Friday, June 27, 2008

Bodice rippers????

Twice in the last week or so I’ve come across the term “bodice ripper” referring to romance novels. It surprises me that anyone still uses that term. Today I came across an article from The Times Literary Supplement by Lidija Haas, who works at the London Review of Books. She states “For many decades now, the detailed treatment of conventional love and its happy endings has been all but exiled from serious fiction….The romance novel’s exclusion is made more obvious by publishers’ attempts to disguise its true nature, and many books are pitched awkwardly halfway between literary fiction and bodice-ripper.” (italics mine) She further says that even in these awkward half-romance/half literary fiction stories, “the essential story remains that of a plucky young woman, poor, or at least a misfit in some way, who struggles to make her way in the world, facing loneliness and adversity, before at last being rewarded with a conventional happy ending: successful love, and perhaps babies.”

She further cites some novels as examples, but these novels are not romance novels. Perhaps they are those “awkward half literary/half romance” novels she refers to and maybe that’s why they don’t satisfy.

Many of us saw the recent MSNBC poll about whether people read “bodice rippers”. Turns out 46% of people who responded read romance and 23% read it sometimes (a total of 69%). Only 31% said they never read romance.

According to the Romance Writers of America website, romance fiction outsold every market category in 2006, with the exception of religion/inspirational, and 26.4% of all books sold are romance.

Yet, despite the popularity and widespread sales of romance novels, the genre still attracts derision (which I feel when I see the term bodice ripper) skepticism and criticism. There is still a stigma attached to reading romance novels.

Why is this?

According to fiction author Melissa Pritchard, the romance novel "perpetuates something slightly dangerous, that there's this notion, that there's this perfect love out there, and it can distract you from the work of loving yourself."

Janice Radway’s 1987 study concluded that women feel guilty about reading popular romances, and the shame is often as result of husbands who criticize them for wasting 'their' hard-earned money and for spending time absorbed in a novel rather than devoting time to the household, their family and husband.

Does this still hold true in 2008? Do women still feel guilty about reading romance for the same reasons? Do women who take time away from their home, husband and family to read literary fiction feel guilty? How about readers of science fiction? Do men feel guilty about taking time to read a western novel or Maxim magazine? Or is it just the belief that that romance fiction has no value, that we can’t learn anything about human character, relationships or humanity in general by reading such fiction?

When Lidija Haas states “the essential story remains that of a plucky young woman, poor, or at least a misfit in some way, who struggles to make her way in the world, facing loneliness and adversity, before at last being rewarded with a conventional happy ending: successful love, and perhaps babies.” - this too is misleading. If the climax and resolution of a story is just that someone is “rewarded” (for what?) by finding love (and perhaps babies…????) certainly that is not going to be a satisfying story. And yet, the other elements she mentions – a protagonist who is poor or a misfit in some way, struggles to make her way in the world - how is that essentially different than any other novel: something significant happens to the character, who then decides to pursue a goal, devises a plan of action and even though there are forces trying to stop him/her, moves forward because there is so much at stake, the goal being so important to him/her that he/she will do anything to achieve it, struggles against adversity, faces an ultimate decision in a last effort to achieve his/her goal/solve his/her problem, and in making that decision satisfies a need in him/her created in his/her past, giving us a view of his/her depeest character and humanity...?

Many of those who criticize romance fiction seem to think that the protagonist’s goal is simply to find a man, or to find love, at the expense of finding herself. I don’t know of any romance novels (not that I’ve read them all!) where the heroine’s goal is to find a man. Even if it is, that’s not her only goal – there’s a deeper, more complex goal than just finding a man, getting married or finding love.

A good story is emotionally satisfying; it validates our values, and shows us that the struggle to live our values is worth it all. But when the protagonist remains true to her values, achieves her ultimate goal (or sometimes not, but is stronger and better for it) AND finds love – that’s even more emotionally satisfying.

Love is one of the most common themes in any kind of art. Most movies have a love story and most pop music is about love. Because deep inside everyone one of us, despite our struggles to achieve our most important goals or to solve our biggest problems, we all want to love and to be loved.

Anyone who uses the term “bodice ripper” is out of touch with the changes that have taken place in romance publishing over the last twenty years. And I’d like to say that’s all there is to it. But with the negativity towards the romance genre, using that term to refer to all romances is completely misleading and spurious and only serves to further undermine the legitimacy of the romance genre. The term comes across as demeaning to women, with the portrayal of a weak heroine being at the mercy of a hero who forces her to submit to him. But wait…there are stories about domination and submission where the heroine wants to be dominated by a strong man. And if a woman’s motivations are portrayed in a believable and convincing manner, if she is a strong woman who knows herself and knows what she wants, and she wants to be dominated, isn’t that okay? But I still would never call that story a “bodice ripper”…

Sunday, June 22, 2008

New Marian Keyes book!!

I was so excited when I went to the book store and saw Marian Keyes' new book out! Finally!! (No worries, Marian!) She aplogizes for how "embarassingly long" it took to write this new book. I'm just impatient. I've already started it and have had some laugh out loud moments already. My husband says, "Is this going to be another one of those books?" She's funny!!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

A really bad hair day

Ever have a really bad hair day?
I went to get my hair done last week, my usual every six (or eight) weeks color and cut. This time, I decided I wanted a little change. I felt my hair was getting too blonde. Not that there’s anything wrong with being blonde. Although I do have my blonde moments – like the time my office was having the carpet replaced and I had to pack all my stuff up. The next morning, new carpet in place, I went to unpack and discovered that I had packed my scissors in a box and sealed it up with tape. Or the other night when my husband was working late and asked if I’d be awake when he got home. I told him, “If I’m not awake I’ll be asleep.”
My natural color is a sort of light auburn, and highlights over highlights were making me too blonde, so I told my hair stylist Olivia I wanted it a little darker, maybe with some streaks of light brown, like a caramel color. She was so happy! She was like an artist, brushing on different colors. When she finally removed all the tinfoil, shampooed, cut and blow-dried, I looked at myself in shock.
The back of my head was its normal reddish-blonde color but the underneath layer of the front was a dark chocolate brown, and the top layer was a very light, bleached blonde. I looked like a tri-colored skunk.
How could I tell this artist that her work of art was ugly and horrible? I couldn’t do it. I tactfully told her it was a lot blonder than I wanted, that I was trying to be less blonde. I guess she realized I wasn’t sure about the new look so she told me to give it a few days to get used to it and if I still didn’t like it, to come back.
I went home and looked in the mirror. And I cried. The blonde was too blonde and the brown was way too dark. I’d never in my life had such dark hair. It was so not what I’d wanted.
So I went to the drugstore. After spending about two hours examining every hair color product in the hair aisle, I selected a highlighting kit and a low lighting kit.
I went home and first tried the lowlights. I thought if I blended the blonde in with the dark color it might not look so bad. After another blow dry, I cried again. Now I looked like Morticia.
My husband, after twenty-three years of marriage, wisely knows what not to say about my hair. He would never say it looked awful, but he also knew better than to try to tell me that it looked nice. I sobbed on his shoulder.
Then I tried the highlights, trying to blend the dark in with the light. Another shampoo and blow dry, another facing of the mirror. Well, I could live with it. At least I looked more like myself. I didn’t do too bad of a job, if I did say so myself other than a few weird sideways stripes, and the underneath part was still way too dark and looked a little strange, but now at least I could go to work and face people.
The next night night, Olivia called, checking to see how I liked my hair. I was totally busted. What could I say? I couldn’t lie, unless I never wanted to return to her salon. I’ve been with Olivia longer than I’ve been with my husband, so breaking up would be hard to do. So I told her I’d done “some stuff” myself.
She was horrified. What kind of stuff? I told her what I’d done. You should have called me, she told me, very upset. She got me to come in the next day so she could see what I’d done and if she could fix it. I felt terrible, like I’d betrayed her, but I’d been so reluctant to tell her I hated it.
Olivia told me that as a client, I am her walking advertisement. If my hair looks good, it reflects well on her (and vice versa - she didn’t say that, but I know she was thinking that I was walking around with amateur highlights and lowlights and people were holding her responsible). She said she would rather I told her if I was unhappy about something to give her a chance to fix it.
When she looked at my hair, she was very tactful and she redid the color and highlights completely and didn’t even charge me.
I’d like to say the moral of the story is that being so upset about something like your hair is superficial and vain and I’ve learned that appearance isn’t everything. But …no.
Have you ever cried over a bad hairdo? Do you rush home from the salon to wash and style your hair yourself? Try to fix something you don’t like with dye or even - yikes - scissors???

Previously posted at Wicked Wenches