How William Giraldi got it so, so wrong. And right.
I haven't even been able to upload all my pictures from RT Booklovers' Convention, where I spent my last week in New Orleans meeting incredible people having amazing conversations. And yet today, the Internet blew up with the rabble-raising, click-baiting essay from William Giraldi on The New Republic in which he does whatever he can to disparage the romance genre and those who read it.
Giraldi breaks no new ground with his vitriol: Those of us who read romance are all dumb, obese, and practically illiterate. I'll take the overweight jibe (after all, I have baby weight from kid #3 here) but the rest couldn't be farther from the truth.
Let's take the "God and Sex" panel (which I'll be recapping shortly for the RT blog, so keep an eye out). We had four phenomenally intelligent women (one an Episcopalian priest) talking about how devoid romance (and really, most literature) is of any talk of spirituality. The panel (and the audience), in a completely engaged hour that could easily have turned to 10 if time had allowed, discussing why it was such a verboten topic -- and what could be done to change it. Academic texts were cited. Literary trends over decades were discussed. And I don't think That Book was even mentioned.
Here's the thing: People like Giraldi who lump all of one genre into one parodic bucket are missing a lot of really great books. For every poorly written piece of dreck like That Book, there's a Tiffany Reisz or an M.J. Rose or a Jacqueline Carey.
Sure there are some people out there who never get past the crap reads. Who are willing to settle for books with poor grammar and lazy storytelling. I had the pleasure of checking books in that readers brought for signing. And I saw a LOT of copies of That Book. But what gave me the most pleasure was seeing what books came after. What other authors those people had discovered because they'd started to read again and realized there were books out there that weren't the dry, slow-as-molasses books they'd been forced to read in school under the guise of "classics." That there were books out there that spoke to them.
If marijuana is a gateway drug that leads to other drugs, then sure, you can consider That Book to be a bag of skunk weed that leads to a life of cooking meth in your basement for some people. But to continue the analogy, maybe that desire to feel THAT GOOD leads to a finding other ways to recapture that feeling. Better ways. More challenging ways. And that can't help but be a good thing.
If Giraldi really wanted to be taken seriously by the romance community, perhaps he should have come to RT. To realize it's possible to spend hours talking about NOTHING BUT BOOKS with people. And some of them are actually really, really good. He might even like them.