Everyone has some vague idea about the very high sales figures and enormous popularity enjoyed by the genre of Romance, but as Sarah Wendell & Candy Tan write: “despite the millions of dollars and those millions of readers and that (quivering alabaster) mound of books sold in every language known to print, romance is easily the most well-hidden literary habit in America. Millions of dollars are spent on romance novels, yet few will admit to reading them.” (p3)
“We Smart Bitches,” they go on, “we know you read romance. / In fact, we’ll come right out and say five out of five readers have read romance – they just didn’t know it. Think about it: just about every work of fiction has a romantic element in it. The love, sex, or attraction part might not be the primary focus, but they’re almost always there. What would the Iliad be without Paris and Helen, or the Odyssey without Odysseus and Penelope? What would a story of danger and intrigue be without sexual attraction and tension? What would horror be without some damn fool woman running around so that some muscled hero could rescue her scantily clad ass? Love stories, from epic poems to schlocky bestsellers, form the backbone of our storytelling tradition.
So tie another ribbon around the What-the-Fuck tree: a staggering number of people read romance, few admit to it, and romantic elements are ubiquitous, but when romance stands on its own two glass-slippered feet as the focus and driving element of the plot, then it’s craaaap. No one who is anyone likes romance novels.” (p.3)
“Maybe you’re already familiar with the genre,” they write. “Or maybe you’re curious why romance is so popular, and why the otherwise-intelligent women in your life enjoy this cultural blight.” (p.5) But… they go on… “…it’s difficult to properly criticize a genre when one hasn’t read extensively in it, and let’s face it: romance novels, with their titty-licious covers, overwrought cover copy, and genre constraints are and easier piñata to smack around than most.” (p6) [I guess I place myself somewhere in here… but I took a fancy to the notion of ‘cultural blight’]
Ref: Sarah Wendell & Candy Tan (2009) Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels. Fireside: New York