We had a customer one year who walked up and down the rows of paperback romances, announcing to no one in particular that she did not, herself, read romances. She was shopping for books for her sister, who was ill, and couldn’t read anything better. Only morons read romances, she told us, and she would certainly not be shopping in this section were it not for her sister. She did, sometimes, read romances involving doctors or nurses, but that was for the medical information you could pick up on the way, and certainly not for the plot, since only morons, etc. etc. etc. She went away after about two hours. She had had to look at every single title of the books she would never, ever read.
Sometimes, when I’m feeling as if a person who works in a library should be changing the world, I wonder if I couldn’t do something for the paperback romance. I don’t believe any section of the Book Fair rouses such utter contempt, with the possible exception of the old encyclopedias. One of my volunteers, in fact, suggested that it lowered the reputation of the Newberry Library to offer such things at all. They were better burned in the parking lot, she said, or donated to some worthy charity that dealt with people who had low IQs. At the very least, I shouldn’t expect her to price them. Even pricing romances was a waste. Why couldn’t I just sell them by the pound? The titles and authors didn’t matter, after all, since they were all the same story, a formulaic piece of trash without a word or concept to trouble the brain, and only morons, etc. etc.
I pointed out that she had bought a number of romances in the years I’d known her.
She was exasperated. It was not her fault, she said, if I sometimes put the NOVELS of Danielle Steel or Judith Krantz in the Romance section. My mistake.
Formulaic? You should look at some of the mysteries or fantasies or westerns these days. Written for the simple-minded with a limited vocabulary? Checked on that once. Picked up the romance on the top of the pile, opened it at random, and found enzedders discussing the use of borage in cooking. Betcha Tolstoy never used either of those words. All exactly the same? Hey, we just got one in where the heroine is a Navy SEAL and the hero is the Greek god Poseidon. Short, easy to read, with a pat happy ending? That’s bad?
But I’ve decided I’m not going to try to bother trying to retrieve the reputation of the paperback romance. If the world decided they were real books (even without doctors and nurses in ‘em) they wouldn’t be anybody’s guilty pleasure any more.