So, today I was reading the blogs, and I realized something, which is probably readily apparent to everyone else, but just dawned on me: we’re so freaking judgmental of one another.
It comes out in our critiques. It comes out in reviews of books. It comes out in the comments in reviews of books. Now, this isn’t a new phenomenon. I think we’ve always judged one another. Whether it’s to build ourselves up because we feel like we’re lacking or to condemn a behavior we, as a society, deem unacceptable (female sexuality, anyone?), we’ve always been judgmental.
What has changed? Oh, that we’re so willing to share it with one another. We hide behind keyboards and vilify one another from the comfort of our couches.
It annoys me. (That’s me being judgmental)
In any case, what I came across today was a critique of a work of literary fiction. Now, I don’t read this particular author, but I thought the critique was harsh. Because it wasn’t a critique about style or plot, or general story-telling ability. It was a critique about this author’s very American-ness. About how, because this author is so very American, and so willing to both embrace and deride Americanism in its grandiose gaucheness (is that even a word?), people in other countries can embrace it as a masterwork.
And then came the comparison to genre fiction, in which genre fiction was found lacking.
It smacks of the superiority I found in another blog, where the author denigrated those who graduated from “mediocre state college.” Hmm.
I resemble that remark.
I write genre fiction. In fact, I write in the genre most derided by… well, everyone (including my mother).
I write romance.
It’s not because I’m stupid, or I like porn. It’s not because I can’t speak in complete sentences.
I write it because I like it. Because my dirty little secret is that I’ve been a closet fan of the romance novel since I was sixteen years old and picked up my first historical.
I was an English major in college, all angsty and tortured. I’ve read everything from Jane Austin to Chaucer to Shakespeare to Thoreau. I’ve read A.S. Byatt and Salman Rushdie and Walt Whitman. I’ve read Rick Bass and Mark Twain and Kafka and Gael Garcia Marquez, Pablo Naruda and Heine and Hesse and Rilke, Hemingway and George Eliot. When I once filled out a list of the 100 greatest works of all time (it was one of those silly quizzes that stated that most people had only read 7 of the books), I had read 84 of them.
I’ve read literary fiction. And I liked it… at the time (though I still loved my romance novels). Now, I don’t want that. I read genre fiction because I am looking for an escape from real life, and with a good romance novel, I can get a happy ending, too.
The reason why I don’t read literary fiction anymore? Oh, because real life sucks.
Real life is unpaid bills and cars with flat tires. Real life is sick kids with snotty noses and paperwork and a job that makes you so nuts your hair falls out.
Real life is a seven-year old girl you just can’t fix. Real life is knowing that child will die and you can’t do anything about it. It’s knowing that no matter how much you try, your effort will go nowhere. Real life is about crying in the principal’s office while you beg for a variance, because it’s the only thing you actually can do for this little one and her family.
Give me a happy ending any day, because some people just aren’t going to get one, and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.
When one of my best friends was dying, I devoured romance novels. I think I was reading four of them a week (Johanna Lindsey was a favorite). I needed that happy ending because my friend wasn’t going to get one. I needed everything to work out so I could be the one friend who stayed with her until the end, the one who could look upon her face and not cry. I could be upbeat and perky, and still tell jokes while I watched Zorro the Gay Blade and she slept.
It’s one of the things I’m most proud of: I was the friend she needed, the one who never cried. And just because I never cried while she lived doesn’t mean I don’t miss her every day. It doesn’t mean she didn’t know that I would.
Romance novels and silly movies and my M got me through that. My M was fabulous and wonderful, and when I wanted to bury my head in the sand, he told me jokes so I could go back to her house and sit with her and tell her jokes just to make her laugh. Hm. I should remember what he did the next time he’s being annoying and I want to strangle him.
In any case, I didn’t need tortured literary fiction then, and I still don’t. Real life sucks enough.
So, to all of you who look down on romance novels… Read one. The world is filled with enough tortured souls as it is. Don’t judge me because I read them. Don’t judge me because I write them. And if you do judge me, well…
Keep your opinions to yourself.