Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Do You Hide?

We’ve talked about whether we admit our writing aspirations to the general public.  Some admit to close family and friends; some announce it from the mountaintops.  I’m somewhere in the middle.  My family and a few close friends know so it’s not really a secret.  But I usually only talk about it with acquaintances if they bring it up and I certainly don’t own any “I’m a struggling artist!” t-shirts.

So what about our reading habits?  All of us are romance readers.  Oh, there’s probably some genre crossover but chances are that we’ve all read at least one romance novel.   Probably way more than one.  Personally, when I’m not preoccupied with writing or family related stuff, I can blow through one in a day.  Less if it’s really good.

There have been times in the past when I’ve hidden my reading preferences.  Sometimes on the train or airplane.  Or when I didn’t know the people around me.  I’d hide like an off-the-wagon dieter with a chocolate bar.  I didn’t do this until college.  Until my senior year in college, I read romances loud and proud.  I didn’t care who saw me or who knew I liked them.  There were even people way back then who knew I wanted to write them some day.

But in college, when I was ready to write my senior English major thesis, I approached my adviser about writing it on romance novels.   I had an idea to research the depiction of women in romance novels, a topic that would mix with my Women’s Studies Certificate.  I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I didn’t get far.  My advisor told me—tactfully, of course—that if I wanted the approval panel to take my thesis seriously, I had to write about a serious topic.  Ie, romance novels were not serious or at least not worthy of serious study.

This was another time, of course.  It was 1998 and the only book I had that studied romance novels was Jayne Anne Krentz’s Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women. Now, many esteemed scholars have researched romance novels and romance conventions.  But then, not so much.

I needed to get out of school that semester so I ended up writing about colonial Kenyan literature.  Not as much fun.  But my panel loved it.  *snore*

What I took away from this was self-consciousness.  A sense that what I liked was somehow inappropriate to the highly intelligent.  While I’d always deluded myself into believing I was a reasonable intelligent woman, now my romance novels were my dark little secret.  Suddenly, I started worrying if people were judging my  IQ by my reading material.  Even though my books were on the NY Times Bestsellers list, I was ashamed of my reading choices or I would laugh at them, calling them “trashy” or “smut.”

That didn’t last long.  As I mentioned, I see myself as an intelligent woman.  In my mind, any story that makes me feel connected, makes me feel good, or makes me lose myself in it is quality literature, snobby literary folks be damned.  I mean, can’t sheer enjoyment be a measure of quality?

Now I defend my “trashy novels.”  I wish I could remember the romance author who said, “I’d rather read about sex than dismemberment.”  That’s so true in my book.

What about you?  Do you hide your reading material or do you wave your half-naked romance novel covers for the world to see?  Have you ever been judged for what you’ve read?  If so, how did you react?  Any good comebacks for when someone insults your favorite novel/author?


2nd Chance said...

You know, I was raised on scifi/fantasy novels, which, in their time, were held in as much contempt as romance...but I never hid them from shame... Having been a nerd from the dawn of time, we are seldom intimidated by what others think of us.

Though! I did wrap my steamy Angelique books in a plain brown wrapper to hide the covers from the nuns at the Catholic School I went to...not from shame, but to keep from having them taken away from me and my parents called!

The only book I've ever had to defend? Lord of the Rings...from Hellion's disdain!

Now, I defend my movie choices all the bloody time! When it happens, I fly my nerd flag high, waving it and sticking my tongue out at the naysayers!

Renee said...

It depends on the cover. But I do tend to defend my romance novels.

Marnee said...

Chance - I am equally haughty about my nerd flag. LOL! :) I knew you were a sci-fi reader and I was wondering if anyone had ever given you a hard time about that. I love the paranormal books, though fantasy can get a little too complex for me. I need things to be set in our world. If not I get confused easy.

Renee - There are some steamy covers out there, huh? LOL! Yay another romance defender. I think we need superhero shirts, to wear under our clothes.

Donna said...

I spent a lot of years trying to keep my books hidden, just because I didn't want to invite commentary from people. And it took FOREVER before I could say out loud I was a writer, let alone a romance writer.

But now that I'm older, I have managed to overcome a lot of that concern. I might tell people I write romantic comedy rather than historical romance, because it's easier to keep the conversation focused. LOL

I also tell people, "If you think it's hard HAVING a relationship, you ought to try WRITING about one." LOL

I love the sex vs. dismemberment line -- that's exactly how I feel! Great post, Marn. :)

Marnee said...

Donna - when I mention historical romance I feel like lots of eyes glaze over. What's with that? They're a huge seller but I never seem to run into the readers. I always run into mystery readers or James Patterson readers or Nicholas Sparks and they wrinkle their noses at romance. Like those are more "literary."

I also tell people, “If you think it’s hard HAVING a relationship, you ought to try WRITING about one.” I LOVE this. LOL!!

Marnee said...

I'm off to my six week post partum appointment. I'll check back in later! :)

Donna said...

Six weeks already?! Yikes -- that boy's gonna be in college pretty soon! LOL

Marnee said...

six weeks on Sunday. Tell me about it. Already 13 lbs. Gigantor. :)

ok, I'm off!!!

Hellie said...

I read romances all through high school--including my English classes, which drove Ms. Yount up the wall because they were "trash novels" and I even did book reports on my favorites: Guardian Angel and The Gift by Julie Garwood; and The Raider by Jude Deveraux. I read romances all through college--I know students who stop reading because they're reading so much in college, but I needed the freedom that romances provided. And it wasn't like I was going to parties anyway.

My English professors were always trash talking about my novels IF they saw me with one. They rarely did--I tried not to read in front of them. My friends in history class made fun of my reading preferences, but they also made fun of the fact that I was an English major--I didn't give them much credence because I could write better than them and got better grades in the same class, which ticked them off.

Those moments thought didn't bother me nearly as much as when I started working here. I read at lunch all the time. One of my coworkers sneered at my book and said it was the reason I was still single; and that romance novels are what have ruined women and their chances of getting married, because their expectations are so skewed. I couldn't formulate a response. This person doesn't work here anymore, but that response still lurks in my head. I still read at work--I'm intimidating enough people don't usually talk to me when I'm reading. (You'll get the glare if you do.) But if they ask what I'm reading, I'll *SHEEPISHLY* respond it's a romance novel, as if both they and I know I'm reading trash. I'm more disturbed by my embarrassment than their reaction. It's like by being embarrassed by what I've read, they've won. But at the same time, I don't feel it's worth arguing about with them. They're not my audience. None of them are particularly romantic-minded people. They'd rather read about dismemberment. I'm the same about reading books as I am about Christianity--it's not that I don't believe in God, I do--but I'm not going to go around telling people they have to believe in him too or mine in particular because I know there are other religions people are perfectly content to remain with. Like religion, some readers are loyal to the point of rabid denigration of any other "competition". You can't convert zealots. It's best just to let them be.

Bluestocking said...

Like Donna, I too tended to hide whatever I was reading back in middle and high school - scifi to classics - to prevent commentary. Not because of what I read, but because I was reading. God forbid.

In college and life thereafter, I stopped caring so much about what others thought. But some of the romance covers are problematic. There's nothing worse than being up all night with a great title and knowing that you can't finish it on the train into work because of the scandalous front.

Plus I have to wonder if the books didn't feel like a dirty bad secret would we still enjoy them as much... There can be something empowering about reading something "scandalous" or "improper" in secret just as it can be empowering to shout your reading preferences to to the rooftop.

Sin said...

I read romance novels during class in high school. Always hidden in my textbooks (of course) but I never hid what I read when people asked. I don't care if it gave people ideas about who I was as a person or my IQ. People can take a flying leap off a bridge as far as I'm concerned. Most people can't tell you the last book they actually read because THEY DON'T.

Matt was an English major. Never read one damned book in college. Nothing drives me crazier than that. Especially when he says to me, "Who is Oscar Wilde?"

*shaking head sadly*

But when it comes to me being a writer myself, I never say it aloud. I don't have to if the GPS is around me. She practically shouts it from the rooftops for me, but I prefer to be low key.

Janga said...

Expletive deleted! I forgot to close the bolding. Only the single word "what" was supposed to be in boldface.

Hellie said...

What frightens me more about Matty is that his degree is in TEACHING English.

Bosun said...

I'm feeling like the Mad Hatter this week. Always late! (Was he late or was the hare late? I can't remember.)

I've always read romance novels and never felt the need to hide them. Carried them on top of my books in HS. Read them on the bus to and from school and work in Pittsburgh. I've had several under my desk here for months. If anyone sneered at my book choice in all those years, I didn't notice. And I have no recollection of anyone treating me like I was stupid. If they did, they would have learned right away that they were the idiots.

I'm dropping the "I'm a writer" bomb more and more often. The day I met with my mortgage lady, the subject came up and she was fascinated. Never thought I'd be discussing how to write a sex scene with a total stranger, but it was fun.

Hellie said...

*LOL* Poor Janga!

But I love that quote by Jenny. What is it with literary work that women having great sex is to be punished? What does that say about our society if our literary is a reflection of it?

2nd Chance said...

Bluestocking has a point...there is something wicked about reading a book with a scandalous cover. It's fun to watch people around you, on the bus, the train, at the coffee they see the cover and try to figure out what you're reading... I love that when I'm reading something I got at my adult toy store... The Complete Guide to being a Wanton Woman is my latest.

It was the same sort of thing with being a nerd and reading Isaac Asimov, etc... If someone gave me a hard time I would simply assume they weren't one of the elite.

I have a slight hard time claiming myself as a writer.

"What do you write?"

"I write about pirates! In one form or another..."

*wide eyed, backing away, tilting of the head

Marnee said...

I'm back! :) Healthy as a horse. Yay!

Hellie - I think you hit what bothers me most about this. MY embarrassment. Why is it embarrassing that I essentially enjoy fairy tales? If these folks caught me reading Grimm's Fairy Tales, they wouldn't judge me and I wouldn't feel as embarrassed. I don't get it or myself sometimes.

But I'm like you too. If I say anything, it's usually something like, "well, romance is the top selling genre of fiction." Or whatever. Like, how can it be so bad if everyone else is doing it? Not always the most inspiring.

Marnee said...

Bluestocking - Hi! I used to hide that I was reading too. At least in middle school. I stopped hiding it in HS. By then I think everyone knew that I was a geek. I love learning, I love school. Reading was the lowest on my geekiness scale. LOL!!

Oooh... I never thought of myself as scandalous before. How interesting.... *tapping fingertips together provocatively*

Marnee said...

Sin - That people who don't read judge my reading preferences... oh that fires me up. I have a quote on my facebook page by Mark Twain: "A person who won't read has no advantage over one who can't read." I think that's so true.

And he can teach English but never picked up a book?!! *outraged English teacher roar*

Janga - LOL! I love Jenny Crusie's defense. That's awesome. :)

I know that when I was teaching, I sometimes got comments about my reading preferences. I didn't take my books to school. I was too busy to read anyway so it didn't matter, but it was a bit of a joke among some of the guys. But one read physics books for fun. I mean, can I really count his judgment? LOL!

Marnee said...

Go you Bo'sun! Way to drop the hammer if you need to. :)
And as a past mortgage person, I can tell you that I got into all kinds of random conversations. Lots of fun.

I think the whole skewed opinion about sex in our society is pure Puritanism. Annoying. Another reason I love romance.

Bosun said...

Damn Puritans, they ruined everything.

The funny thing is, none of the adults in my household read. Nanny read Reader's Digest, but that's it. I can't remember why I read so much other than I loved it. And probably because living in a dinky house with all those miserable people required hours of escapism. LOL!

Marnee said...

Chance - I love that when I’m reading something I got at my adult toy store… The Complete Guide to being a Wanton Woman is my latest. LMAO. I would love to see their faces!!

If someone gave me a hard time I would simply assume they weren’t one of the elite.

The elite. Is that what we are? :)

Hellie said...

Janga said...

I forgot to say that I love the cartoon. Joyce reportedly once said that he expected readers to devote their lives to reading him. I think he had Finnegans Wake in mind, rather than Ulysses, but some of my students would have argued that it took a lifetime to get through any one of his books. At any rate, he's the perfect writer to aid in procratination. Tolstoy's War and Peace might make another good choice. I blush to admit I've never read all 1300 plus pages of that book.

Marnee said...

Reader's Digest doesn't count as a book, I think. Those passages are too short. There's no investment when you can put it down after three pages. :)

Hellie, yikes. Glad I don't live then, ya know?

Janga - I haven't read War and Peace either. I ran away from Tolstoy. But I have read Eliot's Middlemarch and Dickens' Bleak House so I've done my time. LOL!!

2nd Chance said...

I come from a family of heavy readers, but it is interesting how we all broke away to read different things. Dad was scifi/fantasy all the way. Belonged to the science fiction book club long, long ago. Some of the hardbacks we still have came from that organization!

Mom reads historical fiction. Never really one for historical romance, but Leon Uris, Mitchner...and earlier authors, like Pearl S. Buck. Still reads a lot of political thriller. Loved DeBlaise (?)...

Bro reads scifi/fantasy/horror. Elder Sis reads more along the lines of Mom. Middle sis reads as Dad read. And me?

I broke away with mystery, romance, etc. We all still have a thing for adventure. Dad brought up up reading Tarzan and Lord of the Rings...

I have read some of the classics...but my list of classics is very different than what they teach in school! ;-)

Quantum said...

I'm afraid I don't have a literary bra to burn so can't really participate in a meaningful way here! Nevertheless ... :lol:

As I recall, at school I was the English Master's nightmare. I was good at grammar but all my reading time was spent with science books and the odd cricket book, rather like Marne's physics student. The head master sided with the English master in encouraging more fiction reading, pointing out that the school aimed to give a balanced education, but I had other ideas!

So I reached adulthood with no awareness of the prejudice against romance novels. As a scientist I can see that the attraction of opposites is a logical consequence of the evolutionary process. The phenomenon of love also has a place in evolutionary biology. Romantic love is therefore a perfectly respectable subject for a novel from many perspectives. It has psychological, sociological, biological, poetical and artistic interest when dealt with by cultured and talented authors.

It seems to me that it is probably literary intellectuals and 'respectable' authors who snobbishly look down on the lowly romance novel, dismissing it as fodder for hormone sodden teenagers which panders to the basest instincts rather than aspiring to the higher intellectual qualities for which these critics strive.

Well I'm not a literary intellectual but I can recognize quality when I read it.

For me the romance novel is a revelation. Its a source of amusement, a medium that explores the heights of passion and the depths of despair but always with a safe happy landing. With a favorite author it is guaranteed entertainment and can be a spiritual experience.

I would have no problem defending the subset of my favorites in any forum..... as long as I remain anonymous! :lol:

Bosun said...

Internet is down at work so I'm on my phone. I feel so disconnected! I love how Q explained it. That might be the best comeback yet.

Hellie said...

*LOL* I'm still snorting that he has no literary bra to burn in our fire. *LOL*

2nd Chance said...

Q - Ya gots a way with words! As a scientist, I assume the anonymous need simply arises because prejudice exists. But you're right, as a scientist, the pursuit of how the heart/mind/body balances it all...that is what romance is based on...and it is all biology in the end!

Well said, sir!

Irisheyes said...

Sorry soooo late, Marn! Excellent blog.

I do have to admit that I do get embarrassed and have felt the need to hide what I'm reading at times. And like you and Hellie, my reaction is more upsetting than anything anyone could say to me. But then again I've been struggling with this glitch in my personality for longer than I've been reading. It is basically being comfortable with who I am and what my interests are and not feeling the need to defend or explain! Wow TMI, huh?! This is a big one with me though.

Another thing that really, really bothers me is the fact that I feel like I have to defend the HEA! Why is it such a crime to read about relationships and a HEA! It is so elemental and basic - kinda what makes the world go around. I mean who doesn't want to know what attracts certain people to certain other people and how they navigate the highs and lows to get to their HEA. I feel like I've spent my whole life trying to figure that one out.

I remember my DH asking me when we were dating what my goals were (like career options, college, Masters, PHd, etc.) and I replied "a happy healthy marriage and family". He just shrugged and said isn't that a given - like what everyone wants. My thing was that I knew I had to really study and learn how to achieve it when I think sometimes everyone else thinks all they have to do is say "I do!"

Hellie said...

I remember my DH asking me when we were dating what my goals were (like career options, college, Masters, PHd, etc.) and I replied “a happy healthy marriage and family”. He just shrugged and said isn’t that a given – like what everyone wants. My thing was that I knew I had to really study and learn how to achieve it when I think sometimes everyone else thinks all they have to do is say “I do!”

I think that shows the difference between people there. Some people take it for granted that it will work out on the relationship front, whereas some people understand you will always need to work at it, learn everything you can about it so you can be the best person you can be, and that relationships are just as important, if not more so for some, than any Ph.D. or grand dream career to be a NASCAR driver or a movie star.

It's the same sort of "take it for granted" reaction people have when you announce you're a "stay at home mom"--"Oh, well, anyone can be a mom, who are you really?" You sorta just want to slap people. Don't piss in their kool-aid. What's wrong with people?

2nd Chance said...

Ah, but this is the same taint that paints the want a happy marriage/children/stay at home mom... with the idea that the end of things is at the HEA...

The work of making it stay happy is ongoing and should never be devalued...

I'm tring to say, there's a link to those who sneer at the HEA ending and those who sneer at seeing a happy marriage/children/stay at home mom as something that doesn' involve work!

It's a strange Americanism to devalue anything that involves the heart and not the purse. Though I'm sure it isn't unique to America! We just made it a social issue, I swear!

Define what is valuable?

Irisheyes said...

Thanks, Helli! I totally agree.

For all the knowledge and advancement the human race has achieved over the years I think that relationships (man/woman, parent/child, siblings, friends, etc.) are still the hardest things to sustain and the things most people take for granted.

I also think that what attracts one human being to another or keeps/sustains any type of relationship is the most interesting thing out there. I'm kind of a nerd when it comes to anything psychological, though. LOL