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