I’m almost afraid to admit it on the internet, but this past weekend I read “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Not just the first one, but all three. I really, truly did. If you don’t know what that is, go look it up. Here’s the Amazon link. I tried to find a NYT article on it, but I didn’t find any that actually talked about the book, only about how women use e-readers to read porn.
Oh, interested now? Go read a synopsis and come back.
Ok. So why’d I do it?
Let’s start with this: I really, really like romance novels. I started reading them about two years back and really got into them last summer. I’d just go to the library, stuff 5 or 6 into a beach bag, and peace out for a few hours. I can get through one in about three hours, which makes them perfect for those afternoons that I really don’t want to do anything, but can’t commit more time than that to a book. (Or I really don’t want to.)
The first romance novel I ever read (I think) was Nell by Jeanette Baker. We were at a Games and she was signing books and for some reason Mom and I thought this sounded like fun. Actually, I’m pretty sure it was just Mom and I was there for the duration, but whatever. This book ended up at home and I read it. Then I put it down and forgot about romance for a good long while. (Probably a good thing; while I think there is NOTHING WRONG with reading romance novels, the fact that my more impressionable youth was influenced more by Robert Heinlein and science fiction and less by Nora Roberts and romance at least let’s me fool myself into thinking I’m a more reasonable, logical person. Somewhere my roommate is laughing herself to death.)
I eventually got my hands on my dad’s kindle, and just wanted to play around with it. And you know what’s really cheap (and mostly free) and very prolific in the Amazon kindle store? Romance novels. Boom, I’m a goner. There are these stories with women who know what they want, who don’t know what they want, who are smart, who have never gone to school, who have careers, who are just waiting to be married off, who don’t want to be married, who can’t have kids, who want to have kids but not really- there are women like me! Maybe a little prettier, maybe a little better off (grad student living can be fun, but not always glamorous), but they have emotions and thoughts that I can relate to.
Let’s be clear: sometimes romance novel heroines do really stupid shit. And romance novel heroes, handsome and rich as they are (but sometimes are not), can start as Grade-A asshats. There is rarely a book I don’t yell at, and if I don’t yell at it, it probably isn’t that good anyway. People do stupid stuff every day; that isn’t something romance writers made up. Most novels, last time I checked, have some problem that must be Dealt With, or else it’s pretty boring. But the point is, I find it easy to identify something in a romance novel that just clicks for me. And I can find the ones I love (then find more) and the ones I hate (and avoid those), and mix them into the rest of my library.
For a little clarification, romance is not the same as chick lit (which I hate). In my opinion romance has a hero, a heroine, a problem, a solution, and a happily ever after. Chick lit has a main guy, a main gal, a best friend or three, a lost job, a misunderstanding, a separate-but-equally-important-problem, unpaid bills, and lots of other things that are just..ugh. I’m a little biased in that I don’t really like “modern” romances either (that is, set now as opposed to…like 200 years ago).
See what I did there? I didn’t mention sex. Yes, a romance novel OFTEN has some steamy sexytimes in there, but it isn’t a given every single time. Inspirational (aka Christian) romance? Nope, not really. Or at least everyone is married first. It isn’t my cup of tea, but for a lot people it does it for them. And you’d be amazed/flabbergasted at some of the creative ways authors describe a couple of people doing the dirty.
So what does this have to do with Fifty Shades? In case you’ve been under a rock, this book has exploded. It’s top of the charts for Amazon kindle and has been for some time, bouncing back and forth with the Hunger Games trilogy. I finally just broke down and read the silly things. (Short Ra(w)R: I wasn’t that impressed, but I read all three anyway because I needed to know how it ended. Dammit. I’m going to do an actual review on these, so no stress.) Then I found Sarah Wendell’s Everything I Know About Love I Learned From Romance Novels, which is brilliant and I highly recommend everyone read, because it’ll save a lot of stress later if we all work from the same set of rules. Wishful thinking. (I’m also going to post a review for that as well.) THEN I thought about the history of romance novels, which Sarah Wendell discusses a little bit in her book, mainly about the “bodice-rippers” that were popular for a good chunk of time and which were honestly really unhealthy. Sorry, but sex that starts as rape and ends with all parties involved declaring eternal love just isn’t believable. Or attractive.
But that isn’t where romance started. As a genre, it just isn’t that new. And that’s where my new project starts. I’m going to read Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure by John Cleland, followed by Lady Chatterly’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence in an attempt to see how much or if at all, romance has changed over the centuries.
Fear not, my blog is not changing to a romance novel blog. For that, we have Smart Bitches, Trashy Books (see the link in the sidebar). I’m merely going to direct your attention to the fact that there will be some cross-posting discussion in the upcoming weeks. First I’m going to post a review of Sarah Wendell’s book, then Fifty Shades, then Fanny Hill, then Lady Chatterly. I estimate to be done with the romance thing by the middle of June, because what with finishing spring semester, my two week summer school class, B’s graduation, going home, R’s graduation, and starting an internship I think I’ll be wanting to spend my free time with more with my amigas and less with my kindle, but you never know. Lots of plane time in there.
Thoughts? Questions? Concerns? Leave ’em in the comments so we can all share!