Romance novels need a canon
"Bet Me" by Jennifer Crusie
A contemporary romantic comedy set to Elvis Costello and lots of luxurious and sinful sugary treats. Read the whole essay.
A few weeks ago, as the Occupy Wall Street protests were first spreading, something amazing happened: For 10 whole seconds, the local reporter on my TV screen actually talked about the realities of the recession. He even uttered the phrase “economic inequality.”
My guess is that you’ve seen something similar on your local affiliate — and that’s no minor event. When even the most local of television journalists are compelled to acknowledge this crushing emergency in a country whose media aggressively promotes American dream agitprop, it means the Occupy protesters have scored a monumental victory. You can almost imagine a Wall Street CEO turning to an aide and muttering a slightly altered riff off LBJ: “If we’ve lost Ron Burgundy, we’ve lost Middle America.”
In response to this stunning turn of events, conservative politicians are retreating to non sequiturs. They seem to think that if they shout the phrase “class warfare” enough, the nation will go back to not caring about the divide between the rich and poor.
But something has changed.
For most of the post-World War II era, we tolerated relatively high inequality because we envisioned it as a necessary side effect of an exceptional economy that (supposedly) guaranteed opportunities for advancement. As the Wall Street Journal put it, we believed that “it is OK to have ever-greater differences between rich and poor … as long as (our) children have a good chance of grasping the brass ring.”
However, the last three decades have invalidated our standing hypothesis. After the conservatives’ successful assault on the New Deal, America has lived a different reality — one perfectly summarized by a new Federal Reserve study revealing that today’s increasing inequality accompanies comparatively low social mobility.
“U.S. family income mobility has decreased over the 1969-2006 time span, and especially since the 1980s,” notes the Fed paper, adding that “a family’s position at (the) end of (the) 2000s was … more correlated with its start position than was the case 20 years earlier.”
Of course, some class mobility still exists. The trouble is that it’s primarily of the downward kind. As the Pew Charitable Trusts reports, roughly a third of those who grew up in the middle class have now fallen below that station in adulthood.
This is why, for all the right-wing mythology about “Eurosocialism” snuffing out upward mobility, data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development show that social mobility in uber-capitalist America is actually lower than in most industrialized countries.
This is why almost three-quarters of respondents just told the Hill newspaper’s pollsters that income inequality is a problem.
This is why my local TV news is suddenly airing pieces on economic inequality between sports, weather and all the “you stay classy” small talk.
And this is why, among all the fights over economic policy, the debate about taxes is the most crucial of all.
As the Fed noted in a separate report, the federal tax code — which remains vaguely progressive — has been the one proven way to “mitigate income inequality.” But with congressional Republicans gradually flattening federal income tax rates and with already-regressive state tax rates in GOP bastions like Texas, Wyoming, Tennessee, South Dakota and Mississippi, the tax system has lately been preserving or exacerbating existing inequality.
The good news is that if we return to the slightly higher tax rates of the Reagan or Clinton eras — i.e., the rates that existed when the economy was doing better — we can begin fixing things. If, though, we keep tax rates the same or make them even more regressive, we’ll be seeing a whole lot more about economic inequality on our local news as the current crisis inevitably reaches an ugly boiling point.
David Sirota is a staff writer at PandoDaily and the best-selling author of the books "Hostile Takeover," "The Uprising" and "Back to Our Future." E-mail him at email@example.com, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at www.davidsirota.com.More David Sirota.
"Bet Me" by Jennifer Crusie
"Welcome to Temptation" by Jennifer Crusie
Another of Crusie's romantic comedies, this one in the shadow of an ostentatiously phallic water tower. Read the whole essay.
"A Gentleman Undone" by Cecilia Grant
A Regency romance with beautifully broken people and some seriously steamy sex. Read the whole essay.
"Black Silk" by Judith Ivory
A beautifully written, exquisitely slow-building Regency; the plot is centered on a box with some very curious images, as Edward Gorey might say. Read the whole essay.
"For My Lady's Heart" by Laura Kinsale
A medieval romance, the period piece functions much like a dystopia, with the courageous lady and noble knight struggling to find happiness despite the authoritarian society. Read the whole essay.
"Sweet Disorder" by Rose Lerner
A Regency that uses the limitations on women of the time to good effect; the main character is poor and needs to sell her vote ... or rather her husband's vote. But to sell it, she needs to get a husband first ... Read the whole essay.
"Frenemy of the People" by Nora Olsen
Clarissa is sitting at an awards banquet when she suddenly realizes she likes pictures of Kimye for both Kim and Kanye and she is totally bi. So she texts to all her friends, "I am totally bi!" Drama and romance ensue ... but not quite with who she expects. I got an advanced copy of this YA lesbian romance, and I’d urge folks to reserve a copy; it’s a delight. Read the whole essay.
"The Slightest Provocation" by Pam Rosenthal
A separated couple works to reconcile against a background of political intrigue; sort of "His Gal Friday" as a spy novel set in the Regency. Read the whole essay.
"Again" by Kathleen Gilles Seidel
Set among workers on a period soap opera, it manages to be contemporary and historical both at the same time. Read the whole essay.