Sometimes I Hate Being Right

Last week, I wrote about women and romance in literary culture and included the following paragraph:

The current startling popularity of the Book That Shall Not Be Named But Whose Title Rhymes With Schmifty Shmades has really made it clear how deeply out of touch mainstream literary media are with regard to romance, and erotic romance in particular. “This one has spanking!” people cried, while erotic romance fans are over here with our ginger-figging and our office-supply erotica and our cowboy pegging and who knows what else. And The Guardian, who just last year created a marvelous quiz to see if people could tell the difference between male and female writing styles (that included a passage by Harlequin author Laura Abbott as well as Toni Morrison, Zadie Smith, and Margaret Atwood), has recently compiled a list of other popular dirty books in the E. L. James mode — a list that includes Judith Krantz, “Mills and Boon” (because they’re all the same, of course), Flowers in the AtticWuthering Heights, and the poems of motherfucking Sappho. I mean, sure, I love Sappho as much as it is humanly possible to love Sappho — but she’s hardly current, is she?

Am I the only one who looks at such things and wonders: Where the hell have you been for the last two decades? We have done so much work in that time!

Today, Chris Berube at the Daily Beast put up a jaw-droppingly shallow article about how self-published work like Schmifty Schmades is threatening Harlequin's monopoly on romance. Some of the (many, many) problems being, of course, that:

  • E. L. James' work didn't achieve really stunning numbers until she'd been picked up by first one, then a second publisher -- it was the Vintage edition that landed in airports and grocery stores. So this is really a question of one publisher grabbing a hot new thing and flooding the usual channels. The self-publishing aspect is crucial, sure, but it's not a black-and-white case of BOOK SMASH.
  • Harlequin is by no means a monopoly in the romance business. They happen to be the one romance publisher that non-romance fans can name, which is a Whole Nother Thing. And which Chris Berube explicitly brought up on Twitter, before being taken to task by the inimitable Lauren Dane. (And Leslie Kelly, and Shiloh Walker, and Sarah Wendell...)

In addition to a startlingly shoddy lack of research -- by someone who graduated from Columbia's journalism program this year -- the worst thing about the Daily Beast article is that it represents a missed opportunity. But apparently the Daily Beast thought that the perfect person to talk about romance is a first-year journalism grad who has apparently never touched the stuff.

As opposed to the many thousands of brilliant women who read and write about this all over the great wide internets. How about the folks of Dear Author or Smart Bitches -- Sarah Wendell writes for Kirkus as well, if you need journalistic credentials. If you are wary of review sites, how about Sarah Frantz or Laura Vivanco or anyone from the keen minds at Teach Me Tonight?

But no, once again, the correct person to talk about romance is a dude who knows nothing about the genre.

I look forward to the day when the literary media proves me wrong for once.