Reclaiming Romance One Poll and Cover at a Time

Here we go again, another insulting reference to the romance genre. Or is it? Click on the following link to participate in an MSNBC poll about reading romance. Do you or don't you?

Last I checked, romance was winning. What many romance writers and fans objected to in this poll was the language, referring to romances as "bodice-rippers." I don't mind the term too much. It's certainly colorful. But I suppose it's a derogatory term for a romance, especially an historical romance, where perhaps the history isn't exactly accurate and the heroine gets ravished by the hero every ten pages or so (hence the ripped bodice). I remember I was just thrilled to be able to pronounce the word "bodice" correctly after all the historical romances I read (no small feat when you're 13-years old!).

Maybe romance writers should reclaim the term "bodice ripper" as our own. Sort of like the movement to reclaim the word "chick" and how younger women began referring to themselves as "girlz." Can't hurt you if you take the phrase and re-form it.

But I have to tell you what really bugged me recently. A few weeks ago I attended the Book Expo America at the L.A. Convention Center. It was wild and wooly and overwhelming. I walked by one table and noticed something about plain covers and romance. So I went closer to have a look and talk to the two people sitting at the table. They were selling plain covers or covers that had classics on the front. The idea was to cover your less than stellar reading material with this faux cover. Really reading Secrets Volume 21? No worries. Slap on a fake cover that proclaims to the world that you're reading A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Yuck! and Yikes!

Of course they were advertising their covers primarily to hide romances. So I challenged them on their little scheme, announcing that I was a romance writer and didn't appreciate people implying there was something wrong with reading romance. They back-pedaled and told me that the covers were helpful if you happened to be reading "Sex and the Single Pearl" (not really) and you had children at home and didn't want them to see the covers. Snort. My two boys (10 and 12) have seen my covers, and they just roll their eyes. I made nice with the two fake-cover-sellers and went along my merry way. But really, would you want to date some guy or be friends with someone who's PRETENDING to read something they're not? What would happen if you were participating in this ruse and someone asked you, "So do you see Sydney Carton as a Christ-like figure?" If you're actually reading A Tale of Two Titties and not A Tale of Two Cities, how are you going to respond?

Weird stuff going on... Anyway, if you love reading romance, shout it loud and proud by responding to MSNBC's poll. (This is probably the most buzz MSNBC has generated since Chris Matthews got tingles up his thighs.)


Nicole North said...

Great post! I hadn't heard about the fake book covers with a classic title covering the real one. Yeah, that could put someone in an awkward situation if they haven't read the book they're pretending to. I have sometimes seen people using other types of book covers made of cloth or something with no titles. Then I like to slip closer and look at the top of the page to see the title or author. It's usually a romance. So even if people are terribly ashamed of reading romance, they still love it. haha Maybe they feel it's forbidden and must sneak around and read the delicious hot stuff. :-)

Sandy said...

Great post, Carol. Oh boy, don't people go to great lengths to do the forbidden, Nicole. No wonder romance sells so well. lol We need to advertise romance as forbidden and reap in new readers by the thousands.


Tina said...

Wow, this MSNBC poll is all over the place. The term bodice rippers is a bit derogatory, but I was more upset with the choice:

No way, I never tough those books

As if touching a romance novel will turn you into a mindless idiot :)


Sandy said...

Oh, but Tina, don't you know that readers of romance are considered too mindless to read anything else more substantial. lol How many people do you know who only read books that have some educational value (in their opinion) while they believe only the illiterate will read a simple romance. GRRRR!

Carol Ericson said...

Nicole, I've seen the black plastic covers for ahem, men's magazines, but surely romance, even erotic romance, doesn't fall into that category, does it?

Sandy, yes let's start promoting romance as forbidden and watch even MORE people pick it up!

Tina, I didn't even address that other phrase - nope never touch the stuff - as if it's toxic! What's so bad about love and happily ever after? Would much rather read about love than suicides and alcoholism and mental illness and depression - apparently the things "serious" novels are made of.

Nicole North said...

Hi Carol,
The covers I meant weren't black plastic. They're made out of floral cloth or quilted pastels that looks like grandma made it. I sat beside a nun one time in a public place and she was reading a mass market sized paperback with a quilted floral cover on it. I was like... hmm, wonder if she's reading a religious book? I descretely glanced over. It was a historical romance by a well known author. The title was Scandalous something or other. I didn't say anything but I was thinking, woohoo! Heehee, score one for romance. I have even been to used bookstores that sell these floral cloth covers. I guess to help their customers along in reading more forbidden stories, therefore increasing their book sales. LOL

Tina said...

Oh, Sandy, don't you know that unless the fiction you read is about abuse, addiction, surviving or murder, it's all dribble?

How can happily ever after be a bad thing?


Tess said...

Loved your blog! I had heard about the poll and sent my two cents in to the Today website, explaining that anyone who thought romances were "oodice-rippers" in this day and age were stuck in the 70s and ignorant of modern romantic literature! Personally, and as a romance author, I don't want to reclaim that term. The image it presents in the mind of people who don't know a darn thing about romance is one that can only hurt the genre. Thanks for your great insights and loved the story about the fake covers! ROFL!! That's just too much! If I felt that embarrassed about reading a romance, I just wouldn't read them!!

Liza James said...

Hi Carol!

I proudly read my books in public, so I have no understanding of someone who's too ashamed to. If someone glances at my book, I hold the cover up and tell them all about it. LOL

Great blog!!

Carol Ericson said...

Nicole, that's hilarious about the nun. My aunt was a nun, and she was one savvy lady.

Tina and Sandy, that's why the media (and I guess lots of readers too) ate up that book, passed off as non-fiction but turned out to be fiction, by that guy who was on Oprah. Why would she choose to recommend a book that delves into all the most horrendous aspects of human life - addiction, gangs, prison, etc. - and not recommend a romance, which often times celebrates the idea of conquering our demons and finding true love. That's why so many people are addicted, depressed, suicidal, join gangs in the first place - they don't know how to love, have never gotten true love, don't know how to give love.

Tess, so true, the term "bodice ripper" is so dated. (I still kind of like it though, although not the connotations.)

Carol Ericson said...

Liza, me too. I think romance covers are great looking.

Stacey Joy Netzel said...

Yeah, I was more annoyed by the second choice "No, way. I don't touch those books.", too. All they needed to do was italicize 'those' and add an exclamation point.

But readers and writers alike rallied quite well. :)

Carol, kudos to you for approaching the fake-cover sellers and saying your piece!

Lexi said...

Good for you for sticking up for romance! I've never heard of the fake covers before.

As for the MSNBC poll, I voted! I have issue with "bodice-ripper" because romances have so much to offer and that term makes them all sound dirty to me. Plus, I write romantic thriller manuscripts and there's no bodice ripping in my story.