Monday, May 28, 2007

Why I Started Reading Romance

Yeah, I know, I promised this a long time ago, and unfortunately this won't be nearly as coherent or exhaustive as I had wanted it to be.

But I've been researching a bunch of stuff for a series of posts I'm in the middle of writing, and I ran across a review of the first Gossip Girl novel on amazon that I just had to share immediately because it's such a good example of what's been bugging me about all the arguments put forth by adults that see A Serious Moral Issue in their popularity:

This book is in the Young Adult Fiction section at the library. When I was a young adult, I was reading Tolkien, Piers Anthony...

Dear God. That was so funny I forgot to laugh...Piers Anthony as an example of good YA lit? Piers Anthony? Seriously?

...and those books that you could pick what was going to happen next,

wtf is that even supposed to mean?

these days young adults are being forced to become adults too fast. I heard about Gossip Girls from a talk show I listen to everyday. Glenn Beck the host, he was saying how he would never ever let his daughters read this book because it's not for children, and I do consider the 15-up age recommendation to include children.

First of all, a large number of people consider 15-up to be "teen", which would be the point of having YA, and not just children's, lit.

Secondly, regarding kids growing up too fast. One of the things I found really interesting about all the "smut" in the first book is the extent to which it's not only condoned by the adults in the book, but the extent to which it shows adult men putting girls in awkward situations.

Hmmmm.......seems to me that maybe the popularity of the Gossip Girl series is not so much an indication that we "let" kids grow up to fast, but that we are overly controlling of girl's sexuality (and not always in a protective way) and they are desperate for a safe outlet.

I read the book, and I have to agree, it's not anything a young girl should be reading because it has no lasting value whatsoever.

As opposed to Piers Anthony.

It doesn't teach a lesson, the story has no point to it, and the impressions it leaves are hurtful to young psyches.

This I disagree with even more than the Piers Anthony idiocy.

There is a special place in my heart for Piers Anthony, simply because his over the top (and pretty much always insulting towards women) sexual innuendos made it really hard for me to keep ignoring how completely not just male oriented but absolutely derisive of all things female the vast majority the adult scifi/fantasy I'd read was. So I stopped reading it.

About the same time, I started reading romance novels. The first romance novel I remember reading was Perfect by Judith McNaught. Which, if you are familiar with either the book or the author, probably says a hell of a lot about me.

When I first picked Perfect up from the floor in my mother's room (not the store bookshelf) I did so because I was at an age when I would read just about anything if I was bored and because I was curious about this piece of fluff my mom was reading. Most of her reading choices were either related to her work as a primary teacher or had the kind of stuffy covers that loudly proclaimed "real literature!"

Looking back, if it had been just about any other romance novel in pulication at the time, I likely would never have finished it. The first few chapters of Perfect, however, are pretty much all about Julie as a child - and Julie's childhood was like Annie meets Pollyanna meets Seventh Heaven. It was just that perfect mix of "the world is full of awful things!" and saccerine sweet "The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow" type goodness.

And then, all of a sudden, it was all about adventure! Julie gets kidnapped by an evil guy - who we know isn't really evil because we are the all knowing audience - and is forced to try to escape! Which she does, but he ends up getting hurt in the process, and for some inexplicable reason she saves him. Then they end up having sex, which neatly distracted me from the big glaring plot-hole. Because, wow! sex! Hot, steamy sex!

Having read all of three (four?) chapters of the first Gossip Girl I will unequivocally state - to eveyone's shock and several parent's dismay - that sex! is one of the few redeeming features of the Gossip Girl books.

Needless to say, there's all kinds of other books I would rather girls read (with no small number of them being fantasy and scifi), and I can see how younger girls would get very little good out of it. However if I were asked which I'd think was better for teen girls, Gossip Girl or any Xanth novel, Gossip Girl would get my vote every time simply because it does not pretend that, when the question is sex, girls are there for boys enjoyment - end of story. The fact that it's also sex! told from a woman's perspective is, sadly, still so revolutionary (outside of romance novels and "chicklit") that I can't help but cheer whenever I see it

I think I'm one of the few people that likes that this is a teen book, and not just another adult "chicklit" novel. I honestly welcome anything for teens that does not equate sex with violence against women, because far too much of what many parents do consider acceptable for teens (and younger!) does. I'd like something with a little more depth and morality, but - for the moment - as long as it doesn't pretend that girls sexual desire is dangerous or invisible, that sex is always bad, or that violence against girls is sexy, I'm all in.

Anyway, back to the review:

PLUS it's the worst writing I have seen in awhile, I am talking 4th grade level grammar, sentences, and diction.

Finally, something we agree on. And yet, I would argue that this is almost a strategy, since if it was well-written literature, it wouldn't be so easily pooh-poohed and may even generate more controversy than it has. Such as, oh say, Judy Blume's Forever.

The whole book is about rich spoiled teenagers, who have a lot of sex, shop a lot, gossip a lot and have no character what so ever,

Again, I agree. But again, I think it's part of the point of the books. Like a lot of mediocre media for teens, teens aren't expected to see the characters as people, they're encouraged to see them as personalities to try on. A lot of the lack of character development is almost meant to keep all the characters blank slates to a certain degree.

if I were a parent and knew my child was absorbing all this nonsense and thought that maybe this was an okay way to act I would blow my top. What kills me, is that the book has sequels...many of them...and people are either buying them for their children without knowing what they are about which is bad parenting, or their kids are buying them and parents are just turning a blind eye to what is in their children's lives. .......(seriously this is like soft soft porn)

Gee, as opposed to my cousin's favorite show Top Model?

Please. Again, if I had my choice between my cousin reading Gossip Girl or watching Top Model, I'd choose Gossip Girl every time. And, especially in a world were everyone else is watching Top Model anyway, I'd want her to be reading or watching something that has female oriented "soft soft porn" in it, no matter what.

You can pretend all you want that the issue is that Gossip Girl is marketed to teens and Top Model is meant for adults and teens just happen to watch it, but you might want to see how well that argument went over when it came to Joe Camel (TM) before you do.

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