Can it be that Laurie Hates Books?
Life serves up a series of ironic events, don’t you think? The main topic for discussion in this issue of LN&V was going to be “favorite scenes from favorite books.” While we’ll get to that, we’re going to first have a discussion of what is apparently my new nickname – Laurie Hates Books.
While the whole sordid episode strikes me as something my 7-year-old daughter’s crowd would come up with, I understand that I am now known in parts of the world as Laurie Hates Books (this confirmed for me by a friend in Ohio who heard it from a local UBS owner who isn’t even online). Conjures up /wp-content/uploads/oldsiteimages of a woman having a block party at the center of which is a huge bonfire of burning books, doesn’t it?
Since I started writing online more than three years ago, I have tried to create a back-fence for readers – a place where lovers of romance could get together and share what they loved and didn’t love about the books we are reading. Doing so is a very tricky prospect for a couple of reasons, one of which is that many of those online are not really readers any more – they are hopeful authors. I think that there is a very big difference between a plain reader and someone who aspires to a publishing contract. Then too, readers who meet up with their favorite authors become very protective of them. All of a sudden, instead of watching the Miss American contest in your den with friends and saying who’s pretty and who must have a really good talent because she’s not so pretty, there is an “us versus them” mentality.
All About Romance hasn’t never been “just my site.” Since the beginning, it has been an interactive place. Even when I was writing my column at The Romance Reader, it was interactive. That’s why I’ve always been so surprised to be called a “book-hater,” a “romance hater,” and – gasp – someone who must have been rejected by a publisher. Especially when all I felt I have done is espouse views and allow others to do the same, regardless of whether or not they agreed with me.
I started out reading romance the way many of you did – I picked a book up at a store one day, and fell in love. I started reading romance more and more, then discovered Romantic Times and followed their recommendations (even though I thought it was strange that their lowest rating was “acceptable”) – I bought every book rated 4+. When I realized the 4+ didn’t work for me, I began to read between the lines of their reviews, and to track the ratings they gave books against the grades I was giving the same books. I continued to do that even when I realized I shouldn’t have to read between the lines of a review to get a true assessment of what the reviewer thought.
Which is why I jumped at the chance to be a part of the start of The Romance Reader. Which is why, after I left TRR, I decided my own site would continue the sort of honest, two-way discussion my column was noted for. I knew and know my own opinion is not the gospel, but as long as I back it up with reasonable logic, shouldn’t it be valid? Of course, it should, but wouldn’t it be fun if I allowed others to voice their opinions as well? And, wouldn’t it be fun to take a tongue-in-cheek approach at times, to talk about what can be overdone and overblown in romance by poking a bit of fun at it, and by allowing others to do so as well? So, I did. Apparently, it is this honesty and willingness to allow everyone to express their own views, and to sometimes take romance to task for its excesses, which has caused the most grief for others.
All About Romance has been growing incredibly in recent months. For the month of May, we had more than 33,000 visitors who each accessed, on average, 24 pages at the site. We exist to give lovers of romance novels a place to come together and talk openly about the books they love and hate, without fear of ridicule, name-calling, or persecution, either by those who don’t appreciate romance, or by those who disagree about a certain book or author. Nothing more, nothing less, just an open forum for the exchange of ideas. Unfortunately, this is considered suspect in certain circles by those who try to read between lines that aren’t there. What you see is what you get with me, and with AAR.
I spend between four and twelve hours a day on AAR on such things as writing, editing, posting, contacting readers and authors, and doing administrative work for the site. I also spend much of my other time fretting, obsessing, and planning. Are we doing what we set out to do? Are our reviews good? Is my column still valid? What other features would be of interest? How can people who don’t know me consider me the Antichrist of romance novels? Why is it that people say they want honest and entertaining reviews and then pick us apart when that’s what we give them? Why do people call me Laurie Hates Books when 49% of the books we’ve reviewed for the AAR Reviews have been graded A or B? How can it be said that I am out to destroy romance novels when only 21% of the books we reviewed for the AAR Reviews received grades of D or F? If I truly hated romance novels, why would I spend so much time on this stuff, why would we present Desert Isle Keeper Reviews of truly wonderful romances, why would I set up pages for Buried Treasures and give authors a place to talk directly to readers about various topics? And, why would I set up and administer a listserv of nearly 500 readers and authors if I hated the genre?
Back in September of 1996, I wrote, (in Issue #12) that when Romantic Times was begun, “the genre needed a cheerleader. The question is, do we still need a cheerleader? Could cheerleading now be a detriment?” Could our “circle the wagons” mentality be a bad thing at this point? Could the reviews that traditional romance publications have written in the past (and continue to write today) insulate readers and authors so that we don’t realize they are not written like mainstream reviews but are more like blurbables? Reviews are only worthwhile if they are honest; can every book truly be “acceptable?” Possibly to someone, but a review is not a group venture – it is one person’s opinion, and for each person, some books will work while others will not.
Let’s go over some of what we’ve discussed in the pass, to re-cap the issue. Some believe that any book good enough to be published has something good in it. Others say that until romance is not judged harshly by the outside, those who criticize it “from the inside” are traitors and must be out to destroy it. Some mention that a reviewer who does not like a book should pass that book along to another reviewer. And others state that if you present a negative review of a book, you should also present a positive review in order to “be fair.” One very successful author, who has only gotten positive reviews from us, told me that only positive reviews should be published – if we don’t like a book, we shouldn’t post a review about it.
What I say – what I’ve always said – is that the mainstream world is a different one than the romance world. The mainstream world presents the negative in a much harsher light than the romance world does. To those who say any book published must be good, I answer, “Remember Ishtar? What about Howard the Duck?”
I’ve mentioned before that the genre is good enough as it is to be accepted by the mainstream, and that I care little at this point about proving its respectability. Romance novels should be accepted and respected for what they are – wonderful entertainment with the power to engage our imaginations. However, there are things we must do, not to prove ourselves, but to position ourselves, with the mainstream. Separate but equal has been shown to not be a good thing, and not to be true, for that matter. The first thing we must do is accept that not every romance novel written and published is good. In fact, some are quite bad.
Beyond this blanket statement, we must actually begin to publicly talk about which of these novels we find bad. Others may disagree, and that is not only all right – it is encouraged – but the discussion should not automatically focus on finding fault with the conduit or the messenger.
I read reviews in other publications religiously, and so do those who contribute to AAR. Here are some excerpts of books and movies other publications (both in print and online) considered fairly awful:
About Blood Guts Bullets & Octane: “(it) may just be the worst movie ever made about cool-jerk white guys who stand around offices and bars spitting out firepower and attitude in toxic doses. In this case, the annoying coolios are a couple of lemon-lot used-car salesmen who jabber on like human ticker-tape machines, lacerating each other, and the audience, with a spew of sub-Mamet/sub-Tarantino/sub-Andrew Dice Clay gibberish that is eyelid-dropping in its monotony. . . The movie is a double-barreled disaster.” — Entertainment Weekly
About Wing Commander (review entitled Star Bores, with headline caption “Space never seemed as empty as it does in Wing Commander“): “. . . the production design has all the future-shock splendor of a 26th-century airplane hangar, and the dialogue numbs your ear with techno-twaddle and astonishingly lame ‘daredevil’ sex/flight puns. . . the two stars are encouraged to act like the last two college dorks in America (How aimless does Lillard look? He’s upstaged by his hair.). . . Wing Commander is a preposterously dull and labored hack job. It’s enough to make you wonder if the geniuses at Fox deliberately decided to release a movie this lifeless.” — Entertainment Weekly
About Madhouse: “As a married couple besieged by nutty houseguests, John Laroquette and Kirstie “Beautiful When She’s Angry” Alley make an unusually likable and relaxed pair of cartoon yuppies. Still, Madhouse is so aggressively dim-witted it’s close to unwatchable.” — Entertainment Weekly
About Lost & Found (review entitled Bow Wow Woe, with headline caption “David Spade doggedly pursues beautiful Sophie Marceau in the romantic comedy Lost & Found – and it isn’t the leash bit amusing.” “To say that Spade doesn’t have soul is an understatement. I mean, really – the man barely has cheeks. Did God make him that thin, or did he undergo some bizarre liposuction procedure that siphoned away most of his flesh, along with any last vestiges of human feeling? David Spade is the Cheshire Cat of sarcastic nonchalance: All there is to him is grin and attitude. Ballsy and persnickety at the same time, he’s a true original – the first frat-boy bitch – and when he’s working with the right material, he can be hilarious in his singsong misanthropic glee. Offhand, it would be difficult to imagine material more wrong for him than Lost & Found (even though he cowrote it himself).” — Entertainment Weekly
About Border Music by Robert James Waller: “Robert James Waller has. . . come up with his worst book yet, a truly atrocious ballad about a part-time cowboy and a onetime topless dancer that gives new meaning to the words sappy, sexist, mannered and cliched. . . The most old-fashioned, hard-core sort of sexism is combined here with the fuzziest, most up-to-date talk of self-esteem, while completely banal sentiments are continually recycled in self-consciously saccharine language.” Later, the writing is called “spectacularly awful” and “offensive,” and the book is summed up as “one of the most dreadful novels to come along in a long time.” — The New York Times
About Glamorama by Bret Easton Ellis (review entitled Lesser than Zero): “It’s a mystery to me why some people are complaining that Bret Easton Ellis’s latest novel is nothing more than a recycling of his controversially graphic American Psycho (1991). American Psycho, after all, was a bloated, stultifyingly repetitive, overhyped novel about a fabulously good-looking and expensively dressed Wall Street sociopath who tortures and dismembers beautiful young women, whereas Glamorama, as anyone can see, is a bloated, stultifyingly repetitive, overhyped book about an entire gang of fabulously good-looking and expensively dressed sociopaths who torture and dismember both women and men – and lots of them. Clearly, Ellis’s authorial vision has grown broader and more inclusive over the past decade.” — The New York Times
About Anastasia: “Hardly a moment passes in Anastasia, 20th Century Fox’s splashy foray into the Disney-ruled sweepstakes of the animated musical, when you don’t have the queasy feeling that a nervous corporate committee was breathing down the neck of this unfortunate movie, forcing it to be all things to all people no matter what had to be sacrificed in elementary common sense.” — The New York Times
About Vittorio the Vampire by Anne Rice: “In her newest vampire novel, Anne Rice reminds us, ad nauseam, that teenagers – even 500-year-old ones – are often melodramatic and long-winded. . . Alas, his story reads too much like a dime-store bodice-ripper crossed with a low-budget horror flick. . . Though we are well-bathed in period atmosphere and devilish details, neither frills nor tricks can rescue this tedious tale. Bottom Line: Horror show” — People Magazine
About The Treasure by Suzanne Robinson: “This story is based on a really ridiculous premise with huge gaps in logic, is populated with some of the most absurd characters, features a really distasteful scene in the middle, and lurches to an improbable conclusion. . . Even Ms. Robinson’s most devoted fans should think twice at a minimum before buying this unpleasant book. . . The Treasure is dross, not gold.” — The Romance Reader, which, btw, gave this book a one-heart rating; we gave it an F.
About Innocent by Bertrice Small: “I really tried to approach Small’s new book afresh, and give it a fair and just read. Well, I didn’t get very far before I was gritting my teeth and tears of boredom and aggravation were rolling down my cheeks. . . she doesn’t really write romance, she writes erotica. And not very good erotica, in my humble opinion. If you took the soft-porn out of her books, what would be left to get excited about? Her stories merely exist to connect graphic sex scenes. And those sex scenes just aren’t romantic unless, of course, you find rape, voyeurism, and sado-masochism romantic. If that is your cup of tea, you will love The Innocent. Drink up!. . . Aside from a contrived plot, the The Innocent’s biggest problem is that Small’s writing style is heavy, leaden, bombastic, lumbering along like an obese elephant. . . Also, Small’s characters are amongst the most lifeless beings ever to appear in fiction, and could be constructed of papier-mâché for all the personality they exude.” — The Romance Reader
These reviews, with the exception of the last two, are reviews from the mainstream world. We seem downright genteel in comparison. So, what’s with all the name-calling? Well, you say, you don’t like those reviews either. Well then, I say, don’t read them – but know that they are standard reviews of books and movies, written both to inform and to entertain. If our D and F reviews bother you, you probably shouldn’t read them either.
There are several reasons why people read reviews. Some people read reviews of books they are considering buying. Some people read reviews after they read the books to see if they agree with the reviewer. Some people read the reviews of certain critics because they have similar tastes. Some people read the reviews of certain critics because they entertain them. Some people, apparently, don’t know when to stop. They read negative reviews even if they don’t approve or like this type of review. Why? No doubt part of this is that we are rubberneckers; we look at car crashes on the side of the road in much the same manner as we read negative reviews. And some simply read everything posted as a matter of course – they like the site and want to take it all in. But others, no doubt, read them to feel anger, which I think is a shame and a waste of time.
No one who reviews a book, movie, or TV show wants to dislike it. That would be a shame and a waste of time. I would much prefer to spend three or four hours reading a book and enjoying myself than slogging through a book that either bores me or makes me want to throw it against the wall. When it comes to writing a review of that boring or wall-banging books, I have the same requirement to fulfill – to present a brief synopsis of the book and provide my thoughts and feelings on reading it. Did I enjoy it or not? What did I like and what didn’t I like?
If a review were written by an automated system, one could simply plug in ratings points for plot, characterization, setting, and the like, and that would be it. Would I want to read a review that read like it was written by an automated system? No – not any more than I would want to read a book that read like it was written by an automated system. Like anything else worth reading, a good review should have some personality.
Many times a reader will write in and say we were too harsh in a review, that we crossed over a line in attacking the author. But these readers won’t give details, and, most of the time, hadn’t even read the book in question. If we posted a review that said, “Author X clearly doesn’t know how to write a book; anyone who likes this one is obviously as stupid as she is,” we would have crossed the line. That would be name-calling, and would not be professional.
One of the reasons we post the grade on our index page is to let the reader know up front the gist of the review. But what seems silly to me is this name-calling. We don’t say, “This book is so bad that if you like it you must be a moron.” So, please, don’t say I hate books – I love them. I only wish there were more good ones.
We hope you will hop on over to the Polling Page after you are finished reading the column and will submit your votes. I’m going to make mine public here to start things off, and I have more than ten titles:
More on Favorite Funnies:
Since we’re focusing on Favorite Funnies, let’s take things a step further, and talk about the funniest scene you’ve ever read in a romance. For me, it boils down to the “peed in my pants” factor. The dinner party scene in Julia Quinn’s Splendid was the one and only scene ever to make me incontinent. While I could regale you with more of my favorite funny scenes, I’m much more interested in sharing what others found hilarious, and in asking: What scenes in which romances caused you to grab the Depends?
Angela says that the funniest scene she’s ever read can be found in Jayne Ann Krentz’s Perfect Partners “when Letty is on her knees in a rather delicate position with Joel in his office and her former fiancée (who was caught by her in a similar position with one of his students, thereby ending their engagement) walks in. Joel looks up and says, ‘Good news. She doesn’t need therapy.’ What makes this scene so funny is the prelude to it – her finding her fiancée with his student, and her telling Joel that the worst part of finding her fiancée with his ‘male member between her scarlet-tinged lips’ was that she could not imagine doing that with him herself. Add to that the fiancee’s stubborn belief that Letty was lying about having a new lover to cover up her ‘sexual inadequacies,” along with his insistence that therapy might up, make this scene a killer.”
The outhouse scene in Deb Stover’s Shades of Rose is Dale’s favorite funny scene. She read the book long ago, but this hilarious scene has stayed with her ever since.
For Gloxie and Beth, a scene involving an eel skin in Sandra Hill’s The Bewitched Viking made them laugh out loud. Beth found the imagery so strong “a very clear picture of the scene” in her head while Gloxie could not stop laughing when she read it.
Jere writes that Love at First Sight by Sandra Lee has a scene when the hero first meets the heroine and “he is pulling her hair and she is pulling things much dearer to him. . . it is hilarious, and if we’re judging by peeing pants, it was a close call.”
Mary Lynne, who wrote about bonding in an earlier column, says the dinner scene in Jennifer Crusie’s Strange Bedpersons is hilarious. She can’t seem to limit herself to just one, however, adding that “the scene in Garwood’s The Prize where Nicolaa realizes that Royce likes to lecture her, so she sits back and daydreams away while Royce thinks she’s absorbing his every word is priceless. And the final part of Julia Quinn’s latest, How to Marry a Marquis, plays like a grand farce. It’s done, wonderfully, almost entirely through dialogue, and I just could not stop laughing after a while.”
For Beverly Medos (who wrote Beverly’s Book Basket for AAR from of mid-1998 through late 1999), nothing is ever brief nor easy. Two books, however, had her laughing so hard she had to hold a pillow over her mouth to keep from waking her husband. She says she’s learned to read these authors’ books during the day or when she’s alone. The books? The Best Laid Schemes by Emma Jensen (which tied as Favorite Regency Romance in our 1999 AAR Reader Awards) and Fairy Tale by Jillian Hunter.
Here’s how Beverly describes the funniest scene from the Jensen book:
“I chuckle every single time I think of the one where Tarquin, the extremely prim and proper, stuffed shirt hero, ‘hallucinates’ the monkey riding the beagle up the stairs. What you have to understand is that this happens right after Tarquin takes a long, long fortifying and thoroughly enjoyable drink of whiskey. Which would be funny enough, true, but the mental image of the monkey and the beagle aren’t even what sent me into spasms of laughter.”The most impressive thing about the entire book was that the funny parts would continually catch me on double-takes. Jensen is that subtle with both the character and physical humor in the book. With that particular scene, I was almost on the next page when the true humor of the situation hit me – Tarquin isn’t drunk by a long shot and knows very well he’s really seeing what he’s seeing . . . he only wishes he wasn’t. The monkey is very real, is a favorite pet of the heroine’s aunt (or godmother?) and it suddenly hits me that this poor man was going to be stuck with seeing and living through stuff like that for the rest of his life. I started roaring with laughter and almost literally sent my poor sound-asleep DH straight up onto the ceiling.”
More Favorites. . . But We’ve Run Out of Room:
As usual, we’ve run out of room! We did manage to talk about favorite funny romances and favorite funny scenes, but I also want to start you thinking about favorite emotional scenes and favorite scenes of any kind from your favorite romances. Some of this can get kind of tricky – for instance, what if your favorite scene isn’t from your favorite romance? My favorite romance is Castles, and while I have a couple of favorite scenes from that book, my all-time favorite scenes are from other books. Oh well, we can use the LN&V Message Board to explore that.
Time to Post to the Message Board:
Laurie Hates Books? Is your image of me one of a woman with an Adolph Hitler moustache presiding gleefully over a bonfire of burning books? If it is, now’s the time to tell me why. If it isn’t, what would you like to say to those who think it is?
Fretting & Obsessing: Do we achieve our goal of providing a “back-fence” atmosphere for lovers of romance novels? Do we get the mix right of what’s good and bad, and provide helpful and entertaining information?
Reviews: My Yearly Rant At least once a year, I talk about reviews in my column. Should romance reviews be written like mainstream reviews or should we be kinder and gentler because we’re women talking about a woman’s genre? Should a review be “simply the facts, ma’am,” or should they also entertain? How do you use our reviews? If you like negative reviews, others, or ours share why. If you like only positive reviews but you read our negative reviews, share why. Finally, have the reviews presented in traditional romance publications “coddled” authors and readers so that we have forgotten what mainstream reviews are like?
Favorite Funnies: Please make sure you go to our Polling Page to vote for your ten favorite funnies, but first, let’s get specific. What is the most hilarious scene you’ve ever read, and what made it so darn funny? Don’t forget to name the book and the author.
Favorite Emotional Scene: Help me get a jump-start on my next column by sharing the most emotional scene you’ve ever read in a romance. I’ll be thinking of mine as well, but I must warn you – I cry at Kodak commercials! Don’t forget to name the book and the author.
Favorite Favorite: What is your favorite scene in a romance? Not to complicate things, but help me decide whether or not you must be talking about a scene from your favorite romance, or whether your favorite scene can be in a romance that is not your all-time favorite. Confused? I am – so help me on this one, please.
Until next time, TTFN, Laurie Likes Books
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