How romance adds up

Available July 7, 2009
Available July 7, 2009

I once made a snide remark about a woman reading a steamy romance novel with all that ravishment happening on the book’s cover. I didn’t know the woman – I was sitting across from her on the city bus. My mother, hearing my remark, quickly deflated what I thought was a clever snip at trashy novels, saying: “At least she’s reading.” 

That was a long, long time ago, but I never forgot my mother’s message that literary snobbery is empty – it’s good to read books, period.  

To redeem myself from that past rudeness, I’m going to write about Nora Roberts (sort of) in so far as to say there’s an interesting profile of this mega-selling romance writer in the June 22nd  issue of The New Yorker.

The article reveals Roberts’ way of living, thinking and writing, including the fact she’s disowned one of her books – Promise Me Tomorrow (1984) – for its clichés and unhappy ending. The book now sells for $100 and more by used booksellers on Amazon.

Writer Lauren Collins describes Roberts as (I love this) “the Raymond Carver of romance. Her characters thirst for cold beers on the porch, not Daiquiris by the pool.”

Interesting statistics in the article from the Romance Writers of America (RWA) indicate the romance genre is a front runner for money-making in the book publishing business – nearly $1.4 billion in sales in 2007, exceeding:

  • science fiction and fantasy combined ($700 million)
  • mystery ($650 million)
  • or literary fiction ($466 million)
A Civil Contract
A Civil Contract

The RWA website also provides results from a survey commissioned by Random House of adult reading and book-buying habits:  14% of Americans buy more than 20 books per year for themselves.

On a closing note – Collins refers in her article to Pamela Regis’ book, A Natural History of the Romance Novel (2003), for the esteemed “who’s who” in  twentieth-century romance writers. One author on that list is Georgette Heyer (1902-1974), whom I discovered in Michael Dirda’s book Classics for Pleasure (2007).

Dirda describes Heyer’s writing as astute and witty with complex plots, falling into the Regency Romance genre. Based on his recommendations, The Grand Sophy (1950) and A Civil Contract (1961) are two of her books on my “would like to read” list.

Heyer’s books don’t come with steamy ravishment on the covers.  I’m surprisingly disappointed.