Reader Prejudice, or Don’t Knock It Until You Try It

daniellesteelbooks As readers of romance, we’re familiar with literary prejudice– the Fabio jokes, the scoffs and eye rolls, the shame in reading one in public. I always defend my preferred genre, and berate people for making such judgments about an entire genre that they’ve never read. Woe be they who dare disparage a romance novel without having read it.

And then there’s Danielle Steel. When talking about romance novels, I’m careful to distinguish between what I read, and her “family dramas.” I hedge when they’re lumped together. I roll my eyes. I scoff. And I’ve never read a single one of her books.

How is my attitude any different from the prejudices I face as romance reader? I’ll tell you — it’s not. While some insist they read “women’s fiction — not romance,” I shove Danielle Steel’s books away, judging without having read them.

To retain my moral high ground, I’ve thought about just giving in and reading one. But while I have gained enough confidence to bring up books with the most ridiculous of covers to the library counter or store register, I just can’t bring myself to do the same with a Danielle Steel title. Mostly, I’m afraid of actually liking it and becoming someone who reads Danielle Steel novels, which in my mind has been the equivalent of throwing any literary intellect out the window. It’s not fair to her as a very successful author, and it’s not fair to her millions of readers, but it’s my gut reaction.

And how often have I had a snap judgment of people I’ve seen reading science fiction or fantasy, another oft disparaged genre? Or dismissed someone for preferring graphic novels to the non-illustrated kind? I’m clearly not alone in this. Even mysteries and thrillers, generally the most accepted among genre fiction, are frequently labeled “trash.”

So I offer myself, and all of you, a challenge. As victims and perpetrators of book bias, we should all read a book we would have otherwise shunned, whether it’s a pure fantasy novel, or maybe a graphic novel, or a Danielle Steel or some other luridly connoted novel. I, for one, will be going out and, ahem, steeling myself to bring one up to the library check-out counter, and maybe even bring it into work to read on a slow day. Will you join in?

– Jane Granville

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19 Responses to “Reader Prejudice, or Don’t Knock It Until You Try It”

  1. lindajean says:

    Jane,
    I like this. I never would read any vampire books, or any paranormals. Tried one once years ago and didn’t like it at all. Then I found a Sookie Stackhouse novel on a freebie shelf in a cafe and tried it. I loved it. So now I’m all in favor of reading outside of one’s comfort zone.

  2. Nathalie T says:

    I will have to try a Swedish mystery novel. I’ve actually never read one but since there are several authors that have been translated into ex. German some people do like them.

  3. Dishonor says:

    It’s really so true. My part of the bookshelf used to be exclusively the fantasy section, and I used to sneer at romance readers and turn away from their rather embarrassing covers (half naked people! really!). Then, I started reading some fantasy with romantic elements that didn’t make me wince, and after meeting up with a few book blogs, I’ve become a dedicated historical romance reader.

    It’s really about keeping an open mind, I think.

  4. Pat says:

    LOL. Danielle Steel is the romance author who years ago made me decide NOT to read romances. Like you, one year I decided to read the most popular books in each of the genres so I would know what the genre was like and whether I enjoyed it or not. I chose Danielle Steel as the representative of romance. Bad, bad choice!

    Consequently, I ended up reading mysteries (and even reviewing them for print publications) for years. When people asked about romance, I’d always say that I’d read some but wasn’t impressed.

    Ten years later I decided to repeat the experiment, but read more widely in the genres. Whoa! Romances? Love them. Westerns? Love them. Sci-Fi? Love a few of them, mostly the non-techy ones. Fantasy? Love many of them. Erotica? Still not convinced, particularly those with no plot.

    So in essence I agree. Reading outside ones usual fare becomes the opening of doors into vast new worlds–some I enjoy traveling and some I back away from quickly.

  5. MarissaB says:

    Sure, Jane. I’ll join you in this challenge.

    I’ve heard people sneer at Danille Steel books, too, and have had no desire to read her. Fortunately, my library has self-checkout, so no one will know what I’m taking home. =D

  6. Debra says:

    OK, I will admit I have read Danielle Steel, she has had some books that were very good. Jewels, Thourston House, The House are just a few that for me were very good. I do not read her now because she just isn’t as good as some of my other fav authors and if I had to make choice she is not one of them. But she did have a few good books and I know allot of people still love her.

    I would never shifter books, I thought no way these books could be good. Then I had a friend who told me to try Lora Leigh’s breed series. Well I was hooked, I loved them and now am reading books I never would of picked up. So it is kind of good to go outside of the box, you never know what you will find.

  7. runner10 says:

    I just finished Danielle Steel’s Family Ties. I enjoyed it more than her last few books. It was very current and believable. Give it a try!!

  8. Wendy says:

    Funny, I’ve never read Danielle Steel for the same reasons as Jane. I was totally opposed to Nora Roberts also, until one day (10 Years ago) I needed something to read and there were so many of hers to choose from. :) I’ve since read most of her books. I suppose, don’t knock it till you try it. Guess, I’ll take this challenge too, there are a lot of D.S. to choose from as well.

  9. bungluna says:

    I’m a readaholic from way back. I go through phases were I prefer one genre or another. For many years I lived overseas where getting English books, (my preferred reading language) was somewhat difficult. I often had to pick up books that I wouldn’t have looked at if I’d had more choice, but hey, must feed reading habit.

    I discovered that I didn’t care for some authors (Danielle Steele) though they were readable in an emergency. I also discovered some authors (Dick Francis) who became particular favorites in spite of writing in a genre I’m not fond of. Who kew?

    Anyway, yes, it is a good thing to look around and sample what’s popular. It might not end up being a favorite, but if a lot of people like it, maybe one will too!

  10. JML says:

    I learned my lesson at a very young age when I would point and laugh at my brother and his stupid comic books. Then one day he sold some of them to buy his first car. My collection of early Harlequins probably wouldn’t buy me a wheel cover.

    I’m still guilty of that kind of prejudice. I find myself shaking my head at people who collect, love and actually READ cookbooks.

    I’m not willing to go so far as to buy a cookbook but I may read an autobiography. I sneer at them usually so it will be fun (in a sad, why don’t I have a life kind of way) to give one a read.

  11. Rosario says:

    I’m actually happy I read a few Danielle Steeles way back when I first started reading romance, because it means I can now sneer with justification, LOL!

    But you do have a point, I find myself making assumptions about the intelligence of people reading celebrity gossip magazines, and then suddenly realising that they are probably doing the same thing with me, for reading romance novels.

  12. Ellen AAR says:

    I read several Danielle Steel books years ago and liked some of them. I remember enjoying Jewels very much. I think there are good books in every genre, and I’d never say that all (insert genre here) are trash and not worth reading. I do draw the line at celebrity gossip magazines, although I do sneak a peek at the covers while I wait in line at the grocery.

    My own bookshelves are very eclectic. I have books on religion, history, biography, and yes, cookbooks. On the fiction side I have romance, mystery, classics, fantasy, and science fiction. The only genre I don’t have is westerns. I love western movies, but not novels.

  13. Sue says:

    While I definitely the support of reading outside one’s comfort zone, I will continue to refuse to give a plagiarist one red cent, thank you very much. :)

  14. ann says:

    JML – if you are looking for an autobiography, I enjoyed “Leap of Faith” by Queen Noor of Jordan.

  15. Julie says:

    I will admit, I finally branched out this week and tried paranormal again. I don’t know if the reason I hated it before was because I read a particularly bad book or what, but I started reading Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changeling series and I LOVE THEM. I’m now buying all the books in the series and can only hope the rest are as good as the first one. So, I say bah to people who aren’t willing to branch out. Find an author in a genre you aren’t familiar with that everyone seems to like and give it a shot. You never know what you’ll find.

  16. bavarian says:

    Readaholic, a very good description of myself. So I read nearly everything or better said I try everything. But there are many genres I feel they are not for me, even in the romance genre itself.
    Danielle Steel, read her, two or three times and now I’ll never try her again. An English author, Rosamunde Pilcher, has some very successful books in Germany (even a series of tv shows) but I can’t stand her, after trying the books my mother was so fond of. Nicholas Sparks – I tried, but no. In my experience many of the world wide bestsellers are not for me. I’ve also tried some of the German bestsellers and also no.
    As for prejudices: I’ve a very big one, but it is a prejudice not so much about the books themselves but about the readers. There seems to be a lot of people who read only books they found on a bestseller list, who orient themselves only by what others seem to judge as good, who have no own mind about what they read.

  17. Victoria S says:

    Jane, you must have been in my head when I ordered the “BY Moonlight” trilogy by Nancy Gideon. They are shape-shifter books, which I don’t particularly read, but it was offered as a trilogy (I love three-fers) and it sounded kinda interesting. I am now hooked on Max and Charlotte. They remind me of Rourke and Eve Dallas, only instead of Irish and a used-to-be-criminal, he’s a shape shifter and still a criminal. I understand she will be doing several more in the “Midnight” series, and I will be right there with her.
    Who knows, Danielle Steele could well be next :-)

  18. konyha says:

    I have begrudgingly read several of Danielle Steele’s books (as well as Barbara Cartland and Nora Roberts) when I was stranded at my mum’s a few weeks one summer.

    Believe me, Danielle Steel is doing quite well without the handful of varied points of view here:
    http://online.wsj.com/article/NA_WSJ_PUB:SB10001424052748704820904575055810681797400.html

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