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.
Austin Carroll is a 17-year-old high school senior in Garrett, Ind., who recently did something so outrageous that it got him expelled from school. He used profanity. On Twitter. Oh my stars and garters! What is the world coming to?
To hear even his own family describe him, Carroll sounds like a bit of a handful. Last month, he earned a suspension for violating the school dress code and wearing a kilt, and last fall, he ran afoul of the school administration for tweeting an F bomb via a school computer.
But Carroll insists his more recent Twitter tirade — which Indiana News Center colorfully quotes as “BEEP is one of those BEEP words you can BEEP use in any BEEP sentence and it still BEEP make sense” – was banged out from his personal account on his home computer. The school district says the post came from a school-issued device or the school’s network. (Both Carroll and the district seem to agree that the post was not directed at any individual or the school itself.)
But students at Carroll’s school are expected to sign a Respectable Use Policy that requires them to “consider the information and images that I post online,” to not “flame, bully, harass or stalk people” or visit sites “that are degrading, pornographic, racist or inappropriate.” There’s no specific limit on word choice, which suggests that the school has now granted itself considerable leeway in interpreting its own rules.
Adding an invasively chilling element to the whole affair is the recent tweet from the Garrett School District’s IT director, who said, “Freedom of speech is our right, but it doesn’t (always) make it appropriate. Think before you type people. #austincarroll.” Because your school is watching you, kids.
It’s true that if more people thought before they typed, the Internet would be a markedly saner place. It’s easy to forget your teachers or your parents might see the words you’re banging out in what feels like perfect solitude. But Carroll wasn’t threatening anyone or deploying hate speech. He was just using some naughty words. He may even have been doing it on his own computer on his own time. And his school appears to have never issued a specific policy on the words in question anyway. So we are left with a kid who will now have to finish out his senior year at a nearby “alternative” school, where at least he can ostensibly wear a kilt and curse on Twitter and nobody will care.
Freedom of speech comes with a price, but the price tag should be appropriate. It’s a school’s job to encourage conversation, to spur kids to question the impact of their language and the effect their actions have, not to scurry away, blushing, from harder questions about expression, personal privacy and the limits of authority. In its Respectable Use Policy, the Garrett school says, with a stunning apparent lack of self-awareness, that “The primary priority of the technology is to improve student learning.” But Carroll and his fellow seniors must be wondering today how attainable that goal really is, when what could have been an authentic teachable moment has been so abruptly shut down.
"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.