About that Time Magazine Article –

Romance Readers Respond

April 2000

Well, well, well…

I’m quoting from the TIME article:


]]> Support our sponsors “The spirited heroine must bring the male of her choice to heel–‘civilize’ or ‘tame’ him…”

Could this be the heart of the matter? God forbid, we women should “civilize” men. This might bother some insecure men, but thank goodness most men are secure in their masculinity. Right?

When referring to a quote by Penelope Williamson, the article mentions “sour grapes”. Again, I think this is very telling, but not the way the author intended. We women sure have a lot of nerve controlling so much of the writing, reading and sale of books, don’t we? Shame on us. Sour grapes indeed.

As far as the statement “Even dedicated fans report feeling embarrassed buying them (romance novels)” goes, all I can say is, “So what?” If some are embarrassed, there are many more of us who aren’t. On the (rare, I’m proud to say) occasion when a man smirks when he sees my book in the checkout line, I don’t worry about it–I just assume he’s the one who’s been leaving behind the Penthouse magazines hidden between the covers of “Gourmet” magazine.

Thank you for responding so quickly to the Time Magazine article. I personally feel that everyone who posts at your boards and are avid readers of romance should also take the time to respond.

Unfortunately, it seems to me, in the last decade that women have lost their eagerness to defend the rights those before us have fought so hard to gain. Yes, we DO need to repond to Phil Gray because when articles like this go unchallenged, then our male dominated society remains firmly in control. Let me explain why I feel this way.

Most men embrace the physical challenges seen in sports, and find themselves drawn to local sporting events and sports telecasts seen on TV in our living rooms 365 days a year. And I don’t feel there is anything wrong with that. It’s called entertainment. They are being entertained by doing something they enjoy, watching or participating in sports.

Most women embrace the emotional aspects of life. Those that have discovered romance novels have found that they can experience a myriad of emotions when reading romance novels. And again, I don’t feel there is anything wrong with that. It’s called entertainment. They are being entertained by doing something they enjoy, such as reading romance novels.

Now I am not attempting to lump all women or men into these categories, but psychological studies show most men are uncomfortable experiencing strong emotions. Whether that be inherant or not is not the issue, but it does explain alot about why men avoid reading books where they would be forced into feeling something, such as those feelings that are bound to surface while reading romance novels. It’s much easier to avoid the uncomfortable, and not be forced to grow.

But what stumps these same men is why romance novels are such a “phenomenon” in the literary world. We (many women) figured out their (the majority of men) love of sports some time ago and many of us have embraced it ourselves. We opened ourselves to experience other aspects of life and are better persons for it.

Isn’t it unfortunate that many men here are missing the point? That there is great enjoyment to be gleaned from reading a novel in which no emotion is left untouched. (I believe Romantic Times Magazine used this in talking about Judith McNaught’s writing) And how unfortunate also that they are missing the chance to enrich their lives also, by attempting to get in touch with their own emotions.

I embrace the female gender for having the guts to experience many different aspects of life in their quest to become all that they can be. But if we allow a male dominated society to make us out to be less viable persons because our interest may vary from theirs than we are simply pandering to their dominance. And I for one won’t have it. Especially by a journalist who apparently isn’t willing to truly research such strong statistics found in literature. And perhaps it scares them just a little that we have such a dominant voice in what is being published. They simply don’t know how to control that, so they attempt to belittle it and in the same breath, belittle the women who enjoy it. And thereby, they have again put us “little ladies” in our place.

I think we have come entirely too far to allow some uninformed journalist to perpetuate such an ancient way of thinking. We all truly need to stand up for what we believe in…the right to express ourselves as individuals in a free society. And yes studies may show we are different in how we “let” ourselves experience the world, but that doesn’t mean we can’t grow and change by challenging ourselves to broaden our life experiences. I think we would all be happier for it.

“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

I found this at Margaret Moore’s website. It quotes Canadian literary lion Robertson Davies, speaking of Harlequin romance novels:

“I repeat that I do not see anything new or anything reprehensible with the taste which leans towards Harlequin books. In an earlier day the story teller, or shanachie, at the fireside satisfied the taste for narrative. In our day, when everybody can read, the Harlequin does the same thing and it is dangerous to condemn stories as junk which satisfy the deep hunger of millions of people. These books are not literary art, but a great deal of what is acclaimed as literary art in our time offers no comfort or fulfillment to anybody.”

I recently found an academic who eloquently defends romances. Dale Spender’s book Mothers of the Novel was published in 1984, but she is very assertive in her defense of women’s literature and romances.

Here is how she counters the opinion that romances must be bad because they are mass-produced and about love and relationships:

“The reputation of William Shakespeare has not suffered because he had mass appeal. (…) And the male novelists have not been outlawed because of their mass appeal, or on the grounds that because they were popular, they wrote romance”.
Male writers supposedly write about the human predicament, while women are accused of producing only romantic fiction. But women are also part of the human race, so writing about love and relationships is also part of human concerns!

Men seem to think they have a monopoly on human experience. However, like in the newspaper article, the disparagement of romances is not based on a detailed study:

“The deprecation of women’s writing is not based on a close study of the writing; rather the term romance is used to indicate that such writing does not warrant close study. Once classified as romance, women’s writing can be disqualified from analysis. Which put very simply means that you do not have to read them to know they are awful.
You just call them romance and then all persons of proper taste and judgement will know such novels are not worth bothering about”. . .

“The issue must be that this is nothing other than name calling. That the literary establishment has outlawed women writers by giving them and their writing a bad name and by establishing the reality that there is no need to read women’s writing, for it can be taken for granted that it is no good.”

One can assume that because romances are written for women and by women, their depreciation is not based on quality, but on sex.

I copied this Time article at the library to read before this thread was even put up.

Actually, the thing seems to be nothing more than a filler for the magazine. I couldn’t quite figure out WHY it was written in the first place, there are no great revelations there, and despite the focus on Nora Roberts, the plagarism thing with Janet Dailey wasn’t brought up. (I don’t think). Anyway, besides being a knock job on Nora it doesn’t mean a darned thing. Speaking of male points of view, I don’t remember any articles that waxed poetic about Tom Clancy’s dream fulfillment when Clancy ditched his wife of 30+ years for a trophy wife. Why didn’t they have some smarmy article about how Clancy finally achieved that long-sought goal of masculinity—a billion bucks in the bank and a new young wife? I used to be a sometime reader of Time, but have totally quit in the past few years because the articles in them seem to be written by 20-somethings with an ironic attitude, something I am not looking for when I want to find out the news……what a waste, it used to be a good dependable newsmag, now its little better than People because of the editorial/personal opinions scattered through all the articles.

I just read the magazine article and your response. While, frankly, I have read worse, I sure have to agree with you that it seems as if this fellow has done very little background reading before writing the article (I think if he had simply read The Outsider and The Passions of Emma by Penelope Williamson, a writer he sourced, he might have had a different opinion of romances.) But the remark that actually annoyed me most in the article was:

“Free of moral ambiguity? So much, then, for Homer, Shakespeare and Austen.”
As something of a scholar of literature in my misspent past, I firmly believe that the moral ambiguity in these writers has been HIGHLY exaggerated by 20th-century readers and critics.

Katie (KTD777613@aol.com):
I loved your article; a friend of mine on a Nora Roberts message board posted the link to it…this is what i wrote to them because i just could not keep my mouth shut on the subject…

“To the editor of Paul Gray’s article titled “Passion on the Pages” in the March 20, 2000 print edition-

Let me start by saying that I am a young, professional woman with a four-year college degree. I lead a full and fulfilling life, which includes romance novels and the friends I’ve made through our common love of the genre. A friend of mine warned me to read the above titled article before I considered buying the magazine. After following her advice, I chose not to buy the magazine. I have to commend the author on his ability to craft an article that, on the surface, is seemingly a paean to the romance industry, when it is in fact, a slam against the industry and a particular author, Nora Roberts, along with her fans. I wonder if Mr. Gray intended to grossly offend myself and a group of friends when he wrote “…

[Turn the Page bookstore] has become a mecca to her fans, some of whom call themselves, (uh-oh) Noraholics.” I proudly call myself a Noraholic and romance reader. I try, in fact, to get others to read romance novels. To my knowledge, the romance genre is the only one to incorporate elements of all popular fiction sub-categories into its stories.

Another statement of Mr. Gray’s that I found offensive was concerning Ms. Roberts’ new book, Carolina Moon: “This novel is a romance tooled to attract readers of popular fiction who may not think, or know, that they like romances.” First off, as a person who likes to write, no book is written to pander to possible, or even current, readers. A novel is written because an author has a story to tell. As to Mr. Gray’s pervasive use of the word formula in connection with romance novel structure, doesn’t any author have to use a prescribed “formula” of a prescribed word-length, topic, and outline of ideas, ie. introduction, body of facts or story, and satisfactory (to the editor) conclusion of that work, in order to be published in the medium he or she chooses to submit to? One element of Mr. Gray’s idea of the romance novel “formula” is “…the spirited heroine must bring the male of her choice to heel” by the end of the book. By his beating of a dead horse in the entire article, Mr. Gray has proven that he buys into the preconceptions and prejudices to the romance industry.

Mr. Gray states that “It is impossible for contemporary romance writers to subvert or extend their genre.” I do not, in any way, find this to be the case. I am continually finding new authors who, even five years ago, would not have been considered publishable as romance novels. Mr. Gray suggests that “In fact reading fact is the best way to get past such locutions as ‘Her breath came in pants’…”. I’m sorry, but I’m not living next to Ozzie and Harriet, and I do not appreciate Mr. Gray suggesting that I should read my chosen reading entertainment as if I was. Especially when many mystery and espionage novels are consistently more graphic.

Finally, if Mr. Gray receives a copy of this, and I hope he does, and feels that I am unjustly criticizing his work, he should have considered that before he implied in his last paragraph that Ms. Roberts takes no pride in her work and is not human because she does not feel the slings and arrows of those who criticize and demean her work, her lifestyle which is a reward of her hard work, and by way of that herself.”

Jo-Ann (joann@adelphia.com):
Wouldn’t it be interesting to have Paul Gray or any journalist who has written derogatorily about romance novels in the past accept a challenge to read, say, three books of a romance reader’s expert choosing and then have him write a follow-up article?

Or better yet, challenge some journalist who hasn’t yet written on the subject to read those books and then write an article.

While Carolina Moon may be a good book (I haven’t read it yet), it may not be indicative of the best or most unique of what romance has to offer. Let’s face it, while there are many, many good books out there, not every one is “special”.

Hmmm, which three books???

LLB: I actually did that about 2 1/2 years ago when Celia Rivensbark did what I actually thought was a fairly clever story for her southern paper. When I wrote to her in an equally tongue-in-cheek fashion as opposed to railing at her, which I would have done a couple of years earlier, she was quite gracious. I did tell her of some romances I thought she’d enjoy and she promised to read them. Unfortunately, she started an indeterminate leave-of-absence after that to have a baby and I lost touch.

BTW, it was based on my discussions w/Celia that I came up with the Conversion Kit idea that we’ve done so successfully at the site.

Which three books???

Pretty much anything by Ivory, Putney, Gaffney or Kinsale (the Mount Rushmore of romance, IMHO)would qualify.

How about Beast. Silk and Shadows, To Love and To Cherish and The Shadow and the Star? Oops, that’s four.

I’m a newbie reader (about 10 months) so I’m sure there are many books I’m missing….

Anyway, I think the idea is a good one. Let the critics read ’em before they start denigrating ’em!

Has anyone EVER asked these people WHAT, if anything, they read?

I asked my family doctor that one day when he was twitting me about my medieval romance. (not for the 1st time either). He sheepishly admited he reads adventure books, mountain men in particular. Now, I ask you, is that not fiction, often romantasized to the point of being unrecognizable? Pure fantasy, in other words. I know because I have read some of them too. Some good, some not so good but all fantasy. All fiction.

As it happens the book I was reading that day was less of a romance than most I read. In fact, it had a lot of battle lore in it that I could have done without. Not blood & guts so much as battle field detail.

Susan M.:
Over the years I have come to the conclusion that many journalists make little or no effort to research a subject. Controversy not accuracy sells papers and magazines. Anyone that really wants to understand an issue needs to research for themselves using various sources. This way they can draw their own conclusions. I’ve found rebuttal to be a fruitless endeavour. You can’t change someone’s viewpoint when their mind is firmly closed.

I read romance because I enjoy it and I don’t feel the need to justify myself to anyone.

Yes, Susan, this is precisely my point, you just said it so much better. : ) To continually try to educate journalists who sporadically share their dark, cynical opinions about the Romance genre is noble, yet why bother? He believes what he wants to believe, but is he important? Are readers of Time important in this context? No, it’s not a writer’s publication. Nora Roberts doesn’t need to pander to the Paul Grays of the world, so why should I? What’s more, Gray missed the fact that CAROLINA MOON received a STARRED REVIEW from Publisher’s Weekly. In the business of publishing that is still the most important review an author can receive. It earns the most respect, unfortunately. So how could he miss that? I can hear Nora laughing now. If this business was made up of 90 percent men, this thread wouldn’t exist.

Yes, I’m afraid I think he is important–he’s writing for a major American magazine and I think such articles do help form people’s opinions. I haven’t read the article yet (just the comments about it), but it sounds like he’s using what a friend of mine calls the “Girl Cooties” criticism…that is, romance is read by girls and has all that awful emotion in it, so it couldn’t possibly be good, could it? When a journalist expresses an opinion in a major magazine, he really needs to be slapped down, so that at least people might think about whether his opinion is valid.

And, I must admit, that as a former journalist myself, I hate to see this kind of sloppy reporting, and hate to see him getting away with it. There are journalists who do their job, and produce thoughtful articles..they need to be lauded and the sloppy ones slapped on the wrist. Especially when the sloppy ones write something that seems very close to sexist.

Sarah (sanneh7@hotmail.com):
Great response to the article, LLB! I had a bit of a fast a furious reaction.

One of the things that caught my attention was the tone of incredulity. As if to ask…how or why “these things” (romance novels) could reach such a level of devoted readership and dominance in the market. It’s almost like Mr. Gray implies that we need to apply some scientific (male?) rationality to the current state of affairs and figure this thing out. While Mr. Gray adjusts his belt and gets down to some serious analysis (irrelevant numbers) I have to wonder…

Hasn’t Mr. Gray ever been transported through time by an amazing story? Has he never met people who live and love with passionate abandon? Does he know what it’s like to feel as though the world could end in the time it takes to turn the page? How compelling it is to witness the systematic crumbling of a will of iron…only to see it rebuilt again into something finer? Yes, it’s often a world of extremes. Yes, the emotion drips from the page until you can all but lick it from your fingers and taste the bittersweetness for yourself.

But I say, there’s no great mystery here, Mr. Gray. Nothing to wonder at. The well-written love story has everything the best the written word offers: humor, adventure, pathos, intrigue, and triumph of the human spirit. And sometimes there’s even a level playing field for the sexes…even if the heroine has to bulldoze the field herself to get it.

Our authors write as brilliantly in the genre as any other writes in theirs…perhaps more so because of those pesky conventions you were so keen on highlighting. When I pick up a new romance, that is just what it is…a NEW romance. We are a demanding readership, and our authors know we expect to read a fresh story with original characters facing original conflicts. It takes a great deal of talent to do that repeatedly in any of the subgenres of fiction.

If Mr. Gray doubts that romance novels provoke readers to deep introspection and philosophical debate, I would point to the “ick” discussion regarding Ms. Gaffney’s TH&TH. Escapism, indeed.

One of the many disheartening assumptions of the Time magazine article is that romance readers are different than readers of other genres. To my knowledge, that assumption has never been tested. An acquaintance of mine who writes mysteries told me that the overwhelming majority of mystery readers are women too. Also, to my knowledge, mysteries are filled with romance and romantic pairings, albeit the fact that most do not have happy resolutions in the first book of the series. “Formulas” are in the eye of the beholder, it seems.


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