The romance genre does not need any defense from me. It’s doing quite nicely on its own, thank you, with sales up 7.7 percent in 2009 over the previous year — a rise that’s particularly notable amid the decline of book publishing as a whole. I got that figure from a recent piece in Bloomberg Businessweek magazine. That’s where the issue of defense comes in. Because this piece, while noting the success of the genre as a whole, then spent the rest of its time ridiculing the various microniches that have found particular recent success, including NASCAR, paranormal, Amish and (snicker) crafts! You might catch the tone of the piece from the headline — “Getting Dirty in Dutch Country” — though if you’d actually read any of them you’d probably figure out quickly that the Amish-set romances, unlike a lot in that genre, don’t get dirty, and that’s a big part of their appeal. It turns out there are, in fact, romance readers out there who aren’t into ripped bodices and explicit sex. So some smart writers and publishers are catering to them. That’s worthy of ridicule?
There’s another reason the romance genre doesn’t need any defense from me. It already has far more prominent champions, notably the smart women of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, whose response to the Bloomberg piece* is what alerted me to its existence in the first place. Yep, I had good SAT scores, I have a master’s degree, I read a lot, sometimes I read romances and I regularly read SBTB — but I never read Bloomberg Businessweek. Even though a good friend of mine writes for it. What does that tell you?
If you’re genuinely interested in the romance genre and/or the industry behind it, I can suggest a good source of information. Beyond Heaving Bosoms, the book written by the Smart Bitches themselves, is a fun and interesting analysis that reflects what’s so cool about them. They’re appreciative fans of the genre — but also gimlet-eyed realists about its flaws and hilariously harsh critic of ridiculous narratives. Check out some of their low-graded reviews if you don’t believe me.