On Monday of this week, author and editor William Giraldi wrote an article for the New Republic, and he decided to spend his time and energy slamming women who read romance novels. He judges all romance novel readers by the standard of Fifty Shades of Grey, and he proceeds to spend his entire article explaining exactly why that makes us all stupid, pathetic, middle class white women with disappointing sex lives and overweight husbands. I’m not kidding. He really does say that. Twice.
I have never read Fifty Shades of Grey. I probably won’t, because it doesn’t really appeal to me. But I have at least twenty friends who have read it, and I think Giraldi would be shocked (and probably a bit disappointed) to know that they are all intelligent, productive members of their community. They also read other books. Lots of them. Painting all romance readers with the same brush and implying that we’re all brainless morons who have decided to use Fifty Shades as a self-help book is a truly shocking display of ignorance.
Here are some other gems from Giraldi’s article that really stood out to me:
- “[R]omance novels, like racists, tend to be the same wherever you turn.” Not all romance novels are alike. Romance Writers of America lists seven romance subgenres on its website, and GoodReads has a staggering 186 pages of lists devoted to different types of romance novels. This is a genre that contains everything from Jane Austen to Diana Gabaldon. Also, that’s a pretty offensive metaphor, Mr. Giraldi.
- “Romance novels… teach a scurvy lesson: enslavement of the passions is a ticket to happiness.” I think Elizabeth Bennett and Scarlet O’Hara would both be very surprised to hear that the point of their novels is to teach women that the only way to be happy is to have sex. Actually, now that I think about it, Elizabeth would probably have a terrible fit of the giggles, and Scarlet would just scratch Giraldi’s eyes out.
- “At least people are reading. You’ve no doubt heard that before. But we don’t say of the diabetic obese, At least people are eating.” Just wow. Giraldi really has a fixation about fat people. Also, is he seriously comparing the effects of reading romance novels to a disease? That’s how I read it. I don’t think I’m wrong.
So what advice does Giraldi have for us, the sad, sappy, unintelligent readers of romance novels? Read Clarissa. Again, I am not kidding. If you haven’t read it, Clarissa is a story about a naive girl who thinks she has found the man of her dreams, but he tricks her into running away with him to live in a brothel. She dies. This, my friends, is what Giraldi thinks will be good for our souls, which are so clearly crying out to be educated about what happens to women who have the audacity to follow their heart.
Mr. Giraldi, I don’t know what your goal was for this article or what your motiviation is. I don’t know if a romance novel reader ran over your dog with her car, or if a hardback copy of Gone with the Wind fell on your toe one day, or if you believe that your brand of shaming will turn people into avid readers of your novels rather than romances. All I do know is that you are entitled to have any opinion you like about the romance genre – it won’t change my mind, and it probably won’t change the minds of thousands of women who, as you point out in your article, buy 46% of all mass-market paperbacks sold in the USA.
In honor of the romance novels that I have unapologetically loved for years and that have enriched my reading life, here are my top five favorite romance novels. They fall into all sorts of other categories as well – they are historical fiction, mystery, and magical realism. But they are romance novels, and I am not embarrassed to say that I love them or to recommend them to you whole-heartedly, because they are entirely worthwhile.
|1. The Far Pavilions, by M.M. Kaye.
From the book jacket: When The Far Pavilions was first published nineteen years ago, it moved the critic Edmund Fuller to write this: “Were Miss Kaye to produce no other book, The Far Pavilions might stand as a lasting accomplishment in a single work comparable to Margaret Mitchell’s achievement in Gone With the Wind.”From its beginning in the foothills of the towering Himalayas, M.M. Kaye’s masterwork is a vast, rich and vibrant tapestry of love and war that ranks with the greatest panoramic sagas of modern fiction.The Far Pavilions is itself a Himalayan achievement, a book we hate to see come to an end. it is a passionate, triumphant story that excites us, fills us with joy, move us to tears, satisfies us deeply, and helps us remember just what it is we want most from a novel.
| 2. The Winter Sea, by Susanna Kearsley.
From the book jacket: History has all but forgotten…In the spring of 1708, an invading Jacobite fleet of French and Scottish soldiers nearly succeeded in landing the exiled James Stewart in Scotland to reclaim his crown.Now, Carrie McClelland hopes to turn that story into her next bestselling novel. Settling herself in the shadow of Slains Castle, she creates a heroine named for one of her own ancestors and starts to write.But when she discovers her novel is more fact than fiction, Carrie wonders if she might be dealing with ancestral memory, making her the only living person who knows the truth-the ultimate betrayal-that happened all those years ago, and that knowledge comes very close to destroying her…
| 3. The Masque of the Black Tulip, by Lauren Willig.
From the book jacket: “The Masque of the Black Tulip opens with the murder of a courier from the London War Office, his confidential dispatch for the Pink Carnation stolen. Meanwhile, the Black Tulip, France’s deadliest spy, is in England with instructions to track down and kill the Pink Carnation. Only Henrietta Selwick and Miles Dorrington know where the Pink Carnation is stationed. Using a secret code book, Henrietta has deciphered a message detailing the threat of the Black Tulip. Meanwhile, the War Office has enlisted Miles to track down the notorious French spy before he (or she) can finish the deadly mission. But what Henrietta and Miles don’t know is that while they are trying to find the Black Tulip (and possibly falling in love), the Black Tulip is watching them.”
| 4. A Spear of Summer Grass, by Deanna Raybourn.
From the book jacket: Paris, 1923
The daughter of a scandalous mother, Delilah Drummond is already notorious, even among Paris society. But her latest scandal is big enough to make even her oft-married mother blanch. Delilah is exiled to Kenya and her favorite stepfather’s savanna manor house until gossip subsides.
Fairlight is the crumbling, sun-bleached skeleton of a faded African dream, a world where dissolute expats are bolstered by gin and jazz records, cigarettes and safaris. As mistress of this wasted estate, Delilah falls into the decadent pleasures of society.
Against the frivolity of her peers, Ryder White stands in sharp contrast. As foreign to Delilah as Africa, Ryder becomes her guide to the complex beauty of this unknown world. Giraffes, buffalo, lions and elephants roam the shores of Lake Wanyama amid swirls of red dust. Here, life is lush and teeming—yet fleeting and often cheap.
Amidst the wonders—and dangers—of Africa, Delilah awakes to a land out of all proportion: extremes of heat, darkness, beauty and joy that cut to her very heart. Only when this sacred place is profaned by bloodshed does Delilah discover what is truly worth fighting for—and what she can no longer live without.
| 5. The Girl Who Chased the Moon, by Sarah Addison Allen.
From the book jacket: Emily Benedict has come to Mullaby, North Carolina, hoping to solve at least some of the riddles surrounding her mother’s life. But the moment Emily enters the house where her mother grew up and meets the grandfather she never knew, she realizes that mysteries aren’t solved in Mullaby, they’re a way of life: Here are rooms where the wallpaper changes to suit your mood. Unexplained lights skip across the yard at midnight. And a neighbor, Julia Winterson, bakes hope in the form of cakes, not only wishing to satisfy the town’s sweet tooth but also dreaming of rekindling the love she fears might be lost forever. Can a hummingbird cake really bring back a lost love? Is there really a ghost dancing in Emily’s backyard? The answers are never what you expect. But in this town of lovable misfits, the unexpected fits right in.
Never let anyone make you feel ashamed to read what you love. Happy Friday.