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Sunday, March 18th, 2012 | Author:

I read a couple of essays today that really resonated with me. Link time!

First up is “All About Pleasure: The Politics of Arousal,” by Donna George Storey on the Erotica Readers and Writers Association blog. Storey talks about the recent PayPal censorship issue, and points out that fiction is generally meant to arouse something in the reader:

The truth is people read all fiction to be aroused. Erotica is assumed to focus only on sexual arousal. Literary and mainstream fiction are supposed to stay above the waist to arouse love and hate, our sense of justice and morality, and an identification with the fate of the characters. I can’t count how many times I’ve read advice for literary writers to give your poor protagonist as many trials and conflicts as possible, the better to create a sense of pleasurable release when she prevails. Eroticists are accused of manipulating their readers for a low purpose in that perhaps—or even hopefully [gasp]—the story will lead to what has traditionally been referred to as “self-abuse.”

Storey goes on to point out how frequently child abuse or childrens’ deaths crop up in more literary fiction, seemingly as an authorial shortcut to stirring the reader’s emotions. Which is kind of gross, right? I mean, that makes me a lot more uncomfortable than the vast majority of erotica does.

Link number two is “Romance, Arousal, and Condescension,” by SB Sarah over at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. I’ve seen people who care a lot about pointing out that romance writing is legitimate writing say “romance is not porn for women” many times, and it usually makes me wince a little, because I feel like there’s an invisible “because porn is inherently bad and romance is not!” tacked on, or maybe some icky evolutionary psychology bullshit about how women and men have totally different, hardwired arousal responses and whatnot. So when I see that phrase, I tend to go read something else. Sarah caught my attention with it this time, though, because she added in the same bold print:

Porn is porn for women.

There is nothing wrong with either one.

And whatever a woman employs to satisfy her own sexual curiosity and hornypants is her business, not yours.

She then writes about how hard it is to actually define stuff like porn and erotica (no kidding!), but what I really liked about the blog post is her discussion of how condescension and discomfort surrounding women reading romance is largely condescension and discomfort surrounding women being sexual. Which is kind of a big thing at the moment here in my country…as well as almost everywhere and everywhen else.

Very thought-provoking stuff. Go! Read!

Also, I promise you this is the last time I will beg for votes (well, for this, at least), but Cecilia Tan extended the deadline for voting on the poll at Circlet Press for the upcoming print anthology, so: If you happen to read this before March 19th, and you want to make me really happy, go here and vote for “A Woman of Uncommon Accomplishment” by Elizabeth Reeve (Sense and Sensuality), please!

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Thursday, April 23rd, 2009 | Author:

Candy Tan, of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, has done a couple of guest posts at Powell’sBooks.BLOG recently, including one titled “The Genre Ghetto’s Genre Ghetto: How I Got Here, and Why I Love It.” The whole blog post tickled me pink (I can actually hear my mother’s voice in my head as I type that phrase, and it’s creeping me out a little bit. But now that I’ve written it down, it’s too funny not to use. Sorry. End digression!), but I particularly liked Tan’s reasons for why she keeps reading romances even though the publication rate for the genre ensures that “the total amount of pure crap pumped out is higher than it tends to be in other genres, and they tend to be more shoddily edited.”

So why the hell do I still read them, and why am I so passionate about them?

Part of it’s because when they’re good — or when I find one that I enjoy; these two sets don’t always intersect — they’re incredible. They’re smart, they’re moving, they’re subversive, and they speak to the deepest bonding urges we have. Humans are social beasties, and romance novels, more than any other genre, explore the human experience of building intimate connections with each other.

There’s also no other genre I can think of in which female protagonists are so consistently victorious, and so consistently happy by the end. I’m not saying that this in and of itself makes romance novels good, but it’s certainly part of what makes them attractive, and it definitely sets them apart from any other genre out there.

And romance novels are where a lot of interesting, tangled issues about societal expectations and gender norms and heteronormativity and sex roles are not just elements of the story, they’re centerpieces to the conflict.

Tan’s reasons for liking romance are closely in line with my own, both as a reader and a writer. I like to write – and read! – romance and erotica because it’s sexy and it’s fun and there’s a frothy sort of pleasure in it that goes along nicely with hot bubble baths or staying in bed all morning, sure, but there are also richer, more subversive pleasures. There are fantastic challenges waiting for writers who want to really dig deep into our cultural notions about relationships and love and sex, and there’s a lot out there to love in the genre for readers who want to try out new ideas while remaining within a familiar framework.

Anyway, check out Tan’s blog post, and then you might like to read a later post where she recommends some specific titles. I’m jotting down a list of titles to look for next time I’m at the bookstore right now.

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