ON NOT BEING A CULTURE SNOB

I read a post about how dreadful (yet gripping) romance novels can be. It’s true. They are the potato chips of the literary world. Bet you can’t consume just one! Even if you don’t like them (and mostly, I don’t, much), they grab you and won’t let you go, even though you know in advance exactly what is going to happen, pretty much from the opening page.

That’s not the point of these books. If as a girl, you read the back of cereal boxes, romance novels are the next step up. I’m not sure what the literary equivalent is for guys, but I’m sure there is one.

netflix for books

As the former editor of the Doubleday Romance Library, I can tell you our research showed readers of romance novels to be far better educated than average readers. Many have advanced degrees in the sciences. They read romance novels exactly because they are mindless pulp. They aren’t looking to be informed or improved, to have their world expanded, reading-level or awareness raised. They want a book they can pick up, read, put down. If life gets in the way, they can just forget them without regret.

I read each 3-book volume, one per month. It contained three romances: 2 modern with a Gothic sandwiched between. Every novel had the same plot, the same outcome. They sold gangbusters.

Regardless of what we, as writers, would like, people don’t necessarily read books because they are good. Me? I often avoid “good” books. I don’t want to go where the book would take me. I’m not stupid or lacking in culture. I just don’t want to read it.

Why? Too depressing, too intense, too serious, too ugly, too educational. Too real. I read for the same reasons I watch TV and movies. To be entertained. I am not seeking enlightenment. Perhaps I should rephrase that. I am no longer seeking enlightenment. If I ain’t enlightened by now, I’m pretty sure it won’t happen in this lifetime.

The wondrous thing about the world of books is there are so many books. Enough genres, themes, and styles for anyone. Everyone. An infinity of literature so no matter what your taste –low-brow, high-brow, middle-brow, no-brow — there are thousands of books waiting for you. That’s good. I’d rather see someone reading a bad book than no book.

I’m not a culture snob. I think reading crappy novels is fine if you like them. Watching bad TV is fine too. Snobs take the fun out of reading. While I’m not a fan of romance novels, if you are, that’s fine. Since I love reading about vampires and witches, I’d be a hypocrite to act like your taste is somehow inferior to mine.

These days, I’m rarely in the mood for serious literature. Tastes change with the years. Mine has changed more than most. Life has been a very serious business for me. When I read, watch TV, or see a movie, I am happy to escape from reality.

Finally, my favorite professor at university — a man I believe was profound and wise in every way that counted — was a big fan of Mickey Spillane. He said there was a much truth in his books. I believe for him, there was.



Categories: Arts, Books, Entertainment, Literature, Movies, Television

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45 replies

  1. I just finished two out of three books in a trilogy that started out to be a romance (the love triangle sceanio with a twist) is typical for book 1. But book 2 pulls the family together, so romance is not the main theme, in spite of the fact that there are two brides in the story. I tried to avoid the SOS, drippy type love story. Book 3, when finished, will be a continuation of the story as a whole, but each book has been written to stand alone, if necessary The set has turned out to be more of a family saga, so I really don’t know how to classify it. I’ve also noted some errors I need to fix, so will re-publish at some point in this lifetime, when time allows. My kids tell me my covers are too busy, and I’ll probably change them to make them more salable, although the cover on book 1 (at present) depicts an important mural that plays a key role in the story. Book 2 is set against a map of the area where the story takes place, with the family estates marked. My kids tell me that is too busy, too. I’m too new to know better, so I’ll take their word for it. This first printing has a ways to go before I re-publish with multiple changes, but I think the story line is worth the headaches of ‘fixing’ my ‘self-publishing errors in my quest to chase my dreams. ‘Brides’ revolves around an equestrian background.

    Does anyone have any suggestions as how to best classify such a work? Right now, I have the first two books listed as Romance, Family Saga. And I threw in ‘horses’ as a keyword, since I am sure it would appeal to those of us who do love our four-legged family members. Suggestions, anyone?

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    • I’d suggest historical romance too — I’m assuming it has an historical element. You might want to poke around Amazon and see what categories seem to work for you. I could never figure out what mine was. I still am not sure. That was a serious impediment to marketing it, so avoid making the same mistake. Even if you have to squeeze a little to make it fit, you need to figure out where you are comfortable. As I said, I never figured it out and probably never will.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for the feedback, Marilyn. The story begins in 1988 and ends in 2010 (the 3 books combined), so it’s not really historical. The series has a close-knit family appeal. If the first three books catch on, warranting sequels, I’ll probably move to a spatial time-line (giving some of the characters books of their own) as opposed to the lineal time-line I’d used (am using) in books 1 thru 3. I’m been playing on Amazon, trying to figure it all out. There’s a lot of competition, for sure. So again, thank you for lending your opinion.

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  2. KUDOS again outstanding post! Sharing on Twitter. Have a blessed and wonderful THANKSGIVING… The kids will be gone and we’re planning a relaxing day at home with plenty of leftovers out when the kids get back that night. I’m very thankful for you, my dear friend! Still working on DOG BONE SOUP… it’s almost ready to roll! ❤ Bette

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  3. This was very, very interesting! My mother, who was not outwardly affectionate was an avid romance novel reader, even into her old, old age. I read one, Danielle Steele novel, but didn’t like it. Her writing was excellent, fast moving, but, I wanted something more, something like Carrie, or Jaws, I wanted excitement or way out sci-fi stories, those are the things I like to daydream.

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  4. I have to admit that I don’t read a lot of new books these days. I was in a bookshop browsing the other week and realised that I hadn’t done that for quite a long time, probably because I can’t really afford to buy new books much now. My husband uses the library a lot but I forget to take books back so I don’t so much. I do buy secondhand books but we have such a lot of books already. What I do like though is re-reading old favourites. We have a bit of everything on our shelves, SF, history, biographies, a few classics and everything inbetween so I never get tired of them.

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    • When we were trying to offload some of our life cargo, we donated hundreds of books and an entire audiobook collection to our local library. We have a free pass for life … but most of the books seem to be mine, so it’s not much help. I get a lot of free books to review, though I haven’t been able to keep up with them. I have so many books on my Kindles clamoring for attention it’s a wonder I can sleep at night. I do more listening than reading these days. My eyes and I kind of made an agreement. I don’t push them into exhaustion and they will continue to focus. If I push them, they stop focusing, which is a bummer 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Snobs take the fun out of most things! 😉
    Thanks for a great post…. love your take on enlightenment ‘by now.’

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    • Agreed! The snobs used to aggravate me as far back as high school. I don’t like humorless people anyhow and humorless reviewers — books, movies, TV — so often miss the point of well, everything. How did they GET their jobs? What makes they qualified to judge? No one has ever answered that to my satisfaction, because I don’t think merely have a degree qualifies you to advise the world on cultural affairs 😀

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  6. So agree! I like to escape from my own reality in a book, or a show

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  7. Comics. I keep returning to Asterix, Tintin and the like. Preferably with a bag of chips at hand 😛

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    • I LOVE ASTERIX. I have a whole collection of them and I treasure them. I wish my French were better so I could read them in the original. My son is a Tintin fan. Literate comics! What a concept!

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      • I came into my collection of Tintin and Asterix comics thanks to an elderly gentleman who ran a private circulation library. I used to frequent that place very regularly for its surprisingly – for the place was rather small – large and varied collection of books. He seemed a grumpy old man but he started talking to me after I picked up and returned “To Kill A Mockingbird” within a day. I suppose he was pleased that someone read that at one sitting. Didn’t say much for the rest of his clientele but since then we would talk books every time I went there, which was quite often. When he decided to make some space, he wanted to let go of extra copies of books. He kept aside a set each – at that time the complete ones – of Asterix and Tintin comics along with a bunch of other books for me. I had dibs on them and I didn’t even demand it 🙂 I bought them all at a wonderfully low rate.

        In some time after that I moved out of that city. When I checked in on him next two years later on a visit, the library had shut. He no longer was healthy enough to be there all day and his son couldn’t run the place because he had a well paying day job. I found his address and met him. We talked for hours, much longer that I had planned to. He passed away a few years later. But he remains a clear memory – his face and his infinite love for books.

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        • That’s a great story. I actually bought mine via Amazon. Not so romantic. Or, the Asterix I bought via Amazon. My son bought the Tintins when we lived in Israel from a guy who had decided he was too religious to keep them. Your story is much better. You should write it as a post. In fact, it almost IS a post already 🙂

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  8. Sounds just like me. I have too much complicated hard work at actual work to want to “expand my mind” with the “classics” at home. I hardly read anything that doesn’t involve either aliens, witches, vampires or mindless hacking with swords.

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    • That’s my feeling on the matter. Now that I technically have the time to read “real literature” (as if what we read isn’t real?) — I have zero interest in doing so. Every once in a while a book is thrust at me with assurances that I’ll love it. Rarely does that turn out to be true. If there’s no magic in it, or time travel, or robots, or aliens … what’s the point?

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  9. I have been and always will be a science fiction buff. Since rediscovering my passion for reading with the purchase of the original Kindle I’ve consumed over 60 novels, all science fiction. I still like a unique plot and decent storytelling skills but, like romance novels, it’s all fiction.

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    • Kindles have made books more accessible for many of us … not to mention lighter in weight and with a reading light, too. I’ve been reading sci fi since I was in high school. There is just a LOT more of it now (YAY) and more genres (urban fantasy is a great addition). I sometimes read other things including history and thrillers and the occasional mystery, but sci fi and fantasy are the majority of the books and I’m not ashamed of it.

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  10. I agree on this point. Heavy stuff leaves you drained at the end. People now a days wants to escape from the pressures and forget about the challenges while they read a book or novel. A light, lively, entertaining small book is always my choice.

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    • Flash flash. As long as there have been stories told around campfires, there has been escapist fiction. The format is changed, but the function isn’t. “Serious literature” showed up in the 19th century. The classics of today were the trashy novels of the past. Canterbury Tales WERE light entertainment and bawdy at that. We just don’t get the jokes because the world has changed so much.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. I used to read romance novels simply because I didn’t have to think much. Now I am going back to the classics as they provide an insight into what life was like when they were written. A bit of escapism from 21st century loving. I agree that the romance books follow a formula and they are all the same, albeit with new names and locations. But each to their own. 😊

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    • I used to read romances when was working full time and needed something to let me disconnect from life. Sci fi and fantasy do that now, but I logged a lot of romance hours before I discovered other genres that worked for me. Even now, much of what I read is mind candy, formulaic and easy reading. I’ll be halfway through one of them before I realize I’ve read it before. They are THAT memorable 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  12. The teenage years were populated by romance novels… often one a day… and my mother wrote romantic shorts too. At the same time I was reading more serious and soul searching stuff.. the one doesn’t peclude the other. These days the serious stuff makes way for something lighter for the last read before bed.

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    • I read a TON of romantic fiction as a kid, much of it historical romance. It’s where I got my taste for history, so it wasn’t such a waste after all. I had more patience with serious material when I was younger. Life was less serious and I was willing to go into darker places. Now, not so much. Different age, different stage. I do still read a lot of history and I will read anything when I’m looking for information about something. But most of my reading is fun … which doesn’t mean there isn’t some wisdom and ideas mixed into the plot. There are some amazingly good writers in “not so serious” genres.

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      • My mother taught me there is wisdom in every book.. somewhere… even if it is no more than a different perspective to look at through another pair of eyes.

        I was a huge Georgette Heyer fan… still am for that matter though I know her books too well now to re-read very often. It was quite simply because of her historical romances that the Napoleonic campaigns of the Duke of Wellington opened up for me.The Spanish Bride and An Infamous Army remain, to my way of thinking, two of the best books available at a non academic level for their portrayal of the life of the army, and the references given for the portraits her stories paint opened up a whole host of lines of research.

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        • Total agreement here. For me, it was the Angelique series by Anne Golan (who is in her late 90s, lives in Paris, and is still writing the series, though the last bunch have not been translated to English). They changed me and the way I looked at the world, got me seriously investigating late medieval European history, and convinced me life belongs to the brave of heart. I still think these are among the best novels I ever read, though they are out of print and I know the early ones so well I can recite them. They weren’t taken (aren’t taken) seriously … but they were/are brilliantly written and thoroughly researched. I wonder how many of us began a lifelong love of history in wrapped in a romantic historical novel or series of novels? Bet a LOT of us did.

          I also remember trying to submit a book report of one of these books to an English teacher at school and being told it was “junk” — and I should read a “real book.” I read all the time, unless I was in school, asleep, or at the dinner table. I had thought they were ALL real books. Go figure.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Joffrey de Peyrac featured largely in my teenage dreams, I have to say… Did you ever see the film with Michèle Mercier and Robert Hossein?

            I still have several of the ancient, dogeared books…

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  13. I have never read a romance novel in my life. But I have read some stuff that probably isn’t much different (other than the subject matter). Books that I can read to escape without taxing my brain too much. Kind of fun every once in a while. But only every once in a while.

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    • I binge read. I’ll read a lot of urban fantasy and sci fi, then I’ll read a thousand page book on WWII. I’ll read anything that entertains me. If I’m sick, which i often am, I will dive into escapist fiction with a vengeance, the same way Garry dives into old western movies when he is off his feed. Reading IS entertainment for me and always has been.

      I’ve probably read an entire library by now. I think somewhere in there, a fair number of “good” books slipped by. I ain’t got nothin’ to prove to nobody no more, my friend.

      Liked by 2 people

  14. I used to be a HUGE fan of romance novels as a teenager/younger woman. I’d go and check them out from the library by the dozens and read ’em in a week and go check out more. First it was the Harlequin type romances, then the historical stuff, then stuff like Outlander… But the repetition got to me after a while and I spun off into sci-fi/fantasy novels and devoured them like candy too. That’s what I call this kind of literature — mind candy. Now I read the mixture — urban fantasy. It’s almost as though I’ve come full circle. ^_^

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    • When I was running the Romance Library, I read them all. My objection was the predictability and eventually, too many adjectives. They ARE mind candy. But as you say, the sci fi and fantasy stuff is slightly sophisticated versions of mind candy. Now and again, I get a yen for something with more meat to it. Usually history, but sometimes other stuff.

      An awful lot of what is called “good” literature to me just seems … dare I say it? Boring. Pretentious. Lacking in plot, action, characters. It gets great reviews, like a lot of movies I hate. I think in a way we HAVE come full circle. Not necessarily a bad thing.

      Urban fantasy didn’t exist as a genre when I was younger. It’s pretty recent. If it had been around when I was younger, I’m sure I’d have loved it.

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  15. I think what matters is if people read and not they read. I read a scary statistic regarding people who leave school and never pick up a book again…it is too high!

    Like

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