Ever had one of those frustrating weeks where you just don’t get to curl up with a book as much as you’d like to? Yeah, me too. My day job pretty well ate my life last week and had me sitting in traffic all over northern Virginia as I went from appointment to appointment. On the plus side, I did get to catch up on blog reading in between all of the mad dashes and I found some interesting stuff over the past few days.
I like to read Jezebel every now and again because some of their writers do offer useful perspectives on women’s lives and they can be very supportive of women’s choices, history, literature and so on — except when they’re not. My general reaction to reading this article which somehow takes the idea of Jane Austen having both highbrow and lowbrow appeal and conflates it to the notion that her books are basically well-written Twilight. The author also takes care to get in a few slaps at modern romance authors, making sure to note that, “it goes without saying that Austen is way wittier and more talented than her modern day counterparts.” Continue reading
Everything I’ve ever written or posted at AAR has been under my own name. My real one. Since I’ve been doing this for well over a decade and have an unusual name, I figure I am about the easiest person to find on the internet. You google me, you get me. I made the choice early on, and I’ve always been comfortable with it. But we have several staff members who use a pseudonym. Reasons vary; for some it’s a professional issue, for others a privacy one. Honestly, when a reviewer wants to use an assumed name I don’t feel the need to ask them why. I don’t really care what you call yourself as long as you are professional.
It’s impossibly hot here in D.C. today and writing a cogent opinion is beyond me, I’m sorry to say. The best I can do is come up with a few things that I’ve been thinking about lately.
But first I better explain what I mean by my title. Here in the online romance world, some things become accepted as the general prevailing opinion fairly quickly. After all, we are all smart women who also love romance, and, as in all parts of life, the loudest and most persistent dominate. That is what it is. But little old me (and, I hope, others) don’t always feel as if I’m on the majority opinion team. So, here are a few ways I don’t feel part of the prevailing romance voice.
- I like Dukes marrying seamstresses. Okay, so I know it didn’t happen and I don’t give a rat’s ass. I read romance for fantasy and the Cinderella story is one of my very favorites. And when an author is as good as Loretta Chase, that’s all I need to know. I read the last two Chase novels with a great deal of pleasure and enjoyment.
- I don’t want “gritty realism” in my historical romance. There is enough poverty and problems in today’s world that I don’t want to experience it in those of the past. I don’t care how they cleaned their teeth or where they pissed. I just don’t want to know. Continue reading
I have a long-term relationship with the Ritas. I had no friends who read romances (or at least admitted that they did) when I began reading romances in the 1990s. So soon after I finished Jayne Ann Krentz/Amanda Quick’s complete backlist, I began searching the Web for ideas about which books to read next. Among the first resources I found was the Romance Writers of America’s Web site. Imagine my delight to discover the “best” of romance in their listing of recent Rita winners.
I was convinced these must be the best romance had to offer and began selecting romances to read from recent Rita winners; the process was a bit hit or miss. I discovered some winners that have become favorite romances, while others quickly went into my DNF pile. Still, I was – and remain – fascinated by the whole specter of the Ritas. I can remember sitting in my living room, with an old AOL dial-up connection (I did say this was the 1990s), watching as the Rita’s were presented live over the Web. This was a big deal for me; I felt as if I was actually part of the romance community.
Obviously things have changed. There are many, many online resources available to locate great new romances. And of course I now have many online friends and AAR colleagues who are also romance readers. But still, I look forward every year to the announcement of the Rita nominees and the eventual awards.
I hate Jersey Shore. I saw it just one time, when my daughter was watching the first episode and I happened to be in the room. I found the people horrifying, and the very idea that I was watching them filled me with despair. The only reason I would ever read Snooki’s book is if I was locked in a padded cell, and it was the only available reading material (in which case I’d read anything, up to and including all sixty zillion volumes of the annoying Magic Treehouse series, Cassie Edwards’ exclamation point filled backlist, and my husband’s tax accounting books). Clearly, Snooki and friends are not for me. Two of my colleagues, on the other hand, just can’t get enough of the Guidos and Guidettes. They eagerly await each new season and frequently discuss what’s happening. To them, it’s a guilty pleasure. Are they just idiots? Is MTV irresponsible for producing Jersey Shore? It’s not exactly high brow, after all. What if people start thinking they should be drunk all the time and show up late for work (because Snooki does that – or at least she did in the episode I saw)?
Those seem like silly questions, but last week’s heated discussion about rape and forced seduction made me think about how we get caught up in similar debates about romance novels all the time. Over the years I’ve seen it take many incarnations. Sometimes it’s that an author is stupid, or her writing is terrible, and anyone who reads and enjoys her books must be a moron. Sometimes something about the book is irresponsible – the way they handle a social issue or illness. The sexual behavior of the hero and heroine. Irresponsible and stupid lead to “bad,” and sometimes, to “dangerous.”
Recently Lynda X started a thread on the Potpourri board asking people what they loved about AAR. While we are appreciative of the sentiment and couldn’t be happier that AAR feels like home to some of you, I’d like to know what you might like – or might not like – about AAR these days.
Since Blythe, Lynn, and I took over, things have definitely changed, including a major redesign. Some features have gone and won’t be returning (ATBF, for one), others seem to have been on hiatus for some time and obviously we need a kick in the butt to get them going again. All of us have occupations and lives and finding the time is often difficult.
So, a few questions, but, please feel free to address anything. Are you satisfied with our message board moderation? Would you like to see the return of Special Title Lists? Are you happy with our regular posting of reviews these days? What would you like to see us do with the News Blog?
But the big question is back to the title of this blog: How are we doing?
- Sandy AAR
AAR’s sensuality ratings have come under discussion lately due to the changing nature of the romance industry in general. With the recent proliferation of racier novels, what was once declared Hot may now be considered barely Warm by our readers. The language used in love scenes, once a deciding factor in rating, has also changed drastically in recent years. Quaint euphemisms such as “manhood” or “heated channel” have fallen by the wayside.
If we update our sensuality ratings in response to changes in the industry, what sort of changes should we make?
One issue under discussion was possibly adding another category after Burning. For instance, Penelope and Prince Charming by Jennifer Ashley was given a Burning rating because of some mild anal play and very frank love scenes. But does PaPC compare to Sarah’s Seduction by Lora Leigh which would be given the same rating by today’s rules?
And how should language affect rating? In the not so distant past the words “cock” and “clit” were pretty rare in mainstream romance, their presence garnering a Hot rating just on principal. Is it shocking to read a review rated Warm, only to find language once considered very blue when you read the book? Conversely, some readers may be disappointed to purchase a book rated Burning because of language or one delicately described incident of alternative lovemaking, when their hope was for something more raunchy.
Okay, so maybe it’s just me who can’t, but I really don’t think so.
It’s hard to remember these days, but the respect and credibility we now take for granted for this online thing we do didn’t come without a battle. When Laurie Gold started All About Romance, online reviewing was still, with the exception of The Romance Reader, made up of sites producing happy-happy-joy-joy reviews.
But Laurie Gold fought. And fought. And sometimes she got knocked back on her face and there were certainly missteps along the way, but, for the most part, there is now general acceptance from authors and publishers that honest reader reviews are good for romance.
It wasn’t easy getting here, but it happened. Welcome to the new world, romance readers!
With that said, the happy-happy-joy-joy review has its place and its audience and those sites are upfront enough about what they are that readers who want a friendly approach are happy and those looking for honest reviews know to avoid them. No harm, no foul, so I’m not talking here about the softball sites.
Here’s the thing that’s making me increasingly uncomfortable: With Twitter bringing authors and reviewers closer than ever before, a line that used to be hard is now getting blurry.
During my life I’ve been a critic and/or a reviewer of books, movies, theatre, live events, and art. I’ve written a weekly book review column as well as a weekly art critic column.
Everywhere I’ve worked and for everyone who edited my writing, what a critic or reviewer is and should do has been a bit different.
In the early ‘70s, my editors saw the job as that of critic, the point being to give an honest critique of art pieces I saw in local galleries. Critique, in this case, meant being harsh. I tended to write my columns only about pieces I liked and avoided technical art language in favor of the language used by everyday people. I tried to describe the art in terms of how the piece made me feel, not how the various art elements worked in the piece. Oddly (to me), my columns produced positive letters to the editor, which, of course, made my editors happy.
When I switched newspapers, I became a critic at large, being assigned various entertainment events to cover. This included people like Tony Orlando and Dawn or Liberace, family events like the Ringling Brothers Circus, and generally any event other critics couldn’t cover.
When I was at the RWA conference this past summer, someone asked me how long I’d been reviewing online. “Since 1998,” I replied. Then saw the double take. “1998???”
Yep, that long. I’ve watched AAR go from renegade to respected institution. I’ve seen perceptions of online reviewers change from the Rodney Dangerfield-esque days of “No Respect” to, well, respect. I’ve reviewed in three separate decades of my life, starting in my twenties, continuing through the entire decade of my thirties, and now entering my forties. I’ve watched trends, authors, and publishers come and go.
The point of this is not that I am getting old (my kids remind me of that often), or that I’m a dinosaur by Internet standards, but that I’ve seen a lot of people come and go over twelve years. Not only on AAR, but elsewhere. Life’s complicated, and it’s busy. People have babies, lose jobs, get jobs, move, and burn out. Hang around awhile, and you’ll appreciate what it takes to maintain your interest, your passion, and your love of romance year after year. (Just ask Ellen, who has been at AAR longer than I).