The seductive allure of romance novels – CBS News
Tuesday is Valentineâ€™s Day, when love is on everyoneâ€™s mind. But for the other 364 days, at least for some of us, a good romance novel is in order. With Faith Salie, letâ€™s peek between the covers:
Star-crossed lovers are the subject of a Shakespeare senior class workshop at New Yorkâ€™s Fordham University. Leading the seminar, with degrees from Yale, Harvard and Oxford, is an English scholar with a surprising double life.
To students and faculty, sheâ€™s Professor Mary Bly. But to legions of readers, sheâ€™s author Eloisa James, a reigning queen of romance.
â€œHow hard is it to be a Shakespeare professor by day and a romance novelist by night?â€ Salie asked.
â€œItâ€™s hard. It really is hard,â€ Bly replied. â€œRomance is a really denigrated genre. I mean, academically speaking, itâ€™s less cool than porn, right?â€
Under the Eloisa James nom de plume, sheâ€™s written 22 bestsellers. Her historical romances sparkle with wit, and always deliver what romance lovers call an HEA (the â€œhappily ever afterâ€).
â€œThe promise of romance is that you and the people you love will live together into the future,â€ Bly said. â€œItâ€™s a beautiful promise, right?â€
But why does the Romance Â genre need defending? â€œI think in some ways, it is a genre written by women and for women. And many of the sort of the people who define what real literature is in this country are male. And honestly, romance readers and romance writers donâ€™t really care all that much about what you think of us.â€
The publishing industry sure does! Romance is a billion-dollar business, making up an estimated 30 percent of the fiction market.
Some books, like â€œ50 Shades of Grey,â€ become Hollywood blockbusters. But itâ€™s not all about sex.
When asked what is the biggest myth about romance,â€ Sarah Wendell, who runs Smart Bitches, Trashy Books (an online community of romance readers), responded, â€œThat theyâ€™re all just sex. And that is so untrue.â€
â€œWhat is it about romance that attracts smart bitches?â€ Salie laughed.
â€œWell, part of it is being told by any countless number of books you are important. You matter. Your emotions matter. Your experience matters. And your happiness matters.â€
Wendell has been devouring romance without shame for going on three decades. Sheâ€™ll also be the first to poke fun at it, lovingly.
As for the categories, they run the gamut: same-sex, suspense, sci-fi, pretty much everything.
â€œOkay. Letâ€™s say I want Amish love,â€ Salie offered.
â€œAbsolutely,â€ Wendell replied. (Try the series â€œGoodbye to Yesterday.â€)
â€œYes. But mostly parody erotica.â€ (Sample title: â€œTaken by the T-Rex.â€)
And in Los Angeles, thereâ€™s an entire bookstore devoted to romance, called — what else? — The Ripped Bodice.
Checking out the store was romance rock star Beverly Jenkins. Sheâ€™s another bestselling novelist, writing about African-American heroines from the 19th century, whose stories offer not only lessons in love but history, too.
â€œI think itâ€™s about values,â€ Jenkins said. â€œItâ€™s about families. Itâ€™s about maybe a story that the majority culture does not associate with an African-American background: hope, and a bittersweet history, and taking the lemons that Americaâ€™s given us and making lemonade out of it.â€
Sex, love, empowerment, and that happily-ever-after: When it comes to romance novels, donâ€™t judge the book by its cover.
â€œAlmost always — like, virtually always — you can have a big alpha hero,â€ said Bly.â€ But at the end, the person in charge is the heroine, end of story.â€
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