Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Lurve in the Lib

Pain comes in many flavors. There is getting dumped. There is walking nose-first into plate glass. And then there is the particular pain associated with coming across a book in the return slot, liking its look, making yourselves better acquainted, inviting it home with you -only to realize the book needs to go on the holdshelf. For someone else. Ohi me.

In this case the book was "Women and Romance," edited by Susan Weisser. And I managed to read one article, at least, before my amour was snatched away: a critique of late-1970s Harlequin novels by Ann Snitow. Here are the vital stats if you want to read it (and you do):

Snitow, Ann Barr. "Mass Market Romance: Pornography for Women is Different." Radical History Review, Summer 1979, v. 20.

This is fascinating stuff: Snitow interprets romance novels as part of a continuing conversation between publishers, readers, and societal constructs of female success. Provokingly, Snitow quotes Lillian Robinson: romance novels are "leisure activities that take the place of art." But my paraphrasing is a poor substitute for the real thing, and besides, what Snitow really got me thinking about is how certain narratives actually become commodities. Women buy millions of romances, but really the narrative skeleton of every salable romance is the same. Each time a woman brings a romance novel to the cash register, she's purchasing a narrative she's likely purchased several times before.

Yet, another aspect of a romance novel's salability is its deviation from the formula. Who wants to read the same book over and over again? Readers crave new names, new details, small subversions of expectation.

This raises the question of what is being purchased, exactly? Is the it the formula? Or is it the interface between actual and ingrained narratives, the dialogue between what should happen, and what does? Are readers actually buying a kind of negative space, a distance or a gap between narrative frame and narrative upholstery, between what is and what has been? Is most of a romance novel incorporeal, located somewhere in the space between page and brain?

God, I need a real job.

No comments: