can read the whole thing at http://www.pemberley.com/janeinfo/janeart.html#dfensnovl,
together with the explanation that in Austen's day most of the writers of novels were women and most of the reviewers were men, "So in Jane Austen's day, novels actually had something of the same reputation that mass-market romances do today".

The more things change...


For what it's worth, I took the difference between genre romance and non-genre fiction to be (in her terms, which clarify a lot) the existence of a particular implicit contract between writer and reader, one that involves certain particular rules.

And I think that the point some of us have been trying to make is that we don't agree with your assumptions about the terms of that contract.

I think you'd readily admit, given your comments about Allen, that even within that contract there are value judgments being made about both the reader and the book, even though they may not be negative or positive, per se.

Also, why wouldn't an implicit contract have existed between Austen's books and her readers (I assume you mean her contemporaries, not 21st century readers)? P&P would have been quite recognizable within the context of other novels of sentiment and sensibility (via Richardson, Fielding, Sterne, etc.), even as it added new elements that we now associate with Romance. Then there's Fanny Burney, who, while far less known to current readers, just as properly stands as a foremother of what we now call genre Romance, along with Maria Edgeworth and others.

Robin: certainly some implicit contract would have existed between Austen and her readers; just not the one between authors of genre romance and their readers that I was talking about.

Nora Roberts: I didn't take genre constraints to be opposed to quality.

"...I took the difference between genre romance and non-genre fiction to be (in her terms, which clarify a lot) the existence of a particular implicit contract between writer and reader, one that involves certain particular rules."

"Non-genre fiction," to use your terms, very much tends to have implicit contractural terms, the first of which is most often I Am Not One Of Those Trashy Genre Works; Even If I Have Some Of Their Tropes, I Am Not One Of Them, I Am To Be Judged Differently.

apollonia: "(though Gary Farber, I'd adopt you if I could :)"

I'm single and heterosexual, for what it's worth. :-)

(And charming and loveable and loving under my crusty, prickly, exterior!)

I'd add to the comments about the "mystery" genre is that it's as full of subgenres, and the blurring between them, as all the other genres: we've got cozies, hard-boiled, procedurals, locked-box/room puzzles, romantic mysteries, science fiction mysteries, and so on and so forth.

And, of course, the whole "genre" of slipstream points out the absurdity of trying to maintain genre boundaries, or issue Absolute General Rules for them.

There just isn't a discrete set of works that are "romance genre" and another discrete set of works that are "other genre fiction" and a final discrete set of works that are "non-genre fiction."

This isn't to say that genres don't exist as a broad and blunt tool, because they do. It's to say that they don't have discrete borders and that they are written and read in many different ways, both within and across genres.

There's no possible way to identify all the books that would absolutely belong in one category, but absolutely not another category, and thus there can't possibly be a discrete set of "genre romance fiction" that adheres to a set of rules wholly separate from that of other fiction, and which have no qualities in common, and must be judged by separate criteria.

The idea that works of fiction can be absolutely identified as belonging wholly to one genre, but not another, or absolutely identifiable as "genre" versus "non-genre," absent the silly criteria of what kind of cover they have, or what line they were published in, may well be a conceptualization that lives in some people's heads, but it isn't real, it doesn't describe reality, it doesn't describe what the people who professionally work in or are knowledgeable as a matter of expertise in genre fictions view as reality, and it's, I'm afraid, a nonsensical claim that would best be reconsidered.

What would you say are the reader expectaions of a "genre" mystery (I would think that a crime and a "Playfair" solution would be among them), or SF or Fantasy?

The Dutch SF/F/Horror usenetgroup I've been a participant in for more than a decade has extensive tagwars. Immense discussions about wether 'American Gods' (now freely available via Harper Collins' website) is fantasy or horror, or wether Star Wars is SF or Fantasy. I use Librarything and thus must tag, but take the easy way out; I just tag double, or triple if necessary.

But usually SF has our current world as a starting point and than goes "what if" and extrapolates from there. Unless the "what if" is magical/mythical, that falls under fantasy.

@Gary: I know you've been through infinite iterations of these discussions, so I'm rather flattered that you accepted my attempt to summarize some of the terminology and issues in the genre wars.

@hilzoy: Glad you found my categories useful. I was pretty sure you didn't realize when you opened the "romance genre" discussion that you'd walked into a red-hot war zone. And I was also pretty sure that you were trying not to create a distinction based on popular vs elite culture.

However, as Gary notes with respect to your use of "non-genre fiction" (by which I assume you mean what I call "literary fiction"), it's also become a marketing, if not an artistic, genre. I agree with Gary's remark, which is not all that tongue-in-cheek:

"Non-genre fiction," to use your terms, very much tends to have implicit contractural terms, the first of which is most often I Am Not One Of Those Trashy Genre Works; Even If I Have Some Of Their Tropes, I Am Not One Of Them, I Am To Be Judged Differently.

As you can see from Susanna's quote of Jane Austen, the whole issue of women's literary products -- as both authors and readers -- has a long history of being marginalized and ghettoized. So we have to be a bit careful that we're not dragging some widely-shared and poorly-examined assumptions into how we talk about "romance" fiction -- whether directly or by analogy.

I doubt you would have thought to make a similar set of distinctions between "chick flicks" and "real" movies, either based on genre conventions or that "chicks" consume them (unlike the reasons for consuming "real" movies) because they're escapist or sexually interesting.

You wrote:

I generally find the reasons people read different things fascinating. I don't tend to think that allegedly highbrow reasons are better than allegedly lowbrow reasons, etc., etc. I do think that asking why people tend to gravitate towards one rather than another type of fiction illuminates both the people and the fiction in question.

Indeed. We could say the same for movies and TV as well. And both artists and distributors ask themselves that question all the time, as they try to communicate successfully with their eventual audience, or find that audience.

@Robin:

Then there's Fanny Burney, who, while far less known to current readers, just as properly stands as a foremother of what we now call genre Romance, along with Maria Edgeworth and others.

You took the words out of my mouth. Jane Austen, like any artist, was building on, reacting to, or in the case of Udolofo, frex, subverting works that came before, both for her own artistic expression and as a way of meeting or challenging her readers' expectations.

First, I'm very flattered you enjoy my work.

Second you say: ~I didn't take genre constraints to be opposed to quality.~

If this is true, none of what you said makes sense to me. I'm not being deliberately obtuse here. It just doesn't. You must assess Romance differently than non-genre. You do noy say you asses GENRE fiction differently than non, just Romance.

Because--at least in part--due to what you see as constraints. Yet all genre fiction has a genre framework. All genre fiction, not just Romance. And that has been pointed out and illustrated several times. What is it, specifically about genre Romance that causes you to feel this separation?

And really, how can you say you didn't mean to say that the genre constraints (I say framework) you see don't oppose quality in your mind when you've termed Romance (not genre again, just genre Romance) as other, as porn?

I can't figure it out, and it may be I simply won't be able to as I see a big contridiction in your statements, and you don't.

Radway especially had a lot of (I think unexplored) class issues

I'd like to expand on this by quoting from Radway's 1991 "New Introduction" to her Reading the Romance (1984). In it Radway writes about how "feminist intellectuals" might provide "support to romance readers and authors: "To find a way to provide such support, however, or alternatively to learn from romance writers and readers is not easy, for we lack the space and channels for integrating our practices. Our segregation by class, occupation, and race, once again, works against us" (18).

Every time I read that I'm staggered. You'd have to assume that Radway was a little green alien from another planet for that comment about being segregated by "class, occupation, and race" to make any sense. Possibly she knew what she meant, but to me it makes as much (or as little) sense as saying that romances are "not 'books.'"

and anyway, the major work of both of these writers is pretty outdated just because scholarship moves a lot slower than genre publishing.

Thanks for mentioning Teach Me Tonight, Apollonia. As you say, we're working on producing more up-to-date scholarship. A fair bit of more recent work's already been published (e.g. by Pamela Regis and Juliet Flesch) and Eric's reviewed much of it. Some of us at TMT have got a couple of volumes of essays we're working on at the moment. There are also going to be eight panels on the romance genre at the forthcoming ACA/PCA Conference (pdf of the program schedule), including one session on the "Preparation & Development of the Encyclopedia of Romance Fiction".

~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.~

And run-of-the-mill mystery fiction is consumed out of unmet needs for violence, crime or detective work.

Run-of-the-mill SF is consumed out of unmet needs to be abducted by aliens.

Run-of-the-mill horror is consumed out of unmet needs to be or combat monsters.

Funny, I read all these genres. My intimacy and real attachment needs are met just fine through my husband, my family, my friends.

I have no desire to commit crime or solve one, fly in a space ship or travel to another dimension, or confront monsters.

I just like to read stories that appeal to me.

>One possible analogy, >

Hilzoy, here is the problem. You keep making analogies. Why? None of the analogies seem really on-point, and you seem to see that because you keep adding on other analogies. Maybe the problem is analogies?

Analogies are meant to relate something unfamiliar to something familiar. We're all readers here; therefore, reading isn't unfamiliar to us, and doesn't need to be compared to some exec doing a Powerpoint presentation, or auto mechanics, both of which are actually a bit LESS familiar than a reader sitting down and reading a novel.

Readers read. What they read is their own choice, and that's where this all breaks down. There's really nothing particularly exotic or in need of analogy when a reader chooses, say, a Joy Fielding book from the library and a Nora Roberts book from the bookstore and a Jonathan Franzen from the TBR (to be read) pile.

The assumption seems to be that romance readers are different from most readers, a thing apart. But they really aren't. They're just readers who like to read romance, and most like to read other things too. And they read romance for sensible reasons (they like it), as they read everything else for sensible reasons (because they like it). And romance novels are just novels with a particular focus, and no, that focus isn't sex particularly, but romance, love, that sort of thing that didn't used to be considered pathological or, for that matter, the province only of women.

Some romance novels are bad, some are good, some are great. The limitations of the genre are a lot less than many of you seemed to think-- for example, the wildly successful Stephanie Plum stories use a first-person detective-style narration, mystery plots, and a rather gritty urban setting. And the wise-gal heroine? She can't decide (11 books and counting) between her two boyfriends. Hmm. Doesn't sound too limited to me-- and certainly doesn't sound like the "limited" stories some of you have described.

It's a huge genre, with much variation, and allows for plots which include suspense elements, sf elements, or whatever the author and line go for. Nora there-- hi, Nora!-- has a whole series set in the gritty future, and the heroine is a foul-mouthed and happily married homicide detective. So?

So let's see... it's like an auto mechanic, see? But this auto mechanic can also fix trucks! And spaceships! And... and that hem of your pants which is coming down! And your drippy sink! And your runny nose too. And... okay. So it's more than a mechanic. Hmm.

What's the need for an analogy when the reality is right here all around you? Analogies can be helpful, but sometimes they actually impede understanding. Why not just ask?

It's not a matter of bookstores pressuring publishers; it's a matter of the simple fact that you have to market books so as to best reach the people who would want to buy them.

Well, yes, but a "bricks and mortar" store is going to have to file a book in one particular spot, whereas an electonic store can, if they wish, link a book to multiple genres (and other "descriptors").

To give a concrete example, Kit Whitfield's book Bareback (Benighted in the US) is a mystery set in a world where 90% of the population are werewolves. Barnes and Nobles would have to decide if it was Mystery, SF/F or General Fiction. Amazon could have it linked to all three, plus British Authors, and whatever other links they wanted.

Or take Laura Hamilton's work. They always srtruck me as more Romance than Fantasy, but I've always seen them in the SF/F section. An on-line store could sell them as both (or neither -- the store doesn't **have** to have genres at all).

See also marbel's post about allowing multiple "tags" in "LibraryThing".

(Which is to say that smart folks are realizing that the "intertubes" are allowing them to market to whole new groups of people in entirely new ways.)

Robin: certainly some implicit contract would have existed between Austen and her readers; just not the one between authors of genre romance and their readers that I was talking about.

But I'm still not getting how that's significant in any way that illuminates genre Romance as distinctive in any way beyond having certain formalistic characteristics that allow us to call it "Romance." I mean, a 19th century reader likely had a very different contract with Dickens than 21st century readers do (and since Dickens wrote serialized fiction, he's a good example here, I think).

As Nadezhda pointed out, the contract theory works best as a marketing tool, but even then it has downsides and problematic aspects that come with trying to apply any general rule to diverse human tastes and circumstances. So at some level, I think talking about genre Romance meaningfully precludes a straight contract theory, because not only will individual differences exist among readers (and among artists/books), but also because contextual differences (how do we evaluate the contract a 19th century reader of Austen had with her books from within our 21st century context?) complicate anything beyond the most superficial (and therefore incomplete) system of classification. At which point we move into the realm of distinctions without difference or differences that relate more to the reader than the genre.

Nora, in fairness, though, I'd say that there's some truth to significantly modified versions of those statements.

For instance, if we changed them up slightly, as in "one of many ways some run-of-the-mill SF can enjoyed is insofar as it fills our recurring need to stretch our minds to imagine what the experience of meeting truly alien beings would be like," and "one of many ways some run-of-the-mill mystery fiction can enjoyed is insofar as it fills our recurring need to examine the causes and meaning of violent events or crimes, and why people engage in them, or to engage in the exercise of mental detective work as we follow characters we've gotten to know and enjoy," or "one of the ways run-of-the-mill horror fiction can be read is out of a need to examine the nature of our fears, and what terrifies ourselves, and others, and why, and how people deal with their fear, or to read an imaginative tale that uses these themes, or specific fears as metaphors, to tell an intriguing and satisfying story," or....

Of course, by even beginning a rewrite such as this, I'm forced to start expanding, even in the most limited and cursory fashion, the descriptive universe of why people read what they do and what they get out of it, as well as what the author may be trying to put into it, beyond the Procrustean box of inherently-not-like-any-other-fiction absoluteness that Hilzoy has inadvertently trapped both her assertion and herself into, for now, but there is a connection to some truth there.

As in many things in life, insisting on absolute definitions and limitations of fiction genres is a reductionism too far.

Romance fiction is, of course, not off in a Special Education class of its own.

Jane Austen, like any artist, was building on, reacting to, or in the case of Udolofo, frex, subverting works that came before, both for her own artistic expression and as a way of meeting or challenging her readers' expectations.

Exactly. And, of course, there are the ways in which readers take a work and give it meaning beyond or even in contradiction to an author's conscious intent, because of that incredibly complex and dynamic relationship between reader and text. And that, IMO, moves a genre along as much as any conscious choice on the part of an artist or a publisher.

Well, yes, but a "bricks and mortar" store is going to have to file a book in one particular spot, whereas an electonic store can, if they wish, link a book to multiple genres (and other "descriptors").
No argument, but this seems to be a complete non-sequitur from anything I said. Am I supposed to be disagreeing for some reason, or... what's this related to? Or were you addressing someone else's comment?

I would have to say LKH work is not Romance, nor marketed as such. I'm sure she would agree.

There is no central love story (key), no emotional commitment, no happy or uplifting ending. Sex and a female protagonist doesn't equal Romance.

Readers or Romance may enjoy her books. Most readers of the genre read widely, and not just within Romance.

I would also disagree that Evanovich's Plum books are Romance--and am sure she would classify them otherwise. Again, neither are they marketed as Romance, though many who read Romance enjoy them.

Mileage may vary, certainly, but the central love story has always been the core of the genre, imo.

~For instance, if we changed them up slightly, as in "one of many ways some run-of-the-mill SF can enjoyed is insofar as it fills our recurring need to stretch our minds to imagine what the experience of meeting truly alien beings would be like," Etc~

Then we would have to change the springboard to: one of the many ways some run-of-the-mill Romance can be enjoyed as in fills a need to explore the emotional journey of people falling in love.

Do that, and no argument.

Incidentally, though, Jeff, bookstores often buy more than one copy from a book, and thus are capable of selling them from more than one shelf, which sometimes is done.

"Do that, and no argument."

That's where I'm trying to get hilzoy. :-)

Of course, in parallel to a couple of her remarks, it's likely that if I haven't succeeded by now, I won't. Repeating myself won't help.

But maybe others will succeed where I fail. I'm an optimist about Hilzoy's sense and intelligence, even though we all have our blindish spots at times.

And at least it's not -- I strike an heroic and self-admiring pose here -- just me alone in a thread, doing my "oh, Gary's just going on stubbornly about some point only he cares about" thing, again.

Which role I am so often -- okay, occasionally -- cast in, oh the pity, oh the inhumanity!

:-)

Nora Roberts: I had decided that I had already dug myself far enough into a hole, and apparently failed to clarify anything, and so I should just forget it and live with whatever reputation for idiocy I have acquired as a result of this post. It happens. ;) However, as I said, I enjoy your work a lot, so I think I owe you. So here goes:

My basic reaction, when I read the Allen piece, was to think: look, she's comparing the wrong things. I wasn't thinking: how dare she sully my precious literature with these romance novels, etc.; just: it's the wrong comparison. Why dumb? Because I do think that many people read romance for different reasons, and in different ways, than they read other kinds of fiction. Not necessarily better or worse ways; just different. And that that being the case, Allen's basic point was wrong in the way it would be wrong if you tried to say something about software engineers' taste in books on the basis of the fact that they read a lot of manuals, or priests' on the basis of the fact that they spend a lot of time reading the liturgy. I thought: these are not comparable.

I thought this because I do, in fact, think that many people read romance novels with a set of quite specific expectations in mind, and that whatever their reasons for doing so, they are probably often different from their reasons for reading stuff that doesn't come with those expectations. I do not mean to imply that their reasons are better or worse; just that choosing to read a work in which, for instance, you can confidently expect that the hero and heroine will end up together, after a series of (hopefully interesting) complications; that the hero and heroine will both be admirable, though at first neither of them might fully recognize this about the other; and so on, is different from choosing to read a work in which just about anything might happen. There is, at least for me, something comfortable in knowing that I can take all those things for granted in romance, as I can take a different set of things for granted in mysteries, and can focus instead on how well, and with what kind of imagination or flair, a writer is working within those expectations.

I also think that this has something to do with the nature of female romantic/erotic sensibility. Here I'm a lot less sure of myself, but offhand I would think that it is non-accidental that more women than men tend towards media involving developed characters and plots rather than, say, photographs; or that romance novels involve obstacles and complications and deferments, more than whatever men tend to gravitate towards. Your mileage may vary, of course. But I do think that romance novels in some way "fit" women's romantic/erotic sensibility in a way that no genre of fiction fits men's.

Anyways, the basic thought was: comparing what women read to what men read without taking this into account is silly.

I then decided to express this thought in what strikes me, in retrospect, as an unimaginably dumb way. Here it may be relevant that while I have some experience in trying to anticipate and defuse misunderstandings in political arguments, I have no such experience when it comes to this topic.

I then compounded this by cleverly neglecting to say that if I had to compare men and women on the basis of what they use for romantic or erotic fantasy/wish fulfillment, I think women come out way ahead. One reason I didn't say this was the obvious reply was: well, you're female, so you would think so. I think this reply is wrong, but the whole topic came up more or less in passing, I didn't want to get into that. The result of that clever decision was that it ended up sounding as though I thought that romance was, I don't know, no better than porn or sudoku, whereas I actually don't think that. (I did say " Personally, I think they come out fine in either comparison", but that, quite understandably, got lost.)

I completely, totally regret the way I said this. I am open to persuasion on the underlying point. But it -- the one I was trying to make, not the one I was, completely understandably, taken to have been trying to make -- was not about quality. Though, as I said, I completely see why it was read that way, which is the biggest, though not the only, reason I regret having written it that way.

Further clarifications and caveats: "men's romantic/erotic sensibility", "women's", etc: of course, these are huge generalizations, and will not hold across the board, and so on.

Yes, there are sets of expectations for any kind of fiction. Likewise, when I wrote that genre romance seemed to me more like the compulsory elements part of figure skating and non-genre fiction more like freestyle, the difference isn't that freestyle has no constraints; and the difference between a villanelle and free verse is not that free verse can be just anything (even a tractor-trailer or a prime number.)

"I wasn't thinking: how dare she sully my precious literature with these romance novels,"

For one thing, Allen said "chick-lit," which is a different publishing category.

My only other comment in response to your perhaps final comment, Hilzoy, is that how you dug this hole doesn't matter in comparison to the ease with which you can dig yourself out, which is by way of putting some energy into understanding that the distinction you've tried to create and draw between "romance fiction" and "all other fiction" isn't one that can be made to accurately reflect the real world of romance fiction and all other fiction; it's not, when examined more closely than you have so far examined in your writing, valid. A universal and absolute distinction isn't there. It can't be made to be there. It's an incorrect description of that which is possible, as well as reality.

If it were possible, you'd be able to answer the query I put forward, as to what criteria you'd use to distinguish Real Novels from Not Real Novels, Romance Non-Novels, if handed ten manuscripts.

No argument, but this seems to be a complete non-sequitur from anything I said.

Incidentally, though, Jeff, bookstores often buy more than one copy from a book, and thus are capable of selling them from more than one shelf, which sometimes is done.

I'm done. Any comment I make here would more properly belong at TIO. I'm sure you'll have 15 paragraphs in response to this -- have fun.

Hilzoy wrote:
"But I do think that romance novels in some way "fit" women's romantic/erotic sensibility in a way that no genre of fiction fits men's."

I don't know that I'd agree with the above. I think (para) military adventure stories and westerns fit this category for men.

Next come the genres with some more overlap as horror and thriller and then we move into speculative fiction/SF/F and then onto romance/erotic romance on the other side of the reader spectrum.

There will be readers of both genders for all these genres, but I think a good case can be made for a transition from mostly male to mostly female readers if we were to examine the genres in the order I proposed.

I really think you are too hung up on the idea of women as 'reading the other', the written specifically for them as women. Women buy something like 80% of ALL books, which means all genres, all literature, all non-fiction.

I am convinced that we could name a romance novel for any plot line, however outrageous or non-romancy looking, you might want to throw out there, except for a non-HEA.

"...is different from choosing to read a work in which just about anything might happen."

I'm quite sure that a whole lot of things can't happen in "non-genre fiction" without turning it into genre fiction, save by the definition that if a non-genre writer writes it, it isn't genre fiction, or that it "has literary value," so it definitionally isn't genre material.

Which is a tautology, and while useful if one chooses to adopt it -- it makes things ever so much simpler -- it's something that attempts to justify tend to, well, at least they often have humor value. Especially if it comes with a helping of "I'm not making any value judgments."

"Non-genre fiction" typically is limited to "real" settings, most often in contemporary settings.

If fantastic or speculative things start to happen, or the setting is elsewhen, and not purely historical fiction, then it's either Literary Fiction Because It's By A Literary Writer And Therefore Not Genre, Because It's Good, So Let's Call It Magic Realism, Or Slipstream, Or Speculative Fiction or Next Week's Flavor Of The Month, or it's stuck in genre.

There aren't any third choices.

So either one buys the "Get Out Of Genre Free" card, tautologies a nickel off on Tuesdays, or it turns out that "non-genre fiction" is one of the most highly limited and restrictive categories of fiction, with the exceptions tautologically excluded.

This approach doesn't take one far when confronted with ten unlabeled manuscripts.

The only thing I'd ask, actually, is for people who actually want to have an opinion to ask people who really do know more- readers and writers of the specified genre, and scholars who study the genre and also the nature of the reading experience.

I have to say that being a romance reader has made me much more careful not to unthinkingly and automatically diss other people's leisure activities. If I don't play videogames, what the heck am I doing assuming that I know what people, or any particular person, gets out of playing videogames? I can of course assume that they're in it because they're secretly violent, or because they're avoiding intimacy, or because their body has been taken over by some weird virus, or... But I simply don't know, and so I try not to assume I know. And heck, if I'm interested, I can just ask. "So, young man, what's playing that game feel like to you? What difference is there between a game you think is great and one you don't much like? What characterizes the games you will buy outright, and which you rent first, and which you won't even bother with?"

Same thing with readers and their books. We have but to ask, and I bet we'll get far more interesting answers than we can make up based on our own preconceptions.

I understand better some of what you were trying to get across, but--to me--your platform was very shaky. By assuming why women read Romance--specifically Romance--and separating that from other fiction, even other genres, the platform cracks.

Certainly people, I think, read romance for the emotion, the commitment, the love story--and some for the sex (if the book contains it). But these expectations don't remove it from other fiction because there are ALWAYS reader expectations.

But I just don't think one can assume people read Romance for wish fulfillment or erotic fantasy. Most read it for what they hope will be a good love story with interesting characters who find each other. It's no more wish fulfillment than when I pick up a Mystery and I'm looking for a good puzzle with interesting characters, and good will overcome evil. (And the sex if the book contains it.)

Romance and Erotica are not the same thing. There is within the genre Erotic Romance, but that's one spoke on the wheel, not the whole of the genre.

From Gary: ~Therefore the distinction you've tried to create and draw between "romance fiction" and "all other fiction" isn't one that can be made to accurately reflect the real world of romance fiction and all other fiction; Romance/Erotic--not the same thing.~

This is the core of the problem for me, too. By singling out this one genre, from all the rest, you seemed to be saying this genre was not valid literature, because of what it is, and why you assume it's read.

I don't think you're an idiot, by any means.

I seriously suspect Allen is.

One, I hope very really truly last(ish!) thought: as previously pointed out in this thread, academics nowadays study the romance field, and romances, just as the MLA discovered science fiction, and fantasy, and the mystery field, starting in the Seventies, and accelerating thereafter.

This factually refutes the claim that romance novels can't be approached like other novels. Doesn't it? Am I missing something?

Second, as a practical matter, if, um, that large east coast Middle Atlantic State university you teach at has an English Department -- and I see they do -- I'd suggest chatting with any of the faculty whose field is popular literature -- assuming anyone there does -- examining the available courses doesn't suggest anyone actually does, alas: it seems to be entirely classics and expository writing, so perhaps I'm reduced to, instead of suggesting that you chat with some of them about this subject, that you find, whether online, or elsewhere, some of the many English professors and students with a focus on pop culture, and discuss this, and see where it goes. The people so far disagreeing with you don't seem to be doing it out of misunderstanding what you're saying -- though I could be wrong, of course, and that's what we're all doing.

Hilzoy, re: your latest post, I don’t think we needed further clarification. You seem to think that your dissenters here had a problem with what you said because they didn’t understand it. I think they did. I certainly did. I think we're all saying it’s wrong.

“I do, in fact, think that many people read romance novels with a set of quite specific expectations in mind…”

Fine. So long as you understand and acknowledge that people read everything with certain expectations in mind, none the least of which is to simply be entertained.

“I then compounded this by cleverly neglecting to say that if I had to compare men and women on the basis of what they use for romantic or erotic fantasy/wish fulfillment, I think women come out way ahead.”

Exactly how do you think this would have helped your argument? This statement assumes that the only reasons that women read romances are for “romantic or erotic fantasy/wish fulfillment.” This is where I have a big problem with your argument. There are many, many reasons that people read romances. There are many reasons that people love romances. Some read for titillation, sure. Some read for fantasy. Some read for entertainment. Many of us read them because we are interested in reading a relationship story—a story about the healing power of love, the struggle between two people, the triumph over emotional hurdles, even the exploration of religious faith, or the empowerment over a traumatic childhood and how those relate to love. Can you see how reducing it to “erotic fantasy/wish fulfillment” is insulting?

It’s not that I think that you compared romance to porn or Soduku and it came up lacking. My problem is that you compared them to romance novels at all.

"I don't know that I'd agree with the above. I think (para) military adventure stories and westerns fit this category for men."

They certainly literally have historically done that on literal publishing lists by actual mass market paperback publishing houses.

I've worked on those.

But that's just literal category publishing, which -- let me be clear -- isn't a metaphor.

(And there's an awful lot less of that category as category, bottom-of-the-list publishing, than there used to be, at least last I looked, though the itches get scratched in other ways; mostly it's either published as non-category, above-the-line, or available in media other than a series of disposable, perhaps numbered, paperbacks. Basically, the writers largely either moved above the line -- Elmore Leonard, say -- or perished. Last I looked, which is to say I'm a bit out of date at this point.)

Nora:

From Gary: ~Therefore the distinction you've tried to create and draw between "romance fiction" and "all other fiction" isn't one that can be made to accurately reflect the real world of romance fiction and all other fiction; Romance/Erotic--not the same thing.~
Just to be clear, you seem to have taken a partial quote of mine, and added to it, within the "~" that you seem -- my apologies if I'm misunderstanding your intended usage -- to be using as quotation marks.

To be clear, I wrote:

[...] the distinction you've tried to create and draw between "romance fiction" and "all other fiction" isn't one that can be made to accurately reflect the real world of romance fiction and all other fiction; it's not, when examined more closely than you have so far examined in your writing, valid.
Although I certainly agree that "Romance/Erotic--not the same thing" as regards fiction, and as regards genre labels (I say "labels," not "definitions," because absolutely confining definitions are not possible), I didn't write that: just to be clear.

"By singling out this one genre, from all the rest, you seemed to be saying this genre was not valid literature...."

And while I may continue to misread Hilzoy, she seems to be continuing to say that that which is published as genre romance can't be examined or approached or read in any of the same ways that "literature" or other genres can.

If that's a misapprehension of mine, Hilzoy, please do correct me, because it's the essence of what I understand myself to still be disagreeing with you about.

I'm asserting that this, in fact, a factual error.

Gary, sorry, my cut and paste skills were off.

"Many of us read them because we are interested in reading a relationship story"

I don't recall anyone making the actual point that many romance readers read various romance writers -- not all romance readers and not all their romance reading, but some -- because they admire and enjoy the writing of that writer.

Which is to say, the primary reason most people often read many of their favorite writers: for the writing. For the language. For the word choices and character choices and plot choices, and for their admiration of the writer's skills at making those choices.

This is a primary reason many readers read much fiction, though it's hardly the only reason.

There's no distinction in this motivation in reading a novel published under a romance imprint, and reading any other novel.

Setting aside the illogical conclusion that the same novel, depending on which imprint it's published under, has to be read in a way that can't be compared to the way it would have been read if picked up under another imprint.

Which happens a lot, by the way. This is why I had the experience of M*ra G*nsburg screaming at me on the phone one day, back in the mid-Nineties, because we'd irrevocably and unforgivably insulted Yevgeny Zamyatin and all his family and heirs and all of Russian literatue, by publishing (her translation of) We with a dreaded "sf" on the spine under the "Avon" imprint instead of under the previously-done "Bard" imprint reserved for "literature." (Bard was then in the process of being murdered in its sleep by our new editorial director as insufficiently mass market.)

Good times. Anyway, it turns out that novels don't actually change the way they can be read depending on what's on the spine or cover, and that, in reality, such decisions are sometimes made quite arbitrarily. I don't know how the idea that it's impossible to read them the same way is compatible with reality.

That is part of the problem, of course, that many critics or whatever they are don't realize that much general fiction is actually coming right out of the genre traditions, and is mostly just marketed to a group outside the genre. That doesn't make those books BETTER necessarily (though it usually makes them sell better). It's actually a good deal harder to impress someone who has read a lot of romance or horror or detective than to impress someone for whom the narrative structure and themes are new. I remember a friend who never reads mysteries going into panegyrics about Name of the Rose (which was allowed reading for him because it was "lit fic," for all it was based rather closely on Sherlock Holmes :). He was so amazed that the detective was so smart and figured the mystery out in the end.

In fact, those of us in the romance writing community have speculated that the way to "break out" is NOT to move beyond romance tropes, but rather to write a romance novel and really, really push the conventions to the max-- the hero was disfigured in heroic action in the war, the heroine has to disguise herself as a boy, the villain is as elegant and saturnine as the devil himself, the setting is lush and inspiring-- oh, heck, go ahead, set it in the Scottish Highlands-- really push every button since Ivanhoe. Then go out and get a "general" agent, one who has never read much less sold a romance novel, and have that agent submit only fiction editors who have never worked with romance novels. Then it can be a "breakout bestseller." :)

I remember when Tami Hoag "broke out" into mainstream suspense, some reviewer wrote that it was a magnificent debut. Yeah, if you don't count her 17 earlier Harlequin romantic suspense novels.

While you folks fiddle, Charlotte Allen burns.

Incidentally, Charlotte Allen did a chat today.

A shame this wasn't mentioned here before it happened.

It's full of informative and deep exchanges, such as:

Washington: Why did you write this piece?

Charlotte Allen: Totally for fun.

Or:
West Lafayette, Ind.: Your idea of fun is to paint a (horribly inaccurate) picture of your sex as stupid?

Charlotte Allen: How about an accurate picture?

It's equally enlightening turtles all the way down.

Hilzoy, you wrote: "I do think that many people read romance for different reasons, and in different ways, than they read other kinds of fiction."

And I can't help but think that in that single sentence you've just hit upon that core assumption that's been driving all of this. And I'd suggest the problem is that your assumption isn't true. People don't read romance differently. They read it for the story.

Call it what you like, and shelve it where you will, it's always been about the story. Modern writers in all genres (even those who, by your definition, aren't "confined" by genres) aren't so far removed from all those storytellers throughout time who spread their blankets in the marketplace and gathered people round to hear their tales.

And if the story is a good one, people stay and throw you coins when you have finished, and perhaps they even come again next week to hear you tell another tale. And if the story's not so good, they move along and choose another corner next time.

Whether I'm reading Vonnegut or Dickens or a Harlequin, I'm reading for the story. I'm not reading them in different ways, or with any expectation at all other than to be, however briefly, lost within the world the writer has created.

So in my opinion, humble though it is, if you examine that belief of yours more closely, you might find it isn't true.

But rest assured, I understand you're not an idiot. And kudos for attacking Allen's rant.

Oh, jeez.

*Is tired from watching Hilzoy crawdad*

All this pontificatin' has plum worn me out. My y'all do know how to go on...and on...and on. Not sure if it's actually crawdadin' or tail chasin' though.

Genre fiction is Genre fiction regardless of WHAT genre it is. All genre fiction follows some sort of formula. For that matter, so do movies.

Romance is not somehow LESS because of it's content and to say it is is insulting.

First time here and I have to say, "WOW." My thanks to all the commenters for the great discussion I just read. What a treat to read a discussion that doesn't degenerate into name-calling or obscenities. It was very nice to see that even as he disagreed with Hilzoy, Gary took the time to defend her. If this was typical of this site, I look forward to visiting more often. But, having read the thread in one sitting, I'm a little bleary and will look at your archives later.

"Romance is not somehow LESS because of it's content and to say it is is insulting."

That's not what Hilzoy has been saying; she's been saying -- as I, clearly imperfectly, understand it -- that romance fiction is different from other genre fiction, and from "non-genre" fiction, in a way that makes romance fiction not "comparable" to other fiction.

This is a position many of us have been thoroughly disagreeing with, but it's not the same position as "saying" that romance fiction is "less" than other fiction in some way.

Oh, jeez.

Indeed.

Gary, you will HAVE to post the contest winners.

Oh, jeez

There are a number of things I could note, but I wouldn't want them to be taken the wrong way. But I do want to ask, Gary, does the 'Oh, jeez' mean that you didn't give permission?

Gary,

the perception of hilzoy 'saying' that romance is "less than" comes from her assertion that romance is equal to porn and/or sudoku, not just from her ill-advised assertions on how and why romance readers read in their chosen genre.

She keeps saying that she believes that readers read romance for different reasons than they read other genres.

While this may characterize her own approach to romance reading, this is absolutely incorrect as has been pointed out to her again and again by those who actually read in the genre regularly.

I think it means something like: Gary was sufficiently taken aback by the attention that he made a comment consisting of only two words and one link.

Which has to be some kind of record, not that I'm keeping track or anything.

It also makes the stricture of 200 words or less kinda ironic.

I agree that Hilzoy possibly made a mistake in suggesting that how she reads romances is how everyone else reads them, but just as that isn't necessarily true, I'm not sure if one should say just because all the people I hang out with read it in this way, that's the way it _is_ read.

"...I'm not sure if one should say just because all the people I hang out with read it in this way, that's the way it _is_ read."

Who said that, in which comment?

This, gary

While this may characterize her own approach to romance reading, this is absolutely incorrect as has been pointed out to her again and again by those who actually read in the genre regularly.

'absolutely incorrect' seems to suggest that there is a way that romances are or should be read, and I'm not sure if that is the case. I didn't want to call anyone out in particular, but there seems to be a problem of competing ways of reading a genre. While one can take issue with Hilzoy's perceived overgeneralization, the answer is not to make the opposite generalization but I think that by pulling one person out, it seems more like an attack and several people have made comments that I think are similar.

Umberto Eco has an interesting meditation (google cache) on something that I think is related to this when he writes about how we can view repetition and concludes with an imagining of how we might view a single episode of Columbo if it were the only exemplar we had

Since at this point I am playing what Peirce called "the play of musement" and I am multiplying the hypotheses--in order to find out, maybe later, a single fruitful idea--let us now reverse our experiment and look at a contemporary TV serial from the point of view of a future neoromantic aesthetics which, supposedly, has assumed again that "originality is beautiful." Let us imagine a society in the year 3000 A.D., in which 90 percent of all our present cultural production had been destroyed and of all our television serials only one show of Lieutenant Columbo had survived.

How would we "read" this work? Would we be moved by such an original picture of a little man in the struggle with the powers of evil, with the forces of capital, with an opulent and racist society dominated by WASPs? Would we appreciate this efficient, concise, and intense representation of the urban landscape of an industrial America?

When--in a single piece of a series--something is simply presupposed by the audience, which knows the whole series, would we speak perhaps of an art of synthesis of a sublime capacity of telling through essential allusions?

In other words, how would we read a "piece" of a series, if the whole of the series remained unknown to us?

Such a series of questions could continue indefinitely. I started to put them forth because I think that we still know very little about the role of repetition in the universe of art and in the universe of mass media.

"but just as that isn't necessarily true, I'm not sure if one should say just because all the people I hang out with read it in this way, that's the way it _is_ read."

The point is-- there is no ONE way to characterize how people read anything. All we're calling for is a recognition that there is no uniformity here. The fact that the people I hang out with read differently means--- you simply can't generalize, so why not accept that romance readers, like every other reader, are individuals and can't be dismissed as one way or another?

It takes only one exception to disprove a generalization-- and commenter after commenter has provided more than one exception. So can we bury the generalization and let readers read what they want to read for whatever reason they have?

Personally, as a writer, I'm just glad that people still read. I'm not going to assume there's anything strange about their choices. If they buy books, I love them. :)

While this may characterize her own approach to romance reading, this is absolutely incorrect as has been pointed out to her again and again by those who actually read in the genre regularly.

'absolutely incorrect' seems to suggest that there is a way that romances are or should be read, and I'm not sure if that is the case.

No, it doesn't.

I can't speak to the intent of the writer, but the text clearly says no such thing.

(Any more than I wrote anything that implied that I hadn't given permission for my name to be used at that other blog.)

What that passage you quote clearly states is that Hilzoy is incorrect in asserting that there is only one way to read a text, specifically the texts of romance novels.

That's all it says.

"While one can take issue with Hilzoy's perceived overgeneralization, the answer is not to make the opposite generalization...."

And yet no one has but you, so nice straw (wo)man.

fordcity,
There is this interesting tension between the notion of 'no uniformity' and any kind of mass market. I think there are some generalizations to be made, and understanding why they exist is ultimately enlightening. But my point was that saying that Hilzoy is 'absolutely incorrect' is as much a generalization as anything else. The answer to bad generalizations is not to reject them altogether, it is to come up with better ones.

I've been thinking of why we read, and how it maps on my own reading, and I can think of the following 'ways of reading' (or 'reasons why we read' I suppose)

-to identify with a particular character or situation
-to disidentify with a particular character, seeing him or her get their just desserts
-to get information in some form
-to get an insight into who the writer is (a favorite for graduate schools)

I can't think of any other reasons, but are there as many reasons as there are readers? That seems a bit too much.

But Gary gives me the impression that he is cross with me, so I will leave it there.

"But my point was that saying that Hilzoy is 'absolutely incorrect' is as much a generalization as anything else."

No, it isn't. Disagreeing with a claim that something can only be read in one way isn't a "generalization"; it's a specific disagreement with a claim that isn't just a generalization, but a claim that delimits two specific sets and asserts that they have nothing in common, and cannot be compared. That's more than just a generalization, although I don't know if there's a specific term for it, either.

Generalizations, though, are things that can have limited truth, up to a point, but which may fail somewhere beyond a certain point.

Objections to generalizations aren't inherently or necessarily generalizations themselves, though.

"But Gary gives me the impression that he is cross with me, so I will leave it there."

No, not at all. I just believe you misread. And that you do that on occasion. I misread on occasion, too. Naturally, sometimes that's annoying, particularly when it's me who is misread, but mostly I just shrug, and sometimes I offer a correction, without being annoyed or feeling cross in the slightest. Just part of the day.

Mostly I just let misreadings slide, actually.

Of course, I rarely reply just to say I agree with you -- or anyone -- either, which is more than not.

"and I can think of the following 'ways of reading'"

Among those you left out: Pleasure in writing, in language, itself.

Pleasure in having one's imagination stretched by new ideas, or concepts, or facts, or ways of thinking, or descriptions of exotic settings, or maybe just by good enough bulls**t.

Interest in understanding characters unlike one's self. Or in understanding societies unlike one's own. Or in better understanding one's own society.

A real minority taste: pleasure in appreciating inventive writing structures. It's pretty uncommon, but a few people are highly into it.

Another small minority, but still not uncommon, reason some people read fiction to learn more about how to better write it. Never underestimate the number of wannabe professional writers.

Another reason: to experience a comforting environment, or to revisit familiar characters one enjoys hearing from. This is a primary reason why series are so popular in genres, and neither does it mean a book in a series can't stand alone and be as excellent as a non-series book -- which isn't to say all do, of course, since many don't.

Not that you were trying to be definitive, of course; just tossing a few more reasons into the hopper.

Well, to get back to the text, as they say:
While this may characterize her own approach to romance reading, this is absolutely incorrect

I took the second 'this' as having the antecedent of 'hilzoy's approach to reading', not 'hilzoy's belief that this is the way everyone reads romances'. I now can see your reading, but I don't think that proves that mine is non-existent. Which is why I didn't want to name any names, in order to make it clear that it was an impression I got, not a meaning that someone was trying to get across.

And I apologize for misreading 'Oh, jeez', it's a phrase that I would use if I had no knowledge that something was happening, which is why going to the link surprised me when it said that it was with your permission. If it hadn't been with your permission, I would have judged the page much more harshly, which is why I asked, not to question your usage.

The reasons for reading you give are interesting, though I thought some of them would go under trying to get information. There's again an interesting (at least to me) typology of the type of information one gets out of a document, so while examining a page to see what the kerning could be argued to be getting information out of the document, so is reading it to find the deeper structure of the work or even to find the meaning of life. In fact, the harsh reading of a work, in order to find inconsistencies and mistakes, is, at some point, 'anti-reading', because it doesn't grant the author some measure of trust. Someone can (and probably will) correct me, but I am under the impression that the unreliable or untrustworthy narrator is a rather late notion (speaking of literature as a 3000 year evolution), which says a lot about the nature of trusting the author.

Somewhat tangential, but somewhat not, to your question about reasons people read, LJ, some notes from Kate Nepveu on a Boskone panel from the other week.

Thanks for that Gary, interesting, though I imagine that it must be really fascinating if you have an in-depth knowledge of the titles they list.

Yeah, I've known one of the panelists since I was sixteen, and one of the other panelists since she was 16, and am quite familiar with the works and writers mentioned, which I knew you were unlikely to be, but I figured there was little harm in giving a pointer.

On the other hand, there wasn't particularly anything new in it for me; I just happened to be reading it, and thought it might have a bit of applicability here, and also offer a bit of a window into how such discussions go from within a genre.

People active in the genres, whether professionally, or as highly knowledgeable fans, tend to spend a gawdawful amount of time, month in and month out, talking about the latest arguments, but also being around the perennial debates, such as definition wars, which are always regenerated wherever genre people congregate, simply because there are always new people coming in, and restarting the perennials.

You know how that works, I'm sure.

Anyway, I've lived through a lot of years in which I was constantly around such discussions, both in person and in writing, since 1971, so there aren't a lot of new arguments I haven't heard yet on the perennials, and my opinions are both more than a litte considered, and not held by me in a tentative way.

Another way to put it is that I got sick to death of, and impatient with, a lot of the perennials by about 1978.

:-)

(Similarly, I don't tend to leap with joy when political blog threads start a gun control, or abortion, or Israel-Palestine, go-round, again. Oh, yay.)

Slightly OT, I mentioned this thread to my wife, last night; something to the effect that there was a heated dispute, and then Somebody showed up to further argue. She interrupted me at that point and asked "It wasn't Nora Roberts, was it?"

Sometimes I just have to scrape my jaw off the floor; that was one such. She's an admirer, if that explains anything, although she has more of a preference, in general, for the Regency stuff, which she refers to as historical fiction. Whether it's better than or not as good as (or, so different from that comparison is meaningless) Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle, I can't say, never having read any of it.

My jaw also dropped to the floor yesterday.
I read this at Sadly no!:
"I said Katrina was the best thing to happen to New Orleans because it finally opportunity to a huge number of New Orleans residents living in passive dependency on welfare to get out of New Orleans and change their lives for the better."

That was said by Charlotte Allen in the WaPo chat about the piece which started this discussion here. The on-topic talk is...let's say, interesting, too.

although she has more of a preference, in general, for the Regency stuff, which she refers to as historical fiction. Whether it's better than or not as good as (or, so different from that comparison is meaningless) Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle, I can't say, never having read any of it.

One Georgette Heyer beats three Neal Stephenson's any day of the week.

"One Georgette Heyer beats three Neal Stephenson's any day of the week."

But his are bigger.

"Gary, you will HAVE to post the contest winners."

The post I linked mentioned that they'd be posted there, as they were here.

This may have been updated since you last looked with a couple of more links to blogs talking about this thread. Or maybe not.

Amusingly, incidentally, at the moment, Turner Classic Movies has The Wind And The Lion running.

I write regarding the recent entry about reports of Hillary Clinton's perhaps prescient yet undocumented council to her husband during his presidency on how the US should react to the genocide in Rwanda in the 90's (advice which was not followed, btw). And regarding the ensuing skepticism of whether she ever voiced anything intelligent or insightful during Bill's presidency, citing the timing of such revelations - during this highly competetive race for the Dem. nomination) as nothing more that political advertising.

Reportedly, in the early days of the Rwandan genocide, Hillary advised her husband on how she thought he, as president leading the most powerful nation in the world, should react. Bill Clinton has recently admitted that following her approach would have saved many lives and stayed the conflict that became exhaustively drawn out.

I was perplexed when I read the reactions to this admission. Perplexed that those arguing that Hillary had never discussed this with then-president Bill Clinton said that because there were was no "official documentation," i.e. meeting minutes, etc. of such discussions, was an argument strong enough to withstand common sense.

Why would there be documentation of a wife expressing her opinions to her husband?

We are all aware that Hillary had enormous influence during the preceding decade simply by virtue of sleeping in the same bed as the most powerful man in the most powerful nation in the world. They likely discussed many weighty issues casually. They might have talked about Rwanda while getting ready for bed, about gays in the military while laying in bed together, maybe about a woman's right to choose and the moral issues of abortion over breakfast. Do you expect documentation of these conversations, of how she may have advised him or swayed his opinion?

Over the years, Bill has had no reason to admit that his wife had given gim sage advice, and that he had made a mistake in not following it. Undoubtedly, every US president regrets some decisions made during their time in office. Given the benefit of hindsight, and time to see how their decisions beared either sweet or bitter fruit. Who expects them to detail every one of their mistakes?

Bill Clinton allowed this story to come to light at a time when the damage done to his own presidential legacy was worth the price of demonstrating Hillary's prescience and wisdom.

The timing of such a revelation doesnt diminish the light it sheds on Hillary's character or judgement. Of course this was politically motivated. But honestly, in our society, what isnt? Every facet of our culture demonstrates that one will provide something only with the expectation of gaining something in return.

Crys

Rainslove: I don't know whether you read the actual post I wrote on this topic (it's on the main page.) But I wasn't just saying that there were no official minutes, which would be silly. I thought that it was odd that Clinton had not only failed to persuade her husband to intervene militarily, but to do any of the smaller things that would really have helped Rwanda, or even to refrain from doing any of the things the Clinton administration did to prevent others from helping.

If Clinton did, in fact, urge her husband to do something about Rwanda, that's great. But, frankly, there is no sign at all that she did -- where a "sign" includes not just minutes of meetings but reminiscences from people (including Clinton herself) written before this campaign, indications that Bill Clinton was trying to do something about Rwanda, etc.

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