19 June 2010

Permission to comment?

A friend recently asked a question on her blog about why people look down on romance. I planned to give my opinion as a comment on her blog but, as sometimes happens with me, it turned into a long ramble that really needed its own space.

So, permission requested to (affectionately) state an alternative position, complete with weak analogies and personal preferences.

I think a disclaimer is called for here before I begin. Everybody should be allowed to read what they enjoy without judgement. Bottom line: peeps is peeps and there are no wrong answers. However, that said, I have my opinions.

First of all, I put my hand on my heart and state that I'm a genre person. After a long period reading sci-fi and fantasy, where I started to feel I'd already read the same story several times whenever I picked up something new, I branched out into chick-lit comedies, mysteries and thrillers and enjoyed them. In the same vein I tried to branch out into romance and literary fiction. With both I found myself unsatisfied.

In the case of the literary fiction I couldn't quite believe that I'd got to the end and still nothing had happened. I felt like I'd wasted x hundred pages waiting for them to get interesting and they never did. After a few experiences like that I shrugged my shoulders and moved on, having decided that clearly it went over my head and I would just stick with the populist stuff.

I was more surprised that I couldn't enjoy romances. In most of the books I had read in other genres, the romance and human interaction was what made the book for me. Yes, I wanted to know whether they saved the world or found the killer, but whether they got together was equally, if not more important to me. So why couldn't I enjoy a book where the getting together was the main theme and not the side plot?

The best way I can put it is to compare it to food. To me, eggs on hot buttered toast is delicious comfort food; one of those magic combinations. In an ill-considered flirtation with the South Beach diet a few years ago I tried to give up the toast and just eat the eggs. Within a week I was ready to kill someone if I saw another egg without bread. It just lacked everything that made the combination so appealing.

Romance is my egg; it just doesn't work on its own. That is not to say that it is impossible for me to enjoy a romance, ever, but I need more. Give me suspense, some action and adventure, or mystery, and I'll lap it up. Snuggle that romance up with a comedy, the way Jennifer Crusie does, and I'll beg for more. Combine it with fantasy or sci-fi? Well first of all, you'll have to be a superb writer because they are uneasy bedfellows. A bad sci-fi romance can set a new definition for bad, but do it well and I'll worship you. I have yet to see it, so if somebody can point me in the right direction that would be wonderful. Paranormal romance isn't it. That's just romance with added fangs, fur or ectoplasm (delete as necessary).

It occurs to me as I scribble that perhaps our problem is the labels. Why do stories have to be one thing or the other? Why does so much romance lack other content to make it interesting? I'd like to read more stories that challenge genre and open my reading experience up.

And just because snark is my nature and I can only suppress it for so long, I will say that good romance is my egg waiting for bread. In my dabbling in the genre I have read some terrible ones where both hero and heroine failed my 'do you want to push them both under a bus' test with honours. Please protect me from sappiness, plotless potboilers and TSTL (too stupid to live) protagonists, because even bread can't save some things.

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