There is a lovely interview with Nora Roberts floating around the web (I found it when hunting through Claire Hennessy's blog for her series on writers and day jobs for my last post). I haven't read any of Roberts's books, but I loved how she sounded in the interview. High on books, low on crap.
Roberts writes romance, a genre I read now and again but have never written (I'd like to, someday). It's not a genre that commands respect. Chick-lit, at least, suggests that it might be funny. Romance has been perceived as light escapism for unhappy housewives. It has been criticised for giving women 'unrealistic expectations'. (Roberts's answer to that is great: "Because women aren't supposed to have expectations, right? We're pretty smart. I think we know the difference between reality and fiction. I don't think that people read Agatha Christie, and then think: I know, I'll go and murder someone.")
Roberts's response to the general lack of respect for romance is also interesting:
"it's just so insulting towards millions of people. Why would you apologise for what you read for pleasure? Just think of the illiteracy rate. Every book read for pleasure should be celebrated. And novels that celebrate love, commitment, relationships, making relationships work, why isn't that something to be respected?"
She's hit on something really interesting there.
As a woman, I feel I live in a society that tells me that finding Mr. Right, getting married and having babies is IT. Most books aimed at women my age involve some level of love story. Most magazine covers are emblazoned with stories about finding, keeping, improving or pleasing a man. Newspaper columnists are constantly telling me that while having a career and deep, close friendships is all very well and good, ultimately they will disappoint me when compared to paying 20k for a party and ending up covered in puke and stepping on Lego pieces when I get up to go to the bathroom at night.
Ahem. I'm just being bitchy there. Married life and parenthood actually sound like wonderful things. I don't know yet if they are right for me, or if I'll ever have them. But I'm constantly bombarded with the message that finding True Love is the only point to life.
And yet, romantic novelists today are writing strong, cool, independent women, feminist-y characters who seek and find fulfilling love. And they are not getting respect for doing that.
I know that as a woman and a reader, I would far rather curl up with a book that depicts a strong woman falling in love, creating a good relationship and being happy, than read yet another magazine article how to 'keep my man' (apparently just showing up won't cut it anymore. Who knew?). As a feminist, I think romance (and chick-lit) novelists today are sending a far more positive message than - well, most other writing aimed at women.
So, to recap - some elements of society say that relationships and marriage are the only things a woman should care about. But romantic novels are un-feminist and trashy.
I can't get my head around that. I think the only solution is to make some tea and read a good novel.
Some Nora Roberts, maybe. . . :)