Sometimes life can be terribly ironic. Just as I was arguing on the message boards how much I dislike politics in my books I found myself reading a book that defined exactly why that was. The Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll is the story of TifAni FaNelli, a young woman who has had the same goal from the ages of 14 to 28: To finally get in with the “in crowd”. To that end, TifAni has buffed and polished her body until it is a work of art. She spends a great deal of time sharing with the reader nuggets of wisdom such as just what designers mark you as Nouve Riche and which mark you as chic, which restaurants mark you as “in the know” and which diets show you are committed to your beauty. She tells us how smart she is and how working at a glossy magazine writing sex articles on how to pleasure your boyfriend is just a step she is taking on her way to the New York Times. Included in all this is TiFani’s guide to love. She is “the luckiest girl alive” partly because she is marrying Luke, with the beautiful, WASPy last name of Harrison, who comes from old money and who, by marrying her, will give her that final, societal stamp of approval she has been waiting for far too long.
I didn’t like TifAni. It seemed childish to spend 14 years trying to become popular but even beyond that, TifAni is just mean. She’s judgmental of stay at home moms and extremely critical of the family she is about to marry into, she says nasty horrible, things about any woman carrying an ounce of fat anywhere, and judges every other woman by how “New York” she manages to appear. Here’s a lovely scene where she talks about her fiancés cousin:
Hallsy is only thirty-nine and already her face is pulled tight as a pair of Lululemon yoga pants across a plus-sized girl’s rear. She’s never been married, which she’ll tell you she never wants to be even though she hangs all over every remotely f*ckable guy after a single drink, while they gently untangle her Marshmallow Man arms from around their stiff necks. It’s no wonder the only ring on her finger is the Cartier Trinity, what with the way she’s ruined her face and the fact that she spends more time sunning on the beach than she should running on a treadmill. . . Women like Hallsy are my specialty. You should have seen the expression on her sci-fi looking face the first time I met her, when I had the audacity to say that while not everyone in the room may support Obama’s politics, I think we can all agree he is a supremely intelligent man.
If you can’t tell from that scene, TifAni is a self-described feminist and democrat. She’s also a hypocrite:
Luke and his entire family, his friends, their wives voted for Mitt Romney in 2012. His pro-personhood bullshit could prevent rape and incest victims, women whose lives were in danger, from having an abortion. It could shut down Planned Parenthood.
“How can you vote for someone with a stance like that?”
“Because I don’t care, Ani.” Luke sighed. My silly feminist wrath had been cute once.
She does not break up with Luke, her fiancé, after this scene.
TifAni had me rethinking my vote in the 2012 election. It is deeply disturbing to me to think that I could have anything in common with such a hypocritical, nasty person. From the moment she betrayed her friends for the cool kids in high school till the end of the novel, she was nothing more than a shallow, social climbing little witch. Any changes she made over the course of the 352 pages we spent together were insufficient to erase my extreme dislike. (Not to add that even when she changed she stayed the same in that she hurt several people who had done nothing but be kind to her.)
TifAni is why I don’t like politics in my books. The mouthpieces are often people who don’t live out the so called standards they eschew. For example, a feminist who ridicules single women, mocks women who are overweight and lives off her boyfriend. Oh, and who feels that getting a ring from a man is some sort of status symbol! She judged Mitt Romney but felt comfortable marrying someone who would vote for him because the guy had money. I am not saying we have to marry only those who agree with us politically but TifAni had no courage behind her convictions. It would have been far better to have cut any scenes depicting her political leanings.
I can remember another time that politics dragged me out of my enjoyment of a novel. Lady Liberty by Vicki Hinze was a 2002 release that had a scene which made many deeply uncomfortable. It is the story of Vice President Sybil Stone and Agent Jonathan Westford, who are dealing with a world crisis. The nation believes them missing or dead. In this scene, Sybil talks about her close friend the president.
“I’m concerned about David. He promised to restore integrity to his office and he meant it. Lying to the public about us has got to grate at him.”
“I’m sure it’s had him on his knees in the Oval Office. But if it can keep us alive then he has to do it.”
His meaning escaped her, but a fearful shudder rippled through her chest. “On his knees in the Oval Office?”
“No way.” No one had forgotten the events that previously occurred in the Oval Office, and if David had broken his promise to the people, then she damn well needed to know. “Tell me what you meant.”
Jonathan picked up on the distrust in her tone and gave her a look laced with reprimand. “He prays there often. Privately.”
Given the timing of the novel – and the fact that someone being on their knees caused Sybil to be upset – it is pretty clear just who Ms. Hinze felt disgraced the Oval Office. I found the idea of a President disturbed by command decisions that involved deceiving the enemy and who didn’t have a clear separation of church and state as disturbing as she had clearly found the Clinton administration. While this scene was far milder than the scenes in Luckiest Girl Alive it turned me off of the writers work. I have one of her books languishing on my TBR and haven’t been tempted to pick it up in years. Which is a shame because her early romantic suspense novels sans the politics were really good.
I’ve read plenty of novels that don’t speak to party affiliation but show it. For example, having the republican senator turn into a homicidal maniac might not come with a direct statement on how much better the democrats are but it does make it pretty clear what the author thinks of that party. When the democrat is a boozy sleaze that is an equally clear message. No matter how subtly this is presented I am almost always pulled out of the tale. Why? Because it reminds me that I am reading a book. It gives me a glimpse of the woman behind the curtain who is pulling all the strings.
Before I upset too many, yes, I know that politics can be done right in a story. Tiffany Girl by Deeanne Gist deals with equality for women by having the main character need money and showing how some men made it difficult for her to earn a living. The story is effective in how it depicts everyday injustice while still delivering on the romance. Changes by Pamela Nowak showed the terrible cruelty and bigotry the government utilized in the treatment of Native Americans while still delivering a heartwarming romance. Badlands by Jill Sorenson dealt with racism and politics without ever derailing the love story it was telling. What each of these tales had going for them is that the issues discussed arose naturally from the characters’ story. It wasn’t just filler so that we knew where the author stood politically.
In the best case scenarios the author will leave us guessing as to what she thinks of the situation. Or they will at least humanize the opposing side. Chris Brohan did this with a Nazi soldier in The Light in the Ruins. In the Arms of the Enemy by Lisbeth Eng is another book that shows a German soldier in WWII as more than just a mindless killer. If we can find positives about people who worked for Hitler, I am convinced we can find it in Americans who take a slightly different view of politics than ours.
But for the most part I am of the conviction that it is better to just leave the subject alone.
What do you think – do you like politics in your books? Have you ever been turned off by an author’s verbalizing of a political situation, even if you agree with her? Which authors do you feel do it right?
I've been an avid reader since 2nd grade and discovered romance when my cousin lent me Lord of La Pampa by Kay Thorpe in 7th grade. I currently read approximately 150 books a year, comprised of a mix of Young Adult, romance, mystery, women's fiction, and science fiction/fantasy.
I think we will have to agree to agree :-) I read Balogh’s newest last night and it came thisclose to reading like an Inspirational. I have seen that in only one of her other books so I definitely don’t think of it as typical of her writing but I have to concede that it was assuredly the case in Only a Promise.
And see I just read it too and didn’t pick up on that at all. I think inspirational themes have to be truly overt for me to notice them because religion isn’t a part of my life.
I wasn’t trying to do that. The point I was trying to make that an attitude to pre-marital sex is much to narrow a criterion to determine whether a book is rooted in Christian values – in fact, this, and the inspirational market it creates, is rather limited to the US evangelical/fundamentalist worldviews. And there is a lot more to it than that.
I say this as someone who came from a non-Western society in which Christian faith is still a majority religion, and then has lived in the US (NY, not generally religious environment) for a long time. I won’t argue about what defines a Christian, seeing as it is not a church board, but will just said again that it makes total sense to me that this changes your values, especially if you live in a society where it is a strong majority and accepted even by people who don’t care about observances all that much. But I am happy to agree to disagree here ;-)
I have read books that allow for very little interpretation of German soldiers in WWII as more than just evil minions. It’s always nice to see a wider interpretation, imo.
I’m one of those who likes politics in the books. I prefer if the ideas of the character are mine, but but I can respect any character with different ideas because it adds to the complexity of that person.
I don’t like when a character is into politics but they show it in such an ambiguous way that you can’t even know which party he or she belongs to. That’s what happened to me with First Lady, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips.
But I recognize that it could be that there are subtle hints about it that I just don’t get.
I like for instance what Jennifer Crusie did in a category –Strange Bedpersons.
One of your reflections has surprised me. You wrote …German soldier in WWII as more than just a mindless killer. Even knowing that the Nazi regime is one of the worst in History, I’d never thought that each and every one soldier in the Wermacht were all “”mindless killers””. People like Nobel prize winner Heinrich Böll or the baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau were, as a matter of fact, soldiers in the Wehrmacht.
I’ve seen some good and bad reviews of The Luckiest Girl Alive.
Yes. All fiction conforms to varying degrees of religion, politics, ideologies, social expectations and whatever else.
However, I don’t agree that romance can be characterised as ‘Representing heroes as sexually experienced [and] representing heroines as young and beautiful (and white!), ‘.
Yes, a love relationship must develop. That is a norm. But if you want to talk about social and political norms, then you must also include the same sex romance coming out now and the books which depict the heroine as older and possibly more experienced. Take a look at this list of older heroines and younger heroes and that of gay romances. https://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/older-heroine-younger-hero
There are also mixed race romances. In short, there is so much variation in romance today. I think it is selling it short to say that all romance conforms to the same character and social norms.
I think there are exceptions to the rules, *always*, in all categories. But when “”norms”” are considered, yes, whiteness is a normative category in romance genre writing. Youth is generally the norm that is represented. Heroes tend to be sexually experienced. Class too, though I didn’t mention it should certainly be considered here – in historical romances most heroes/heroines tend to be upper class.
So really interesting topic, and its clarified for me something that I’ve been mulling over about what it missing from my romance reading so apologies for the long post.
I totally agree with Blackjack1 that “All fictional writing is politicized to varying degrees” and while I understand defining it as “the art or science of government” I really don’t think one can separate values from politics – any set of values can and will become politicized in one time and place or another – that’s how we choose who to elect and how politicians decide on policy (even if all they value is power). If we’re just talking about the mechanics of politics (which would exclude most of the books mentioned on this thread) then I can it take or leave like any other setting or workplace (although I don’t like actual people to become major characters, political or not).
I think a particular value or belief tends to become identified as political when it happens to become one of the dividing lines between political parties, and that is highly subjective to time and place and person. People often don’t notice values or beliefs that they agree with because we see it as normal, so some values and beliefs such as the one central to the romance genre – love is good and happiness is desirable – aren’t seen as political. But in the 17th and 18th centuries those were highly political ideas … and in some places in the world they still are.
Conflicting values / beliefs / politics / religions / cultures are sources of real conflict between couples so I’d like to see at least some romances that deal with it. I had an ex who held similar values but voted a different way because he prioritised the values we didn’t share: I found it terribly confronting sometimes, not only because we disagreed but because sometimes I had to choose between saying what was on my mind and having a relaxing night at home. But at the same time being close to someone whose views challenged me was exciting and stimulating and I think made me a better person. I’d like to see characters deal with those issues – to explore how far it’s possible to compromise, the benefits and downsides, and how to make it work in a relationship.
I think many romances authors stay away from characters having identifiable values / beliefs for fear of alienating readers and I think that’s a shame because I think most people are going to have opinions, and least some of those are going cross into the political realm. Plus people are complex – very few people will have identical sets of values and beliefs even if they agree on policy and vice versa – it’s not just a binary thing. I want complex characters even if I don’t agree with them: having opinions, just like having hobbies and friends and families, makes for well-rounded characters.
What is political in one community is a non-issue in another and vice versa. I can’t count the number of times that someone has complained about an author using their fiction as a political platform and I haven’t noticed because, even if I don’t share them, to me those beliefs are so normal I don’t identify them as political (including most of the books mentioned on this thread). Whereas, for some readers those are highly politicized ideas and the things I find political or troubling are non-issues. I suspect some authors have no notion someone could see their work as political until a reader accuses them of ‘preaching’ politics.
I think perhaps as a reader, I need to accept characters who don’t share my views, in order to get more interesting stories. And while in romances I want a good story and sympathetic characters and a HEA, maybe sometimes, not all the time but sometimes, it’s OK for an author to unintentionally or intentionally expose me to other points of view, political or not.
So thank-you for all the reccs!
Agree with so much of what you’ve stated! Yes, the concept of “”norms”” is so very crucial. Usually normative behaviors are not commented upon or analyzed because it’s difficult to see them critically; they are invisible because we live and breathe them.
In romance writing, the institution of marriage is the norm and many romance readers expect couples to marry. For me, requiring all romance couples to marry is ideological and yes, politicized. Marriage is a politicized institution. Requiring all couples to have children too is both the norm and a politicized choice an author makes in a romance novel. Representing heroes as sexually experienced, representing heroines as young and beautiful (and white!), etc., are all norms in the genre and all politicized issues. When I read posts from other readers stating that they want to escape and not confront politics, my mind immediately goes to the above criteria. Most of these readers view the above as normal behaviors and expected criteria and not political at all. But all of the above are politicized issues for me as a reader.
Yes, and for every reader who is happy with those norms, there’s someone who wants experienced heroines, or virgin heroes, or diversity among characters and settings. After all some of the authors mentioned in this thread as too political are incredibly popular such as Balogh and Brockmann.
While I understand and share the desire for escapism, I also want to explore some of these issues in the context of relationships and I’m not going to get that in another genre. Hopefully there’s room in this genre for both.
If there is a more capacious genre than romance, I haven’t read it. With the exception of the promise of an HEA or HFN, there are books about every kind of individual and love. It’s why I so treasure this realm.
My main trouble with politics in romance is when commentary strays too close to what is happening present day. I’ve encountered several contemporaries where the main characters will discuss their views on mainstream political issues, and even though such a conversation might be realistic, it still bothers me. Regardless of whether or not I agree with the views the author is presenting, I don’t like being preached to from a platform where I can’t make any response. It pulls me out of the story, particularly when I find the progressive ideas of today popping up in a historical romance, where it’s clearly unrealistic (i.e. Lisa Kleypas’ historicals). Commentary on historical politics is fine, but when you start discussing current events, I back away.
Thanks for the mention, Maggie. I’m glad you enjoyed Badlands. I had a wonderful copyeditor for that book whose political leanings were the opposite of mine. It was great to have her input. She pointed out a couple of areas where my bias showed and I fixed some of those. Not all. ;)
One of my pet peeves in romance is when the heroine mentions feminism in a negative manner, as if there’s something anti-feminist about falling in love or enjoying sex. Feminists like sex and men too! Really!
Sandra Brown wrote a great RS years ago called Mirror Image with a senator candidate hero. She never mentioned his party and I don’t remember it detracting from the story at all. There was political intrigue without partisanship.
It seems self-evident that anyone’s writing is informed by his or her values. One of the things I enjoy the most about romance is the exposure to values and ideas other than my own. I’m a heathen searching for gods but I am fascinated by fictional characters who have a belief in a greater power. Sometimes those characters repulse me–the Church in His Dark Materials for example. Other times I find myself envious of that sort of conviction–Adam in the Pennyroyal Green books.
I remember reading Lisa Kleypas’ series the Hathaways and being so tired of the preachiness in it that I stopped reading that series. In one book the heroine got so sactimonious over the hero inventing weapons…it jarred me out of the story. Felt more like a 21 century anti-war thought than a 18th century mindset for a woman from the aristocracy.
Giselle Carmichael’s the Politics of Love was a well done romance with the heroine being a liberal activist and the hero being a Republican Congressman. Of course I knew from the beginning politics would be an important part of the romance…I need to do a reread of this!
I completely forgot about Giselle Carmichael’s Politics of Love – that was a very enjoyable book because the author was really addressing social issues more than political issues though one of the characters was involved in politics
I remember listening to the audiobook version of Running Wild by Linda Howard and Linda Jones days after the Sandy Hook shooting. In the book, they basically take a pro-gun, anti-waiting period stance. I’m not sure I would have cared or even really registered it if I had read it before the shooting but at that time it really bothered me and hurt my enjoyment of the book. So specific politics can be tricky.
There’s been a few other times where I’ve felt that politics didn’t feel organic to the story and were there just to express an opinion of the author. That is just bad writing.
I was a history/political science major so I enjoy political settings in books sometimes but they have to be done right. I remember liking Special Interests by Emma Barry because it was set in the world of politics without being overly preachy or trying to state a certain viewpoint is right.
One of the strange things about the blog above though is that it starts with a declared dislike for “”politics”” and then jumps immediately to feminism and a dislike for one supposedly feminist novel. I’ve not read Jessica Knoll and so I cannot speak to this particular novel, but I’m also curious about the use of one novel which seems to serve as the example of feminist romance writing. Additionally, I think like others politics needs to be defined here? Are conservative romance novels that reassert male authority politic to others? They are politicized romance novels for me and yet are not mentioned. I suspect the blog today is a politicized piece of writing, which is perfectly fine, as long as it can be called out as such.
Goodness there certainly seems to be a miscommunication here. I certainly didn’t mean to assert that all feminist writing can be compared to this one book, just that the feminist in this one book was an example of why I don’t like any political proselytizing in my books feminist or otherwise.
I define politics by way of Webster’s primary definition – the art or science of government. Government’s simple definition is the group of people who control and make decisions for a country, state, etc. Those are the definitions most commonly in use and I think it just confuses the conversation to attempt to broaden those definitions to include things like values.
Your blog discussion does not confine politics to governmental institutions. You refer instead to “political leanings” in books that bother you, and then you limit your discussion to feminism, which is curious.
The term politics extends beyond actual government and does include ideology, socio-political belief systems, and values, which is why the “political leanings” that you reference can cover a wide spectrum of beliefs.
“”You refer instead to “political leanings” in books that bother you, and then you limit your discussion to feminism, which is curious.””
I’m not sure this is quite accurate. When I read this blog piece, I saw reference to Luckiest Girl Alive, but there is also discussion of Lady Liberty. In that book, if I’m reading things right, it sounds like criticism of someone more conservative praising a President who prays in office while taking a jab at those who might be doing other things. Not sure I see that as a critique of feminism.
I do think it’s interesting how politics can play into the larger question of how an author’s personal worldview can find its way into their work. I’m not sure a writer can entirely keep their own worldview out of their writing, but in most romances I read, I can say that I definitely don’t feel preached at. I enjoy reading books written by authors with a wide variety of perspectives, but I definitely agree with other commenters who don’t like feeling hit over the head with a political sermon, even if I might agree with the author’s view.
True, at the end of the blog there is discussion of other politically-inspired romances. The first 3/4 of the blog is focused on feminism.
Regarding whether a writer can keep their “”personal worldview”” out of writings is that they can somewhat if they choose, though writers like all of us have biases that inform their thinking. Also, writers do not write in vacuums. Writers are humans and live in a world surrounded with ideas and values and competing morality systems, and all of that influences ideas that shape a piece of writing. That is why writing is always politicized.
All fictional writing is politicized to varying degrees, which is often a difficult concept for readers to grasp. One question for me is whether the politics are didactic and overt (i.e. Charles Dickens) or subtle. Critical thinking skills help to uncover what politicized messages an author is sending about any given subject. *Romance novels feature women as protagonists in personal relationships with men, which means that gender politics are at the heart of the relationships. Some authors are feminist in their politics and are attempting to establish egalitarian relationships and some authors are conservative and trying to preserve male hierarchies. Many are anywhere in between. As a critical reader and someone that likes analyzing writing, I can read any romance novel that tells a good story and hopefully in the process attempt to determine what biases and presumptions are being conveyed in any piece of writing.
I should have said all *heterosexual* romances feature protagonists negotiating romantic relationships with men. LGBT romances are equally politicized as well.
So true! I was in the middle of writing something similar when I saw this post. There are degrees of subtlety, but you cannot take a framework out.
I was once discussing Mary Balogh with someone who is skilled in literary criticism, and she said “”she is so Christian!”” I was surprised, because I would not have identified it as such. She broke it down for me – don’t remember it all, we were talking about her earlier regencies, and it was both the topics (sin, forgiveness, rebirth) and even things like character names (Adam = first man). Now, I have to say that the more recent Balogh’s novels have become more “”preachy”” in my opinion, and I now enjoy them less. But that’s just the feature of the writing quality.
I don’t think it is really possible to write a book, even for entertainment, which does not embody a set of specific values. It may be implicit – which actions are taken for granted to be good, and which not so good, but it is still there.
Yes, and your use of the word “”values”” is so important in any discussion about politics in writing, and I’m glad you added it here. Values are always political, and I am a reader that enjoys discerning the values conveyed in any novel. I have not read that many Balogh novels, but I can definitely see the underlying religious messages. She’s generally not a writer I’m inclined to follow, and I suspect it’s because of the politics represented. _The Secret Pearl_ was a book I really disliked — so many troubling messages in that book for me.
From your post it seems you are implying that sin, forgiveness and rebirth are strictly Christian values. While the terminology may differ (Hindu’s use karma and reincarnation) the basic ideas are implicit in a great many religions.
Balogh uses a wide variety of names many of which are not Christian such as Ranulf, Wulfric, Marius, Robert and William.
Individual readers bring their ideals and prejudices to their reading and can find something that disturbs them in the text if they are determined to. Most Christian/Inspirational readers would find Balogh decidedly un-Christian since her h/h often indulge in premarital relations. Your friend found her Christian. I think she’s a good writer who uses Western values in her books about people who live in the Empire that influenced a great deal of the Western world. We each see what we expect to see I suppose.
Well, actually, I am a devout Christian, and I would strongly resist defining “”Christian”” by just the attitude to pre-marital sex. Part of the “”lightbulb going on”” when my friend pointed these things out for me was “”actually, I really liked those romances because they lined up with my beliefs really well””. It’s not one thing, which is why I think it’s an excellent example of the underlying author beliefs showing up in writing. It’s the whole view of the world.
If anything, that was a big change in Balogh going from regencies to historical romance. In her regencies there is a much stronger thread of “”absolute right and wrong””, and “”duty””, in ways which I think don’t really match a lot of the Western present day notions, but echo a lot of the Christian tradition (won’t speak of others, don’t know enough). And that’s why they feel a lot more period authentic than many other historical romances.
But then in her historicals she moved a lot more towards “”modern-day”” Western values in a historical setting – losing some of her authenticity in the process, but probably gaining a wider audience.
I won’t speak to the attitude of individual Christians in the real world re sex but I’m surprised to see anyone not defining the Christian/Inspirational market by the attitude toward sex given what is happening around Deeanne Gist’s latest release. Her passionate kissing scenes have received a huge amount of backlash and she is one of the best selling authors in the Inspy market.
And again I would argue that Balogh’s books having absolute right and wrong and a sense of duty aren’t strictly Christian values. Many people of the time had those values and yet faith or even religion weren’t important to them.
This isn’t a religious board so I don’t want to hog the conversation with this side topic but just to add that Christian means one who follows the teachings of Jesus Christ and believes in him as a messiah. The last point is important not just as a teaching emphasized repeatedly in the New Testament but because it is the one fact that is exclusive to Christianity.
Well…this is clearly a hot topic but here is my opinion of things and ultimately that is what every comment really is…lol..I have no problems with politics or social issues in books as long as there is no “”political agenda”” that is being toted. For instance I do like the Katherine Shay books but they don’t pick either party and they really don’t have any agenda other than promoting romance. I have been pulled out of books where it was clear the author had a profound dislike/lack of respect for any other political opinion than his/her own (like what AARJenna stated about the Brockmann’s books). Clearly we don’t live in the Utopia where everyone thinks like we do (which would really not be a Utiopia but a form of hell) but I have to agree with Maggie..don’t like it in any fictional book I’m going to read – I read “”fiction”” for an escape and entertainment – when I want to read about politics I’ll read the news on the web or watch it on tv or read a non-fiction book!
I guess it depends on how you define politics. If it’s where current political parties are named or described or where the author uses the book to address issues close to her heart then no I don’t like it. If the h/h are political figures it can be okay though. I enjoyed Katherine Shay’s Someone to Believe In and IIRC in Mary Balogh’s The Secret Mistress the hero was passionate about his politics.
This seems to be another instance of a common phenomenon: when we look more closely, we find that our objection to a trope or theme or story element isn’t really an objection to that element. Our objection is to bad writing. I can’t count the number of times people have posted about something they don’t like to read, BUT they really enjoyed instance x because the author wrote it well.
I think objectionable tropes are different than just bad writing. I can certainly point to books that have handled difficult subjects well but I can point to far more books where an author I like has caused me to hate her book because of the handling of a trope. Since I like the writer besides/beyond the handling of the trope then to me the culprit becomes the trope itself. A case in point is Vicki Hinze. As I said, her original books with no politics were terrific. When she added that element she lost focus and the books became more about her personal beliefs than what was happening with her characters. Her writing wasn’t per se bad – she still had smooth style – but because the trope became such a large part of the book it was impossible to focus on the story that was behind it.
A polemic or a blatantly slanted political insertion in the middle of a novel, even if written in perfectly good English with a smooth style, counts as bad writing in my view.
Ordinarily, I’m not a great fan of didactic or blatant political writing in fiction as it is too often clunky. However, Dickens, whom I mentioned in my original post, is one of my favorite writers. He was a renowned polemicist, tremendous didact, and a great novelist. So, it all depends on how an author wields language and how readers respond to an author’s politics.
I hate talking politics. I hate it when people put stuff on Facebook, or twitter but I especially hate it in books.
I probably do notice it more when I disagree with it, but even if I do believe –for example that Clinton’s actions speak more of the man than any of his accomplishments, I don’t want to read about it.
Kristan Higgins did a book after Obama was elected and Michelle Obama was one of the voices in her head, and honestly I disliked it intensely. I couldn’t understand why a political figure was the voice of reason. It would have worked for me if it had been Oprah, or someone else– although I hated the Betty Boop voice too.
I can remember Laura Kinsale posting about politics on her website and readers complaining about that. My own feeling is that if it is your private webpage/facebook page/twitter account post whatever the heck you like. But if it is a professional account (ie for the sale of your books) keep it professional.
I don’t mind politics in my romance. In fact, sometimes I actually enjoy it because it’s one of my interests and it’s a part of my career. People in politics, whether behind the scenes or elected officials are just like anyone else in that they date, have romances, fall in love, get married, break up, get divorced and, frankly, their passion about public service and advocacy can make them very intense, passionate, and interesting people.
There have been a number of wonderful romantic stories that have a political setting and some even included real world political figures … for instance the movie, “”Definitely, Maybe”” with Ryan Reynolds and Isla Fisher had the pair working for the Clinton campaign and the story did not side step Clinton’s personal foibles at all but it also didn’t vilify him. I think they got it just right. Then, we have the stories that don’t always spell out which party is which or which party the characters belong to, even though it’s pretty clear: “”The American President,”” “”Dave,”” “”Two Weeks Notice,”” or old school movies like “”State of the Union”” or “”Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.””
As for romance novels, I’ve read more than a few that did it right. Some involved minor politicians or political campaigns, like mayor or sheriff or city council. Some involved the presidency or legislative bodies and others involved activists. Here’s a few off the top of my head, not all A+ novels but different from each other and readable:
Welcome to Temptation by Jennifer Crusie (Hero is mayor.)
Sweet Hush by Deborah Smith (Important character in the story is POTUS.)
Night Swimming by Laura Moore (Hero is mayor.)
Indecent Proposal by Molly O’Keefe (Hero is running for Congress.)
Five O’Clock Shadow by Genie Davis (Heroine is running for City Council.)
Sweet Rewards by Melinda McRae (Hero is Member of Parliament and heroine is suffragette.)
In the Midnight Rain by Ruth Wind (Background is southern racial politics and Vietnam.)
More Than Love Letters by Rosy Thornton (Hero is Member of Parliament and heroine is activist/constituent.)
An Echo in Time by Sherry Lewis (Heroine is sheriff and is running for re-election.)
Perfidia by Elspeth McKendrick (Heroine and hero are involved in Nazi regime.)
Thanks for the recs! Every book listed sounds intriguing.
Great list and thanks for posting it!
I’m not a fan of politics in romance books. There is simply too much of a chance that I will disagree with a certain viewpoint and that will distract me completely, ruining my chance of losing myself in the story. Too, I dislike it when an author uses her books as a platform to promote a political agenda, even if I so happen to agree with her stance. For example, I’m firmly pro-gay rights, but I got to the point where Suzanne Brockmann’s books became a turn-off because she insisted on shoehorning her pro-gay thoughts into her storylines and characters to the point of nausea. While I agree with her in sentiment and overall goals, I don’t appreciate what felt like being preached to or the villainization of anyone who didn’t have an openly gay family member. This becomes even more problematic if I don’t agree with the political agenda, and right or wrong, my frustration and distaste over a character’s viewpoint spills over to my thoughts about the writer.
Yes, many times I feel the author is trying to preach or teach which just isn’t appropriate in a book written for entertainment. There shouldn’t be a moral to the story in a romance. What bothers me more is that good story telling is often sidelined so the author can tell us her opinion about a subject so I’ve essentially paid for a sermon.
If an author mentions real politicians in her romance book, I am totally turned off. I remember a certain author having her lead character comment on a specific president, and it so turned me off, I’ve never read that author again. I actually emailed one author saying I really liked her recent book but please don’t include politics in her future books. It’s a total turnoff, at least to me. I don’t care if the author is for or against the current president, I DO NOT want to read about politics in romance book. There is enough written about politics in nonfiction books and in the news. I don’t want to know an author’s political views.
I agree in that I prefer not to know an author’s political views. It’s not really relevant to the relationship we have. :-)
Yep, the heroine was horrible. But the politics were also gratuitous – the story didn’t need them and it was just disturbing to have them there given how awful the mouthpiece was.
I think books that present both sides like the one you mention can work extremely well. It’s when someone tries to tell one side of the story and then botches it that the problems begin.
Hm, the heroine might not be likeable, but she sounds like an interesting and true to life character.
Which I these days find preferable to any number of cookiecutter Pollyannas after getting a severe case of sugar overload. :)
YES. It’s gotten to the part where I look for villainesses as protagonists. Anything but those sweet self-sacrificing “”I’ll tie MYSELF to the railroad tracks”” heroines.
I WANT to read books with heroines who see the pretty shiny things in life and think, “”I want.””
As for politics… eh. I’m tired of books in which the heroine is written to be as inoffensive as possible.
It sounds like the real problem is a shallow and horrible protagonist rather than the political content, imo. Judging from GR comments, that’s pretty much the consensus.
As for politics, I think it’s fine if it’s not preachy and judgey. I remember reading a novel (short story?) between a liberal artist and a conservative political analyst – no judgement was passed on ‘the right side’ but their different political views were used as fodder & angst. It worked well.