Laurie's News & Views
March 18, 1997 - Issue #22
In my last column, I asked readers how old young women should be to read romance. Because of my liberal upbringing, I was allowed to read whatever I wanted to, even after the "awful incident" that happened when I was 9, and found my dad's copy of The Sensuous Man. Being the precocious little girl that I was, I brought the book to school (I was in the fifth grade) and read it aloud to my friends on the playground at recess for days until someone snitched to their parents, who called my parents. When I came home from school one day, my mother simple found the book in my pile of school stuff, took it away, and never said a word about it.
I think my mother was very wise in handling that situation (probably the wisest she's ever been), and in allowing me to become as much a lover of books as she was/is.
I've heard from many of you on how old you were when you started reading romance and how old you think a young woman should be. Some of you were even brave enough to offer advice to mothers who may face this question sooner, or later (as will be the case with me, since my little girl is 5).
I'd like to share with you some of the comments I received. All were in agreement that any reading is good reading, and that maturity levels are more important than actual age.
"My children read anything they wanted when they wanted to--and I was grateful they wanted to read anything. My years of experience have shown me that when someone is ready to read something, they will--whether a teen or an adult. And they will obtain it any way they can.
"I do not and have never advocated censorship as a method of control. In my 40s I served on the local library board of our small mid-western town. The librarian had a place hidden under her desk where she kept books aimed at junior high school level students that explained sex. When a student asked for one of them, the librarian would call the student's parents and "inform" them the student had asked for the book. She sought guidance, she said. We told her the books were bought for a purpose and to put them back out on the shelves. After a six month battle, they were on the shelves. By hiding those books, the librarian made them into something other than what they were -- intelligent information. Any child that is ready to be informed needs the tools to be informed properly."
I whole-heartedly agree with Lue. As an aside, I was informed not too long ago that Forever, an excellent Judy Blume novel for young teens (that I read as a young teen), which deals with a young woman's loss of virginity, has been a target of those who would ban books around the country. What are these people afraid of?
Reader Amanda wrote that she read her first romance, Karen Robards' Amanda Rose, at the age of ten. She was shocked by the love scenes and skipped them until she could handle them, which, in her case, was a year later. She added, "My point is, if a girl isn't ready for the wild sex, she'll be embarrassed, she'll skip, and if it's too bad (i.e. Beatrice Small) she won't like the book. If she does like the Beatrice Small, she either likes showing it to her friends and giggling, or she really likes the story, in whatever fashion any other romance reader does. If she's showing it to friends and giggling, I doubt it's making a permanent impression. If she likes it, she was ready for it. I mean, come on. We all read romances, and does it really alter our perception of reality?"
Reader Lois, is in agreement, although she wishes the young women who read them had an adult to talk to openly about them because she is concerned that they may not be able to differentiate between the fantasies offered in romance of perfect love, perfect sex and multiple orgasms, and the realities of sex and romance.
Her e-mail was meant in a tongue-in-cheek fashion, but she has a point. Think about Lois' question: "If a young person is reading romance books, I'd love to see a warning label on it that reads Danger, danger -- this rarely happens in real life. Honestly, if life was like a romance book, I don't think there would be such a big market for these in the bookstores. We'd all be living it, right? Adult readers can separate fiction from reality because hopefully they've had life experiences to teach them. But young teen-age girls with very little experience may get some unrealistic ideas about love and the opposite sex. "
Hopefully all young women can have the same sort of relationship with their mothers as Susan is lucky enough to have with her daughter. She wrote, "I have a 17-year-old daughter who has been reading my romances for about 3 years. At first I was somewhat taken aback to find several of my books in her room, then I thought, well, she's an omnivorous reader like her parents, and I'd rather have her read about sexual behavior than practice it. Next, I decided that -- although I'd prefer her not to hide the books -- we are lucky that it's books and not cigarettes, or drugs. . . !"
"Some time later I couldn't find a book I knew I had recently bought, so I asked my daughter if she had it. She blushed, then said yes. We then had a wonderful discussion about romances (the books), real life relationships, and the difference between these and the romanticized relationships in the books.
"Now, three years later, she still borrows my books, usually without asking (well, she is a teenager), but she still isn't into booze, drugs or cigarettes, she is an honor student and musician, and we are waiting to hear at the end of this month whether she has been accepted by her top choice for college. I don't think her taste in reading had anything to do with her being a wonderful kid, but it obviously didn't hurt her either.
"Perhaps I would have reacted differently if she were less mature, but this is something each parent has to decide. In our case, we have sometimes told her we think she should wait until she was a bit older before seeing certain movies, or reading certain books, but we have never forbidden her from reading anything -- I'd rather have her read the book and talk about it, than be sneaky. It has worked fine for us."
Susan's statements were repeated by Tammy, who wrote in about her soon-to-be 13-year-old daughter being secretive one evening. She wrote, "I knew something was up and went in to tickle her into confession. What did I find but several of my Garwoods under her covers! I was immediately on the alert. They were my Garwoods for goodness sake! Did I really want her starting with them (but better Garwood than some of the Bertrice Smalls on the bookshelves)? I was also petrified because my daughter's room is like the black hole and I thought I would never see these books again should she keep them in there. :) Well, I sighed deeply and told her she was welcome to read my books (one book at a time, please), but I would prefer that she didn't sneak about it."
Mandy, an incredibly voracious reader who has read 250 romances in the past year and a half, starting at age 14, used to poke fun at her mother for reading romance, who finally said, "Mandy, try this one." It was Jill Barnett's Bewitching and she loved it. Mandy doesn't shy away from love scenes, but, more to the point, she doesn't seek them out.
Mandy's statements were reflected in those made by other young readers. Reader Alina, in her first year at college, believes that any reading is good reading. She's been surprised that many of her new friends at college hate reading because they grew up watching so much television. In her youthful wisdom, Alina writes:
"I think romances, such as those written by Julie Garwood are certainly appropriate for 13-yr-old girls. I think the way intimate relationships are portrayed in these books helps to erase some of the 'mystery; surrounding sex and could help girls find an outlet for any feelings they might have.
"In most books, the heroine is a virgin - this is a good message to send to girls, that virginity is a special thing. It is really taken for granted these days! I do think that Bertrice Small's books are too explicit for young girls, but I don't think they can do any more harm than the bloody violence depicted in movies today.
"I started reading romance novels at 14 or so. I would take my mother's and read them in secret because I knew she didn't approve. I read much faster than she, though, so I started checking them out of the library on my own. Eventually, I was reading all of them first and passing the good ones onto her. It became a 'mother-daughter' thing, something I really miss now that I'm away at college!"
We Are Family:
To all of you who shared information on the topic above, thank you. As we have come to know one another over the past year of this column, I hope I have achieved what I have strived for: creating a sense of community, of family, for romance readers who often feel isolated or under attack. By openly discussing what's on our minds, by sometimes poking gentle fun at ourselves and by analyzing what we read as though it were "real" instead of trash, I want us to nudge the genre along.
I think we are having an impact - some regular readers of this column include college professors at Ivy League colleges who are incorporating genre fiction into their academic teachings. Reader and student Sandra used this column in preparation of her graduate thesis, stating, "I found your column an invaluable asset while I was writing my thesis (which is finished by the way). It wasn't just the information itself (although that was useful) but the sense of audience the website and your column provided." She added:
"I think as readers we have finally moved beyond our earlier purely defensive reaction and are beginning to analysis our genre. A supportive environment that enables us to compare experiences and interpretations is vital to our sense of legitimization.
"One of my goals in my thesis was to navigate a path between the 'insiders' and 'outsiders' of romance. I think although your site addresses 'insiders' it also promotes a sense of community that perhaps helps readers to address 'outsiders' with more confidence and more importantly gives us a language from which to do it in. There is nothing that makes 'outsiders' more aware of their own lack of knowledge than not speaking the language! This helps destroy the perception that romances are a very simple form of literature."
Sandra's comments were echoed by long-time Romance Reader Beverly, who says she always laughs when she reads messages from people whom I've offended. She wrote, in part, "I can never believe they've read the same thing I read, then I start wondering if they -- or I -- are out of touch with reality." She continued: "You are so successful at creating a virtual coffee klatch where the rest of us can comfortably think, talk and laugh about these books. Recently, I went looking through some other newsgroups for some information for my husband, and I was a little amazed at some of the things that people say to each other on the Net. A lot of these places just don't feel very comfortable or safe. Your column always feels like the home of a good friend: close, comfortable, and true."
I'd like to thank Sandra, Beverly, and all of you who have shared of yourselves with me. The writing of this column is at times difficult and always time-consuming, but I feel connected to this little group of ours. That's why I get excited about so many of our discussions, such as the recent definition of a new hero archetype. I do believe as though we are creating a language. Why, pretty soon everyone will know just what glomming or gamma hero means!
Enough with the Sweet Talk - I'm Feel a Diabetic Coma Coming On! What Do You Think About. . . ?
We talk a lot in this column about the state of the mid-list, and about authors in general. I recently received an e-mail from a reader who wanted to know if it were true that beginning authors are paid less for their books than the cover models and painters earn for creating the covers.
This brings up the cover issue again, which rears its ugly head every so often. Well, what do we know for sure? We know for sure that some authors are being paid flat fees for their books of sometimes as little as $2,500. We know that publishers believe that covers dictate sales to a great extent, hence new holographic cover designs, clinch covers, step-back covers, nearly naked covers.
Here's what we don't know. Are you and I basic buyers of romance? I, for one, rarely look at a cover until I've already decided to buy a book (from synopsis and review information). I buy many romances a month. I don't primarily buy from grocery stores, airports, or Target. But do I represent the average buyer? I may, in fact, represent the average romance reader, but are we the ones who in fact buy most romances? I've seen the statistics about the average income, age, and level of education of the average romance reader.
Why does it matter? It matters because of what the publishers believe. For every letter a publisher gets from an avid romance reader decrying the clinch cover, that publisher goes back to their market research showing that people apparently do buy books for their covers. As long as they believe that, I think we're stuck with the clinches, the expensive holograms, the models and painters who may be paid more than the writer her toiled to create the book you and I may come to love.
Help me sort this out. If you have facts and figures or just opinions, please share them with me.
And Another Thing!
There was a recent post on Aarlist (the list I administer) about best-sellers or highly publicized books that aren't really books. At least not in my opinion.
Leigh wrote: "Publishers don't seem to mind publishing a book that some famous actor or model supposedly wrote (who probably had someone else write it anyway). Any book has the potential to sell well. I hate to be tacky but I think if there were a book entitled How to Pick Your Nose and Get Away With It, it would sell well. Instead of wasting time on reprinting old books (changing the titles and book covers), why don't they take a risk and publish some new authors?
"I have sometimes heard romances being referred to as cookie-cutter novels. It would be nice to see some new ideas for writing styles instead of the specific guideline styles so readers can have some variety in stories."
I agree a great deal with what Leigh has written. Whenever I'm online or at the bookstore, I'm more likely to see a chat or booksigning with a celebrity, pseudo-celebrity, or Faye Resnick type than I am to meet a real author, someone who crafts words and spins stories for a living. Maybe I'm an old fogie, but to me it's just like trash television. Why are there talkshows filled with mothers who sleep with their daughter's boyfriends? Do I really want to hear what Paula Barbieri has to say in her upcoming book that she sold for seven figures?
I've been told that the publishers earn quite well on these tell-all books, and that who am I to say that such books are trash? After all, the argument goes, people say that about romance all the time. Then too, I've been told that the ghost writers who write these books for these pseudo-celebrities are just the hardworking authors I want to do well.
All of that may be true, but I don't like it. I don't like turning on the television and seeing crash-and-burn video specials the networks are pushing. I don't like going to my bookstore and seeing a line around the block for a tell-all book by someone who never had much of a career before sleeping with someone famous.
I'd rather read a book by a talented author who makes a nickel for every dollar made by this bimbo or that himbo. But it makes me sad. And more than a little angry. How about you? Where do you stand on this rant of mine? I promise not to bite, whether you agree with me or not. Please send me your thoughts on this topic by clicking here.
Romance Writer Speaks Out:
Romance writer Marsha Canham is a newcomer to The Romance Reader and Laurie's News & Views. But, as you'll be able to see from her recent e-mail below, she cares a great deal about what readers have to say, about reviews, about what the reader is owed, and about how the cheer-leading aspect of romance reviews in general are bad for the genre.
"Laurie, I was just reading through some of your back issues and came across this one from Sept 96 (My God, have you ever got a lot of goodies for someone like me, new to the web, to catch up on!) You mention that the reviews tend to cheat the reader if they are consistently good, even for borderline books. Well, believe me, they cheat the writer too -- some of us, anyway. I personally don't need my back patted. I want to know if I write a dud, how else am I supposed to improve on the next one?
"I give my manuscript to three different people before the editor even sees it so that they can give me honest opinions about what's wrong with it, what works, what doesn't. I remember not too long ago scrapping an entire book -- a whole year's work--because two out of three of these people said "it's a good book, but it's kind of ordinary." An awful lot of authors aren't quite so picky about their books, which is a shame, since a lot of those same authors have let their work slip to the point where they've arrived on the 'authors who disappoint' lists. Anyway, just thought I'd vent. I'm off to read some more; you might hear from me later along the line."
(I did indeed hear more from Marsha; she is one of the writers who responded to my last column and its link to the Wall-bangers page) Are you as happy to hear as I am that there are authors out there who care as much as Marsha does? I know she is not alone, that the majority of authors are as picky as she is. Other authors, I'd love to hear from you on this as well. Please e-mail me here.
A Few More Words on Wall-Bangers:
While I've tried to keep up with e-mails on the wall-banger topic, there's no way. I did add some author e-mails directly onto that page at The Archives, and would like to add some excerpts from a few more in this column before putting the issue to rest. I felt the comments below that added quite a bit of flavor to the discussion, even though I didn't agree with everything each reader had to say. I hope you enjoy these snippets as much as I did.
|From Mary Beth:
||Personally, for me, time is short, and my TBR is just too big. If by Chapter 4 I am not involved in the story, or care about the characters, I just have to put it down. I don't care what magic lies after page 50, the story is already ruined for me because I am not a part of it. There have been several times that I have had to, for various reasons, read a book that I disliked beyond this point and I found myself pulling even farther away from the story, nitpicking each and every little thing and starting to hate the author"
As a reader, I have every right to label, name, criticize any books that I deemed deserved this kind of treatment. Why ? 1) It's my money and I am entitled to it - ROI (return on investment) 2) In this country, we have this thing called - freedom of expression.
Granted, I have never actually threw a book against a wall but has come very close to it at times. I consider myself HM (high maintenance) - which means that I buy most of my books new - not that I have anything against used book stores (only need them for glomming) and that usually means spending at least $800 or more per year on books! Certain factors need to be considered when dealing with this issue:
- Environment - open forum, face-to-face ??
- Likes and dislikes are subjective
- Source - your opinion maybe swayed by someone you respect, if not, you make your own opinions no matter what anyone says..
- Obligation- once I buy a book, the only obligation I have is to myself - unless someone asks my opinion about it, then they can have it at their own risk
I too find there are books on the market that I read a portion of and either put down temporarily or permanently. Granted, usually it's not permanently. I have too much respect for authors and the work they do. I make an effort to finish, if only as one person put it, skimming it, every book I purchase. My hard earned money has gone into it and I like to get my money's worth.
I find that there is usually at least one thing I can find that I like about a book, if only that it provided a good laugh at one point or another due to poor or impossible orchestration, or ridiculous dialogue or something else.
It is also every reader's right to not like a particular book and within their right or in some people's view responsibility to tell that author as much. However, remember one thing. If you as a reader have read the book, even one page of it, you have already done one other thing. You've bought it. And even though you may never buy another book from that author, and you may tell all your friends not to buy one either, you have put money into that author's pocket, if only a small amount.
Let's Wrap it Up Now:
Thanks for sharing some of your free time with me. I'm pretty excited these days, about the interview I did with the Creative Consultant of Highlander: The Series, about the first 5-heart book I've read in months and months, about a new Catherine Coulter book that actually features a good hero (look for my review; it's a good book), and about my upcoming article based on a recent and brief conversation with Susan Elizabeth Phillips.
I've noticed our reviewers have read lots and lots of 4 and 5-heart books lately; hear's hoping that the rest of 1997 turns out to be as good as its start - book-wise at the very least!
Until next time, TTFN, Laurie Likes Books
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