It’s a great time to be a romance reader—so many great books!—and a terrific time to be a romance advocate. For all the misogynistic and ignorant press romance novels still get, there seems to be a growing amount of academic study of the genre, and by and large the consensus is that romance novels are awesome!
I don’t mean to say that I think we need validation. No one needs to tell us how great these books are; we already know. Nonetheless, it’s nice to see that when intellectuals start looking at the books, they begin to feel the same way we do. These books are worth reading, and, apparently, they’re worth studying.
I spent Wednesday at a conference at the Library of Congress that celebrated romance. If that wasn’t spectacular enough, it also included a number of academics who spend some of their time reading, teaching, and studying romance novels.
The conference was held in conjunction with a special sneak preview of Love Between the Covers, a documentary on the romance community by the esteemed filmmaker Laurie Kahn, who refers to it as “a female-powered engine of commerce, a multi-billion dollar business and tech-savvy global sisterhood.”
Sounds about right to me.
The film focused on many trailblazers in the romance field, including two of my favorites, Jayne Ann Krentz (you’ve read Trust No One, haven’t you?) and Eloisa James/Mary Bly (you know I loved Three Weeks With Lady X, and her next release, Four Nights with the Duke, is every bit as good!)
African-American romance queens Beverly Jenkins and Brenda Jackson were both there. Last October saw the conclusion of Jenkins’ Destiny’s trilogy with the release of the terrific Destiny’s Captive and I can’t wait to read her next Blessings novel, For Your Love, which comes out in April. One of the funniest stories to come out of the panels was Jackson’s description of her “Westmoreland family reunion,” which is basically a fan appreciation cruise Jackson hosts every other year in honor of her wildly successful Westmoreland series. The ship’s crew was a little confused about this huge “family” wearing their reunion t-shirts and who included about every skin color on the global spectrum. I loved this story and felt it was a wonderful representation of how romance crosses every boundary one can think of—age, race, class, etc. (The most recent Westmoreland novel, The Secret Affair, which came out in December, takes place on a cruise. How perfect is that?!)
Len Barot, founder of Bold Strokes Books and a writer who publishes under the name Radclyffe, represented the ever-growing LGBTQ romance voice in the film and at the conference. Sarah Frantz Lyons, the Editorial Director for LGBTQ publisher Riptide, was also there, and has had a huge hand in promoting the academic study of romance as the founder of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance. You can find out more about Bold Strokes Books here and Riptide Publishing here.
I was also pleased to hear that two of the academics who teach romance in their college classes consider two of my all-time favorites as their go-to titles for dissecting and studying a romance novel. Pamela Regis, Professor of English at McDaniel College, uses Jennifer Crusie’s Bet Me. (Pam is also President of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance.) And Eric Selinger, who teaches English at DePaul University, calls Susan Elizabeth Phillips' Natural Born Charmer his jam.
I’ll write more about this next week, after I've had the chance to process all this information. But for now, I would like to publicly thank the Library of Congress Center for the Book and its leader, John Cole, who hosted this wonderful event and who was so delighted by the fact that this community filled every panel to Standing Room Only all day.
And to Laurie Kahn and Pam Regis, who had the vision to conceive of it and pull it together, and all the panelists who showed up and made the day engaging and interesting, thanks so much.
Way to go, romance!