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March 02, 2008

Comments

Regarding the absolute value of genre romance novels, an anecdote.

My local resale book shops refuse to take romance novels, as they are glutted with them and cannot sell the supply they already have. Even Goodwill does not want them.

If anyone thinks I meant to condemn the readers of romance novels, they should be aware that I would be condemning myself.

No offense intended, Hilzoy, but this is an inapt thread in which to play the "It's OK if I insult this group because I'm part of it" card.

An honest defense of "romance novels"? I thought we had already decided they were not novels. Perhaps "romance unbooks". And I see that you now redefine "having one's assumptions confirmed" as "getting taken to task".

Democracy is not "government by the people", a book is not "a written or printed work of fiction or nonfiction, usually on sheets of paper fastened or bound together within covers", why one learns fascinating new concepts daily here on the internet.

The more important point being that the people who read things that aren't considered to be "books", the people who, it is feared, may influence politician's actions...these are the people being counted on to change a country's direction.

And they get spat on.

does anyone beside me find it ironic that a serious polemic analzying a piece about in which a woman writes about the shallowness of women gets sidetracked into a debate about romance novels?

to hilzoy's defense, it's not her fault that romance novels have the reputation of being shallow, and her dismissal of same is only reflective of a greater opinion of the population in general.

(replace the words "romance novels" with "pop music" or "blogs" and see how the overall characterization would be legitimate in the eyes of the majority of people.)

otoh, i agree 100% w/gary that within any genre there are great examples and poor examples, and the vast majority are simply mediocre examples.

there are plenty of fans for any genre, and every creative endeavor (especially the ones that actually get published or professionally produced) took hard work which should be respected, even if the final product is not something one would perosnally enjoy consuming.

Actually, I think this thread got thrown horribly off-course in part due to a bit of a misreading by hilzoy. My guess is that "chick lit" here refers less to romance novels of the imminent-wardrobe-malfunction-cover kind, and to the vast family of often rather pink books whose type specimen is Bridget Jones' Diary (&tc.)

Anyway, re: Charlotte Allen - accepting her pop-evolutionary psych premise for the sake of argument, why would "an excellent memory and superior verbal skills" mean that "the number of women [Supreme Court Justices] will always lag behind the number of men"? Whatever (on-average) inherent cognitive abilities might have been selected for by generations of guys down on the savannah needing to 'calculate' spear trajectories (and I actually don't dismiss this basic kind of idea out of hand, although it's wildly simplistic and not even extremely tentative), it's hard to imagine how such things would translate, in some gender-neutral future, into 'natural' male over-representation on the Supreme Court.

Of course, I'm making the same kind of mistake here as hilzoy's making when she asks "doesn't the Post have editors whose job is to prevent this sort of trainwreck?" In that case, it's imagining that the trainwreck is unintentional. In mine, it's imagining that Allen's piece is meant to inform, entertain, or even provoke, when in reality it's to prepare for a future where Charlotte Allen's name is Ofdonald.*

More or less, anyway.

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

Agreed. I've tried, but three computers later, I'm frankly starting to run out of money. Baby shoes are much easier - although let me say, it turns out to work a lot better if one takes the baby out of them first.

* That is, Washington Post Company CEO/chairman Donald E. Graham, not Donald Johnson. Presumably.

Now-what---I gotta take my hat off, because that's a really creative way to score a political point, casting yourself as the defender of the common man (or woman) against the elitist liberals based on what hilzoy said about romance novels.


Where do I fit in? I'm a Christian, a C.S. Lewis fan and probably to hilzoy's left on some issues, while being a defender of genre fiction, so when the very serious liberal elite gather in conspiratorial fashion to carry out those nefarious schemes you outline, I'm going to have a tough time knowing whose side I'm on.

I read LJ's link--Gary was one of your opponents then and in this thread he and hilzoy have been on opposite sides of the fence, so you can rest easy. The liberal elitist Bolshevik revolutionaries are devouring their own.

I thought that your original post was clear but your explanation was a thing of beauty. You are stunningly gifted writer. Just sayin'.

I did not mention any schemes or conspiracies. I described an attitude present all too often in posts here, an attitude that seems less than functional if any sort of democratic political change is desired, and an attitude generally insulting in any event.

Not that any sort of rousing defense of genre fiction is needed, perhaps all that it would take is for one to be able to look at the bound collection of pages someone holds in their greasy proletarian paw and be able to realize, "that is a book".

And I'd be fine if you all got back to talking about how pathetic the WP story was, no issues with that at all. Better use of your time than trying to reeducate me on what democracy means.

"The liberal elitist Bolshevik revolutionaries are devouring their own.

They go particularly well with red wine?

".... democracy as a 'system of government designed to protect me from the desires of the common people'."

I can't speak for anyone else here, but if the common people would take their time and maybe buy me dinner after getting a few drinks in me, they could have their way with me.

Thing is, the common people more often than not suffer from premature pantisocracy (take that, William F. Buckley!) and then roll over and go to sleep without asking me about my day.

I find too that the alleged spokespeople for the common people complain about nudity on the screen and then have the audacity to walk around all day "buck naked with bubbles" (James Dickey) underneath their clothing, the hypocrites.

The nerve!

"I read LJ's link--Gary was one of your opponents then"

I just went to see what you were referring to, and that's not quite right.

I only made two comments. The first is this, in which I somewhat disagreed with a point of Anarch's and allowed that now_what might have a point.

Then, in the second comment, I sharply questioned something now_what said. Now_what didn't respond, the thread ended, and that was that.

I wouldn't really describe that as my being in "opposition" to anyone. For the record. If I had been arguing a point, and doing so in multiple comments, I'd agree. But I didn't.

I'd suggest to now_what that -- and I know many will laugh that it's me making this suggestion, and I can't imagine why -- less sarcasm is more apt to be persuasive.

http://www.heybeus.com/2008/03/03/wait-wait-jk-right-washington-post-is-all-like-why-are-women-so-dumb-we-pop-our-gum-and-stare-blankly/

You tingle our lady brains. We link to thee!

When I found out what "Tonto" means in colloquial Mexican, I was filled with horror and shame and rage.

"My guess is that 'chick lit' here refers less to romance novels of the imminent-wardrobe-malfunction-cover kind, and to the vast family of often rather pink books whose type specimen is Bridget Jones' Diary (&tc.)"

Incidentally, I'd say this is exactly right. "Chick lit" has been a well-known category for more than a decade now, and has little to do with genre romance novels. "Chick lit" novels certainly don't work under the kind of constraints Harlequin (which pretty much denotes the lowest common denominator of genre romance publishing, rather than the average, let alone any kind of ceiling) writers do.

I entirely meant to mention that in the first place, but got distracted and forgot. Thanks.

"When I found out what 'Tonto' means in colloquial Mexican, I was filled with horror and shame and rage."

Wikipedia, for what it's worth -- and I don't have independent knowledge to speak to the veracity of any of this -- says that "Tonto's name, according to an NPR story on the Lone Ranger, was inspired by the name of Tonto Basin, Arizona," and that:

Further, in Portuguese, italian and Spanish, the word "Tonto" means "fool" or "idiot" (although this appears to have been a coincidence, as the character is depicted as intelligent), so the name was changed in the dubbed versions. In some Spanish speaking countries, he was named "Toro", which means "bull".
Do you have reason to believe this is wrong, and that an intentionally insulting name was chosen?

See also this NPR story.

The sentence about the driving is taken directly from a ScienceDaily article from 1998: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/06/980618032130.htm
Either I don't understand what this statistic means, or someone at ScienceDaily is making no sense to me. I tracked down the actual Epidemiology article by G.Li et al. and figured that the ScienceDaily article must have been trying to interpret this paragraph:
"Overall, the crash incidence density for men is slightly lower than for women (5.1 us 5.7 crashes per million person-miles). Male drivers are three times as likely as female drivers to be involved in fatal crashes because they have greater exposure prevalence and higher crash fatality rates. That is, on average men drive more miles than women, and crashes involving male drivers are more severe."
In other words, despite the fact that women have more crashes per mile driven, men are involved in more fatal crashes overall because they drive more and their crashes are more likely to be fatal.

By the way, i only tracked down the driving paper because I couldn't believe some people commenting on WaPo were saying that Allen's article wasn't prejudiced because she uses "statistics and specific examples". When I realised that the statistics used were almost word-for-word from an online article and that the article made no sense either, I had to track down the paper.

FWIW - very little, I imagine - I first heard the "likee speechee" anecdote about 45 years ago, attributed at the time to Wellington Koo (China [Republic of] Minister to the USA, 1915ff, and after a long and distinguished diplomatic career, again Ambassador to the US, 1945ff).

So The Wind and the Lion is very definitely a latecomer to this wheeze.

As I am to this thread, having missed the opportunity (without regret) to mix it up on the virtues or otherwise of genre fiction. (On which I find Hilzoy, as always, eloquent and plausible, but that's neither here nor there.)

I saw it attributed to Wellington Koo too, in Asimov's Guide to Humor (1971).

"So The Wind and the Lion is very definitely a latecomer to this wheeze."

Oh, sure. Screenwriters are rarely that inventive, and I wasn't in the least trying to claim that John Milius had originated the joke.

It's a nice usage of it, though, with John Huston as John Hay as the butt of the joke. :-)

And since the movie is set in 1904, obviously it was before Wellington Koo. ;-) ;-) ;-)

Dan, it depends whether it’s a boho or a hobo buffet. Red is for Bohos. Hobos seek refinement.

Wow, what a trip. I think I’m glad to have gotten here late.
Just loved Barry’s post. As juicy lucid and nicely honed a chunk of worthwhile prose as I’ve encountered lately. Loved the delicacy of the spices.

Is it me that’s new?— speaking of spicy and by extension sexy..Handles chosen for the occasion? Or an Old Guard regathering to see an unusual scrap?
So much I don’t understand. Reminds me kind of what things were like back when I was a kid..

Donald, found your last post thoroughly delightful in all ways, but not least for your fond mention of Lewis.
Likewise delighted by HaraldK’s earlier note about finding Hilzoy’s place by chance in a Lewis Google.
—All due naturally to finding that other guests are vessels of enthusiasm for the man, his ideas and manner.
Back from when I could modestly indulge bibliophilia I have a fair wodge of the whole bookshelf, as well as with a finer reverence, some number of treasures by Charles Williams.

Per the nature of democracy dispute; now_what, I’m far from unfamiliar with those strongly felt thoughts in myself; but I am far less practiced with those thoughts hanging out hereabouts. Would you be insulted if I voiced the possiblity that your fervor was provoked by the unusual length and height of the wave of feeling in this particular thread?
Because it seems to me- I mentioned in another thread ‘a variety of vistas’— that the main things that especially surface here are a pleasure in language, a concern for substance, and an often graceful mutual courtesy (the exceptions to that rule usually serve as foils for wit, so that’s ok with me).

You might have been dismayed to see two of our heroes (skipping the m/f thing) waving their arms like that.
I do think Gary had excellent arguments but had trouble marshaling them while his blood was boiling, and I do think that Hilzoy seems to have been vulnerable and more distressing was unable to grasp it.
Maybe like watching your parents fight. was always a sore point for me.
I can see it as a Good Thing, admittedly in diffuse ways. I don’t feel like trying to lead the jury on that.
Lastly, John; where in Dickey? Catchy.

You scholar types; nice informational maneuvering. [applause]

Surely by now the accepted model has shifted from the hated woman driver, to reckless young men drivers and circumspect young woman drivers? I, discouraged, wonder if ethnic slurs still play a part in stereotyping style-of-driving expectations.

I’d be a bit surprised if the ee joke wasn’t used in the Charlie Chan movies. I have vague memories of such. Sorry, no searchee.
I would likewise be surprised if the same move hadn’t been made on a painfully naive tourist/ cowboy/any kind of dumb gringo archetype attempting Spanglish. Surely no need to elaborate there.

While I remember, a minor enduring question; what determines when name appears in red? My surmise is it doesn’t signify a presence on-site; I doubt it represents a gold star; so what’s the variable?

"You could take the argument further: any medium will itself involve inherent restrictions, whether the range of the musical scale, the dimensions of a canvas, the rules of grammar." So very true. But since we're on a roll insulting genres here, I often think that if modern abstract paintings or modernistic "classical" music had equivalents in literature, it would be books written in the author's own (possibly unpublished) artificial language... or maybe three volumes filled with long sequences of the unicode characters ೋ, ⡳ and ῲ.

" it would be books written in the author's own (possibly unpublished) artificial language"

Which, to tie back into Donald's LOTR comment, is why Tolkien is in some ways a modernist author (as Tom Shippey points out)

"There is a great quote from Robert Frost -- "I would sooner write free verse as play tennis with the net down." -- "

Something there is that doesn't love a net . . .

Incidentally, the first time I ever heard of Justice Scalia was when he quotemined Mending Wall in Plaut v. Spendthrift Farms, Inc., referring to "the advice authored by a distinctively American poet: Good fences make good neighbors.". (At least it wasn't to support some ruling about property rights.) Nothing I've seen since has contradicted my initial impression 'bout him. My dream is that one day he becomes the first justice to be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors against the state of literature, although I fear that's even less likely than Andrew Jackson's face getting kicked off the $20 and replaced by either Sequoyah or John Ross.

There's a stereotype that feminists are easily offended and have no sense of humor.

If you didn't prove it by lambasting a WaPo article that was supposed to be tongue in cheek (at least, that's the way I saw it), then you definitely proved it in your clarifications here.

The very fact that you have to go on and on, explaining and defending yourself in detail about ROMANCE NOVELS in order to stave off any offense shows how difficult it is to have a rational conversation about anything having to do with gender.

So what if you compared romance novels to porn? It's perfectly normal for males to enjoy porn, and it's perfectly normal for females to enjoy romance fantasises. What of it? There's no way any rational person is going to convince me that Harlequin romance book #585, or Sweet Valley High #1186 is high literature. But once again, so what? We don't always need high-brow literature in our lives all the time.

First of all, a note of appreciate to Dan S. That's some finely crafted comment.

Second, to the question of whether the Allen piece is tongue-in-cheek, it's on the front of the B section, which I don't think is usual real estate for the such material, and from this bio, Allen doesn't seem to be from the Poconos circuit.

(Resisting the initial impulse to write improvisationally) contemporary musical experimentalism and free jazz (an aside; I was on friendly terms with a free-jazz trumpeter with a wide and deep mastery of all manner of music— he was married to Peter Serkin’s sister,— and he told me once that he put everything he knew into every solo) still are using instruments and notes, timbres and tones, pitches and rhythms, and the fundamentals of music lie very deep in our brains (see This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin).
Sound poetry, which some of my poet friends have performed to stunning effect may serve as a near-analog to the unstructured speech you imagine. It is still possible to speak of it, analytically, in structural terms.
Color-field painting, at least back when I was in art school, was subject to a pretentiously rigorous formalist analysis.

Constraints are unavoidable. We are bounded and bound by limitations everywhere we turn. Received rules refined by the finest minds over lengthy periods offer the creator proven paths to follow. They enable rather than constrain. In the Modernist period familiar ‘constraints’ are often construed as departure points and determine that what will be done must be unlike that which preceded it. No rules is in popular parlance the last rule left standing, but it is a rule. Anarchists as they exist in the world at large are programmatic anarchists. They have rules, largely hyper-democratic.

An obsessive preoccupation with the unknown is not a terminal constraint upon creative imagination, and can be thrilling in its maintenance of exquisite balance in the face of daunting odds. But it calls itself experimental, and the results are often at best interesting. But I have seen distinguished actors doing orthodox Shakespeare and leave me not wholly satisfied. I have merely appreciated Branagh’s Lear and been delighted and moved to terror and pity by a transgendered Lear in which the cast moved around the stage on golf carts.
There is an unaccountable thrill to watching such a sucessful high-wire act.

John Rohan: There's a stereotype that feminists are easily offended and have no sense of humor.

Yes: it's so much easier to claim that someone is easily offended than it is to consider how some people are easily giving offense: and I know many men who prefer to think "feminists have no sense of humour" because they don't like to consider the bare possibility that many women just don't find misogynistic "jokes" funny.

Come to that, I know many men who obviously want to be John Thullen and fail horribly, who don't like to consider the possibility that their "jokes" just aren't funny.

"Laugh, damn you, laugh at my joke or I'll..."

*snickers*
*marathons*

I must have been the only one who thought this article was hysterical. I am a woman and wasn't at all offended by the article. I thought a lot of it was true and mildly entertaining.

John Rohan, the sidetrack about romance novels and genre fiction had nothing at all to do with hilzoy's main point. She mentioned romance novels in passing in derogatory fashion, Gary took offense having worked in the field, I could see his point (linking it to the offense I sometimes take when fantasy or SF gets dissed) and thus a successful threadjack was born.

I agree with hilzoy's main point about the Allen post.

Compliments! *blushes, runs away*

Re: the whole thing being a sarcastic gag mocking 'scientific' sexism - Allen's involved with the IWF, which suggests to me that under the humor, she's quite sincere.

If the idea was to be funny while insulting the WaPo’s female readers, I’m sure Harry Hutton could have done a better job.

Wow, that IWF link is worth a gander. The group started from the ad hoc 'Women for Judge Thomas', and one of the mainstays published The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex, and Feminism from Regnery. Check out the inserted editorial comment right above that. The list of arguments makes it seem that Charlotte Allen is a female version of Ben Domenech.

Linda:
I must have been the only one who thought this article was hysterical. I am a woman and wasn't at all offended by the article. I thought a lot of it was true and mildly entertaining.

I'm asking you to break the Zen of Jokes, here ("the joke that must be explained is not the true joke"), but -- why weren't you offended? Although my personal reaction was closer to "repulsed". I did not perceive any funny in it -- she seemed to be just saying the same sort of things that were used as actual, serious arguments to refuse women the vote. Where's the humor in that?

On the genre romance-novels issue: it is extremely important to note that the audience for novels in general is overwhelmingly female -- I've seen estimates up to 80%. If women are dumber than men, then reading literature in general is a pastime of the stupid, and it is fiction as a whole that we should be condemning as an idiotic form of art. Single-person shooter video games, conversely, are the highest form of art known to man.

what determines when name appears in red?

It's in red if there's a link, and there's a link if you've supplied a URL to link to, either by typing one in on the comment form or by signing in with a TypeKey ID.

Doctor Science:

I wasn't offended because it was meant to be funny--tongue in cheek. Women are silly. Thank God because men are boring. Women have it all, seriously, and I think the article was meant, since it was side-by-side with the other one there, to put humor to the whole who-women-vote-for issue. There are bigger issues in the world than this one.

Sturgeon's Law applies- 90% of everything is crap but I thought that the WaPo was supposed to have editors to solve that problem.
Romances are definitely related to porn. I had a mild addiction to them in university. After eight hours going through heavy texts and reading lists, I would use the romances for bus and bath reading. Bought them used, wouldn't cry if they got lost or damaged and you can read most of them in under two hours, but I gave them up when most began with sex scenes.

I'm with Gary on most of his points, but I'll add a couple.
•Westerns are predominantly seen as a "male" genre. Romance is seen as female. So no matter how formulaic and cliched Westerns get (and as a bookstore salesclerk, some of them get Very), they don't get the crap and the sneers romance does.
•As was pointed out a couple of times, "Harlequin" does not equal the sum total of romance novels.
•What's acceptable in romance has actually broadened a lot over the years, as witness the growth in paranormal romance (the number with a female as the vamp/werewolf is astonishing).
Someone pointed out some years back that Diana Gabaldon's "Outlander" broke pretty much every standard for a romance: Time-travel (not done at the time), a heroine married to another man, older than the hero, hero who's a virgin. It still got published.
•Speaking as someone who writes fantasy short stories, I can say that most magazines have a lot of stringent requirements: No graphic sex, or no cussing, no "evil person gets a comeuppance" plots, etc (my favorite was an erotic horror magazine that include "no vampire hookers biting it off during oral sex" on their Don't list). Listing how much sexual content is appropriate is a particularly common one--and according to a lot of older authors, the whole genre used to be really, really conservative about sexual topics.
So I don't think the idea that romance is as rigid as a sonnet and other genre fiction is a beat poem holds water.
•While some romances do have a lot of sex (content varies wildly), a lot of mainstream thrillers/adventure novels have a lot of sex. And it wasn't that long ago you wouldn't have seen any sex in a Harlequin or most others. So I don't think "porn" is really the right comparison to make.
•Gary, thanks for saving me from making this post a lot longer, I've got stuff I need to go do.
•Hilzoy, as to your general discussion of the WaPo article, right on!

Fraser, are sales of westerns anywhere near sales of romance novels? I'd think the difference in popularity might have something to do with the frequency of ridicule too.

Fraser,
I don't know if the word 'porn' necessarily represents sex. A google search on "food porn" yields over 500,000 hits.

felix culpa:

"buck naked with bubbles" is from the poem "Root-light, or the Lawyer's Daughter", available in his collected poems.

Until you asked, I didn't know where in Dickey I picked that up, but it's the only four words that stuck with me from a poetry reading of his I attended some time in the last century. Google it.

I pass through rooms in my life, half awake, and pick up lint which then dislodges itself much later, in a different room.

I don't know if the word 'porn' necessarily represents sex. A google search on "food porn" yields over 500,000 hits.

Forbes magazine is money porn.

Westerns, it's true are a minor genre compared to romance, but pretty much any sort of "action adventure" genre gets more respect than romance does. Allen, I notice, doesn't compare chick-lit to fiction targeting a male demographic, because that would kill her point that women's bad taste proves they're stupider than men.

Oh, dear.

Hilzoy, I bow to you as unquestionably one of the best political prose writers currently active, whether on these here intertubes, in newspapers, or in mile-high flaming letters etched against the sky.

But I regret to say that your carelessly ignorant jibe at romance novels, and even more your ham-fisted "explanation", not only ruined but completely undercut your entire argument here.

Let me give you an example: Suppose you had chosen to counter Allen's moronic statistic about "women drivers with the quip, "well, women aren't "driver's" as the word is normally used: they are either decorative accessories to automobiles or the female equivalent of wrecking balls." And in your update you explained, "Well, golly, everybody knows that there are excellent drivers who happen to be women, but they aren't what you call "women drivers." No, "women drivers" are the people who get behind the wheel of a car not to transport themselves and others from here to there, nor to exercise their mastery over a complex piece of machinery, but for the express purpose and sheer fun of driving over mailboxes!" And in the comments you noted, "Hey, there's no insult here! I'm a woman, I drive, and hey, I've run over a mailbox or two in my time!"

Can you not truly see that this is not only JUST AS insulting as Allen's original piece, but almost EXACTLY THE SAME insult?


Book genres are often perceived as negative by people who don't really like the genre. I like SF (well.... I actually read almost anything) and though I agree with Sturgeons Law I don't mind some entertaining crap. But there are also SF books that are good, that make you think. If you assume all SF is crap than good books automatically can't be SF. Example from Margaret Atwood:

Q: It's hard to pin down a genre for this novel. Is it science fiction?

A: No, it certainly isn't science fiction. Science fiction is filled with Martians and space travel to other planets, and things like that. That isn't this book at all. The Handmaid's Tale is speculative fiction in the genre of Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four. Nineteen Eighty-Four was written not as science fiction but as an extrapolation of life in 1948. So, too, The Handmaid's Tale is a slight twist on the society we have now.

The piece by Charlotte Allen is stupid in many ways which at least proves that some women are indeed dim.

I'm like Hawise: I read a lot of the cheap novels when I was 16-18 because they didn't require much brainusage. But I started to dislike them when they had to go on with pages of veiled references after the kiss. These days I read a lot of speculative fiction for that same reason; braincandy. But I read lots, so there are some good books in there too ;)

Women read more fiction than men in any case:

When it comes to fiction, the gender gap is at its widest. Men account for only 20 percent of the fiction market, according to surveys conducted in the U.S., Canada and Britain.

By this measure, "chick-lit" would have to include Hemingway and nearly every other novel, observes Lakshmi Chaudhry in the magazine In These Times. "Unlike the gods of the literary establishment who remain predominately male—both as writers and critics—their humble readers are overwhelmingly female."


hapax, good to see you here.

Heavy lengthy thread...
OK I suggest; porn is essentially seductive delusion activating desires called ‘base’. Architectural Digest, I have been told, is House Porn; you can make up your own, make it your own, cast it around the room at parties: The phrase is then properly delivered as smirking condescension, variable according to the condescension to be conveyed.

Linda, connect the dots. Ms. Allen’s favorite charity has affectionate ties to Clarence Thomas, and its new prez “served in the executive office of the 2000 Bush-Cheney Presidential Inaugural Committee” (same link as above). Her allegiances seem pretty clear on the face of it, and while she may have been entertainingly cheeky you must I can only imagine be able to conclude that gleam in her eye is icy?

I make the humble offering of an anecdote, which is handy to a number of the thread’s strands.
A few years ago I had a role in a friend’s film, her second feature. She had been holding down two steady jobs a bit earlier. Her day job was film editing, her night job was as a call girl.
She’d written a script about a former female porn star turned porn director set upon by her former lover now rival, and the cosmic battle that ensues. I say cosmic. God was played by Annie Sprinkle and there were a lot of angels is various degrees of attire.
The title of the film was Bubbles Galore. Bubbles, the hero[ine] was played by Nina Hartley. Her destitute heartthrob was named Buck,

Cosmic. At least for tying strands of thread.

It was billed as a feminist spoof on porn, and the director, my friend, dedicated it to sex-workers everywhere, as having been one she had every right to do.

Perhaps the most fun was when the Reform Party (now merged with the Conservative Party, now in the news for fresh scandal) put up a major stink in Parliament, in pale imitation of the NEA affair, over such work receiving arts funding. The party was in conference in Ottawa at the time, and a lot of fresh-faced kids attending ended up being interviewed, as these things go, and were quoted as saying they had nothing against sex, and it was probably on the front page of every newspaper in Canada.

As they say, you can’t buy publicity like that.

Still had only a brief run. But recently it was far and away the all-time record holder on the Showtime Channel®.
Nina said she’d made over 400 films, and this was her first non-porn experience. Very cool lady. Bright, alert, fearless. She was at the time enacting the transition from star to feminist porn director.

hilzoy, I believe you've touched a nerve.

I'm in the office and the Hofstader book is Le Ton Beau De Marot and the interesting part is how to translate various genres of jokes into other jokes. Good stuff.

Farber @6:37 March 2: "If I said "you are not a philosophy professor, you aren't even comparable to the category of philosophy professors, you're comparable to a Hustler centerfold," "

Cite/photo?

(xanax's head explodes...)

Barry, that whole riff is Hofstadter to a tee

It's been a while since I read it, but IIRC Stravinsky covers this ground really thoughtfully in "The Poetics Of Music".

I was on friendly terms with a free-jazz trumpeter with a wide and deep mastery of all manner of music ... and he told me once that he put everything he knew into every solo

The hard thing about playing free is that you have to invent the rules on the spot. You not only have to create the thing you're playing, you have to also create the context that will make it make sense. And you have to do that on the gig, in real time.

And, because you're making it up right now, and folks in the audience have no particular context to bring, you have to find a way to include them. You have to give them some kind of path into what you're doing.

Playing free is very hard. A lot of it, in the end, is kind of self-indulgent, but when it works it really is a thing of beauty. It's a real adventure, and everyone gets to come along.

I often think that if modern abstract paintings or modernistic "classical" music had equivalents in literature, it would be books written in the author's own (possibly unpublished) artificial language

Wasn't that "Finnegan's Wake"?

"The liberal elitist Bolshevik revolutionaries are devouring their own.

They go particularly well with red wine?

And some fava beans. Slurp!!

Thanks -

Thanks russell, your fava slurp brightened a gray day.
Playing free is very hard...when it works it really is a thing of beauty. It's a real adventure, and everyone gets to come along
Raphé Malik was the trumpeter; and certainly he, and another old friend, a legend among jazz musicians hereabouts— reeds, guitar, keyboard— really sweat(ed).
Matthew Shipp doesn’t sweat, but, intense, oh my; he had my in tears of wonder through two entire sets.

dutchmarbel posted:

f you assume all SF is crap than good books automatically can't be SF. Example from Margaret Atwood:

Q: It's hard to pin down a genre for this novel. Is it science fiction?

A: No, it certainly isn't science fiction. Science fiction is filled with Martians and space travel to other planets, and things like that. That isn't this book at all. The Handmaid's Tale is speculative fiction in the genre of Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four. Nineteen Eighty-Four was written not as science fiction but as an extrapolation of life in 1948. So, too, The Handmaid's Tale is a slight twist on the society we have now.

I agree with dutch. This quote by Margaret Atwood is typical. "A slight twist on the society we have now" -- what the fuck does she think science fiction is? Well, she displays her appalling ignorance: "Martians." What an ignoramus. Lois McMaster Bujold can write rings around her. And I hate to see Hilzoy mouthing the same snobbish crapola about another genre.

The problem I have with Hilzoy's equation of romance=porn for women is that she's essentially making the same argument that she's criticizing Allen for.

Allen said women are dumber than men. Hilzoy said, women read romance which equals porn.
Being associated with porn is a BAD thing in current Western society, so comparing women's enjoyment of romance novels to enjoyment of porn implies women are doing a BAD thing, which brings us right back to Allen's misplaced arguments on the inferiority of women.

I can believe that Hilzoy didn't mean to make the same kind of offensive statement as Allen did, but she succeeded nevertheless.

Bad argument, made worse by the 'explanation'.

romance novels* (update below the fold) are not "books", as that word is normally used. They are either tools for relaxation or the female equivalent of porn.

I can't add much to what Gary Farber's already said in response to this but I'd like to make three quick points. The first is that different readers may read the same text for all sorts of different reasons, and each may respond to it very differently. Just because some readers may receive sexual stimulation from the romances they read doesn't mean that the works themselves are actually pornographic.

That brings me to my second point, which is that "pornography" is a term which is difficult to define and has lots of negative connotations. If anyone's interested, I wrote a long post about the various meanings of the term "porn" as applied to the romance genre.

My third point is that it is quite possible to read and analyse romance novels, including Harlequin romances, as literature. If anyone's interested in reading an analysis of this sort, I've posted one here and there's always plenty of discussion of the romance genre, from an academic, literary critical perspective, at the blog I contribute to, Teach Me Tonight.

I am not a trivial person because I'm a woman, as Ms. Allen suggests. I do not suffer from 'female mental deficiencies.'

I write Romance novels. I write real books. I do not, as hilzoy claims, write the equivilent of porn. And yes, when you state genre Romance novels aren't real books, but more akin to porn, it's an enormous insult to those of us who make a living writing in the field, to those of us who enjoy reading the genre.

It's ironic that a commentary against such sweeping and demeaning generalizations of women should include such sweeping and demeaning generalizations against a genre of fiction which explores relationships, love, commitment, and the emotional journey of two people. A genre which is largely driven by women.

And to this:

'Assessing genre romances is different, precisely because there are so many rules. I do not think badly of a particular genre romance because the author should not have made the hero so strong, noble, and self-contained, or because its heroine should not be so completely ignorant of her own charms, or because some complication prevents the hero and heroine from recognizing their attraction to one another until they are forced into close proximity by some unexpected turn of events. Those are the rules'

No, those are not the rules. I've written many, many Romance novels that contain none of the above. So have others.

I've been writing in this field for 25 years. You've just tossed my body of work in with Hustler, and deemed it as not real books while boiling an entire genre down to a handful of cliches.

While hilzoy made the equation, I don't think she necessarily said that porn was bad. She can clarify that if she wants, but for me, I don't think 'porn' is necessarily a bad thing, though the way it manifests itself in Western society is not good at all. Again, speaking for myself, I think everyone should enjoy porn, and enjoying porn shouldn't carry such a stigma, but it does and because it does, the business has (as I understand it) a lot of ties to organized crime, something which pornography shares with the drug trade.

Whether or not porn is bad isn't the issue, for me. I don't write it, and the genre I write in is not its equivilent.

I've got no problem with porn. I have a problem having my 'not real books' equated with it.

As an academic studying romances, I have a few things to say:

Radway's ethnographic study of romance readers is not only 25 years old in a field that has changed completely in those 25 years, but it's also terrible scholarship in the first place. So anything she has to say about romances is probably wrong, and I could tell you why in great detail if you wanted.

I read the disjunction between Gary and Hilzoy as coming from Hilzoy's claim that readers read romances to fulfill the same needs that men fill when they watch porn. This is wrong. While I certainly have my stroke books, they're mostly not romance novels, because I read romances for the emotional relationship between the characters, not for sexual gratification. It's like comparing apples and donkeys. If one doesn't assume that's the only "need" romances fulfill, then the books become more than "just" romances.

Harlequins =/= mainstream romances.
Clinch covers =/= what's inside the book.

Condemn romances AFTER you read Jane Austen, Laura Kinsale, Joanna Bourne, Georgette Heyer, Suzanne Brockmann, Nora Roberts, if you can.

Come visit us academic romance readers at Teach Me Tonight. We'd love to see y'all there.

Oh, hi Nora!! ;)

My comment was composed before I saw yours, so apologies if it seemed like it was directed at your comment.

I think this is an interesting issue, and I don't mean for this to be snarky in any way, and I don't want to out anyone, 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'? 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? 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.

I see a parallel between describing things as 'kitschy', where kitschy might be a compliment, but some people would automatically assume that it had a derogatory meaning.

I don't think 'porn' is necessarily a bad thing

Liberal Japonicus, I think there are two main problems that authors of romance would have with the description of their work as "porn". The first is that that "porn" has negative connotations, but even if one isn't using the term in that way, it's still often used to mean "material designed to create arousal in the viewer/reader" (I've discussed this, and other meanings of the term here).

A great many authors of romance novels would deny that their work was written in order to create arousal. They would say, as Nora Roberts has, that their fiction is primarily about "relationships, love, commitment, and the emotional journey of two people."

~I think this is an interesting issue, and I don't mean for this to be snarky in any way, and I don't want to out anyone, 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'?~

No. It may speak to the nature of that publisher, or more likely the opinion of the editor(s) who received the submission. MANY mss are rejected by MANY editors across the spectrum of fiction, and are subsequently bought by another.

That's publishing, not Romance.

And why would you say Romance is more susceptible to plagiarism? It happens in every field of writing.

Porn, whether fair or not, is a term most often used--and it certainly came across to me in this case--to describe something that has its value only as a sexual stimulant or outlet. Again, no problem with porn.

However, I don't write porn. The genre is not porn.

While it's flattering for you to say I've taken the genre and made it into something worthwhile, it's simply not the case. It's always been worthwhile, and would continue to be without me.

I cross posted with Sarah now, but I used preview this time, so I will try and respond to what Laura wrote.

If one defines porn as 'things men watch/read/listen to to get off', well, what precisely are "things women watch/read/listen to to get off"? And then, what do you call stuff that men use to experience emotional relationships? That there is a neat box for one thing, but not the other two says something about power, sexuality and gender relations in society. Which I think is an important discussion to have, but it gets muddied quite a bit when one attaches value judgments and then uses those value judgments to criticize.

I'm thinking that we have defined Lady Chatterley's Lover and Sexus, as well as the work of Mapplethorpe and others, as pornography. And since hilzoy says she reads romances, it is logical to assume that she wasn't using porn with a negative connotation.

I don't disagree that porn does have a negative connotation, but I'm not sure if the answer to dealing with it is to maintain the notion of it as dirty, and create a category of fiction (that is arguably primarily enjoyed by women) that is good because it deals with emotions rather than physicality. This has the effect of maintaining the Puritanistic dichotomy of desires of the flesh being evil and desires of the mind being good, which is a source of problems. One can either continue to regard physical desires as base impulses that should be eliminated at best and strictly controlled at worst, or one could try to understand that those desires are part of what it means to be human and the ability to understand them and shape them is as much an art as anything else.

I can see that the counter argument is that a life of the mind is much more worthwhile than gratification of the flesh, and being raised in the Deep South, yeah, that certainly rings some bells with me, but I think that when one argues that porn is, by definition, bad, it makes too much of a separation between our head and areas south of it.

But I still crossposted with Nora. I was going by your wikipedia entry, but being obscure to avoid making you the subject of this discussion rather than the dichotomy of emotional versus physical needs and what the romance genre appeals to. And I'm really worried about creating a situation where you might feel that you have to give more information than you are comfortable with, so I hope you won't mind if I bow out here and let you have the last word.

~but it gets muddied quite a bit when one attaches value judgments and then uses those value judgments to criticize.~

Maybe so. And that's exactly how the comments regarding Romance novels--not real books, equivilent to porn struck me. A value judgment used to criticize an entire genre of fiction.

Once again, no problem with porn. Go porn!

But I don't write it, and don't appreciate having someone label my work, and my genre as such.

I haven't actually read my Wikipedia entry, but the situation you described isn't really how things went for me back in the day. And you are talking 1979--looong ago.

I submitted to Harlequin--the only game in town then for category style Romance. Was rejected. Not only because the ms needed work, but because at that time they published almost entirely British authors. Not American. Silhouette Books opened its doors at this time, looking very specifically for new, American writers in the area of category Romance. I polished up my mss, submitted and sold.

That's pretty much public fodder for anyone who's interested, so I've no problem relaying it.

I can't quite see how this brief history of my start reflects the genre itself, or as it is a quarter century later.

A heartfelt welcome to you, Nora and Laura.

I'm not sure if the answer to dealing with it is to maintain the notion of it as dirty, and create a category of fiction (that is arguably primarily enjoyed by women) that is good because it deals with emotions rather than physicality.

I don't think romance authors would, in general, reject the physical or argue that it's "dirty". But there's a big difference between works which are primarily created in order to arouse the reader (pornography), and works which may arouse the reader, and may discuss and celebrate sexuality, but which also explore a great many other areas of human experience, primarily love (romance).

"I'm thinking that we have defined Lady Chatterley's Lover [...], as well as the work of Mapplethorpe and others, as pornography."

We have? Who's "we" (to refer to something else discussed at length further up the thread)? I'd always thought of Lawrence as an author of literary fiction.

Hello and thanks for all the welcome, Slartibartfast. I'll leave any fish for the dolphins.

"If one defines porn as 'things men watch/read/listen to to get off', well, what precisely are "things women watch/read/listen to to get off"?"

Well, porn. Women use porn. Men use porn. And for the same reasons.

They also both read romance (admittedly, more women than men do this, in my experience), but not necessarily or always for the same reasons they read porn.

I don't ever use romance to get off. There may well be people who do, but their use of it doesn't make it porn.

Also, I write what I like to think of as an eclectic mix of romance, fantasy and science fiction. The stories that are specifically romances get no less effort put into them than the stories that are not romances.

And while I'd like to think one day someone will say my work transcends genre (in the sense of 'this is a great romance and it's also just a great book'), I wouldn't ever want them to define my work as other than romance/fantasy/sf just because it's particularly good.

On the subject of constraint in literary forms:

Nuns fret not at their convent's narrow room;
And hermits are contented with their cells;
And students with their pensive citadels;
Maids at the wheel, the weaver at his loom,
Sit blithe and happy; bees that soar for bloom,
High as the highest Peak of Furness-fells,
Will murmur by the hour in foxglove bells:
In truth the prison, unto which we doom
Ourselves, no prison is: and hence for me,
In sundry moods, 'twas pastime to be bound
Within the Sonnet's scanty plot of ground;
Pleased if some Souls (for such there needs must be)
Who have felt the weight of too much liberty,
Should find brief solace there, as I have found.

-Wm. Wordsworth

Nora, thank you for saying so elegantly what so many of the rest of us would like to say here. Thanks to Gary, too, for picking up the gauntlet. I was going to step in, but since I don't think I could say things any better than the two of you already have, I'll simply shake my head at all the ignorance displayed and pour another cup of coffee and get back to work on what I've just been told is 'not a novel'.

I would like to go to the RWA (Romance Writers of America) conference and tell its 9000 members that they are writing porn and that its published members--Nora Roberts, Linda Howard, James Patterson, Bob Mayer, Jennifer Crusie, Debbie Macomber, Suzanne Brockmann, Catherine Coulter, Lisa Jackson, Sherrilyn Kenyon, all of whom are in the http://www.rwanational.org/cs/authors_and_books/rwa_honor_roll>2007 Bestsellers Honor Roll--are, in fact, publishing un-books similar to Soduku and Hustler magazines. That all the editors at the conference have been editing un-books all these years and not know it.

It is difficult for me, a romance un-writer, to go rah-rah over Hilzoy's excellent points when the underlying message says, "We aren't like THOSE women, you know, the ones that write and read romance, which aren't books anyhow." I realize many people don't see what the big deal is. Making a sweeping generalization like that speaks of ignorance. Like I said, I challenge you to attend the RWA conference and tell those authors on the Honor List, face-to-face, that they have been writing porn.

There have been a couple of posts since I started to write this one, so I might have to beg off as it's 1 am here.

I don't think romance authors would, in general, reject the physical or argue that it's "dirty".

Well, it's not that they are defining the physical as 'dirty', they are defining pornography as 'dirty'. Someone was defining porn as 'stuff men use to get off', which is a bit of a rejection. Of course, we men can be overly sensitive :^)

Nora argues that the field has changed in 20 years, which I am sure is true. So, would Hilzoy's comment have been correct 20 years ago? Do we judge a genre on its best examples or on its average? Or its history? Has the quality of romances improved so much in the past 20 years that the mean average of such works makes the equivalence to porn ridiculous? Or did romances never operate on the same plane as pornography, a classification that has included Lady Chatterley, Lolita, Tropic of Capricorn? I don't mean for those questions to be as rhetorical as they sound, I really don't know, cause I live outside the US and don't have the time or resources to regularly read any fiction at all. But by asking these questions, I do want to suggest that it is not as cut and dried as it seems. And by arguing that the genre has changed and to also argue that romance never could equal pornography (a category which has included Tropic of Capricorn, Story of O, Fanny Hill, and a whole raft of other titles) is being a bit ahistoric, which doesn't dismiss it, but does make the point arguable.

I'm also thinking that the implicit definitions of pornography floating around in this discussion are visual, but I'm not sure if that is necessarily the case. Fanny Hill or the Story of O are certainly pornography, but they aren't visual.

I also don't want to sound pedantic, but my point about bringing up Lady Chatterley was that it was felt to be pornography and the publishers, Penguin, were tried for obscenity in 1960. The 'we' refers to society, not to any particular configuration of commenters.

A parallel example might be the notion of 'comic book', though that might not be the best example, because in order to escape the stereotype of comics, they have to be classified as 'graphic novels' or bande dessiné or manga. And one can detect the same thing with the defining of pornography as 'erotica'.

I am interested in this because I see these dichotomies shaping our thinking a lot, in ways that can be quite pernicious. This split between the mind and the body is something we see in the distinction between art and craft, which leads to us valorizing certain types of work over other types, we see it in valuing of logic and rationality over emotional connection and empathy, which tends to be used against women in a variety of ways, we see it in valuing visual learning over kinesthetic learning. This is at a bit of a remove from the discussion of the article and Hilzoy's comment, but that's what is behind my thoughts, at any rate.

Am I understanding correctly that Hilzoy has a Ph.D of philosophy or is, in some form, an academic? Because the whole premise of the argument of romance books being "not normal" or not real books (as opposed to being a cat, a sunset, or a person) is based on faulty assumptions.

There are constraints within the genre of romance. That is the nature of genre fiction. Mysteries involve a person or persons who find a crime and ultimately solve the crime. (I have yet to read a mystery where the crime remains unsolveable at the end). Joseph Campbell wrote Hero with a Thousand Faces which argues that all myths have the same archetypical hero.

There are tropes within general fiction such as the bildungsroman. A work set in a particular historical time period is constrained by the, well, time period. All literature has constraints, some constraints are simply more obvious.

As for your assumptions about those constraints, as others have told you, those are simply inaccurate. Like Gary Farber said, you have to start pulling out examples in order to prove your point.

Let me start with a Harlequin Blaze written by Kathleen O'Reilly. It's got a silly title: Shaken and Stirred. It's got the requisite lack of clothing on the cover.

The story is about a young woman who refuses to give in to love because she seeks to claim her own independence. This independence is idealized in her mind by owning her own apartment in New York City. Despite being offering the love, desire and protection of an attractive male, Tessa is determined to succeed on her own. In the meantime, though, she chooses to have a lover without the emotional attachments. In the early sex scenes, Tessa requires that they pretend her lover is a stranger to her. Does this fit into your assumptions of that the heroine is "completely ignorant of her own charms?"

Or let's take Meljean Brook's Demon Angel where the heroine is a lying spawn of Lucifer and the hero is a virgin knight. The heroine is the seducer and the virgin knight is the resister. How then does this book play against your stereotypes?

Sherry Thomas' Private Arrangements features a wealthy young woman in the late 19th C who schemes to get a Duke into her bedroom so that she can become a duchess. Is this a pale wilting flower?

Hardly. For every genre romance that you can point out that fits your assumptions, I can point out one that doesn't which means only that the romance genre is a broad in scope and depth as even the real books.

~So, would Hilzoy's comment have been correct 20 years ago? ~

No, they still would have been inaccurate and broad-based generalizations on an area of fiction that is not, was not, pornographic.

Lolita is certainly not a Romance novel, for example--whether you consider the story pornographic or not. The examples you list aren't Romance novels, so it's very difficult to see the point you're trying to make.

I understand you're addressing the issue of porn itself, questioning the whys of its accepted definition. But the issue here is Hilzoy equated Romance to porn--in its basic and accepted definition. It's simply not the case. She stated they weren't real books. It was a derrogatory comment on the genre, and for me, my own work as I write within in.

The topic of the blog sprang from an article written by a woman who considers females less--not as smart, not as capable. It's demeaning. In the body of the essay rebutting it, Hilzoy does exactly the same thing to an entire genre of fiction, to the people who write it, read it, edit and publish it. Porn. Not real books. Less than 'real' novels.

I'm a smart, capable woman who writes Romance novels. I know a lot of other smart, capable women who write Romance novels, edit them, publish them, read them.

We dislike when we're dismissed as unimaginative pornographers who don't write real books.

Why would we define the romance genre today by the books that were published within the genre 20 years ago?

As for the romance=porn argument, that would not have been true 20 years ago. There has been an increasing number of sexually charged books released in the past five years, but there has almost always been explicit sex in some romance books within the past 20 years.

The goal of sex in a romance book, from this reader's standpoint, is to further the plot or theme of the story. For example, in the Shaken and Stirred book, the type of sex the couple engages in is emblematic of the stage/health of their relationship. Initially the sex is devoid of emotional involvement. It is purely sexual. At one point, the feelings of one of the characters starts to change and evolve to the point where the meaningless sexual encounters are more painful than pleasureful. Later in the book, when the couple has reconciled, the sex is loving and serves as symbolic of the reunion.

There are hundreds of romance books where the sex seems there for more titillation purposes than anything and while it can titillate, I think that if the sex merely titillates then I think it is more of a failure of the author to underscore an emotional point in the book than for the sex scenes to be viewed as porn.

I'm now going to have to retract this. I didn't say it because I disagreed with Gary, I said it because I agreed with Gary, but a) didn't see that it was all that important, and b) didn't see that he was making any headway with hilzoy.

Clearly it is important, to some, and I find myself re-interested. Not that me being interested should be...um, interesting.

Nora said: "The topic of the blog sprang from an article written by a woman who considers females less--not as smart, not as capable. It's demeaning. In the body of the essay rebutting it, Hilzoy does exactly the same thing to an entire genre of fiction, to the people who write it, read it, edit and publish it. Porn. Not real books. Less than 'real' novels."

Yep, that's it in a nutshell.

Allen said (summarizing): "Women are dumb. Why don't they just accept it and be happy?"

Hilzoy said (summarizing): "Hey, I object! Not all women are dumb. Just the ones who have anything to do with romance novels. But I like books that are actual books, not beaches, cats or sunsets."

I stand awed by such powers of elucidation. Perhaps we could get a follow-up explanation wherein we learn that books contain words.

Well, given that this thread is being invaded by the romance readers and writers whom Gary predicted, I'm glad some of us are managing to interest you!

Your update is just as insulting and inaccurate. The "if it's good it can't be genre" canard has been used for years to put down writers, and it's still prime balls. What's next: "happy endings are unrealistic"? Because that's just as false.

You need to stop being such a nose-in-the-air elitist and realize that you are the one in the wrong here.

"Hilzoy said (summarizing): "Hey, I object! Not all women are dumb. Just the ones who have anything to do with romance novels. But I like books that are actual books, not beaches, cats or sunsets."

I stand awed by such powers of elucidation. Perhaps we could get a follow-up explanation wherein we learn that books contain words."

I did not say that. I didn't say anything about what I, personally, like, since I thought it was beside the point. I didn't say anything about dumb, for the perfectly good reason that I don't think that either genre romance novels or people who read them are dumb. I very much regret the way I expressed my basic point, but I think that this particular interpretation of what I said says a lot more about the author's assumptions than about what I actually said.

I also never said "if it's good, it can't be genre." 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.

Also, welcome to the romance writers. I know some of you and very much enjoy your work, whatever other impression I might have managed to give.

Well, thank you for letting us climb all over your blog.
It's probably obvious that, when it comes to the whole romance/porn thing, I'm more in tune with Gary's comments than yours, but I loved your blog post in general.
And this whole discussion is fascinating.

But, Hilzoy, you said that romance novels are not novels and specifically not novels because they have constraints and the constraints you cite aren't supported by examples, particularly when you are talking about genre wide constraints.

And you make specific exception to other genre fiction such as SFF although you admit to not being well read in the SFF genre. I guess I would ask how well read you are in the romance genre.

And in defending your claim that romances are "not books" you stated "A sunset is not a book. My cats are not books. I am not a book. Whoopee."

A sunset, cat, or a person not being a book, as I am sure a student of philosophy would know, is a non sequitur. It's a logical fallacy which fails on its face because by saying that romance does not equal "book", but cats aren't books and cats are good therefore I don't believe romances are bad has absolutely no connection. It's the height of ridiculousness.

Not in so many words, but you sure did imply it with your "genre romance" comment.

I still don't see why you went so far out of your way to insult an entire literary genre you apparently know very little about, especially considering the genre's irrelevancy to your actual argument.

Talk about digression from the topic.

Can we just move on and agree romance, SF, and Tom Clancy novels are to literature as McDonalds is to fine dining?

First off, there seems to be some confusion here between catagory and non-catagory romance. Category romance, typically published by Harlequin, has several distinct lines with specific requirements; non-categories are much looser. Both are types of novels. Both require characters, plots, conflicts, observations, etc...

Secondly, there seems to be some confusion between pictures and novels. A Hustler centerfold is a picture. A bodice ripper cover is a picture. The relationship between a centerfold picture and a three hundred pages of character and plot building is just as tenuous as the comparison between the cover (designed by an art department who often hasn't read the book) and the novel it covers.

Hilzoy seems to be making the mistake of saying, "This is what I read romance novels for, so this is what they are for." But surely, even if she is reading only to turn her mind off/receive titilation, she can acknowledge that genre romance is processed differently than pictures (or Sudoku). Sunsets are not novels, and they aren't processed as such. Novels should be processed as novels, no matter the genre.

Fanny Hill, which has been brought up in this thread, is most definately a pornographic novel (stroke book, left handed novel, insert your favorite euphimism here). It can be read for the "good bits" only. But it's also a book that I had to read for two of my Lit courses in college, in the same syllubi as Milton and Richardson and Defoe and Laclos and Goethe (but not Austen). The fact that it is a novel means it can be read for how it portrays the society it writes about, hidden themes between the sexual acts, etc... You get out of reading what you put in, just like anything else. As for reading genre differently than non-genre, this seems like a weird blanket to lay down. The words on the page should convey what the novel is attempting to achieve, regardless of label, and they're what need to be grappled with. Non-genre is just a label, like romance. Austen and Joyce are both marketed as literature, but you can't read them the same way, as they are accomplishing very different things.

The really puzzling thing for me here is Hilzoy's use of the word "book" rather than "novel." Book is a physical descriptor--pages between covers. Like a coffee table book, or non-fiction, or a book of verse. None of these should be compared to War & Peace, but they are certainly books.

The constraints you cited re Romance novels, as an example of why you don't consider them real books, works of imagination, are not accurate.

Every genre has basic reader expectations. In Romance those are: A central love story, emotional commitment, sexual tension, conflict, a happy or uplifting ending. That's it. On that framework anything can be added--any element from any other area of fiction, any imagined storyline, character type, conflict--internal, external or both, any setting, and time period.

Every genre would have a form of reader expectations--it's why readers choose the read within that genre.

Do you consider all genre fiction less than 'straight' fiction due to the reader expectations which help define the particular genre, and therefore assess all genre fiction differently? Would all genre fiction be considered not real books?

If not, and it's only Romance, why is that?

they [authors of romance] are defining pornography as 'dirty'

Nora specifically said "I've got no problem with porn. I have a problem having my 'not real books' equated with it."

Authors of romance novels tend to reject labels such as "porn" or "bodice ripper" because those terms don't accurately describe what they're writing.

Someone was defining porn as 'stuff men use to get off', which is a bit of a rejection.

It was Hilzoy who said that "romance novels [...] are [...] the female equivalent of porn," which might be taken to imply that women don't use porn. However, as Imogen said, "Women use porn. Men use porn. And for the same reasons."

I also don't want to sound pedantic, but my point about bringing up Lady Chatterley was that it was felt to be pornography and the publishers, Penguin, were tried for obscenity in 1960.

Yes, and there's no denying that some people found Lawrence's work obscene, just as there's no denying that some people find (some) romances sexually arousing. But Lawrence and his publishers rejected the term "obscene" just as modern romance authors would reject the term "porn" because those words are not accurate descriptions of the works in question.

Can we just move on and agree romance, SF, and Tom Clancy novels are to literature as McDonalds is to fine dining?

Well, no, Mis En Place, I don't agree to your comparison. Within romance genre there are fast food joints and fine dining. There is the amuse buche and the gustatory feast. But the entire genre is not cheap, bad for you, and might kill you in the end if you partake too much of it.

FWIW, this, as a result of this and this.

I swear I never heard of the site, or anyone connected to it, until I got an e-mail out of the blue this morning.

But it's utterly unsurprising.

And, whoops, I am also unsurprised to see we have new visitors (welcome! feel free to come back and chat in other threads!), and more thoughts on this thread.

I'll skip commenting on most, but: "Can we just move on and agree romance, SF, and Tom Clancy novels are to literature as McDonalds is to fine dining?"

Setting aside discussion of Clancy as an individual author, but as to the genres: no. Absolutely not. I'll leave further specific discussion of romances to those more knowledgeable than I, but I see no reason to assume that, and I will absolutely defend hundreds of specific sf books as "fine dining," and dozens of sf/fantasy writers as gourmet chefs of the highest quality.

"...Can we just move on and agree romance, SF, and Tom Clancy novels are to literature as McDonalds is to fine dining?..."

Well, no! Because clearly the romance readers and writers here, plus various other commenters, *don't* agree.

You're more than welcome to compare an author, or a book, to McDonalds if you think that's a valid comparison. But to do it with two whole genres just makes it sound as if you've never read any book in those genres.

Mis En Place: I don't know whether or not we will move on -- that has more to do with where commenters want to go -- 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.

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.

That said, here's what happened: I read the stupid Outlook piece that prompted the original post. 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. (I mean no aspersion on daydreaming here: I do mean that it has something to do with wish fulfillment, but I do not mean something like: imagining a whole world in which your romantic wishes are fulfilled cannot be a very serious imaginative enterprise that gives rise to some very good writing.)

The point was not to say: romance novels are not good, or anything. -- I'm trying to think of an analogy here. One, of course, would be to imagine that Charlotte Allen had dissed men on the grounds that many men's taste in photography runs to porn, whereas women allegedly prefer, oh, Ansel Adams. That would precisely get across what made me think: wrong comparison! whatever the right comparison is, and whatever it reveals, this is not it! -- but it retains the loaded associations of porn that are what I most regret about the way I originally wrote this.

What's hard about finding the right comparison is that I need not just some set of purposes that different groups of people tend to meet differently, but also that their different ways of meeting it should involve different media; and in which that fact affects what products (or whatever) in certain media they enjoy. Then I could say: comparing group A's use of this medium to everyone else's, and then using what group A tends to do for a given set of purposes to what everyone else does for other reasons entirely, is the wrong way to look at it. You should compare what members of group A does for these purposes to what other people do for analogous purposes.

One possible analogy, though this doesn't entirely get around the apparent aspersions on quality, would be: comparing the public performances attended by mid-level managers to those attended by the public as a whole, and concluding that they had some odd preference for PowerPoint presentations that wasn't shared by, say, auto mechanics, who (let's suppose) prefer things like sermons or public lectures. If someone tried to use that comparison to say that auto mechanics are, I don't know, more spiritual than mid-level managers, I'd want to say: no, you have to sort out things people go to for the sake of professional advancement, or because they are meetings you have to go to for your job, from the rest.

I don't know if that's any better -- I suspect it just makes things worse -- but it was the sort of thing I thought when I read what Allen said.

I completely admit to not knowing nearly enough about romance novels, though not to either looking down on people who read them or not knowing anything about them. My knowledge is that of a casual consumer. It is almost certainly out of date, since I haven't read much romance for a couple of years. (I blame blogging, which has made me a lot more likely to think of reading nonfiction when I want to procrastinate.)

This discussion seems to lose sight of the fact that hilzoy is responding to the claims made by Charlotte Allen:

What is it about us women? Why do we always fall for the hysterical, the superficial and the gooily sentimental? Take a look at the New York Times bestseller list. At the top of the paperback nonfiction chart and pitched to an exclusively female readership is Elizabeth Gilbert's "Eat, Pray, Love." Here's the book's autobiographical plot: Gilbert gets bored with her perfectly okay husband, so she has an affair behind his back. Then, when that doesn't pan out, she goes to Italy and gains 23 pounds forking pasta so she has to buy a whole new wardrobe, goes to India to meditate (that's the snooze part), and finally, at an Indonesian beach, finds fulfillment by – get this – picking up a Latin lover!

This is the kind of literature that countless women soak up like biscotti in a latte cup: food, clothes, sex, "relationships" and gummy, feel-good "spirituality." This female taste for first-person romantic nuttiness, spiced with a soupçon of soft-core porn, has made for centuries of bestsellers – including Samuel Richardson's 1740 novel "Pamela," in which a handsome young lord tries to seduce a virtuous serving maid for hundreds of pages and then proposes, as well as Erica Jong's 1973 "Fear of Flying."

The assumption that this kind of literature (however you want to label it) is inferior to the literature favoured by men is Charlotte Allen’s assumption, not hilzoy’s. hilzoy’s point, if I understand her correctly, is that even if we grant Allen’s contention that “first-person romantic nuttiness, spiced with a soupçon of soft-core porn” is not particularly worthwhile, that still doesn’t establish what Allen is seeking to establish: female inferiority to males. To establish that you would presumably have to argue that male taste is somehow better. Allen fails to make that case.

Kevin: I actually didn't mean to grant that assumption, just to say: compare it to the right things. Though, just to say it again: I completely understand how it came off that way, and regret the way I wrote it.

Had I wanted to go on with the comparison, I would have said: to judge by what I know of patterns of consumption, more women than men seem to prefer media that involve things like plot, character, dramatic tension, and the like, over things like centerfolds, that do not. Personally, I'm not particularly into judging people on the basis of what they require for romantic/erotic fantasy, but if I were forced at gunpoint to make such a judgment, I'd say: sheesh, one reason I'm not into these judgments is that I tend to think that what does this particular thing for us is not wholly up to us, but surely genre romance involves a lot more complexity, and lends itself more to real quality, than the relevant genre of pictures does.

Not that a genre's "lending itself" to quality means that things in it will achieve that quality, or that things in genres that don't cannot achieve it. Genre is not destiny. Some are just more promising than others.

~The point was not to say: romance novels are not good, or anything.~

I guess if that wasn't the point, I wish you hadn't said they weren't real books, and better compared to porn. It's hard to get by that to whatever point you were making.

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

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