(this is satire/fantasy; my grandfather is dead but work with me here.)
MY GRANDPA WRITES ABOUT ROMANCE!!!
Grandpa is smart and brilliant about literature and biographies of famous people. The man worked at America’s great literary magazine and great publishing houses. His blood is made of ink. His memoir is super cool, chock full of the intimate knowledge of the world of books in the latter 2Oth century and is surprisingly breezy fun. But do not cross this man, he will slice and dice you. Verbally, that is. Grandpa is not a fighter.
I must add that Grandpa is an obsessive collector of retro plastic handbags. See! He is interesting. Plus, he loves ballet. Who doesn’t? He adores ballet dancers, elegant and beautiful, the art of it!
Now, someone at “All the News” decided my Grandpa should write a critical assessment of Romance novels this year. Fair enough. My Grandpa knows if you want to write a critical evaluation of any particular literature, you need to be steeped in it, read widely in it and thought deeply on the topic. But, since the article was on Romance, Grandpa decided that was all stuff and nonsense. He could wing it.
To be fair, he asked me about romance books, and I printed out lists of RWA Rita winners, RT Magazine recommendations and a couple of great Goodreads lists on the best of Romance.
But he tossed them in a desk drawer and never looked at them
I told him to read a variety of blogs but he ignored me because blogs are his idea of evil in the world and he will not engage.
MOM! Did you tell him about my blog? No? Oh, good.
I babbled about the genres – so many! so varied!; Action & Adventure, African American, Anthologies, Clean&Wholesome, Contemporary, Erotica, Fantasy, Gay Romance, Gothic, Historical, Holidays, Inspirational, Lesbian Romance, Military, Multicultural, New Adult & College, Paranormal, Regency, Romantic Comedy, Romantic Suspense, Science Fiction, Sports, Time Travel, Vampires, Western, Werewolves & Shifter.
He nodded and said there is Regency, Suspense, Sweet, 50 Shades and Nora Roberts.
MOM! I think Grandpa needs a new hearing aid.
He decided to have some fun with his assignment and decided on a funny, sarcastic tone, always popular with the cocktail crowd. SO MUCH FUN! Grandpa used a ‘He said, she said’ structure to mock. Grandpa forgot that sarcasm is the lowest form of wit and so he proceeded to cherry pick things from a scattering of books. Hell, I can turn Thomas Mann into crap doing that. Note: blog idea!
I am fairly sure his assistant got drunk at lunch, went into a bookstore and grabbed a stack of books then someone added some ARC copies that were cluttering up an editor’s desk.
Grandpa’s biggest problem is that he hates sex written by a woman. Rape or miserable literary sex is interesting because well, it’s so fucking tortured. Oddly I agree, terrible sex is so interesting. BUT sex is an affirmation of life, of female desire and sexual want and Grandpa doesn’t want ladies talking about that. Nope.
Romance novels are descendants of the poems of Courtly love which Grandpa thinks are amazing – I mean they are really old poems. He likes everything old. Even dead Romance authors are good. Daphne du Maurier once reviled for pop romance triviality is now lauded by the literary establishment.
Grandpa just hates all this sex stuff in Romance – explicit enjoyable sex written by women! It’s just unseemly and suspiciously, potentially enjoyable by the reader. Barbara Cartland would have never done that. Grandpa forgot she is dead – she stopped writing like 40 years ago. Time is a little fuzzy for him – be kind, we are all going to be old one day.
He starts his discussion on this season’s Romance with a ten-year-old book, so you know right outta the gate that this is not going well.
MOM, did you forget his meds again. You know how he gets!
He gets mean about a whole series of lovely authors. That author who wrote about joyful orgasms. He claims she ended her book on a line with the hero and heroine coming together, but he was wrong. There was another paragraph. Sort of changes his outrage. He was upset that she dared write about simultaneous orgasms – who would do that? My kind of author.
Don’t bring the subject up with him, he goes pale, and I think he might have a heart attack. Yes, I tried to engage him. Sigh. You know Grandpa is not thumbs up about sex positivity. For him, sex is dirty, and he’s going to prove it how stupid these romance novels are because they use words like squirming or delight. I personally like the word ‘squirming’, it’s very visceral.
You are probably wondering how much an 86-year-old man can know about sex but I’m not speculating about Grandpa’s sex life because yuck!
Of course, Grandpa thinks of himself as a liberal, and he has edited authors of color, so he can’t be racist, can he?
This priceless nugget from the article says it all:
“Oh, yes — Zoe and Carver are African-Americans, though except for some scattered references to racial matters, you’d never know it. (Well, you would from the cover.)”
Yes, Grandpa thinks African-Americans better act and talk like African-Americans, or really what’s the point of reading about them! He said it was a missed opportunity. I told him that old white men don’t get to make those decisions. He laughed and told me a funny story about a famous African-American playwright he knew well which I already knew because I read his damn memoir.
Okay, I apologize for my Grandpa. He is totally the opposite of woke. In fact, he’s napping now. Yes, it’s true 90% of all old white people have deep-seated racist beliefs. That is a totally scientific number. Actually, I pulled that out of my ass just like my Grandpa did with his article.
He admires women who write spunky, ‘My Brilliant Career’ kind of stuff. Katharine Hepburn rolling up her sleeves and saying witty things type of career gal. Or Lauren Bacall’s sass and gumption. He edited her, he adored her. La-di-la.
But what really pisses Grandpa off is that women spend time dreaming about love and sex. I’m not going to freak him out by telling him that young men spend time dreaming about this too because – geez I don’t want him to have a heart attack.
Grandpa has decided Romance is just silly fluff and if a woman wants it, he supposes it’s harmless – it’s kind of like spy novels for men although I’m sure he’s not including all the important male writers of that genre because they are men. The funny thing is that he can’t imagine women reading about violence and danger – crazy talk! Violence and danger are male topics.
I swear I keep humming Paul McCartney’s ‘Silly Love Song’:
You’d think that people would have had enough of silly love songs
I look around me and I see it isn’t so
Some people want to fill the world with silly love songs
And what’s wrong with that
I’d like to know
What really gets Grandpa’s goat are all those “self-published” authors who apparently are quite a phenomenon in the publishing world! Who knew?!? He is vaguely aware that publishing sales are down, partially affected by the indie market, and that pisses him off. He may sound a little bitchy here because, in his day, vanity publishing was the mark of a loser, and real authors are published by publishing houses. He hasn’t read any indie authors because they are only available e-books and he only reads “real books.”
MOM, I thought you got Grandpa a Kindle? What? He couldn’t figure out how to turn it on and gave it away? Oh.
He sums up his discourse by insisting it’s a vibrant genre yet full of stupid stuff and it’s harmless. Feel the burn. Grandly, he decides “Why shouldn’t women dream?”
Thanks for the permission. And thanks for all the fish!
Now, Grandpa knows of Joanna Russ, but feminists bore him because he finds them strident and vaguely suspects they might be lesbians. As I told you, he is the opposite of woke. What the hell am I supposed to do? Up his meds?
Here is Joanna Russ’s breakdown on how to suppress women authors. Let see how Grandpa stacks up against them:
Prevent women from access to the basic tools for writing.
(Grandpa is big on education, so he’s passes this one with flying colors.)
- Bad Faith
Unconsciously create social systems that ignore or devalue women’s writing.
(He choose to write the article which crudely devalues an entire genre without any true insight to the spectrum of work available.)
- Denial of Agency
Deny that a woman wrote it.
(This is subtle because the literary establishment mostly reviews only men. He doesn’t have to deny it – just ignore which is a form of denial. I think it’s an 80% of the reviews are books by men- data is available so although he passes with the article he wrote, he FAILED his entire career. DON’T bring up his female literary friends, or I will slap you. Grandpa does not even acknowledge that there are male authors in Romance, male readers and a huge gay/queer romance which is a denial of agency.)
- Pollution of Agency
Show that their art is immodest, not art, or shouldn’t have been written about.
(High score on this one. This is his jelly jam, he doesn’t like women being immodest. Writing about sexual satisfaction? Dear lord. Those dirty novels, oh but for the good old days when Princess Diana’s grandma wrote books where women chastely waited to be bedded on their wedding night.)
- The Double Standard of Content
Claim that one set of experiences is considered more valuable than another.
(Grandpa clearly knows more; he is a literary lion of NY. He doesn’t need to talk to critical experts in the world of Romance books.)
- False Categorizing
Incorrectly categorize women artists as the wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, or lovers of male artists.
(He bemoans the women aren’t focusing on careers, and of course, they aren’t reading good books because they are reading trash. He belittles an author for including a recipe. So he has invented his version of false categorizing. He’s smart like that.)
Create a myth of isolated achievement that claims that only one work or short series of poems is considered great.
(Grandpa thinks Romance is shit. Why don’t all women write like Toni Morrison? Yes, he knew her. He knew everybody. He had a fabulous life.)
Assert that the woman in question is eccentric or atypical.
(Well, these romance woman authors are weird writing about sex and love. Those things should be written by men.)
- Lack of Models
Reinforce a male author dominance in literary canons in order to cut off women writers’ inspiration and role models.
(Grandpa is one of the Gatekeepers of the literary world. By writing this article, he wants to make sure those women understand the power structure. He acknowledges an author because she had academic cred and famous poet dad but there is an implicit sigh because she is writing romance. You should not admire her. No. Don’t.)
Force women to deny their female identity in order to be taken seriously.
(Grandpa thinks Romance novels are stupid because their focus is sex, love, and relationships which when thought about by women is stupid. When men do, well that’s great literature.)
Popularize aesthetic works that contain demeaning roles and characterizations of women.
(The history of American literature is one big sexist party, and he was a grand poobah of that world. Some great books but all about men, male stuff with an occasional woman because getting laid is important to men.)
Do we wish Grandpa had written about some things he liked and along with things he hated? Yes, of course. Stories about love and relationships are important and romance is central to who we are as humans. It would be good to have some genuine discourse on these stories instead of sly jabs and sarcasm. Desire, lust, empowerment, sex, and fantasy are important themes in stories. Sometimes we want to simply read a fairy tale, because reading about someone finding joy, finding a happily ever after changes peoples lives. You can mock a specific fantasy or even a badly written story, but you cannot mock a gender because of an interest in love. Men are not mocked for singing endless love songs, for writing stories of sexual self-discovery, for fantasies about super sexy women. But women are because that’s part of the game, that’s how they keep the power. That’s why they call it misogyny.
You know who the true Lifelong Reader is? Every person who reads romance.