Defending the Faith

Joan_of_Arc_(133751960) Every year in the days leading up to Valentine’s Day and on the holiday itself, the radio station I listen to every morning engages in a tradition that always gets under my skin. They call it “Romantic Ramblings,” and it involves sending one of the on-air DJs from the morning drive team over to nearest Walgreens, where he (always a he) selects a romance novel off the shelf, opens to a random page, and begins reading the “smut” he finds inside.

The DJ is instructed to select the book with the most extreme cover, and given that he always – always – manages to select a page that contains some kind of physical interaction between the hero and heroine, you have to wonder how random his selection process truly is. No romance, not even the bodice rippers of old, contains sex on every single page but he manages to hit pay dirt 100% of the time. The folks back in the studio giggle and joke while bow-chicka-wow-wow music plays in the background. Despite the bit’s title – “Romantic Ramblings” – there’s nothing romantic about it. It’s more titillating in that thirteen-year-old boys ogling contraband copies of Playboy sort of way.

And every year, when I catch this segment on air, I feel my blood pressure start to rise. Not only is it a weak gag because it involves absolutely no imagination on the part of the DJs, in every way this bit reenforces the worst stereotypes people have of the romance genre: That all romance novels contain copious amounts of near-porno-level, gratuitous sex and little else to recommend them, and, by implication, those who read them surely are after one thing and one thing only.

I sit down at my laptop with every intention of sending a scathing e-mail to the radio station bigwigs and the on-air personalities, letting them know what I think of their idea of entertainment. They would never even consider doing something that offended people of a particular race or religion, for example, so why is it okay to mock a group of people because of the entertainment they enjoy? Then I remember what I learned in a college advertising class – that the more strongly you tell people how wrong they are, the more strongly they will hold on to their original opinions regardless of their validity. Venting might make me feel better but it won’t make a difference as far as the radio show goes. “Romantic Ramblings” will be a staple of next Valentine’s season.

Then I wonder how much of a responsibility I have to try to change the image people hold of the romance genre. Is it my job to speak up when I feel that romance readers are being disparaged or slighted? As a romance genre aficionado, am I charged with carrying the banner into battle? Is there a special pin I’m supposed to wear proudly? Millions of words have been written and spoken in the defense of romance novels, and I certainly don’t need to repeat the arguments here, preaching to the choir. Yet this particular ship of change hasn’t even begun the achingly slow process of stopping much less turning around. Why is this? Is it because romance readers remain such a silent majority?

To be honest, as long as bare-chested men and scantily clad women cling to each other on glossy, full-color embossed covers, some people will believe the worst about books labeled romance, and I can almost understand why. I love my Nook e-reader in big part because I can read what I want with absolute privacy as to my choices. In my home, my bookshelves are lined with romance novels, and I don’t feel any need to hide them from visitors. I’m not ashamed of my reading choices, and my friends and family don’t judge me. But I confess, I don’t like to read books with traditional clinch covers in public. I find them embarrassing because they misrepresent what I’m reading or why I’m reading it.

I know that most people who hold extremely false ideas about romance novels have most likely never actually read one, as is probably the case with my annoying DJ friends. Or, if any of them have (after all, there are two female personalities on the morning drive crew), they’d never admit to it. They may be the ones laughing loudest during “Romantic Ramblings” just to make sure that nobody would ever believe that they have even read – much less enjoyed- a romance novel. I find this to be the equivalent of laughing at a joke even if you find it offensive simply to avoid ugly confrontations, but hey, they are the ones who have to live with themselves.

Maybe if every romance novel reader in the listening area were to contact the radio station and complain about “Romantic Ramblings”, the sheer numbers would shock the producers and they’d put a stop to the bit. Maybe if I got together a petition or started a letter writing campaign, they’d see that many of us aren’t laughing. Maybe I should write an editorial to the newspaper, or start a Facebook page called “Romance Reader Bullying Is Not Okay”…

But then I step back and let it go. Because to be quite honest, trying to change these peoples’ misconceptions is simply not worth all of the work. If they can’t come up with anything better than the tired old cliché that romance novels are just porn for women, they have my pity. After all, they’re missing a lot of good books.

And besides, it’s a heck of a lot easier just to turn the radio station.

– Jenna Harper

8 thoughts on “Defending the Faith

  1. I don’t defend my reading materilal. For one thing, I read a large variety of books. When people talk to me about what I read I don’t let them pigeon hole me. For another, the only genre books I have seen garner even a little respect are mysteries. Sci-fi/Fantasy used to have covers of loin clothed men chasing scantily clad women across some desert terrain or fighting off giant bugs. http://www.vintagepbks.com/avonsfcovers.html
    Not all of them were like this but enough were that they gave the whole genre a black eye. So I think other genre readers feel our pain. :-)

    I also don’t defend my reading because I like what I read. I don’t have to sit there and listen to somebody who probably spends the time I do reading either gossiping on the phone or watching TV tell me I read junk. Like you I would change the station ;-)

    • Me either. I am past that point. You can find drivel in any media. I can’t understand what people see in some shows on television. And it is not important to me to defend my reading choices. I figure my dollars do that.

  2. Any idiot can point and giggle. There are those who look at classic paintings and only see naked people instead of the message. Any medium can be misunderstood and frankly there is more stupid out in the world than any one person can try to change. I vote for change the station, too.

    On a positive note, the flexibility of the ereader is helpful to widen the door to the uninformed. I have had several “porn for women” people in my own family read books when they don’t have to hold covers that scream sex. they actually read the books and liked them!

    With the history of art departments having a disconnect from the actual writing, it isn’t surprising that people are hesitant to pick up the ‘sex’ book. For my family, it really doesn’t matter the content of there is an bodice ripper picture on the front. They have refused to consider reading “that trash” and have missed out on some really good books.

  3. Obvious those dj’s don’t have much imagination if they can’t think of some other kind of Romantic Ramblings other than the same thing year after year. Or maybe they are just jealous because none of them have written books which are available at the corner drugstore.

  4. criticizing something without actually ever trying it is a mark of a small mind.
    while I’m not embarrassed of my reading choices I will admit to being embarrassed by the covers. I really don’t understand why publishers feel the need sex up the covers all the time,
    I find it a little offensive that publishers believe that the only way to attract people towards the genre by sensationalizing the covers and the titles etc.
    they’r good books and people who like to read will be drawn towards them with or without the added titillation.

  5. Those DJs remind me of teens and young adults I sometimes see in bookstores, snickering at romance covers or making fun of the dialogue in books. Of course those people are in their 20s,and the DJs are older and should be more “mature.” ;)

    Next time a publisher complains that younger people don’t read romance, maybe they should watch them in bookstore, snickering at the covers. Gee, I wonder why young women don’t read your books? If they want romance, they can buy a young adult novel with a romance story and a better cover.

  6. I am convinced of the therapeutic value of reading romance. To my knowledge, nobody has done a study on this. But I have known women who were going through periods of great stress, who read compulsively; surely there are endorphins released in the reading of a book in which difficult problems are resolved or reconciled, and there is a happy ever after. That little time the books give you in an alternate universe can be a temporary release from a horrible life situation: surely reading romance is better than turning to alcohol or drugs.

  7. SEX IS NOT LOVE….at least thats how look at it. I love reading Romance books and yes, I do love some of the hot, steamy scenes if it has to do with the story line. I have also read many romantic books that are Christian romance and are just as beautiful without the scenes. I don’t like the books that are just about the detailed sex. BORING!!!. So Valentine’s Day, already to commercialized, is about LOVE for all people.
    I read most of my books on Kindle so I don’t see the covers. Do I get books because of a cover. No! thanks for letting me Vent

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