Why “romance novels are trash” is such a bad take

A man on Twitter recently had the genius idea to mansplain to romance readers and authors all about their genre. He could separate the quality romances from the trash simply by looking at the cover. And yeah, he basically called most romances trash.

Somebody had to call 911, because that man was quickly murdered by words.

There’s no need to link to the Twitter thread, which is obscured by crime scene tape. Homicide detectives are still picking up bullet casings and bloody knives.

This man isn’t alone, though. Romance novels are the biggest sellers in the book industry, the foundation of the business, but they get a lot of grief, too.

Years ago, I was smart enough not to say such things on the interwebs, but I saw different genres of fiction as living on various planes of quality. Great Literature on top of the pyramid, then everything else.

Now, my thinking is completely turned around. Here’s why.

There’s no link between genre and quality

A lot of the classic of literature, now held up as the highest quality, were considered trash when they were first published.

Edgar Allen Poe wrote horror and died in poverty. You could call it literature, but it’s still horror.

Tons of what we hold up as of the highest quality are actually written for kids.

Dr. Seuss. Winnie the Pooh. Alice in Wonderland. Harry Potter.

There’s amazingly beautiful writing coming out of horror and sci-fi and romance–and totally unreadable nonsense on the shelves of Serious Fiction.

For every CATCH-22, there are 5.4 bazillion books like the just-released ANTKIND. Seriously, head to Slate and read the review.

What’s the purpose of a book or movie?

Stories have two basic missions: to entertain and educate.

To make you feel, and to show you worlds you didn’t know existed–or to look at the world in a different way.

There’s a misconception that Great Literature contains the highest meaning, that it’s the purest form with the strongest message. The opposite is true. I’ve read mountains of books, and I’m not alone in noticing that a lot of literature is dense and obscure. A slog. And because it’s too popular or Hollywood, the structure and endings of literary novels and movies are often backward, if not bizarre.

That muddles the message. Because even if somebody manages to slog through the entire thing, there’s a good chance they won’t understand the ambiguous and complicated point the author intends.

What’s worth living and dying for?

Think back to English Lit in college and the foundation. Literature, and all stories, are supposed to tell us what’s worth living for and what’s worth dying for.

Romances focus on what’s worth living for–who should you love.

Thrillers are centered around what’s worth dying for.

I did a giant post all about this. Click here: Why every man must read a romance – and every woman a thriller

So those two “trash” genres split the great question in two. I’d say they do a beautiful job of tackling both halves of that question, too.

Every niche and genre has a question they’re trying to answer

Other fields of fiction derided as junk also tackle huge, deep topics.

Horror is really about dealing with fear and death.

Comedies each make fun of an institution: suburban family life, corporations, showbiz, war, politics.

Dramas show that no matter how bad things get, there will always be heroes trying to stand up for what’s right.

Sci-fi and fantasy ask, “What if?”

Each of these has a distinct message and way of looking at a piece of the world. And sure, there’s no law requiring you to love spy thrillers or watch superhero movies.

What I’m saying is (a) give them each a chance and (b) don’t disparage what other people enjoy.

Every genre of storytelling tries to a fundamental question about life.  They all have value–especially to the people who love them.

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