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Romance B(u)y Whose Book?

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Dear Ms. Buonfiglio:

This is not a traditional review, per se, but I could imagine no other appropriate way to respond to the public posting of your recent presentation at the Princeton Romance conference, especially since you seemed to make a fundamental distinction between your Romance B(u)y the Boook blog (RBTB) and the rest of the online Romance community.   In the spirit of intellectual exchange, as one of those readers and bloggers in that great morass also known as NOT-RBTB, as a formally trained literature scholar working on genre Romance within the larger context of scholarly pursuits, and as someone who is not afraid of a little “heat” in the online community, I feel compelled to offer a different perspective.

First of all, congratulations on your new gig at BN.com – presumably one of the “big gigs with major companies” to which you refer in your talk.   You are obviously and rightfully proud, and I do not want that to go unacknowledged.   As you point out yourself, we all have as much to learn as we potentially have to teach, and it is not necessarily the most learned who have the greatest insight.   Also, beyond your own “self-aggrandizement” as you put it, there are so many issues worthy of study and discussion, including the topic of your presentation, which is the nature of the online community and its usefulness (or not) for scholars pursuing topics in genre Romance.

I want to start with your assertion that “the beauty of the Internet is its being a conduit for First Amendment-type discourse at its ‘freest.’”   Technically, of course, there is no such thing as “First Amendment-type discourse,” because speech is either protected or it’s not, and what is not protected isn’t even defined in terms of speech under the First Amendment.   But if what you mean is that the Internet is a “marketplace of ideas,” then I certainly agree with you there and would add that the integrity of such a model rests firmly on a commitment to diverse points of view.   Further, as Supreme Court Justice Douglas notes, the “function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute.   It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger.”   A strong statement, and one that may make some people uncomfortable, but one that is essential to the work of academia, where intellectual freedom goes hand in hand with free speech.

Of course, this isn’t a university, and we’re not debating the importance of academic freedom.   However, since the panel on which you spoke was “Romance Reads the Academy,” the comparison is relevant, especially in consideration of the following assertion in your talk:

But for the small portion of romance readers online, the immediacy with which we access information and content at romance sites can give us the impression that what’s being written about is a) true, and b) important.

Which is why – especially in the online romance community – we’ve noted the phenomenon of “Perception as Reality.” Basically, the Internet user who isn’t media savvy believes mostly that if it’s written online it must be true. That includes content written by anybody with the impressive skill it takes to register for and own a url — and even User Generated Content (UGC), otherwise known as blog comments.

And this, as well:

As academics, you know to take everything with a grain of salt, right? But that doesn’t mean you don’t fall prey to the biggest trip-up folks face when looking online for information – and even entertainment, which sometimes passes for information – the brutal problem of not being able to separate the heat from the light.

The reason I have separated these points is to distinguish between your comments about readers reading blogs and those about non-blogging (?) scholars reading blogs.   In that first excerpt, you seem to be suggesting that readers in general cannot be trusted to understand the difference between a) fact and opinion, and b) truth and untruth (assuming any objective ability to do that).   In the second excerpt, though, you seem to be questioning the ability of professional scholars – i.e. people trained to read and analyze — to understand the difference between “important stuff” and, well, sensationalism? propaganda? crap?   I don’t understand, frankly, the reference to readers who aren’t “media savvy” or the difference between “working IN Internet – as opposed to hanging around ON the Internet.”   I mean, aren’t your own readers “hanging around ON the Internet,” as you put it?   And what does being “media savvy,” whatever that means, have to do with possessing common sense about subjecting ANY public statement – yours, mine, Gandhi’s – to at least a minimal level of skeptical scrutiny?

There are many, many additional examples in your presentation, the rest of which basically draws out this case against online “heat” as “[non]viable research product,” “tempests in teapots,” “get[ting] a good bitch on,” and as “muck[ed] up . . . information,” all of which supposedly results in readers who “fear being jumped ugly on.”   And these characterizations seem to lead finally to this mandate:

The next time you go close to the ground to research, check out the light and look to sites where the readers say things with simplicity and dignity. I challenge you: When you interact with your viewers, try giving them the tools to move through the heat toward illumination.

For those who haven’t read the presentation as posted, “the light” is synonymous with RBTB, where readers are welcomed, nurtured, and valued, even if they have “never met either Strunk or White” or are what “some might deem ‘limited.’”   I have to admit that such descriptions are new to me in terms of characterizing blog readers, but I want to be faithful to your words here.   Because I so wholly, essentially, and categorically disagree with and find offense in what you’ve laid out there that I am not sure I can even do my feelings justice in their expression (a true “Derridean gap,” I’m afraid).   But I am sure going to try.

First I want to address the proliferation of “we’s” in the talk, for which I cannot always locate the referent.   For example, when you say, “we generally think of illumination as private property of ‘the learned’” I don’t know who all is included in that (since it is hardly my perspective, nor the perspective of people with whom I associate, within and outside the academy).   Or when you say, “we make romance more relevant online when we regularly present it outside the romance community on platforms whose viewership includes non-romance readers,” I know many Romance readers – me included — who would not agree with that, at all.   I’m pretty clear on the “I” statements in the piece, especially when you talk about all that you have done for Romance readers and for the genre and the online community.   And I certainly understand that you are speaking from a position of authenticity in your own experience, as we all do.   But I also feel as if you are trying to prescribe that authenticity for everyone by distinguishing RBTB as the “right” place to go for “illumination” as opposed to the “sound and fury” of everywhere else (or at least those not on a select list of other spots you have designated as appropriate research venues).

Let me point out, also for those who were not in attendance when this talk was given, that Sarah Wendell was seated next to you, poised to speak right after you, in fact.   I would further draw attention to the way in which your own descriptions of the bad places online echo descriptions used to dismiss blogs like Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Books.     Certainly, the tenor of discussions on SBTB is much different from that on RBTB, and I do not need to stretch very far intellectually to discern a definite subtext of disapproval for Sarah and those bloggers (including those of us at DA) who are more like her than you.   Those of us who are not afraid of “too much criticism” or who do not believe that “When those who gather romance communities nurture heat, they invite and instigate their viewers to reactionary, inflammatory commentary that doesn’t just ‘feel bad’ to a lot of people, it literally reduces the commentary’s relevance.”   Okay, as far as I can tell, no blog has “viewers,” but beyond that, I find the elision of “heat” and irrelevance patently insulting and untrue.

What, for example, constitutes “heat”?   Would that be the reader who insists that rape as portrayed in Romance is destructive for the genre?   I guess we shouldn’t allow someone to offer that position lest we be perceived as “trying to oppress readers and authors online, cyber-bullying folks about perfect-right choices like how much sexual aggression they dig in a love scene. . . “   And what about those readers who want to discuss “whether a book is the worst or next-to-worst book of the year”?   That might make all hell break loose, especially should the discussion lead to criticism of books.   Forget all that high-minded talk about “First Amendment-type discourse” and Justice Douglas’s insistence that free speech should push us out of our comfort zones.   Not only does that inhibit “illumination,” it also sets a big “trip-up” for professional scholars who might venture online unsupervised.

See, here’s the thing: if a professional scholar cannot be trusted to apply reasonable levels of intellectual scrutiny to what s/he reads online, that person is in the wrong line of work.   It is what we are trained to do.   And as a bonus, those of us who were trained in literature are also trained to analyze discourse around books, especially those of us who study popular literature.   I can appreciate and admire the pride you take in the community you have created at RBTB (wow, you’re a mere one letter off from SBTB!) and your freedom to run that community any way you like.   But it strikes me as unreasonably prescriptive and antithetical to the very principle of inclusion that the Princeton conference was convened to affirm to suggest that the online Romance community outside RBTB is a flaming trash heap of irrelevance.

Because your truth may not be someone else’s, and your definition of civility may not be someone else’s.   Certainly, if one element of civility is politeness, I am stunned that you would make the presentation you did with Sarah Wendell in the seat next to yours, especially with the incredibly encompassing and yet exclusive language you employed to offer up RBTB at the expense of online venues that aren’t just like yours.   That don’t, for example, accompany information on the Princeton conference with a picture of a young, mostly naked and cut guy with a heart expressing RBTB’s love for Princeton superimposed on his barely-there briefs.   For you and your “Bellas,” that might be a wonderful celebration of the genre; for other readers, not so much.   Similarly, not every reader wants to engage in a debate about rape in Romance that may get very emotional and, dare I say it, heated.   Many readers are shared across blogs, even blogs that are not in tune with each other in style or content.   And why should a site need to have the sponsorship of “major companies” to be seen as legitimate; in some circles, especially academic circles, that is cause for suspicion.   So thank goodness we – you, me, and everyone — have so much choice online right now!

Seriously, isn’t there enough for everyone?   Can’t we all be secure in the knowledge that readers are smart enough to choose what best meets their needs?   That doesn’t mean we in the Romance community shouldn’t disagree and debate and even rail at what offends and frustrates us, or that with which we strenuously disagree.   How will our knowledge deepen if our views are never challenged?   One of the most powerful things that has come out of the online community is the conference at Princeton, and despite the fact that you were instrumental in making that happen, it saddens me that the spirit of inclusion does not seem to extend to those online venues that do not work the way you think they should.   Especially when more options merely increase and enrich the marketplace for Romance readers, encourage a diversity of viewpoints, and provide the sort of dynamic exchanges that create exactly the kind of illumination you refer to in your presentation.

Except that it will be different for different people, and it cannot be either pre- or pro-scribed.   What you call “nurturing” and see as encouragement might feel confining to others – they might find it stifling rather than liberating.   After all, that is your vision, however it is reinforced by your readership.   And as right as it may be for you, it is your way, not the way.   And whether or not it is the right way depends in part on the goal.   If the goal is to build a broad-based, interactive, informed, and engaged community of Romance readers, as you claim, then it seems to me that we need to welcome each other into the conversation, even, and perhaps especially, because of our differences.

~ Janet

isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!

80 Comments

  1. Jessica
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 04:47:11

    Wonderful post! Thank you!

    I would only add that while it is true that different readers look for different kinds of online engagement, it’s impossible to divide either web surfers or blogs along those lines. Personally, I enjoy the deep critical discussions as well as the fun stuff. And my favorite blogs tend to offer both. They don’t assume readers are only looking for one type of engagement. Why does Ms. B?

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  2. SarahT
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 05:39:58

    Excellent post!

    Although I find Michelle Buonfiglio’s post seriously condescending, she does have a point with regard to online bust-ups. Look, I read them and enjoy them for the most part, but I tend to wait for the heat to die down before deciding which side I’m on. Sometimes people jump to conclusions and misinformation is disseminated. And, yes, some kerfuffles turn into full-on bitch fests and go too far.

    But this is MY opinion. What I consider to be too much might not be the same for the next person. If I don’t like what’s being said, I can choose not to read those posts. And I’m sure plenty of others do the same.

    What really bugged me about Michelle’s speech was its passive-aggressiveness. It was delivered with Sarah Wendell sitting next to her. Yet she made no direct mention of Sarah’s own blog, preferring to make not-so-subtle digs at it throughout the presentation. It would have been a lot classier to directly name SBTB, thus allowing Sarah the chance to defend herself and her blog.

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  3. Anon
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 05:43:41

    If you have to tell people you’re nice, you probably aren’t.

    And while we’re at it, this piece is pretty funny. I don’t know if she intended the unconscious irony, but this is great:

    Thankfully, I’ve had a few years to clarify and disseminate my opinion that many of the most engaging, successful storytelling talents in romance fiction develop accessible language that communicates – and resonates – more effectively with readers than that of some erudite writers whose regard for technique sometimes results in passion squelched.

    *choke* And she’s mentioning her readers as people who haven’t read Strunk & White? Whatever happened to “omit needless words” and “do not overwrite?”

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  4. library addict
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 06:09:11

    Terrific post, Janet.

    One of the benefits of being a grown-up is that, in addition to choosing what books we want to read for entertainment purposes, we also get to choose what websites/blogs we want to spend time at. As Jessica says, why try to pigeon hole readers by thinking they should limit themselves to only one place?

    Personally I don't trust sites that make every book out to be all wonderful all the time. I don't always agree with the old adage if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all.

    Why does criticism have to automatically equal bad? As is often said, there is a difference between “I don't like this book” and “I don't like this author as a person.” I believe romance readers are smart enough to understand the difference.

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  5. Barb Ferrer
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 06:15:22

    Can't we all be secure in the knowledge that readers are smart enough to choose what best meets their needs? That doesn't mean we in the Romance community shouldn't disagree and debate and even rail at what offends and frustrates us, or that with which we strenuously disagree. How will our knowledge deepen if our views are never challenged?

    Right there, you hit on the primary reasons that her address was so galling. Her implication that readers (and academics) are too stupid to be trusted and need her “gentle guidance,” not to mention that she totally misses the point that most academic discovery occurs either amidst strife or by sheer, happy accident during in-depth search.

    If we’re going to consider the romance genre as worthy of academic study, then we have to be prepared for either or both to occur and we have to allow the community (readers, academics, and writers) the freedom in which to enjoy/investigate the genre, not put restrictions on it based on some false construct.

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  6. Nora Roberts
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 06:38:46

    Some times I like to get a good bitch on. Some times it’s even merited.

    Just saying.

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  7. katiebabs
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 06:41:36

    I am trying to figure out what makes someone a professional scholar of the romance genre? Is it having a PHD or a Masters? Do you have to have a degree?
    I for one have a BA in Communications and have been reading romances for twenty years. I write reviews, commentary and have discussions in the community with others. I guess that would make me an expert and a scholar. Right?

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  8. joanne
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 07:03:22

    It’s not all about her, is it? geeze.

    @Janet I’m incredibly upset with you that I had to read the entire link on her website in order to comment here. BUT, unlike The Bella, I think you can easily seperate the heat from the light of that joke.

    The presentation was offensive in so many ways that I’m finding it hard to order my thoughts or even catch my breath. Added to the (unknown to me or anyone else that wasn’t present) fact that she was sitting next to SB Sarah it was also divisive and reeked of insensitivity to the romance reading community in general .

    As academics, you know to take everything with a grain of salt, right?

    And no one else does? I’ll just go ahead and plagerize Barb Ferrer and say that her ideas about the blog community in general are galling.

    I AM crazily happy with the cat picture and the reminder that Shelly Laurenston’s Here, Kitty Kitty is being re-issued in paper soon.

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  9. GrowlyCub
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 07:50:52

    I heard her speak at Lori Foster’s Get Together last year and also had a fairly long private conversation with her and wasn’t impressed. I really couldn’t understand why everybody was fawning over her.

    This is clearly a case of her being too big for her britches.

    I went to her blog after the GT ended and thought it was completely uninteresting. I haven’t been back since and I still hang out here and at SBTB every day.

    I’m so sick and tired of her endorsing the ‘be nice’ stereotype that keeps women from being taken seriously to start with. She seems extremely reactionary in her attitudes and far from being a positive influence is actually part of the establishment that depicts romance readers as bon-bon eating, lazy housewives who cannot cross the street without help.

    Disgusting! I sure hope that her outing herself in this manner leads to her not being invited to any more reader centric events since she has so little respect for us.

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  10. Sonya
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 08:08:10

    I’m with Nora. :-)

    Great post, Janet. I’m kinda glad I wasn’t there, because I might have had to exit the room in search of a toilet. Yikes.

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  11. SarahT
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 08:08:32

    I am trying to figure out what makes someone a professional scholar of the romance genre? Is it having a PHD or a Masters? Do you have to have a degree?

    Yeah, that bugs the hell out of me, too. I have no problem with the academic world taking research of the romance genre seriously. Quite the opposite. But a review/opinion by a scholar shouldn’t be considered any more valid than one by someone without a degree in literature.

    One of the aspects I love about the romance reading community is its diversity. We might not have much else in common, but we can bond over our love of books. Let’s not make it exclusive.

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  12. Anon
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 08:21:38

    Has anyone noticed how similar the pink backgrounds are at RBTB and SBTB? It was especially similar before the SBs replaced a bunch of pink with red.

    Has anyone noticed the special () in: Romance B(u)y the Book? Doesn’t it look a whole lot like the special (): …best regards, the Ja(y)nes?

    And as Janet already pointed out, RBTB looks a whole lot like SBTB.

    My working hypothesis is that Ms. Buonfiglio is feeling a little hemmed in by the competition and is looking for a way to push said competition aside. I mean, which would you rather have? Heaving Bosoms on the shelf or a blog at BN.com? I know which I would value more.

    If my hypothesis is correct, then I feel badly for Ms. Buonfiglio–after all, people like me who devour these romance blog sites are all too happy to add more sites to my list to read while procrastinating. However, I don’t like to hang out at sites that insinuate that my catholic tastes are something to change.

    If my working hypothesis is incorrect, then I apologize to Ms. Buonfiglio. And then I suggest to her that perhaps her sites and other romance blog sites have more in common than colors, parentheses, and acronyms. When she’s not on her high horse about the catholic tastes of web surfers, her reviews and discussions are entertaining–as are the ones at DA and SBTB.

    I hope she doesn’t drive me away for my diversity of opinion.

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  13. Maya M.
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 08:28:50

    1. Fascinating discussion. I’m not familiar with Ms. Buonfiglio’s site and should go take a look, to better understand this post.

    2. What is the deal with the attack of the 50 foot woman in the sidebar? It suggests that it’s silly to spend money buying adspace on DA – easier to gain exposure through tweetpics.

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  14. SarahT
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 08:33:33

    Some times I like to get a good bitch on. Some times it's even merited.

    Just saying.

    Absolutely. My objection is not to those who bitch. Often I’m one of them. What I don’t like is people bitching about those who bitch. It’s hypocritical. If they don’t like said bitch fest, they don’t have to follow it. But you just know they do!

    So I guess I’m bitching about those who bitch about those who bitch…!

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  15. Ciar Cullen
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 08:37:30

    I’m not an academician, but I play one on the internets, where I try to sound like a homey usin da internets lingo… Which is it? I’m confoooosed. And dayum, as she said, nice of her to mention those who didn’t make it through high school. Sportin.

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  16. Maili
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 08:45:09

    Well said.

    I think many of us still remember those days when the “My mama always says if you don’t have anything nice to say…” army ruled the online romance community with an iron fist. Readers were usually treated as if they were children or a bunch of uneducated hillbillies. If you stepped out of line, say hello to a gang of attack dogs “true” romance readers.

    It was horribly oppressive. Some found their way to a couple of listserves and smaller bulletins, but even there, there would some members of that army to control reader discussions. When blogger.com became available, it was our passport to freedom. I believe many of us don’t wish to see the return of those oppressive days when the army’s wars against those who “dared” to have different opinions.

    I felt “the army” were in the wrong for trying to stamp out those opinions by “naughty” readers. I believe it’s essential for a reader, author, journalist, researcher or scholar to view a wide range of opinions to obtain an accurate contextual frame of a topic, issue or novel. It’s common sense, surely?

    Anyroad… I’m sorry, but I don’t see Buonfiglio a positive influence on the romance genre and its readers. I’m sure there are many who like or endorse her philosophy. Good for them, but it’s not for me, thanks.

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  17. Meljean
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 09:02:10

    I don’t get a good bitch on often, but I learn a lot by reading them. And I have Michelle B’s blog in my Google Reader along with hundreds of others.

    Basically, I’m pretty much where Barb Ferrer is on this. There’s room for every type of reader, many readers read different types of blogs … and I assume each one is pretty dang smart and savvy when it comes to sorting the wheat from the chaff, scholars or not. We just want different things out of our online experiences (and some of us want all things from our online experiences, from the eye-candy to the rigorous examinations.)

    I’m just glad it’s here now. It wasn’t always.

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  18. Robin
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 09:17:52

    Just a quick clarification regarding the scholar/academic thing. The conference, but more specifically this panel in particular, were focused on Romance scholarship gaining acceptance within the academy. The panel itself was called “Romance Reads the Academy,” so the focus was on academic study of the genre and on academics themselves. I cannot speak to Buonfiglio’s perception of academic v. non-academic readers, but I don’t think it’s unfair of her to have part of her presentation focused on those within the academy. It’s one of the reasons I tried to split up those sections I quoted — to highlight that there are two kinds of reading being commented on (not to say there’s not plenty of overlap, but at some point you have to make a distinction else be charged with conflating two different things).

    For my own part, because I hate the word “academic,” as in “I am an academic” (even though I do use it), I will often use “professional scholar.” This change is for several reasons, including the fact that not all people doing academic scholarship are formally affiliated with colleges and universities (the numbers of independent scholars really started to climb when institutions of higher education started to rely on lecturers as a way to decrease costs and therefore opportunities for grad students to transition directly into tenure track academic positions).

    By “professional scholar,” I mean someone who conducts academic research (research that is within a certain academic discipline, that conforms to accepted publication standards, etc.) as part of their professional (paid or vocational) activities. That is not a comment on the quality of the work or the ability of those who are not writing academic articles in any field of study.

    One of the best comparisons I can make is to the aspiring author/published author distinction many in Romance draw. It took me a while to get used to the “aspiring author” tag, because to me, once you write something, you are an author. But now I realize that the term “published author” implies more formal recognition and a sense of professional endeavor. There’s also a comparison with the reviewer tag. I review a number of books, spend a lot of time doing it, and am conscientious about it. But I know I am not a professional reviewer because I don’t get paid for it and/or don’t do it for a living or as part of my professional activities.

    Thus the designation of the “professional scholar” — it’s a distinction of type, not quality or value.

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  19. Neenut
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 09:46:20

    I thought Ms. B. did a fine job of telling the empresses of romance they aren’t wearing any clothes, and that they are living in very small worlds.

    Thanks for linking to her post.

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  20. Robin
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 09:49:24

    @Maili: I had a whole sub-argument forming in my head while I was writing about the “maternalism” of the “if you can’t say anything nice” lobby. Because it was, as you know, often women who were writing those morality tracts aimed at manipulating other women to conform to specific standards of “feminine” behavior.

    So if Buonfiglio is serious about seeing Romance as liberating for women, which I assume means turning paternalism on its head, then certainly we need to banish maternalism, as well, especially as it functions outside the book to manipulate readers into conforming to “nice” behavior online.

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  21. Andrea S
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 09:59:15

    Well said, Robin.

    I think that is my biggest problem with this “speech”. If she had just said: “This is my opinion and I think it’s the best way to do things” then we could agree or disagree with it and be done.

    Also, the tone implying that if I have a problem (loudly) then I’m behaving badly. I usually disagree with fights in the comments and often I think people become 4-year-olds. But shouldn’t someone who runs a blog be able to voice their opinion when they are offended? Isn’t that why we have a blog in the first place?

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  22. Kirsten
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 10:29:47

    Hey, Robi

    Thanks for “maternalism”–I may reference the concept in seminar today.

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  23. BevBB
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 10:37:13

    Personally, I think it’s interesting that Ms. Buonfiglio says all that she says and then admits she gets “fan letters” from her own visitors. But that’s just me. ;p

    Then again, sometimes I feel like I’ve earned a PhD in popular culture just watching the, ahem, ebbs and flows of discussion in this so-called broader community. ‘Course, I’m not talking literally, there. Anyone else know the slang definitions of BS, MS and PhD? ;)

    Hey, I respect higher learning. It just has to be linked with some common sense, too, to be of some use in the long run and if one ends up coming off talking down to the very people one is trying to communicate with — what in the world is the point?

    Basically, and I’ll probably catch some flack for this, but I don’t disagree with what she’s saying, just the way she’s saying it, which goes back to being able to communicate. But then again, maybe she was communicating exactly what she wanted to. Since I’m not familiar with her site, I don’t know which is true there.

    There are always going to be individuals online who need to feel more secure than others, though. And let’s face it, one type of security is a nice calm place to express themselves, free of flare-ups such as happens on various sites that shall be nameless. ;) The point is that neither approach is wrong. What is wrong is trying to claim that one or the other is.

    The one thing I did find interesting in her “argument” that Robin touched on but I don’t see anyone challenging or even discussing is whether or not it really is unhelpful (misleading?) to academic research to have to “dig through the heat to get to the meat of any romance discourse you might want to study”. I mean, let’s face it, most of the controversies and flame wars do make it to the top of the search engines, don’t they?

    And are they always, how shall I say this, the most evenly balanced and representative topics about the genre? Or are they in fact, simply the most infamous?

    Just thinking out loud here.

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  24. Barb Ferrer
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 10:45:52

    @BevBB:

    The one thing I did find interesting in her “argument” that Robin touched on but I don't see anyone challenging or even discussing is whether or not it really is unhelpful (misleading?) to academic research to have to “dig through the heat to get to the meat of any romance discourse you might want to study”.

    Actually, I found that to be as insulting to the academics/scholars as most of the rest of what she said was insulting to the general reader. I noted in my own blog that rarely has anything of worth in academia (be it scientific or critical in nature) ever come about in an easy fashion. More often than note, it’s discovered amidst strife and pressure and arguments that have (in the Way Back Times) bordered on life-threatening. And oftentimes, academic discovery happens as a result of happy accident and sheer stupid luck brought about by in-depth searches in unexpected places. If you want a controlled and false result, you limit your search– if you want to get to the good crunchy stuff, then you’re willing to wade through all the dust and accumulated BS to get to it.

    Just my opinion, but then again, I’m a research ‘ho and I love when research takes me unexpected places.

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  25. Robin
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 11:00:44

    @Barb Ferrer: Also, the Internet is particularly handy for research purposes because you can usually follow a line of argument back to its original source pretty easily.

    I actually thought my whole piece was a rebuttal to that whole part of Buonfiglio’s presentation (although it was only one thing I was protesting), but to make it even more clear, one of the main reasons I don’t agree with here there is that responsible academic research relies on multiple sources and comprehensive comparative analysis of those sources.

    Now, it may very well be the case that someone who has done that kind of research in online communities conclude something that any of us would disagree with, but that’s part of the deal. You can’t prescribe the outcome of someone’s research, and if you respect the project of scholarship, you sure as hell shouldn’t try. You just articulate your disagreement, later (hey, an opportunity to write another article ;) ).

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  26. Louisa Edwards
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 11:07:00

    What you call “nurturing” and see as encouragement might feel confining to others – they might find it stifling rather than liberating. After all, that is your vision, however it is reinforced by your readership. And as right as it may be for you, it is your way, not the way. And whether or not it is the right way depends in part on the goal. If the goal is to build a broad-based, interactive, informed, and engaged community of Romance readers, as you claim, then it seems to me that we need to welcome each other into the conversation, even, and perhaps especially, because of our differences.

    That part? Actually made me tear up a little. It IS sad that she can’t see the hypocrisy inherent in invoking the First Amendment while denigrating the way others choose to express their opinions. Also, the hypocrisy of elevating “civility” to the apex of all virtues while pointedly, deliberately, and publicly attempting to shame a fellow participant in the online community and the Princeton panel. That fits no rubric of civility that I ever learned, but then, my mama raised me right.

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  27. Meljean
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 11:13:16

    @BevBB:

    It just has to be linked with some common sense, too, to be of some use in the long run and if one ends up coming off talking down to the very people one is trying to communicate with -’ what in the world is the point?

    MB’s address read to me that there is a real fear that, in the course of these new studies on romance, that some judgment is going to be passed down (on romance the genre and the readership) from scholars. But although I think there is some rampant snobbery toward the genre within academia, I feel it is precisely these examinations and conferences that will — if not convince people that romance has value — at least show that it holds up to scrutiny and that there is more to the genre than just a bunch of fluff.

    But I’m also one of those readers who doesn’t much give a crap about what other people think of the genre. I can’t dismiss the value, though, because even if, for example, a scholar comes away with something that says: Romances reinforce gender roles and societal norms; or, Romances allow readers to participate in rape fantasy … that is what is and not a judgment itself, but I think there is a real fear that is what scholars will find.

    But the casting of judgment is up to whoever reads it. IMO, participation in a rape fantasy isn’t a negative to be ashamed of, and can be empowering — others feel differently, of course, but at least the scholarship will give a new set of tools to work with and to talk about it with. When I hid my reading habits, a lot of the reason was that I simply didn’t have the tools and the words to explain (even to myself) how and why I thought romance was valuable. It was AAR and TRR where I first picked up a language to talk about the romances both critically and in a way that described their value — I see scholarship as adding another layer to that language.

    So I think it will have use. And maybe it will lead to more condescension, but it also provides a solid base on which to stand when fighting back (if one was inclined to do so).

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  28. Jessa Slade
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 11:20:57

    it is your way, not the way.

    I suppose every discussion could be improved by starting with this.

    I always liked the Vulcan philosophy of IDIC: Infinite diversity in infinite combinations.

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  29. MCHalliday
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 11:38:12

    I had a whole sub-argument forming in my head while I was writing about the “maternalism” of the “if you can't say anything nice” lobby.

    Interesting, my thoughts were along this line as I read both posts (clarification: I only went to RBTB due to the link, it isn’t a blog I enjoy). It brought to mind the concept of maternalism as seen by feminist scholar, Linda Gordon, “What makes maternalism more than just a women’s paternalism…is its rootedness in the subordination of women.”

    While Buonfiglio seems to believe illumination is achieved by not voicing or questioning opinions, at the same time she infers blog readers are easily duped. IMO, we are far more likely to be gullible if we remain quiet or subordinate ‘just to be nice’.

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  30. BevBB
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 12:27:05

    ROTFL! Everytime I read “maternalism” in this thread, it’s translating in my brain to “materialism” for some strange reason today and I have to back up and make myself think, what? Every single time.

    Okay, that said, I don’t disagree in essence with what most are saying. The problem is that I’m simply not familiar with the entire tone of her blog overall in the first place. So, I don’t know how consistent she is about maintaining her “principles” anyway. OTOH, I can make some observations based upon my own experience online, just like we all can.

    @Meljean:

    When I hid my reading habits, a lot of the reason was that I simply didn't have the tools and the words to explain (even to myself) how and why I thought romance was valuable. It was AAR and TRR where I first picked up a language to talk about the romances both critically and in a way that described their value -’ I see scholarship as adding another layer to that language.

    Over the years I’ve been just as apt to be critical of AAR as to praise it. And I have done both. I do the same thing with Dear Author and Smart Bitches because I have no illusions of both their strong and weak points and I still like them for what they are. I do the same with every site I visit. The curious thing is that I don’t always express that “judgement” in words but in action because I’ve always been one of those readers who willingly bounce back and forth between sites about as much as I jump around between sub-genres and genres.

    To me, all these sites are there to serve as places to discuss the books — not as places to go and invest in the personalities of the players. Whenever I feel the latter happening, I back away, go somewhere else to play for awhile then check back later to see if things are back on track. Or not.

    Which is why I reacted so strongly to her mention of getting mail from a “fan” – it is a very revealing comment.

    I didn’t realize academics had fans.

    Now, I also know that some of you react very strongly when I use that word, but keep in mind, she used it first. I’m simply observing the context in which she used it.

    Why is this important?

    From experience, I know that anytime there are “fans” there is the potential for fans going to battle on behalf of the object of their affection. So call me suspicious or call me cynical but I’m not completely buying cult of niceness.

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  31. Rosa
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 14:47:41

    Man, I just went and read the whole presentation AND the comments on her blog… it’s so terrible all those nice ladies have to overhear mean things on some of the blogs, and they are AFRAID to comment because someone might say something MEAN to them.

    I mean, have these women not seen the *rest* of the internet? Like, all the open source communities, SF fan communities, political blogs, or even Cakewrecks?

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  32. Meljean
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 15:11:53

    @BevBB: I’m with you on being critical of sites, as much as I enjoy them. And I think many of us are — part of being that savvy internet user :-D

    I think I crossed wires here, though, because when you say:

    I didn't realize academics had fans.

    Now I wonder if your original quote that I responded to (about common sense, and talking down to people) was in reference to MB or just to scholars in general? Because I was speaking generally, and not counting MB as a scholar in the same sense as the other presenters at the conference, as it was my understanding that her panel was from an industry, non-academic perspective.

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  33. Battling Blogs – The Romancelandia SMACKDOWN! « Tour’s Books Blog
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 15:15:38

    [...] were about to give this sly swipe at them a pass, did you?  As of today on Smart Bitches and Dear Author, we officially have a [...]

  34. Marla
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 15:31:27

    I’m only a casual reader of romance blogs, including SBTB (which I love) and I realize I’m not approaching this with the perspective and knowledge most of you have, so I have to ask a newbie question: what exactly are these instances of heat and bitching and whatnot that we must beware of? Did I just miss them or did I not recognize that they were controversial? Please give specific examples :-)

    In, on, or possibly dorsoventrally positioned to the internet…

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  35. MaryK
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 15:50:18

    @Meljean: Now I’m confused. I assumed (huh) by all the references to light and illumination that she was presenting as an academic and had some claim to scholarliness. If she was presenting as a blogger, then the “check out the light and look to sites where the readers say things with simplicity and dignity” statement takes on a whole new meaning. No wonder SBSarah looked annoyed.

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  36. theo
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 15:54:30

    Go towards the light…all are welcome in the light….

    Sorry, couldn’t resist. :-P

    But come on…

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  37. BevBB
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 15:55:13

    @Rosa:

    I mean, have these women not seen the *rest* of the internet? Like, all the open source communities, SF fan communities, political blogs, or even Cakewrecks?

    Considering that at times it seems like many of the so-called “mean girls” don’t know a lot about fandoms across the Internet, it wouldn’t surprise me at all. ;)Like I said before, there are a lot of people that cling to very secure sites and I don’t mean that just in terms of registration or logging in to post. It can be a good thing. It can also shape one’s view of the broader world and not always in a balanced way.

    @Meljean:

    Now I wonder if your original quote that I responded to (about common sense, and talking down to people) was in reference to MB or just to scholars in general? Because I was speaking generally, and not counting MB as a scholar in the same sense as the other presenters at the conference, as it was my understanding that her panel was from an industry, non-academic perspective.

    Actually, I think it’s more that I’m trying to figure out what the heck she’s saying she is than that I think she one thing or the other. I was frankly more struck by how much she made herself sound like a celebrity with the use of words such as “fans”, “gigs” and “viewers”.

    I’ve been watching this phenomenon we call the romance novel community online for a long time and most site owners, columnists and bloggers within that community don’t call their visitors fans. So, I find it curious that someone arguing for more serious relevance and study of the genre on the one hand would be using those terms – especially while sitting next to someone else who'd just sold a book about the genre totally opposite to their own approach. ;)

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  38. Mireya
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 16:06:55

    The only thing I can say as the holder of only a bachelor’s degree (in business administration with a major in marketing) is that she surely would make for a great manager … she sure masters the art of BS and self-promotion… too bad she’s completely and utterly clueless and you don’t need to hold a degree of any sort to realize that. *shrug*

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  39. Meljean
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 16:19:20

    @MaryK: I read at the AAR blog “Buonfiglio is a summa cum laude graduate of Saint Francis University with a B.A. in writing/fine arts and a core concentration in literary criticism.” So she has done undergrad course work with a focus on literary studies, but my take was that the specific panel was an industry panel.

    @BevBB: Ah, yes. I think it’s unclear, too.

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  40. katiebabs
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 16:22:51

    I was in the top 10 percent of my graduating class and read everything single romance at the local town library. I took many fine arts classes as well as writing. Does that mean I can be on a academic panel also?

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  41. Meljean
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 16:41:57

    @katiebabs: If you write an academic paper. :-D

    My understanding is that the rest of the conference was the presentation of academic papers, using accepted methods within the discipline (as per Robin/Janet’s comment above.) This specific panel was different, and the addresses were not given by scholars presenting their research, but just as a general response.

    I don’t think anyone is saying the scholars have more knowledge of the genre, but that they apply research and theory in a specific way.

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  42. BevBB
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 17:11:08

    @Meljean:

    Ah, yes. I think it's unclear, too.

    Yeah, really unclear and kinda defeating of lifting oneself above the, um, opposition, if ya know what I mean.

    Okay, am I being too cynical? Have I been at this too long? Sometimes I wonder.

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  43. LindaR (likari)
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 17:23:11

    Maybe Ms. B is just secretly pissed off that she didn’t write BHB first.

    Not that it appears she has the innate humor, generosity or bitchquotient one would need to write such a wonderful book.

    Oh. Oops. I forgot to be nice again.

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  44. LindaR (likari)
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 17:34:15

    I think I was on the right track.

    Having the e-book version of BHB, I just did a search for Ms. B’s name. While that didn’t come up the scan, Laura Vivanco and the blog Teach Me Tonight were cited. Called brilliant, even.

    Mayhaps Ms. B, like the 13th fairy, is a little miffed, feels a little left out?

    Oh, who knows.

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  45. Neenut
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 17:42:14

    I mean, have these women not seen the *rest* of the internet? Like, all the open source communities, SF fan communities, political blogs, or even Cakewrecks?

    I was waiting for a comment like this, and finally found one. This is the entire point behind most mainstream criticism about the internet. It’s filled with loons. Loons you can’t take seriously, and they all have a loon-filled agenda. Why are they loons? Civilized people do not behave this way, educated or not.

    The sad part is that there are good blogs, with good information, and it’s hard to take them seriously because of all the loons in open source communities throwing flames at each other.

    I can just imagine how the loons will respond to this comment.

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  46. Barb Ferrer
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 18:36:51

    Civilized people do not behave this way, educated or not.

    Sure they do. Academia is rife with argument and dissent that gets downright ugly and backstabby, yet brilliant discourse and discoveries often come from it. The rest of the world is the same, perhaps not on as intense a level, because they might not have professional credibility riding on it, but any time you gather people who are passionate, you’re going to run the risk of high feeling and intense personality clashes.

    Then again, as a writer, I’m often considered a… what was that term? Loon? So what? I acknowledge that most writers are crazy– we just have an outlet for our craziness.

    How thoroughly boring if life lacked passion and color and the fiery heat of conviction. To quote the character Shelby from Steel Magnolias: “I’d rather have a moment of wonderful, than a lifetime of nothing special.”

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  47. Alessia Brio
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 18:51:22

    ‘Tis the nature of those who feel slighted by a group to which they want to belong to place the blame on those they perceive as “lesser” beings, obstacles in their path to greater acceptance. Those with a holier-than-thou literary chip on their shoulders will pass the snob-snootery right along. They don’t recognize their own hypocrisy.

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  48. Anon aka a loon
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 18:55:00

    @neenut: Do you know what you have to do to get a Ph.D.? You have to “defend a dissertation.” The word “defend” isn’t a mistake or historical hold-over. The defender is attacked. Sometimes the defender fails. That is in academia.

    I think the Internet very accurately reflects the arguments and vitriol seen on Sunday morning political shows, in every NSF board meeting, and at every academic tenure review. Spector just left the Republican party. Will everyone play nice? I just read on the NSF site that someone suggested that the comet in Mexico couldn’t have cause the dinosaur extinctions. The comet landed 300,000 years too early. Will everyone play nice as they discuss the pros and cons of this idea? I think not. I hope not. Contention is not something to be afraid of.

    Or maybe I don’t understand. Maybe we have to be nice in romanclandia–but not in academia, politics or science? Eww.

    Personally, I think that blogs without contention are boring. Everyone can agree that flowers are pretty and child abuse is bad. Give me something to think about. If that makes me a loon, I hope you like my eerie call over the Minnesota lakes.

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  49. Jane
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 18:59:13

    @Neenut Being one of the head loons here, let me say that I believe that people can judge content for themselves. Even romance readers are able to discern which content providers are qualitatively good for them and which are not. The whole concept behind freedom is the ability to allow individuals choice; not to constrain it. The goal of education is to provide people with tools to think independently; to pursue knowledge; to judge for themselves quality v. dross.

    As for the mainstream criticism about the internet, I’m not sure who you are listening to because mainstream media is so far behind the times in terms of understanding the internet it’s comedic. Mainstream media is dying for that very reason because they thought they were the only gatekeepers of information. Blogs, community journals, message boards have risen up to fill voids that mainstream has left open because of lack of innovation and vision.

    It is because of sites like SBTB, AAR, and others like it that so many of us remain so devoted to the genre; because we’ve found a community of readers who are passionate about romance books. The failure to see that is akin to the holding mainstream media as a barometer of forward thinking.

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  50. Jody
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 19:10:20

    I have found that some folks who beat the “nicey nice” drum are some of the meanest shits you could ever hope to meet. And some are as nice as they can be.

    I saw MB’s presentation at the Lori Foster conference in 2008 too and wondered why a person who felt so passionately about civility wasn’t more…civil about blogs that weren’t hers. Unlike GC, though, I didn’t meet MB and she could well have been hamming up the self-aggrandizing bit as part of her onstage persona or something.

    I’m very glad her blog flavor exists for everyone who like it, and I’m very glad other flavors exist for everyone who likes those. Or both. Diversity is tasty. Just don’t eat the yellow snow.

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  51. CC
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 21:03:26

    Light? Heh- Come to the Dark Side. We have cookies!

    I think “maternalism” is a great word to use in conjunction with this situation. I have never visited her blog (too much nice gives me hives) but reading the comments I’m finding flying around I was reminded of “Mommy May I” that I played as a kid. For those who did not have my weird Texas childhood one kid was “Mommy” and the other kids lined up at the start line. The “mommy” told you to take so many steps, you said, “Mommy may I?” and then you were told “Yes, you may” or “No, you may not.” It was not a very fair game, but one of picking favorites and letting your BFFs win, all while using good manners and appearing “nice” on the surface.

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  52. Azure
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 22:41:58

    I have found that some folks who beat the “nicey nice” drum are some of the meanest shits you could ever hope to meet. And some are as nice as they can be.

    I couldn’t have put that any better.

    Honestly, why do “nice girls” bitch about “mean girls”–but then act the same way the so-called “mean girls” do when putting them down? Do they think that because they say it with a sweet smile and a “can’t we all just get along?” attitude that it doesn’t make them mean?

    If MB’s intention was to get more traffic over at her site, then congrats to her, because we’ve all read the post of her speech. But after my eyes glazed over halfway through reading it, I knew I’d never be going back.

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  53. SonomaLass
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 22:55:27

    Cookies?? All right!!

    I was just rereading the “Mean Girls” section of BHB today, and I was thinking that I hadn’t heard anything like that lately. I’ve been away from the blogs for a few days, obviously!

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  54. MaryK
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 23:03:20

    I finally got around to reading the transcript on her blog. I actually found it pretty amusing especially when you add in the comments. She got a couple of bravas from Ravenous Romance. :D So, I’m guessing some of the heat and bitching involves reviews of RR books? :D

    She’s doing Romance no favors by suggesting to scholars that they limit their data set. How can you make a serious study of Romance if you don’t consider the aspects of it that can and do piss off whole groups of loyal readers? How can you make a serious study of anything if you ignore the controversial aspects of it?

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  55. Eirin
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 01:38:44

    @ Neenut

    I was waiting for a comment like this, and finally found one. This is the entire point behind most mainstream criticism about the internet. It's filled with loons. Loons you can't take seriously, and they all have a loon-filled agenda. Why are they loons? Civilized people do not behave this way, educated or not.

    The sad part is that there are good blogs, with good information, and it's hard to take them seriously because of all the loons in open source communities throwing flames at each other.

    I can just imagine how the loons will respond to this comment.

    (Bolding mine)

    Is that how one does “nice”? I can never tell. There should be a cheat sheet:

    Make a generalised dismissive statement. Don’t point at anyone in particular, or provide specifics. Close off with a throwaway catch-all line, implying that everyone responding negatively to the comment is a loon. Very neat, and it leaves room for backpedaling like “oh, I didn’t mean you“-whoa.

    I’d cry like a mournful loon, except I’m not big on mournful.

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  56. Sunita
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 01:54:49

    Good heavens. I knew I was going to be sorry I missed the Princeton conference, but I would have loved to see MB’s performance in person. Great job on the response, Janet, although you might be too subtle for her. I hope the conference organizers are able to publish the proceedings in a book, or at least a special volume of a journal.

    I totally agree with Barb’s and other posters’ comments that academics are frequently engaged in debate and dissent; knowledge doesn’t usually move forward because people agree with each other, but rather because they see the flaws in existing work and try to address them through further research. I would take issue, however, with the idea that NSF panel meetings and tenure reviews are like cable shows about politics. For one thing, they’re about the work, not the person, while the mean girls criticisms usually incorporate attacks on the people, not just what they’re saying. You can get really critical and even nasty about a project or a body of work without impugning the character of the person doing it (although we’ve been known to say libelous things about the departments that trained them. :-)).

    In many many years of being in the academy and participating in research on some fairly contentious topics, I can think of less than half a dozen instances in which the brickbats were aimed at the people, not just at their scholarly output. And those instances are legendary precisely because of that characteristic. I bring this up because while academic research and its practitioners have many flaws, being able to separate the work from the person isn’t usually one of them. By contrast, the anti-mean girls group invariably conflate the two, while the so-called mean girls themselves are much better at separating them.

    I’ve only read MB’s column when I’ve been pointed to it by my regular blogs/sites. It struck me as a vehicle for self- and other types of promotion, and it was rarely illuminating beyond providing public relations information, so I wasn’t interested. If others find it useful, that’s great. The B&N connection seems like a logical next step for a site and a person with that orientation. If I’m going to read self-promotion, I prefer the ones that are upfront about it, like some author blogs and I Heart Presents.

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  57. Peg
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 05:25:02

    What I’ve liked so much about this site and SBTB is the “out, loud and proud” tone of both the postings AND the comments. To me, her talk smacks of paternalism. Ladies should like their Romance books, but in a quiet, friendly, pleasant way. After all, liking or disliking anything too vociferously, why, that could lead to hysteria! And you know how prone we ladies are to that particular affliction. Our tender systems get all out of whack and we start leaving mean-girl comments everywhere. Let’s just leave the strong opinions to the boys of the internet and sit and read quietly to ourselves. If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go bake some cookies and give up the right to vote.

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  58. Eirin
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 06:10:12

    @ Peg

    If you'll excuse me, I've got to go bake some cookies and give up the right to vote.

    You know, I think that may be what so royally pissed me off. While her assertion isn’t framed in terms of feminism/antifeminism, she nevertheless hit me right where I live.
    I was raised to speak my mind and stand up for myself. Curiously, the very fact that I’ve always considered myself an independent woman meant that it wasn’t until my late twenties that I started to examine and question certain ingrained patterns of thought and behavior apparently conferred simply by virtue of growing up female.

    Now, I’ve never felt any particular obligation to be nice (at least not in the stifling sense), but I deeply resent her call for “dignified” behavior in what is largely a female-dominated field. It smacks of telling women to shut up.
    It’s also exactly the kind of conditioning that leaves women without a framework of reference on how to conduct spirited, passionate, yet illuminating, debate. It fosters the kind of thought that conflates “I don’t like this book/idea/whatever” with “I don’t like you”. It leaves us poorer.

    I’m offended, insulted and really pissed off.

    Ms. B, as a romance reader, I want to make it perfectly clear that you do not speak for me.

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  59. Anon aka a loon
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 06:12:47

    @Sunita: I wasn’t trying to suggest that NSF panels and tenure review panels attacked people personally (although that happens albeit infrequently); I was actually trying to suggest that when the discussions at DA and SBTB get heated and into “mean girl” territory, it’s generally about ideas, not people.

    The Ravenous Review thing, the rape thing…. those are about ideas. Some might call the discussion “mean girl” at that point, but I don’t. (The swan hat thing was probably “mean girl” in terms of attacking people rather than ideas.)

    So, maybe what I’m saying is that contention gets “mean girl” at DA and SBTB about as often as it gets “mean person” in the tenure review meetings.

    I would also suggest that THIS conversation has all been about ideas, not people. So… not mean girl.

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  60. Tumperkin
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 07:13:26

    Excellent post, Robin.

    Ms B is perfectly at liberty to say she personally doesn’t like another person’s blog if she wishes. I wouldn’t have any issue with that at all (although the there is also an issue with the timing here, given Sarah Wendell’s presence). What disturbs me most however, is the implication in her address that her ‘nice’ approach to blogging is right and *those other blogs* approach is wrong. This strikes me as one of those occasions when an individual blogger decides to self-appoint themselves as some sort of authority in their corner of the blogosphere. So far as I am concerned, all bloggers are created equal. You don’t have any more authority or standing merely by having been on the blogosphere longer than anyone else, having academic credentials, having an extremely popular blog or having links with big companies.

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  61. Lori Borrill
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 07:33:00

    Did anyone notice this in the comments from one of those lets-all-be-nice Bellas?

    I did say ‘old-fashioned’ Mills ‘n’ Boon, which lets today’s writers off the hook. I meant the small books you used to see at supermarket check-outs, which were literally throwaway items.

    I reckon that if you don’t try to write books that people really want to keep on their bookshelves, you are not trying hard enough.

    Of course, that’s not the whole story. I think most publishers believe their readers are too stupid to enjoy anything that ventures into three dimensions. Arrogant b*****s!

    Uhh, that’s being nice? Thanks, but I’d rather hang out here with all the alledged bitching and fighting where people aren’t completely slamming category romance authors as “too lazy to write a real book” by our too-stupid publishers.

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  62. Leslie Kelly-Parrish
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 08:45:42

    Yeah, I saw that one too, Lori, and definitely caught the insult.

    The ability of people to so casually scorn others, and then plead the wide-eyed, Bambi excuse, “But, you’re just taking it the wrong way, I didn’t mean to hurt anyone’s feeeeeeeeliiiiiings!” never ceases to amaze me.

    Call me a bitch or an untalented hack to my face. I might not like it, but I’ll respect you more for it.

    PS: Lori, I recently had a reviewer call one of my Blazes grocery store checkout trash by essentially interchangeable, nobody, no-name authors. So, uh, want to write my current wip for me? I’m swamped! Nobody’ll notice, I’m sure…after all, we’re interchangeable.

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  63. Nora Roberts
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 09:14:45

    Golly, I wrote bunches of category Romances that were stocked in the supermarket.

    I had no idea they were throwaways. I’ve also remained ignorant of the fact that most publisher think readers are stupid!

    It’s very considerate of this ‘nice girl’ reader to let me know.

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  64. Keri M
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 09:29:44

    Nora, if it makes you feel any better, I have some of your old categories on my bookshelf as keepers as we speak. I never for a second thought that any book was a throwaway, so whomever that ‘nice’ lady was, she wasn’t speaking for me.

    PS I have a confession to make, I just recently read my first JD Robb book and of course it was Naked in Death and of course I LOVED it! I know I am the only human being on earth that hadn’t read any of the series and I can only ask forgiveness and am currently amassing a huge pile of ‘IN Death” series. I feel better now. :-)

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  65. Lori Borrill
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 09:37:56

    Lori, I recently had a reviewer call one of my Blazes grocery store checkout trash by essentially interchangeable, nobody, no-name authors

    Wow. If there isn’t some form of sour grapes involved there, I’d be surprised. Usually, I find those types of comments coming from people who are frustrated with their own writing careers and are looking for someone to attack. “The Bella” above being a prime example, onacounta her comment included a link to her website and I looked.

    Lori (who also has Leslie Kelley and Nora Roberts categories on my keeper shelf)

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  66. Leah
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 10:07:12

    Just skimming thru here real quick. I will say that the controversies I’ve read through–and sometimes commented in–in SBTB and DA may have had very strongly worded posts, but rarely did I ever think that the writers were being “mean,” or personally attacking other posters. It’s easy to take things personally on teh interwebz, and I imagine that if those exchanges happened in person, they would come across differently. That being said, when you know the topic being discussed is controversial, you have the choice whether or not to subject your opinions to strong review/comment. Also, the others posting are generally not your close personal friends or family. So if they don’t like your opinions and think you’re a moron, what does it matter? I would rather have a strong, honest response than a sugar-lipped, passive-aggressive one any day.

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  67. Kate
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 10:33:21

    I find the discussion on “maternalism” (great term!) quite interesting and to some degree rather gratifying. I linked over to RBTB for the first time this morning, and couldn’t even get through most of the postings since I felt they were terribly patronizing to her readership, i.e. me at that moment. I resented being called a “Bella” for the five minutes I read her site. I disliked the gossipy, clique-y feel. I’m sure there are readers who find that atmosphere warm, welcoming, comforting, and they are welcome to it – to each their own. I didn’t feel welcomed – I felt patronized. Almost immediately. To come here and see the word “maternalism” bandied about gave me an actual word to associate with this feeling. Ms B’s post and blog overall made me immensely happy that there are sites like DA and SBTB where there is actual discourse and conversation within a framework that welcomes intelligent dissention and differing opinions. I do believe in being nice, but that doesn’t mean that I never disagree with someone. There’s a huge difference between niceness and lack of opinion. And whilst I personally did not care for RBTB, I find it more aggravating that a place with a patronizing/maternalist tone tries to speak for an incredibly diverse community without attempting to acknowledge the community’s diversity and marginalizing actual discourse on the subjects in Romancelandia.

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  68. KMont
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 10:37:03

    @Lori Borrill

    Surely that commenter on MB’s site is even now being chastised with sugar rimmed vats of chirping sun and invited to once again turn fully to the light.

    As someone that wholeheartedly leapt into category romances for the first time this year back in January, I can safely say that particular Bella’s comment is a big, poo rimmed vat of barf. I’m all for the right to an opinion, but when an entire group is lumped together in such a way and blatantly insulted it fires up my bitchdar.

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  69. Lynne Connolly
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 11:46:28

    So this whole thing doesn’t apply to me, since I use the British version of the Internet and we don’t have any First Amendments? Oh, wait, hang on a minute, isn’t that the same one the Americans use? No, it can’t be, can it?

    She said it all wrong, but some of what she says follows. Not that we’re sheep, we know what we want and we go for it, but that doesn’t make us sheep-like, any more than my adherence to Monsoon shops makes me anything more than a shopper who knows what she wants and where to buy it. Neither does it make publishers cynical manipulators, it just means they know their markets. I’ve come across this before, and it doesn’t impress me any more than it did before.

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  70. Lori Borrill
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 12:16:36

    Surely that commenter on MB's site is even now being chastised with sugar rimmed vats of chirping sun and invited to once again turn fully to the light.

    Actually, no. Which tells me that, after all that pomp and circumstance, it’s just a blog like any other. Go figure.

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  71. Battling Blogs – The Romancelandia SMACKDOWN! Update « Tour’s Books Blog
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 14:50:38

    [...] Editorial Having nothing much better to do, I perused some of the replies to the posts on Dear Author, Smart Bitches – who share many common members – and Romance B(u)y the Book, as well as bystander [...]

  72. sallahdog
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 21:19:45

    someone up a ways (don’t make me look) asked what these dustups were, since she hadn’t noticed any…

    I think the Cassie Edwards thing would be one of the more infamous. Some people thought that even discussing the issue was picking on an old lady.

    I have noticed that often people think that things are hot, simply because so many people are discussing it. If it was reported on, but not commented on, it wouldn’t seem to “hot”….

    I have been called a troll or a flamer before, simply for disagreeing with a poster… ehh… its par for the course…. Of course I came from a family that pretty much any statement at the dinner table had to be defended… so I am pretty thick skinned about discussions, but not everyone is that way. Which is why I am here, and they are somewhere else…

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  73. Chicks-n-scratching » Blog Archive » Let Freedom Ring
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 23:21:07

    [...] caught my attention on the topic of freedom of speech. There’s the blog entry by Janet at Dear Author and one at Smart Bitches by Sarah, both of which address comments by Michelle at RBTB.  Now, those [...]

  74. DeeCee
    Apr 30, 2009 @ 03:22:36

    Hey, I respect higher learning. It just has to be linked with some common sense, too, to be of some use in the long run and if one ends up coming off talking down to the very people one is trying to communicate with -’ what in the world is the point?

    @ Barb
    HELL YEAH! Common sense seems to be the one thing missing from this woman’s speech, not to mention common courtesy.

    I'm not an academician, but I play one on the internets, where I try to sound like a homey usin da internets lingo… Which is it? I'm confoooosed. And dayum, as she said, nice of her to mention those who didn't make it through high school. Sportin.

    @Ciar Cullen:
    Us and mes agrees so well. Almost like we’re related huh? Hmmm….come to think of it…who’s yer cuzzin? Maebee we’s related like. Wudn’t that be sumthin? Its just so nice to now that she’s so excepting of me gradeatin’ the 5th grade and all…almost made it to that there big high school. Maebe next year.

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  75. Nora Roberts
    Apr 30, 2009 @ 05:11:13

    ~I know I am the only human being on earth that hadn't read any of the series and I can only ask forgiveness and am currently amassing a huge pile of ‘IN Death” series. I feel better now. :-)~

    Thanks. I believe there are others who haven’t read any of the In Deaths. Eventually I will hunt them down and–that is, hopefully some of them will give the series a try and enjoy it, too.

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  76. sula
    Apr 30, 2009 @ 07:17:23

    Nora, I will admit to being one of those who hasn’t read them yet. I’m intimidated by the sheer number of entries in the series and know that once I start, I will be so addicted that I’ll have to go all the way through. I figure I’m saving them for a rainy day…like a treat. :)

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  77. Lynne Simpson
    Apr 30, 2009 @ 11:40:44

    @Jody:

    I have found that some folks who beat the “nicey nice” drum are some of the meanest shits you could ever hope to meet.

    Bwa! It’s like a law of the Internet. Any time I see the “If you can’t say something nice” contingent join an argument, I automatically look for amped-up bitchery.

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  78. Past is Prologue, A Brief Look at History of Romance Communities on the Internet | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary
    May 05, 2009 @ 04:00:52

    [...] new trials in romance criticism and readership involvement in books. Michelle Buonfiglio’s piece about good communities and bad communities wasn’t just a swipe at Smart Bitch Sarah but it was an indictment of all communities that [...]

  79. Gwen
    May 05, 2009 @ 09:47:37

    I find it fascinating that Buonfiglio referenced Derrida in her talk. Aside from being OBSCURE as HELL, it’s also a laughably inept reference.

    Foucault could have been writing about Buonfiglio when he wrote this about Jacques Derrida:

    He writes so obscurely you can’t tell what he’s saying, that’s the obscurantism part, and then when you criticize him, he can always say, “You didn’t understand me; you’re an idiot.” That’s the terrorism part.

    Personally, she makes me giggle. She’s so full of herself, she has ceased to be able to see she’s starting to really believe in her own hype. As she’s swanning around the halls of Princeton and being published hither and yon, Ms Buonfiglio should beware that she doesn’t fall into the trap outlined by Samuel Johnson:

    “When once a man has made celebrity necessary to his happiness, he has put it in the power of the weakest and most timorous malignity, if not to take away his satisfaction, at least to withhold it. His enemies may indulge their pride by airy negligence and gratify their malice by quiet neutrality.”

    She’ll find it a very hollow victory as she alienates all but the Yes Men/Women.

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  80. Sybil
    May 17, 2009 @ 09:10:02

    The shit I miss being offline. I sooooo need to read all this. MB will do as well at BN as she did at Lifetime.

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