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.
Jonathan Franzen has spoken out again on his reputation. The “Freedom” novelist, promoting new translation “The Kraus Project,” told Scratch that he strives (despite a critical rap in certain circles for a problem with women that stops short of the serious charge of misogyny) to be balanced in his writing, reading, and creation of characters. “I am a male animal, and there’s nothing I can do about that. I can’t stop writing and disappear just because someone chooses to project onto me her grievance with a million years of sexist human history.”
Given that Franzen had previously criticized “Jennifer-Weinerish self-promotion,” it seemed reasonable that this remark, too, might be a subtweet of the novelist Weiner, one of his persistent critics. We reached out to Weiner, an outspoken defender of the set of books commonly known as “commercial fiction,” via email and she responded.
Of course, I have no way of knowing if this is directed at me — and if you look at what I’ve said over the years, it’s been more about the Times as an institution and Sam Tanenhaus as a gatekeeper than JF. He’s more the beneficiary of a sexist system than its architect. However, in terms of what he’s done with his power, I think you can draw a very explicit causal relationship between his ’01 diss of Oprah and her choice to shutter the book club. Post-CORRECTIONS, Oprah never picked another debut female novelist…and the only female writers she talked about were Toni Morrison and Pearl S. Buck. He owns some of that.
I appreciate that he’s acknowledged that too many books get dismissed as chick lit, and that he’s championed Paula Fox, among others. But he can’t rail about Jennifer Weiner-ish self-promotion without acknowledging that, thanks in some part to his dealings with Oprah, social media is one of the things women writers have been forced to use to get the kind of attention he takes for granted. He has benefited tremendously from a system built on double standards, where a woman has to work twice as hard to be acknowledged as his peer, and he single-handedly eliminated one of the few routes women writers had to getting the kind of press he gets just by opening his mouth. His hands aren’t as clean as he’d like to believe.
Daniel D'Addario is a staff reporter for Salon's entertainment section. Follow him on Twitter @DPD_More Daniel D'Addario.
"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.