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When we defend romance reading as escapism, the critics win

wonton cat

Over the last couple of months it seems as if a lot of romance community members have been writing about how reading romance is a form of escape from everyday life. This isn’t new, of course; genre fiction has always been treated as primarily escapist (as opposed to educational or enlightening) , and romance reading more than most genres has been treated as pejoratively rather than neutrally escapist.

Offering pejorative definitions of the escapist qualities of romance novels is a sport of long standing. From a New York Times article back in 1991:

Romance fiction, once dismissed as escapist fiction for bored housewives, has in the last two decades grown into a major industry, with annual revenues that publishing analysts say reach hundreds of millions of dollars.

I’m not entirely sure where Stanley is headed in this article. Presumably romance novels are still escapist in a problematic way, but now they are worthy of  some grudging respect because they are so lucrative.

Sometimes writers try to see the positive side but can’t quite get there:

This whole concept of women “escaping” and becoming empowered through the act of reading romance novels sadly just reinforces gender stereotypes. Although women feel empowered by reading these books, they still aren’t questioning the status quo.

And then there’s the unvarnished, romance-readers-are-lesser-minds, approach:

Sitting around all day reading romance novels hardly qualifies as a life, and romance novels hardly qualify as books.

The more accurate advice would be, “avoid life by reading escapist trash.” There’s nothing inherently wrong with avoiding life by reading escapist trash every once in a while, but as life advice it’s pretty sad.

That particular blogger offers a two-fer, since public librarians who put romance novels on their shelves show themselves as “having no standards about books and reading.” I wouldn’t pay the person any attention as a rule, but this blog is a mainstay of the Library Journal’s website.

I think we make a mistake when we rebut the critics of the genre using the terms of the debate they’ve established, rather than forcing them to consider how pejorative their assumptions are. I absolutely read romance when I want to be cheered up. But I also read it when I’m feeling good about life. Some romance readers want to avoid stories that are too gritty, too reflective of the dark times in which they are set. Other readers come out of a story like The Bronze Horseman feeling uplifted and positive about humanity. Luckily we have really good romance novels to make both groups happy.

I’ve always pushed back against the idea that romance is escapist in a “special” way. But that’s probably because of the way I define the word. For me, romance is no more (or less) escapist than many other activities I engage in. We act as if we all know what we mean when we invoke the term, but I’m not sure we’re defining it the same way. I would define it, in this discussion, as a cognitive activity that takes my mind to a different place from its everyday life and provides different types of stimulation, comfort, and/or cognitive stretching. Using that definition, music is an escape (both listening and playing). My scholarly research can be an escape from the modern world.

When I’m in an archive, under a time constraint, I’m working my butt off but I’m most definitely not in the present, or thinking about my problems. One of the great pleasures of archival research for me is being buried in the context of a completely different world, to the extent that when I stop reading and look up from the document or the screen, I’m a bit disoriented and I have to make an effort remember where I am. I’ve had exactly the same experience when reading a really immersive novel.

I’m not saying that there aren’t distinctive aspects to reading romance that make it enjoyable in a way that’s different from other escapist activities, just that it should be treated as part of  a larger class of activities that provide common benefits. If I stop and think about why I read any type of genre fiction, it’s because I am transported to a different world. I read literary fiction for the same reason, but in commercial fiction, especially mystery and romance, there are resolutions to the end of the story, and the general structure of the story is predictable. And although it is often more open-ended, speculative fiction also has resolutions, either within stand-alone books or at the end of a series (even Wheel of Time seems to have drawn to a close in this, the year 2013).

So I disagree that reading romance for escape is somehow different than reading other kinds of fiction, or doing other activities, for a sense of escape. I do agree, however, that romance provides a particular kind of escapism, and that raises the question of whether the type of escapism we get from romance is problematic in ways that other reading for escape is not. I would argue that (1) yes, it is different; and (2) that it is not more problematic, although (3) the social construction of romance reading makes it seem more problematic.

How is it different? For me at least, I read romance because of the type of resolution I know I will have: emotionally uplifting, with characters who are set on the path to a good life with each other. I read because I want to focus on that relationship, sometimes with lots of interludes of sexytimes, sometimes without. I want to know the details of how the hero and heroine met, what attracted them to each other, how they got to know each other, how they fell in love, and how they negotiated conflicts to arrive at a stable, shared future. In other words, I want to enter a world in which the development of a romantic relationship is foregrounded in a larger story. No other genre promises me that kind of story, although I regularly run across them in books that are categorized in other genres.

To me, wanting to read this story is not inherently more fantasy-seeking, or retrograde, or whatever other pejorative term you want to apply, than reading speculative fiction set in a future world. Or reading a police procedural. Clearly, however, many non-romance-readers disagree with me.

They disagree because of what I’ve called the social construction of romance reading, which conflates reading for pleasure, reading about a fantasy world, and reading about outcomes that some people consider backward-looking. More often than not, in a mainstream romance, the woman is made whole by the love of a man, while the man is not always made whole in the same way (although he is usually improved by the HEA). For example, think of the novels in which a woman gives up her dream job because having a husband and family (which she may not have been shown to aspire to before) will make her happier. Not surprisingly, given the genre’s focus, the romance novel usually privileges romantic love over all other forms of love, and with its frequent baby epilogues, it makes romantic love the temporal precondition for maternal and familial love. A single mother in a a genre romance is by definition not a happy person. Authors are increasingly playing with and subverting these standards, but the majority of novels continue to reflect them.

Consider, by contrast, the mystery and crime genre, which is centrally about justice. A mystery doesn’t necessarily end happily, because the effects of the crime cannot be undone. But the criminal is usually found, and even if s/he is not brought to justice, those affected by the crime have some kind of closure. There are exceptions, but these number in the dozens at most, out of the millions of mysteries written.

Thus, with murder mysteries the escape is from injustice in the real world to justice in the fantasy world of the novel (and similarly with Westerns, the good guys win and the bad guys are vanquished). This is honorable and understandable to observers. With romance, however, the ending provides an escape from egalitarian or complementary responsibilities and opportunities in favor of a solution that is not universally endorsed in the real world (a woman finding ultimate fulfillment in the love of the right man). That makes it suspect to the same observers.

If we stop and think about it, this differential attitude toward escapist romantic fiction and escapist mystery fiction is kind of ridiculous. There cannot be very many people who are certain they want to live their lives without romantic love, so reading about consummated romantic love is basically reading about the realization of a universal desire. Mysteries, on the other hand, are about finding a measure of peace and closure after a horrible act. Even the coziest mystery has a depressing element to it.

I’ll end with one last comparison. Romance readers are frequently called voracious, and it’s true, we read a lot of books. But when you consider volume in terms of words read rather than books consumed, are we really that different from other devoted genre fiction readers?

Game of Thrones is about 300k words. Lonesome Dove is 365k. So I can read GOT, Lonesome Dove or six or seven Harlequin romances in about the same amount of time. I’ve read all three in single stretches. People don’t say about the first two, why did you waste your weekend reading such a long book? But they do want to know why I read seven Harlequins over a weekend. Lonesome Dove is incredibly immersive and escapist. But it’s general fiction and therefore considered to be an excellent way to spend a weekend. Seven Harlequins? One after the other? Something must be wrong with me.

Sunita has been reading romances since she ran out of Cherry Ames, Student Nurse and Chalet School books and graduated to Mary Stewart and Georgette Heyer. Other old favorites include Mary Burchell, Betty Neels, Elsie Lee, and Edith Layton. Among current writers, she reads and rereads Anne Stuart, Tamara Allen, Sarah Morgan, Marion Lennox, Josh Lanyon, and Susanna Kearsley. She blogs as VacuousMinx and tweets as @sunita_p.

59 Comments

  1. Tetras
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 04:26:59

    This is a great article! Totally agree! This genre has been the most scoffed at compared to most and it’s the one that traverses all others. You can’t honestly find any book that doesn’t have an element of human relationships in it in one form or another. It’s ridiculous to think that there shouldn’t be a genre dedicated to exploring human interactions and the feelings and emotions involved. Thank you for the article!!

  2. Janine
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 06:50:29

    Yes to everything you said. Terrific article.

  3. Jeannie Lin
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 07:13:44

    This is a wonderful piece and got me thinking, why such disdain? Going beyond the sex and the romance and the perceived stereotypes of bodice-ripping, why such disdain for a widely read genre? Is it more than just woman’s entertainment=escape? Perhaps part of it is that it IS so widely read. There’s the perceived notion that “anyone can read it” as opposed to lit fic where the readers are “true readers” of books with merit.

    This led me to look at the other examples you mentioned, Game of Thrones and Lonesome Dove, with also huge readerships. Yet maybe there’s this feeling of exclusivity among the readership. Not just anyone reads high fantasy or epic western. But romance, why it’s read by any old housewife, so really anyone can read it. By that very nature, the broad and inclusive nature of the romance genre — a wide variety of tales, a book for everyone — makes it easy to demean. So the attitude may come from literary snobbery that wants to exclude readership rather than include it. If there’s a book that anyone can “get” without hidden meaning and codes and jargon, then it must be lowbrow, escapist drivel. (not that romance doesn’t have such layered meanings and detail)

    For these same reasons, I feel uncomfortable with the argument that, hey romance is serious because Eloisa James and Julia Quinn have big fancy degrees and they read and write it so it’s okay. (Love E.J. and J.Q. BTW, I’m just saying this is not a good argument for me) The reason why I’m not comfortable with this logic is it’s once again trying to downplay or demean the fact that “any housewife can read it”. We don’t need to parade out the academics just validate the genre, do we? I absolutely LOVE that this op-ed never went there, trying to highlight the literary merits of a segment of the romance books while demeaning all the rest.

    Let romance stand on it’s own, for what it is, for the wonderful range of premises and storytelling it includes. It’s a good thing to speak to the masses, to have universal appeal and to bring more readers into the circle rather than trying to exclude them.

  4. library addict
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 07:19:50

    Some great points.

    I think the other thing that critics tend to purposefully overlook when they say mysteries or some other genre is better to read is because those books are written by men. Which doesn’t really make them better, just not as easily dismissed as being escapist entertainment.

  5. Anna Cowan
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 07:26:58

    Agree – fabulous article. I think one of the roadblocks is still the writing. People still expect the writing in romance novels to be sub-par.

    My dad recently asked me to recommend him some romance novels, because he assiduously reads my blog (so sweet). I gave him Love in the Afternoon by Lisa Kleypas and Match Me If You Can by SEP. His first comment was that he found it hard to read initially, because the style and tone were so different to what he was used to. He said once he started reading it like a fairytale, it made sense to him.

    This is a tricky aspect to tackle, because as we all know there are romance novels with absolutely phenomenal writing in them. Unique, original, lovely, startling, a joy to read. But that comment made me get something about romance writing from the outside. Even if on a line-by-line level the writing is no different to (or better than) non-romance fiction, the characters are developed specifically to fall in love. This backstory to fit that inner pain. This reduced circumstance to require that intervention.

    I completely agree that romantic love is an almost universal desire. But in life we are not geared towards each other like that, and I think that’s where part of the unreal feeling comes in.

    The other sub-genres you’ve mentioned are the same. My CP started reading mysteries last year because she wanted to learn how to write a mystery. She found the general lack of internalisation really off-putting to begin with. But by book 5 she was completely hooked. Different kinds of writing serve different kinds of stories.

    And I think it’s also true that we – and critics in particular – put so much more weight on writing than on other aspects of storytelling, and often it’s those other aspects that make a satisfying romance. I’ve not read any Kristen Ashley, but from what I’ve heard, it’s not her writing that’s making people fall head-over-heels in love with her books.

  6. Anna Cowan
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 07:36:59

    I totally didn’t address why that expectation of crap writing applies to romance and not the other genres. I do not have the answer! But I feel it’s part of what’s going on.

  7. SCW
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 07:37:26

    Don’t let the Annoyed Librarian represent the attitude of librarians or the Library Journal. Her blog is always written to be provocative and irritate and annoy public librarians in particular, so she is disdainful of everything and everyone, and particularly anything that people enjoy at libraries.

  8. Nicole
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 07:38:20

    Oh, I love this post. Especially:

    If I stop and think about why I read any type of genre fiction, it’s because I am transported to a different world. I read literary fiction for the same reason

    .

    I read to learn about the world through someone else’s eyes, whether that someone else be on a journey to find love or themselves or whatever.

    I also think this was really interesting in light of the romance I just finished:

    For example, think of the novels in which a woman gives up her dream job because having a husband and family (which she may not have been shown to aspire to before) will make her happier.

    In Molly O’Keefe’s latest there was a scene that really stuck out to me where the heroine says something along the lines of love shouldn’t be one of us giving up our careers. That line really struck me because how often is that how love is portrayed in romance? But each genre (even literary fiction) has its fill of characters doing things we don’t approve of or agree with, but it’s never met in the same light as some of the things common in romance.

    Great post!

  9. Anna Cowan
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 07:38:31

    @Jeannie Lin: This HAS to be part of it. We all love things “before they’re cool”, right? And as soon as they reach a certain mass popularity we simply can’t love them any more. We can’t own them when they’re so huge. They become meaningless, when so many other people love them just as much.

  10. Lenice
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 07:40:30

    I enjoyed this article and found myself nodding away at many of the points in the essay. There was one section, however that troubled me a bit:

    “They disagree because of what I’ve called the social construction of romance reading, which conflates reading for pleasure, reading about a fantasy world, and reading about outcomes that some people consider backward-looking. More often than not, in a mainstream romance, the woman is made whole by the love of a man, while the man is not always made whole in the same way (although he is usually improved by the HEA). For example, think of the novels in which a woman gives up her dream job because having a husband and family (which she may not have been shown to aspire to before) will make her happier. Not surprisingly, given the genre’s focus, the romance novel usually privileges romantic love over all other forms of love, and with its frequent baby epilogues, it makes romantic love the temporal precondition for maternal and familial love. A single mother in a a genre romance is by definition not a happy person. Authors are increasingly palying with and subverting these standards, but the majority of novels continue to reflect them”.

    I’m not sure if the point here is to rebut against particular types of (perhaps radical Marxist?) feminist critiques of romance? E.g. Concerns raised about the perpetuation of patriarchy through glorified representations of oppression of women in traditional roles. If it is, I don’t know that I am entirely comfortable with this being the key point relating to the problems of the social construction of romance. It certainly seems like an important “internal debate” from within feminism, but In many ways I feel it is more legitimate to focus concern about the social construction of romance in mainstream culture and literary theory BECAUSE the genre is preoccupied with ideas and tropes typically coded or associated as “feminine”. In a concrete way this includes emphasis on romantic love and domestic life. Technically it includes narratives being character driven rather than plot driven, and thematically it includes being concerned with emotional experiences, as well as non-instrumental in its preoccupations (contrasted for example with a police procedural – typically constructed as “masculine”). I am not saying these things are the domain of women – merely that if we take social constructionism as a given, then romance is coded and constructed as (hyper)feminine, and I wonder whether it is for this reason that the genre and its type of escapism is less respected – or as your other points highlight: some escapism is more equal than others…

    I don’t dispute that a strong (and IMO not unfounded) critique of the genre as perpetuation (or pandering) too heterosexist ideals permeates certain discourse. My concern about these critiques are that they often socially construct romance escapism as”risky” or a “lure” from reality, obfuscating the predicament of oppression in a patriachal world. My problem with these critiques are they assume the reader and writer to be passive recipients and producers of culture. When I go seeking my romance reading escapes its typically into a world where a woman can find ways to negotiate a strong sense of self & fulfillment. More often than not this can, unsurprisingly, mean either not conforming to varying degrees – or in some cases outright subverting – dominant normative assumptions. Equally important in my escapes, however is my desire to see a man step outside of his socially constructed normative traits, roles & trajectory in the same way & typically if the novel doesn’t contain this then it’s not successful for me.

  11. DrZoidberg
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 08:30:34

    Ehhh…I’m at that point in my life where I say ‘screw the critics’. I read what I like, and don’t give a damn what people think. One day I’m reading a romance, the next day it’s zombies, and the day after that it’s a treatise on the treatment of women in religious texts. The only opinion that matters is mine.

  12. Sunita
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 08:32:31

    @Jeannie Lin: I think your exclusion point is a really good. Less accessible activities tend to be seen as superior to easily accessible ones. Which is probably why we regularly look to academic analysis and authors who have advanced or elite degrees as validation. These people are smart! They could be doing anything! But they’re reading/writing romance, so that means it’s worth it. That points the causal arrow in the wrong direction.

    @Anna Cowan: I think the bad writing (in stylistic terms) in romance tends to be overwritten and overwrought, as opposed to mysteries, where it’s just pedestrian. Westerns are probably the closest to romance in terms of OTT writing, but there authors are usually describing actions rather than emotions. Reading about explicit emotions can be uncomfortable for many people.

  13. Sunita
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 08:43:33

    @Nicole:

    But each genre (even literary fiction) has its fill of characters doing things we don’t approve of or agree with, but it’s never met in the same light as some of the things common in romance.

    This is such a great point. If we read it in a mystery, we know how to put it in perspective. But in romance we apparently swallow it uncritically.

    @Lenice: I didn’t mean that paragraph as a rebuttal, but rather as a description of how romance is constructed, by everyone from Marxists feminists through religious conservatives. The fantasy and backward-looking aspects are seen as harmful even though women consistently reiterate that they are reading for pleasure and enjoyment and they don’t take everything they read literally or as a life-lesson. In saying that, I don’t mean that there are no life-lessons or enlightenment to be derived from romance novels, but rather that women can separate the different messages and experiences

    I don’t think we can really do much about how romance reading is constructed by outside observers, except by shifting the terms of the debate and emphasizing that we are active readers, not passive, infantilized recipients of harmful propaganda. Like you, I would love to read a romance where a man steps out of the standard heteronormative, patriarchal role (and sometimes I find them). But that doesn’t mean you or I necessarily think that women who don’t want to read that are doing it wrong.

  14. Brie
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 08:46:42

    I don’t like the word escapism, not because I think romance isn’t escapist, but because of the negative connotations associated with it. Escapist fiction only becomes bad when we pair it with romance (something similar happens with genre fiction). And also, I get the impression that some believe that escapism in a way negates the possibility of also having an intellectual response, which, of course, isn’t true. Some books engage us intellectually, some emotionally, and some do both. Reading romance can feel like escapism, but it can also feel like immersion, and while deeply immerse, we also, in a way, escape.

  15. Rebecca Rogers Maher
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 08:49:30

    Sunita, thank you so much for this great post. I agree that romance reading is dismissively associated with dumb escape. I’d like to suggest a different reading of the idea of escape.

    For me, the pull of romance stories is not the pretty ideal of romantic love. Rather, it’s seeing a woman step into the full force of her ability to feel—emotionally and sexually—and to find, in that place, her power. Set against a stoic, uncaring, capitalist patriarchy, this is a very political act. I do read romance novels for “escape.” But I’m not looking to escape from an objectively correct reality. I’m looking to escape—to put it melodramatically—from the cage of a reality I don’t agree with. One in which people put their heads down and trudge through their lives without feeling anything. Each time I live in the world of a romance novel, I derive some power from the heroine’s brave choice to integrate with her feeling self. I see this is as a feminist, pro-feminine act—to demand and celebrate our full range of sexual and emotional experience.

    Yes, feelings are typically coded as women’s work, and as such are not valued as highly as work that’s coded as masculine. But this escape TO a feeling world is integral to feminism, I think. This demand for emotional/sexual satisfaction is feminist. We should expect these ideas to be dismissed by men and women who have internalized patriarchal value hierarchies, but we should continue, as you have done here, to voice support for literature that explores the concerns of women.

  16. dick
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 08:57:24

    In her post, Ms. Cowan reports that her father found romance fiction difficult at first because of its style. I too had that difficulty at first, for that style differs in many ways from the style of other genre writings. In my opinion, there is a jargon associated with romance fiction–fraught with exaggeration as a previous essay pointed out–that a reader must learn in much the same way that that one has to learn legalese or acadamese or any of the specialized languages with which writers often have to work. Krentz, I think, made much the same point in “Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women.” That jargon includes comparisons that are ubiquitous in romance fiction: I’m almost disappointed, for example, if a romance doesn’t include a comparison of the hero to a wild cat of some kind.

  17. ReadingPenguin
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 09:06:05

    Excellent article.

    You know, I read a variety of genres, from fantasy, to graphic novels, to historical fiction, to sci-fi, and of course lots and lots of romance. I would argue that in each case I am “escaping”–to a different world, to things I will never experience in reality, and even to things I would never want to experience in my own reality. When I read, say, dark fantasy or horror, I get to experience terror and worry and the thrill of survival, and I’m faced with terrible monsters and gore that I will thankfully never see on my morning commute. Let me assure you, I don’t want to. I want those things to stay inside the book where I can enjoy them as they suite me.

    In a very similar way, with romance novels I get to experience relationships that are not mine, often not even remotely similar to mine. I get to experience the thrill of first meetings and coming together and falling apart, overcoming whatever odds until finally the story resolves in a happy ending rather different from my own. I don’t want a controlling/protective alpha male as my husband, but I don’t mind experiencing him through a book. I don’t want to give up my career to give that hero three kids in five years, but when it happens in a book an the heroine is happy about it, I get to experience the good aspects of those things and feel pleased about it.

    My point is, reading fiction (all fiction) is all about experiencing new, sometimes impossible things without physical consequences. What you choose to read is almost never going to be reflective of things you want in real life, or the person that you are in your career and relationships. So this argument that romance is for lesser minds or is even, in some way, damaging? It’s bull. Experiencing love through reading cannot possibly be worse for you than experiencing murder, monsters, death, cancer, and whatever else other genres have to offer.

  18. wikkidsexycool
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 09:26:20

    Sunita,

    This is a great post. I have to agree that that don’t enjoy romance being termed “escapism” but for a different reason. Please note, this is a personal pet peeve of mine, and a bit OT from Sunita’s excellent post. Is it escapism when the primary characters still reflect the general world order around us, even in UF/Scifi romance? What I mean is, the heroine and hero most often are white. Not only that, but they’re other worldly beautiful, (only in the female’s case, she doesn’t know it). That’s not to say the same trope does not exist in multicultural works (in fact, having the hero and heroine of the same race/ethnicity is emulated in many works by those of color). So that’s were the “escapism” is lost on me. In romance, big (no, enormous eyes) seem to be the norm for females while males are chiseled and drool worthy and big, or hung like a horse. As Jane’s post on upping the stakes pointed out, now its not enough to make someone a millionaire. They have to be a billionaire many times over. But while its termed “escapism” by some (or wish fulfillment to have characters so attractive or never needing a handout because bills and debt collectors don’t exist), at times it’s all too familiar when I read some romance novels. The hair or eye color may change, but the protags are usually the same ethnicity/race. So while I agree it can be overdone at times, there are “rules” that seem to resist change, at least for romance novels which become mega hits.

  19. Laura Florand
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 09:35:55

    @Rebecca Rogers Maher: Ooh, what Rebecca said. Exactly.

    And I would also argue that the ability to successfully juggle strength of self with our validation of others is one of the essential challenges of a human being, and this is most powerfully represented in fiction as a love story because this is one of the greatest challenges to that ability in real life. (The most common other is parenthood, but something about parenthood doesn’t seem to lend itself to as well to a great story arc, even though it really is one of the most powerful internal stories/changes out there.) I actually know no couple where both of the people in it have not had to make decisions about where to live, their career, their dreams that were a negotiation of priorities between the individual and the family, the couple. In all cases of the strong couple, the one that lasts, that I personally know, people have stuck with jobs they would rather ditch in favor of an escape to Tahiti because it puts the family first…or they’ve moved because the other half got such a great job offer, even though Person 1 was happy with his or hers…or they’ve changed entire countries, because you can’t live in BOTH people’s country. To sacrifice self while validating self, to figure out when and where to draw the line, and what person is worthy of the sacrifice and will, in fact, help enhance your life and happiness rather than take from it, is a very important thing to learn how to do.

    In real life.

  20. Carrie G
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 09:36:57

    It’s unfortunate that “escape” equates with “bad.” But any way it’s put, I do know I read for entertainment, yes, but in large part to push back the realities of life. I now choose to do that with romance mainly, but for years it was mysteries. It’s not that I have this terrible life. That’s not even the point. And it’s not that I’m substituting reading romances for healthy relationships. I’m happily married 29 years. But after getting some really bad news four or five years ago, I found that reading helped relieve anxiety and stave off depression. To me, reading isn’t so much escape as therapy. Romance makes the therapy work because no matter how much the characters struggle, they are guaranteed some happy resolution in their romantic lives. That’s the positive I want in my life daily. I love mysteries, but found too many authors write main characters that are always sad and left alone at the end of the book(s). I cared about the characters, and got sad that they almost always loved and lost.

    I could choose to exercise fanatically, or paint (if I had any talent) or do any number of other things to help me focus on the positive. (Or I could do any number of negative things to “forget.”) But I choose to read romances.

    But all that said, we also have to be honest and admit there is fuel for the criticisms, as well. I’ve run into more than a few well-known authors whose writing is mediocre at best. Sometimes the story and the HEA trumps the writing style in romance. It’s not just the OTT writing that can put people off. Often enough it’s simply the poor quality. Perhaps it’s no more a problem in romance than any genre fiction, but it is there and unfortunately lends fuel to the critic’s fire.

  21. jenniferk
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 09:44:23

    Have to make a confession: about 10 years ago, I wouldn’t even BROWSE through the romance section of my local bookstore (R.I.P)…The only “genre” I read was horror. I bought into the whole critique of the romance genre . Then I saw a “paranormal romance” on an endcap and that led to me reading that genre and then opening up to other genres (contemporary, historical and mysteries).

    So, my theory is that the folks that still rag on romance are the ones that haven’t actually cracked open the books. And people won’t try them because of the labels and the “reputation” (however unwarranted)…So, it’s this strange cycle, of critiquing without full understanding, and no understanding because ewww I can’t read that.

    Re: labels: Maybe that’s why there’s a boatload of movies getting made of “young adult” novels since the label is different than romance (even though, I assume when I see romance authors on best-seller lists that they are selling as much/more as YA authors)… romance novels, a huge industry that makes money, but it is maligned because… women are the primary consumers, and that can be a serious genre, right?

  22. Liz Mc2
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 09:44:34

    Great post, Sunita! I am struck by your comparison of the social construction, or reception, of mystery and romance, when you say that justice is a value that is honorable and understandable. I have just read a string of mysteries (by different authors) where “justice” involves the death of the criminal, whether at the hands of a victim or those of the cop hero, who has been working outside the rules of a corrupt and problematic justice system. Yes, these deaths are “justified” by self defense, but none of this represents a brand of justice I want to see in the real world, just as romance doesn’t always represent a brand of relationship I want to see in the real world.

    Yet there is little criticism, at least in North America, of the values in mystery fiction. The lone, outsider hero is a celebrated figure. We don’t worry much about whether readers will imitate him; in fact, as we’ve been forcefully reminded lately, there’s a segment of our society that thinks readers should arm themselves and imitate him. I think these values, however poorly they may work in the contemporary world, are part of the American myth in a way that the values of romance aren’t, so it’s maybe more than just sexism at play here. (Of course, there’s a segment of society that celebrates the “conservative” values we see in some romance fiction, too–they just usually dislike other elements more). Violence is always more OK than sex. Now that’s messed up.

  23. Nicole
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 09:52:14

    @Brie

    And also, I get the impression that some believe that escapism in a way negates the possibility of also having an intellectual response, which, of course, isn’t true. Some books engage us intellectually, some emotionally, and some do both.

    This x1million. There have been romance novels that have challenged the way I see the world just as much as some of the classics I read as an English major did, just like I have felt no connection to some romance novels as I have felt no connection to some classics.

    I totally understand why we categorize fiction, but I sit down with a book with the same expectation–to read a good book. Yes, in romance I’ll expect a happy ending and certain other parts of the genre, but my core expectation is the same regardless of what type of fiction I’m reading.

  24. Kate Hewitt
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 10:15:36

    I’ve been struck by how many female readers feel they need to excuse their reading habits. I have friends who talk about books they have enjoyed–mainly chick lit–and then quickly say, ‘I know it’s trashy, but..’ I’ve also heard readers talk about the books they read–romance, chick lit, women’s fiction–as a “guilty pleasure”. I’ve read reviews on Amazon, etc where a book is dismissed as “pretty good for a romance”, as if romances have a different, lower standard than ‘real’ books. I want booksellers, librarians, and the general public to accept that romance, or any fiction geared towards women, is as legitimate as other genres–but I also want readers to stop feeling guilty or trying to justify their reading choices. I’m glad for sites like DA which help towards that end :)

  25. Moriah Jovan
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 10:16:27

    @DrZoidberg:

    Ehhh…I’m at that point in my life where I say ‘screw the critics’. I read what I like, and don’t give a damn what people think. One day I’m reading a romance, the next day it’s zombies, and the day after that it’s a treatise on the treatment of women in religious texts. The only opinion that matters is mine.

    That.

    @jenniferk:

    So, my theory is that the folks that still rag on romance are the ones that haven’t actually cracked open the books. And people won’t try them because of the labels and the “reputation” (however unwarranted)…So, it’s this strange cycle, of critiquing without full understanding, and no understanding because ewww I can’t read that.

    I’m so glad I can come here and just say “that” a lot.

    Great post, Sunita! A friend of mine just the other day was thinking she was addicted to books because she’d rather do that than anything else, and perhaps this was unhealthy? I asked her why reading was different from any other avocation people engage in for leisure, relaxation, and escape. Let me tell you. When I’m making foam-ball cupcake ornaments or decoupaging a shadowbox, I’m totally there and immersed.

  26. Dabney
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 10:21:51

    @Rebecca Rogers Maher: Yes.

    I walked this morning with a divorced friend–incredibly successful professional–who was unhappily and unsexily married for years. She described herself–now that she’s dating and has experienced good sex–as waking up to her full self. There’s nothing in her story that should be seen as pandering to female stereotypes.

  27. Lynn S.
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 10:50:41

    From my perspective, calling something escapist is about the puritanical guilt factor associated with anything that hints of enjoyment; much like calling reading an addiction or a particular book cracktastic. There is a peculiar sameness to the unconscious ways that people find to demean their desires. Hard to do, but why not consider your reading life as much a reality as your working life, your family life, your social life—none is more persistent.

    @dick:

    I’m almost disappointed, for example, if a romance doesn’t include a comparison of the hero to a wild cat of some kind.

    And, as further proof not all romance readers are the same, I could go the rest of my life without the unnecessary cue of a manther.

  28. cleo
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 10:57:39

    @library addict: I agree that being written by women is probably part of why romance is looked down on. And it’s written ABOUT women’s emotional and sexual lives, and I think that makes people uncomfortable. I was so struck by the 50 Shades coverage – so much of it was along the lines of “heh, heh, adult women have sexual fantasies, heh, heh – omg, that’s kind of gross.” And sometimes when I talk about reading romance with non-romance readers, I find myself wanting to explain that I read them for the relationships and the hea, not the sex (which is true – when I want to read about sex, I read erotica, thank you very much), as if there’s somehow something wrong or dirty with reading about characters with sex lives.

  29. Charming Euphemism
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 11:06:58

    There is certainly a big helping misogyny in the critiques of romance, but it isn’t quite that simple. My first love – science fiction – has had enormous amounts of contempt poured on it for as long as it has existed. The term “speculative fiction” was invented so writers could write scifi without getting the stink on them. :-) And scifi is traditional read by men. Or, per the stereotype, lonely teenaged boys who can’t talk to women. And by the way, plenty of romance readers have pretty much the same attitude about scifi (and vice versa of course).

    I don’t use the term “escapist.” Rather I say I read for pleasure and this is what I enjoy reading. Or, as Dr. Ziodberg says, screw the critics.

    There does seem to be a human need to disparage what we don’t like or understand. Witness the American attitude toward soccer (football everywhere but here): it is boring. Not just that the judger finds it boring, either: it is inherently boring. Plainly, given the fanatical following it has all over the world, soccer is not inherently boring.

    There is also a feeling of camaraderie among your fellow disdain-ers. You, the few with taste and discernment. Looking down on those philistines who like (romance/scifi/soccer/whatever).

  30. Nialla
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 11:22:42

    I’m a romance reader and a paraprofessional librarian, so you can imagine my reaction shortly after being hired when one advisory board member not-so-jokingly said we could just burn all the trashy romance novels. It was a female, but she doesn’t knowingly read romance, she’s mostly a non-fiction fan with a penchant for WWII history.

    I’ve long believed the negative reaction towards romance is simply that it’s primarily written by women for women. Even when women write in other genres they often use a masculine pen name due to some readers dismissing books because they’re written by women. I’ve actually witnessed this many times with my library’s users, and have taken a bit of glee in guiding these readers to books with female authors using pen names. When they turn it in and I ask if they like it and want to read more by the author, they usually do, and are shocked to discover it’s written by a woman.

    Now that women are genre bending a lot more with romantic suspense, paranormals, etc., it gets to be even more fun. We no longer put genre labels on hardcover books because of such genre bending (though we still do on paperbacks, which often self label the genre on the spine) and we’ve discovered people are reading based on what sounds good in the summary without the bias of seeing a label and deciding not to read it because of their preconceptions of it being a romance, fantasy, mystery, etc.

    I’ll never forget one person who (unwittingly) checked out a romantic suspense hardcover, loved it, but realized it was part of a series and wanted to start at the beginning. The look of absolute shock when I led her to the paperback romances was one I’ll treasure always.

  31. Isobel Carr
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 11:30:19

    I don’t find romance any more escapist than mysteries or science fiction or going to the movies or watching television or making cupcakes or spending huge amounts of time recreating historical clothing. I do it all because it makes me happy and it takes my mind off all the things in the news I can’t do a damn thing about.

    As others have already said, the big difference with romance is that it is by women, for women. Most of what I have to say on this point can be summed up by that horrible Dr. Pepper commercial, “It’s not for women.” Many people see nothing wrong with making an INSTANT association that something “for women” is inferior. Men are often raised to believe it, and some women buy into it (false feminism IMO).

  32. Sirius
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 11:35:19

    Such a great article Sunita. To be honest though while I definitely agree that pure scifi, fantasy and mysteries also offer me an escape from the regular real life problems , I think only romance or a mixed story with romance inside offers me a very specific escape – a happy ending. I do not care what critics say , but if thats what they mean – sure why not if I want happy ending I go to romance – mostly gay romance iny case. I read widely across the genres but when I read Harry Dresden, I have absolutely no guarantee that he will survive the series. When I read regular mystery I have absolutely no guarantee that the main character will end up the book happy. And apparently I even have no guarantee that the criminal will be caught in the regular mystery ( till recently I thought that this kind of was main genre requirement). So yes , to me romance offers a unique kind of escape or reading for pleasure which no other genre does. IMO of course .

  33. Sirius
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 11:51:52

    Oh and just wanted to add – of course this does not exclude the intellectual response I may have to well researched romance book which is either a historical or tackles some social issue in great depth. For myself only I do not see a point of denying the escape part though.

  34. JL
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 12:11:21

    This is a really great article. I think the point about what we actually mean by escapism is crucial. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to enact one’s personal fantasies – be they love or heroism or whatever – through a book, but I think many of us just want to be immersed in a different place for a while. The escapism I get through romance is no different than I get in SF or Fantasy. I spend my life working with and reading about people dealing with traumatic health problems. Sometimes I want to shut off and a book works better than tv.

    That being said, I think escapism can be a very intellectual activity. For as many problems as it has, the one thing I felt Twilight did right is that it allowed young women to ‘experience’ having sexual thoughts without any risk that the boy of their dreams would pressure them, dump them, or slut-shame them. Sadly, that’s far too rare in real life.

    Of course, most of the time I like escapism for the simple fact that books are neat. I could read Harry Potter a million times and still be captivated by the world-building.

  35. Lazaraspaste
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 12:37:46

    Love it! I have been thinking about this in terms of how many people defend romance and erotic romance as women’s sexual fantasies. More specifically, why this is either a “good’ thing or a “bad” thing. I wonder, actually, if it is a thing at all. I wonder if the entire argument justifying escapist literature is really just a capitulation to certain standard of reading practice and reality construction. The word “fantasy” works similarly to the word “escape.” Both have a central assumption beneath their use and that is this: that material reality of the external, physical world constitutes the only truth of human existence and any experience that engages with human experience differently is mere fantasy and escape from the “real”. I think this privileges, obviously, a certain version of what reality is and what reality ought to be and how we should engage with it. I liked what @Rebecca Rogers Maher: “But I’m not looking to escape from an objectively correct reality. I’m looking to escape—to put it melodramatically—from the cage of a reality I don’t agree with.” Because I think that articulates very well the power of reading and escape as way to imagine alternative ways of working and constructing both the real and the ideal. If we cannot conceptualize an ideal, how can we make the real better?

    So I firmly hold that “escape” and “fantasy” are always to some extent dangerous not just because they are or can be regressive or progressive, but because they offer an alternative version of the world than the one we are supposed to merely accept without question. And think this is particularly irksome to those who want to prescribe a particular set of constructions for women, whether they be on the liberal or conservative ends of the political and social spectrum. To me the question is, why do we insist upon the notion that to escape from reality is somehow to display immaturity? Moreover, why is it somehow better not to attempt to escape “reality”–whatever that is?

  36. cleo
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 13:22:36

    @Lynn S.:

    From my perspective, calling something escapist is about the puritanical guilt factor associated with anything that hints of enjoyment

    This.

  37. EmilyW
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 13:56:08

    Fiction geared towards women means the building of the female imagination and that is STILL perceived as dangerous. So, they keep telling us that this imagination is baseless and fanciful and we will keep on believing it…oh wait, that part is changing now isn’t it?

  38. Sarah
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 14:06:16

    I absolutely despise annoyed librarian. I think it’s awful that this person (if it is a person and not just some Library Journal cog) won’t identify who they are and where they are from. Hiding behind snark (and bad snark at that) is despicable. Own up to your opinions.

  39. Karenmc
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 14:07:32

    @Carrie G: I agree that reading is more therapy for me than escape. I started reading romance in the spring of 2007 to escape news stories about the shenanigans of the then-current administrative branch of the government. Once I found the richness and talent in the genre (my love is historical romance), my reason for reading shifted. The best books became tools for change in my own relationships with people in my life and my understanding of myself. That continues today, and I’ve become much more reflective about my interactions with everyone in my life.

    The romance community itself, with DA being a prime example, nourishes my curiosity and encourages stimulating interactions. It’s a joy to be in such a thoughtful, energetic, diverse community.

  40. Sunita
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 15:00:55

    Wow, such great comments! The best part of writing opinion pieces. A few general responses:

    (1) “Escapist fiction” is not always used as a pejorative term, but from my perusals it seems to be used pejoratively more frequently when talking about the romance genre than any other genre. And while I agree that SFF (and even mystery) have been criticized a great deal, books from those genres are held up as “literary” or “transcending the genre” by outside observers far more often than have romance novels.

    (2) I think that the escapist aspects of romance are treated with greater condemnation than the escapist aspects of other genres and other activities. I agree that the fact that women comprise the majority of readers and writers is a big part of it. But I also think that it is because romance novels are explicitly about emotion, and many people find emotions difficult to talk about. Some people like to pretend that emotions can be compartmentalized. Others see emotional expression as equivalent to weakness (as opposed to rational action, which is a strength). So I think the desire to read about desire, basically, is seen as an inferior activity. Maybe I shouldn’t try to untangle it from the gendered aspects of emotion, but it’s something I’m working on in my research, so it interests me a great deal (my current research looks at the role of emotion in shaping men’s actionsa particular type of behavior that is dominated by men).

    (3) Liz’s point about vigilantism being accepted as part of justice is really interesting. The HEA should be just as uncontested an ideal as justice, but it’s not; justice is elevated while the HEA is seen as almost trivial (even though it has important ramifications for social stability).

    (4) On Lazaraspaste’s point: we refer to ideal types all the time in other conceptions of the good life, the good person, etc. even though we don’t know if we can achieve them. But when we raise it here, in the context of romantic love, it’s seen as silly and superficial. I wish critics of romance could at least acknowledge the contradiction.

  41. Joanna Chambers
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 17:24:40

    Great article. I read the title and came in feeling combative, ready to defend the idea of escapism – but YES to all of what you said. It’s not the idea that romance is escapist that’s offensive so much as what the nature of ‘escapism’ is assumed to be (fuzzy, vague, numbing, etc.) and what the reader is assumed to be escaping from (domestic drudgery etc.)

    In all honesty, romance reading IS escapism to me, but it’s not escapism because it’s easy and numbing; it’s escapism because (when it’s good) it engages me and absorbs me in an active way, just as you described.

  42. Sandypo
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 17:49:09

    So if someone is an active re-enactor (sp?) you know, those people who enjoy re-enacting Civil or Revolutionary War battles for an entire weekend — aren’t they escaping their real lives? What about the very religious folks who spend their spare time studying the Bible or the Torah or the Koran — aren’t they escaping real life as well?

    I think my husband, who spends a lot of time playing Call of Duty is escaping too.

    In this day of ever-changing profit models for bookstores and libraries, you would think that a publication like Library Journal would not trash reading no matter what genre the reader prefers. Everybody has to criticize something, I guess.

    To each his own. My mother is a retired librarian. She considers paperbacks to be “lesser” books than hardbacks. It’s a weird kind of snobbery but she’s almost 87 and goes back to a time when all books were hard bound.

    I do read romance novels for escape. But I read other types of fiction, biographies and autobiographies and listen to audio books in my car for the same reasons. I want to be taken somewhere else when I’m reading (or listening). And if it’s a good story, then I am.

  43. Ros
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 18:20:11

    @Rebecca Rogers Maher: Yes, yes, yes!

  44. Sarah Mayberry
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 18:32:32

    I think of romance novels as stories about emotional journeys. Yes, they have external plot and sometimes they have world building and suspense and other elements, but a novel that is categorised as a romance is primarily about the journey of two protagonists (hero and heroine, heroine and heroine, hero and hero) peeling away each other’s layers and becoming emotionally intimate with one another, and I think that is one of the major reasons romances are dismissed as a genre. It’s not just that emotion makes people uncomfortable, I think it’s also that there is a very dismissive response to emotion in today’s world. People are constantly telling each other to “suck it up”, or “build a bridge and get over it” or “swallow some concrete and harden up”. Or, as is the case with a friend who has been going through a really shit, horrible time this past week, comparing themselves with something more awful happening somewhere else in the world in an attempt to minimise/denigrate her own reaction. Despite the proliferation of self help books, TV psychologists and therapies of every kind, there is (and perhaps has always been) an impatience when it comes to dealing with how people feel and think and respond to life. Think about how some Victorian men used to send their wives to the doctor to have them masturbated by the doctor or a machine rather than have to deal with their emotions and sexual desire themselves – that’s pretty much the ultimate in dismissing emotion, in my book. Books that concentrate on emotional journeys must therefore be frivolous, pointless, silly (insert pejorative here). And no, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that women, as a rule, tend to be more vocal and articulate and tuned in to their feelings and that we tend to be the primary market for these kinds of stories and that romance is the most disrespected, denigrated genre.

  45. Kaetrin
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 19:47:17

    Great post Sunita.

    Reading romance is my most often picked choice of entertainment and it’s as immersive, educational, interesting and pleasing to me as those who paint miniatures, knit, play online games, watch TV, play sport, decoupage, play/listen to music, etc, etc, find their chosen entertainment is to them.

  46. Keishon
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 20:30:07

    Terrific post Sunita. I wrote an essay for DA a few years ago that asked: why do we read? Why, indeed. I do read to escape my boring life. I read mostly translated crime fiction these days and for me it’s about character, exotic locations, learning about another culture/beliefs or even social criticism. I’m at the point in the my life that people are gonna say whatever they want about romance and some of it is justified and some not. However, every genre has its strengths and weaknesses. I’ve ignored the critics for a long time and will continue to do so.

  47. Fiona McGier
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 20:41:22

    I agree with Isabel about some people buying into the idea that if something is FOR women, then it’s by nature, inferior. Like a girl who wants to be boyish, is a tomboy, a good thing, and perfectly understandable because after all, being a boy is a good thing. But a boy who wants to enjoy girlish things is a sissy, a mama’s boy (where-as a daddy’s girl is positive), and he needs to have the snot beaten out of him to “teach him to be a man.” Sigh.

    Years ago when I began dating my husband he would make me dinner at his place, then we’d watch Dallas, or Dynasty, his 2 favorite TV shows. I watched them a few times then told him they were “soaps for men”. He asked, “What?” I explained that the shows encapsulated what men were supposed to be wanting…lots of access to sexy and willing younger females, power struggles with other men over money and power, and the hero of the show always got to be the top dog at the end of the story line, as befitting that tee-shirt line that if you’re not the top dog, the view never changes.

    When husband looked thoughtful I asked what he enjoyed about the shows, besides the hot women wearing scanty clothing. He said the interesting and continuing stories. I challenged him to “hard-core”…which was daytime soaps! He had never seen any. We began to tape General Hospital every day and watch it over dinner. He loved it! There were still scantily-clad women, and even more sex than on the “men-soaps”. The main difference was how much time each person spent talking about their feelings–even men blathered about how they felt to each other. We decided that this was the time the night-soaps spent having men fighting with each other, or the occasional cat-fight which allowed the women to tear each others’ clothing off. Husband got so good he could predict weeks in advance, where the day-time soaps plots were going.

    But he never told anyone else that we were watching the show together. He didn’t want to put up with the name-calling or the abuse. He’s a big man, but afraid of being judged because he liked day-soaps better than the trite, repetitive story-lines of the night soaps.
    Yet which ones broke records for viewership? Of course, the night-soaps. And the men I worked with got very angry with me if I called their favorite shows “men-soaps”.

    The more things change, the more threatened men feel by strong women. This causes the backlash of men trying to shove women back into the tiny life-space they used to be allowed to exist in. Even what we enjoy writing and reading has to be looked down upon. We can’t excel or we’re ball-busters. We can’t enjoy being at home and non-competitive or we’re a “drag on society and a ball and chain around some man’s neck”. We continue to be damned if we do and damned if we don’t. When are we finally going to be allowed to just “be” any old way we want to be? Without being judged?

  48. Susan
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 21:46:13

    Agree that all fiction is basically escapist in the sense that the reader needs to put herself inside a different reality within the pages of the book. And, really, the same can also be said of most visual media (television, movies, theater). When we watch, aren’t we stepping into that world, watching the characters interact, wondering about their thoughts and motives, feeling their emotions, etc? It’s why we’re able to feel the experience so intensely. Not sure I understand why this is something to be disparaged.

  49. Sunita
    Feb 06, 2013 @ 08:44:51

    @Sarah Mayberry: Beautifully put. Emotions are either denigrated or scoffed at, unless we’re talking about righteous anger. That’s OK to feel and act upon. Your comment reminded me of the great Albert Hirschmann book, The Passions and the Interests, which talks about the emergence of the concept of rationality and the eclipse of concepts of honor, etc. And JK Galbraith wrote a terrific essay about how the elevation of the housewife role (and the creation of a private sphere for women) was fueled by industrialization and the desire to remove women as competitors in the labor force. Treating women as lesser beings and positive emotion as unworthy of attention is tied to specific historical developments.

    @Fiona McGier: Your husband sounds like a wonderful person, and your story reminds me that we don’t talk enough about the way that men are also constrained by gender roles.

  50. Dabney
    Feb 06, 2013 @ 09:09:29

    @Joanna Chambers: All reading is, in its own way, escapist then. And I mean that in a “Damn but books are great.” sort of way.

  51. Rebecca (Another One)
    Feb 06, 2013 @ 12:52:19

    I think the term escapism sort of implies that instead of living a good life, we are using these books to escape our bad one. As if romance books are the “opiate[s] of the masses,” that fool us into believing that women get their worth from men and relationships. And that if only we read books that showed us how cruel the world really was we would rise up and do something.

    I read books because they are fun. I’m not stupid, I know that bad things happen, and that’s why I give to charity. And romance books, like all books, can open my eyes to things outside my daily life.

  52. Linkspam, 2/8/13 Edition — Radish Reviews
    Feb 08, 2013 @ 05:32:35

    […] When We Defend Romance Reading as Escapism the Critics Win I especially like the comparison of the wordcount from 7 HQN Presents to other genre fiction which isn’t seen as being as fluffy as romance. […]

  53. Rose Monday Linkdump | Cora Buhlert
    Feb 10, 2013 @ 21:41:12

    […] Author has a great post about how viewing romance reading as escapism and nothing but escapism validates those critics who are neg… (and all popular fiction by […]

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    Feb 15, 2013 @ 19:08:50

    […] “When we defend romance reading as escapism, the critics win“. […]

  55. Donna Thorland
    Feb 21, 2013 @ 08:48:45

    Just came across this in my files and remembered this essay, wanted to post:

    In his essay On Fairy Stories, Professor J.R.R. Tolkien said the following about those who dismissed fantasy tales as “escapism”:

    Why should a man be scorned, if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it. In using Escape in this way the critics have chosen the wrong word, and, what is more, they are confusing, not always by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter.

  56. When the Links Come Marching In | Becky Black
    Mar 01, 2013 @ 23:05:37

    […] When we defend romance reading as escapism, the critics win Sunita at Dear Author talking about romance and escapism, and why that’s neither a good defence or a valid criticism of romance. […]

  57. Alex Beecroft
    Mar 02, 2013 @ 05:22:23

    LOL! Donna, I was just coming here to make that very point :) I read a lot of Fantasy in my youth and remember it being treated with exactly the same disdain. It was Tolkien’s words that made me decide to ‘own’ the escapist label, and ever since then it hasn’t bothered me in the slightest.

    “Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisioned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape?. . .If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!”

  58. Donna Thorland
    Mar 02, 2013 @ 06:42:05

    @Alex Beecroft:

    Also, I prefer the job description “partisans of liberty” to “writes in pajamas.”

  59. sheeka
    Apr 29, 2014 @ 11:06:29

    @Anna Cowan: well dr i want to ask a question from learned people and from u as well as u seem quite learned to me. question is that WHAT IS SWEET ESCAPE IN ENGLISH LITERATURE?
    plz answer me soon as possible. thx

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