Monday, June 25, 2018

Reading Romance, Part One: Introduction

As I mentioned in my recent post on my summer reading goals, I'm trying to branch out a little bit in my genre scope, into the realm of romance novels: bare torsos, flowing locks, male smoldering, and all! However, I didn't include a lot of detail as to what that kind of adventuring is going to look like.

So, I wanted to give you all a little more background into my thought process... like how this self-organized reading challenge is going to play out, and the kinds of assigned reading I'm giving myself to augment my understanding! (And trust me: that's all going to be a lot more fun than it sounds.)

a little bit of background

So, when I say I'm a total romance newbie, that's not entirely true. Obviously I've made my way around some romances before... I mean, Pride and Prejudice is on pretty constant rotation on my reading list, and that's not counting the adaptations!

But even beyond that, I've read enough YA romances in middle and high school to fill a few bookshelves. Of course, some of those were of the vampire variety, but for the most part, my penchants were for those based on fairy tales or starring a shy and nerdy heroine, because I am nothing if not consistent, and my romance habits are nothing if not self-insert. In the mix were some various historical romances, as well as anything having to do with boarding schools or circuses.
Oh, and I absolutely love this movie.
But seriously, that's all the genre experience I got.

(Listen, I'm not saying I'm proud of it, I'm just saying it happened.)

As an adult, the only thing I've come close to reading a true straightforward romance novel, was Lauren Willig's The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, but that was back in either late high school, or early college. Either way, I never blogged about it... mainly because I was too embarrassed. My mom ended up reading it after me, and totally hated it, so it never warranted much discussion around the house, anyways.

And, of course, due to the fan hype surrounding the show, I read Diana Gabaldon's Outlander, so that I would be able to write up a College Fashion post on it, back in 2014! I wasn't a fan, as I talked about recently in a Top Ten Tuesday lineup, and definitely don't plan on revisiting the series.

But those two are still fairly wider-fiction romances, and that's really not what I'm trying to focus my attention on with this challenge. I'm not looking for something you might still be able to find tucked into a general reading section, I really want to make sure what I'm reading is above all a romance, before it's anything else. If I'm trying to read my way deeper into the genre - and find its place in the literary criticism pantheon - for myself, then I need to focus on the most extreme trajectory.

So, to orient my challenge into something that forms a little more structure, I had to break down exactly what that meant.

the categories

june - vintage romances

As you'll soon be hearing in a new blog post, I decided to start my romance journey by going as far back as I could... and that took the form of only romances written before the turn of the century. While I tried looking around various places on the internet to find the best recommendations for these kinds of novels, the actual answers were few and far between... something you'll be hearing more about in that particular update!

Rules for this romance: has to be written before the year 2000, has to be a mass market paperback, has to have some kind of flowery writing or dashing figure on the cover. As you'll be seeing in the post, I achieved that criteria many times over!

july - recently written historical romance

I don't know if it's just my own observations or what, but I feel that the world of the historical romance has really revved up its game within the scope of the past five years or so. At any rate, it's a phenomenon that's gained a lot of traction in the world of the book blogger!

Rules for this romance: has to have been written within the last three years, has to be a mass-market paperback, has to be set sometime before the 1900s... and for some reason, these also seem to be predominantly set somewhere European. (To give you a sneak preview: I've been looking forward to pick up something written by Tessa Dare or Julia Quinn!)

august - modern contemporary romance 

I'm leaving the category I'm perhaps the most wary of for last...

Rules for this romance: has to have been published within the last two years, and set within that time period, as well. I've decided it cannot be YA, so it has to come from either the New Adult or Adult Romance genres... and to be honest, I'm kind of trying to get to one of both, for a truly comprehensive experience.

I have very little point of reference for these categories, so I'm the most unsure of what titles to pick up. I've seen the name Colleen Hoover come up a couple of times, the title The Wedding Date, by Jasmine Guillory, has been flung my way, and I've also had The Simple Wild, by K. A. Tucker - which doesn't actually come out until August! - recommended to me for a choice, as well, but I'm keeping my card open for as long as possible here.

all summer - romance genre literary criticism and popular discourse 

Thankfully, I'm not alone on this journey, of trying to find the points of contact between popular romance and literary criticism: there are already plenty of people doing that same work!

From accessible and popular websites like Medium, XOJane, Jezebel, and Bustle, to staid and serious publications like The Washington Post, Smithsonian Magazine, and The Economist, there are plenty of articles worth reading when it comes to the greater cultural context of romance novels. There is even an academic journal completely dedicated to that singular subject: JPR Studies (the Journal of Popular Romance)! 

Furthermore, there are also books dedicated to such research. I've currently got Pamela Regis' A Natural History of the Romance Novel checked out from the library, with sticky flags sprouting from its pages. There are other books that have been written on the same topic - Dangerous Books for Girls: The Bad Reputation of Romance Novels, Explained by Maya Rodale, is currently sitting in my Amazon shopping cart, while I debate paying $10 to get it in paperback - that I would hope to have time to get around to, as well.

the project

So, there you have it! I'm not really dipping my toes in here, so much as diving in headfirst, having thought out exactly how I'm going to be doing the diving beforehand. 

By the end of the summer, I'll have read a minimum of 3 complete romance novels and at least one published work of literary criticism, as well as have consumed numerous other resources that I'll be happy to link to you all, as well.

Hope you're ready, and reading, for a really good time! 

Do you read in the popular romance genre? What are some books or authors you'd recommend to me next? Let me know, in the comments below!

1 comment:

  1. Tessa Dare is fantastic, especially the series you show up there. I also read my first Quinn recently and really enjoyed Because of Miss Bridgerton. This is a fun sounding project, hope you enjoy yourself!