Posted in Books, pop culture, romance, Women's literature

Is Romance Dead: My Views on the Romance Novel Genre

The romance genre has not always gotten the recognition or respect that, in my personal opinion, it rightly deserves. At best, people who consider themselves “serious” readers think of it as a bit of fluff that women read to pass the time (mom porn is a turn of phrase popular among critics); at worst (and especially after the admittedly ridiculous 50 shades of grey trilogy was published) it has been scathingly referred to as destructive, morally questionable and responsible for the perpetuation of gender stereotypes.

A part of me is tempted to roll my eyes and tell people to relax, its just fiction, but as an aspiring writer myself I fully believe in the power of the written word. And let’s face it, some of those romance novel tropes are repugnant: sex that’s bordering on non-consensual if not outright rape, the fact that some books lead readers to believe that people really have nothing better to do than obsess about their love life all day, the way women are portrayed as overly dramatic damsels in distress and men the conquering heroes who will arrive just in time to solve our problems, usually in the form of a marriage proposal. Some of them are so badly written, its a crime that they’ve even been published.

Thanks to the new Netflix adaptation of Bridgerton, based on a series of books by Julia Quinn, I have spent the better part of the Christmas holidays reacquainting myself with romance novels. Lockdown being what it is, and being the voracious reader that I am, I’ve somehow managed to finish around 10 in a matter of days, including some of my favourites in the Bridgerton series.

It felt like a return to childhood. I can still remember hunting down secondhand copies of these books because they didn’t used to stock them regularly in the country’s only bookstore (at the time); or eagerly anticipating my aunt coming home from the US because she used to bring a whole heap of them. As I re-read old favourites on my Kindle and discovered some new ones, I found myself laughing out loud in a way I haven’t done with any book in a long long time. In addition, I was happy to find that the really good ones have more overt undertones of feminism and acceptance, reflective of the changing landscape of society, this growing belief that “women don’t owe you pretty”, and the female gender’s need to assert ourselves as equals.

Gone are the vapid, insipid, damsels in distress. These badass women save themselves. They have their own source of income, they are independent, their life is complete with or without a husband.

Gone are the perfect heroines with tiny waists and delicate constitutions. Heck, Julia Quinn’s Penelope Featherington was compared to a citrus fruit and one of Eloisa James’ characters is nicknamed The Scottish Sausage.

Needless to say, I identified with those two heroines the most.

Despite the welcome changes, love is still the first order of business. Its called a ROMANCE novel after all. And ah, how grandly and beautifully love is portrayed in these books. When I finished them, I was almost willing to believe (once again) that true love does exist, that there is such a thing as forever, despite numerous evidence suggesting otherwise. And that, i think, is what makes romance novels so widely scorned.

I think all of the genre’s purported crimes can be mostly overlooked or even forgiven were it nor for the romance novel’s greatest sin: the fact that it has the audacity to tell us that its okay to hope. In this day and age, you run the risk of being laughed at for even so much as hinting that you still believe, in your heart of hearts, buried under layers of cynicism, in knights in shining armour and fairy tale endings; for admitting that you in fact still listen (more times than you care to admit) to Disney songs proclaiming faith in some random prince that might someday come.

This is the real crime of romance novels, that it dares to ask us to BELIEVE.

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t read romance novels. I really don’t think I would be who I am today, for better or worse, without them being such a huge part of my formative years. I blame them for my slightly unrealistic expectations of what relationships are meant to be, and I thank them for the relentless optimism that makes me believe that things will always get better, that something wonderful is waiting just around the corner.

These days, we could all use a little hope, a little optimism, a little wonder. Its what got me through the worst year in recent history, its what’s getting me through the prospect of an extended lockdown. And if only for that reason, romance novels will always have a place in my bookshelf, and in my heart.

If you’re new to romance novels, here are a few reading suggestions that, in my opinion, are the best representation of the genre:

1. The Bridgerton Series by Julia Quinn – of course. Penelope Featherington is my ride and die.

2. How to Marry a Marquis – also by Julia Quinn and in my opinion, even better than the Bridgerton series.

3. Remembrance by Jude Deveraux – cried buckets of tears with this one.

4. The Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas – St. Vincent is one of my favourite heroes EVER. Gotta love them bad boys and reformed rakes.

5. The Key Trilogy by Nora Roberts – in my opinion she should have retired after this series…it all kinda went downhill from there.

6. Romancing The Duke by Tessa Dare – absolutely fabulous. I was smiling the whole way through. In fact, read the whole series.

7. On a Wild Night by Stephanie Laurens – she tends to be a bit long winded but I love the plot of this one.

8. Duchess By Night by Eloisa James – hilarious, poignant, one of her best works. In fact, read everything she published before 2017. It all sort of went downhill after that.

9. The Magic of You by Johanna Lindsey – the Malorys are the best. And the books in this series were less rapey than some of her other works.

10. Whitney My Love by Judith McNaught – if you’re in the mood to be a masochist, read this book and all the books connected to it. Its absolutely painful to read but ugghhh, they’re so entertaining.

I hope you enjoy reading these books as much as I once did. And may hope spring ever eternal. xx

Posted in pop culture, Self-Discovery, sport

The Last Dance, Being Like Mike and My College Traumas

Lockdown is making people feel all kinds of nostalgic. Its understandable: the present is looking a little bleak at the moment, and no one knows what’s going to happen in the future, so we comfort ourselves with thoughts of the past. My extended family has taken to sending old photographs in our messenger group, including some of myself that has led me to conclude that I was a cute baby but a freakin’ ugly kid who then grew up to be an okay-looking adult.

I could be an emoji

Anyway, I don’t think it gets anymore nostalgic than The Last Dance, a sports docu-series that’s currently on Netflix which tells the story of the 1997-98 championship winning season of the Chicago Bulls, starring the great Michael Jordan. Its made a lot of people into three-week basketball fans; its had such an impact that its even trending in the UK, a country where – when I first arrived and said I didn’t like football because I’ve grown up watching basketball instead, people looked at me like I had horns sprouting from my head.

Watching this documentary brings home the fact that so many of my childhood memories are centred around those Saturday NBA games on ESPN when we would all gather around the telly watching Michael do a lay-up or a fadeaway or another dunk – basically anything humanly (sometimes inhumanly) possible to win the game. I’ve been watching the episodes with my sister, who’s not a big sports fan but nonetheless could almost reflexively identify all the important players of that era even now, 23 year later.

I remember watching my brother and my male classmates go through a period where they worshipped everything Jordan-related. If a genie had appeared before my brother at age 8 I believe he would have asked for a pair of Air Jordans without so much as batting an eyelash. His face when my aunt finally sent one over from the States is what I imagine mine would be when I finally meet the love of my life (yeah, I just had to get that in there lol).

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I don’t care what other people say but nothing compares to watching a really good game of basketball, especially when you’re invested in the team and the players, as a fan or as a person. And I think the magic of MJ is in the way he makes you feel invested; he pulls you in with that attitude and that determination to win at all costs. There’s something to be said about a guy who believes in playing at the highest caliber at all times, because if you don’t, what’s the point in playing at all? Hey Mike, I want a sip of your Gatorade.

Watching this series, and getting to know the person behind the legend, I realise that I don’t really like Michael Jordan and I think a lot of people will agree with me; he’s kind of a dick. But I think people not liking him is a price he’s willing to pay for being GREAT at what he does. They don’t need to hug him on his way to the basket, they just need to get out of the way. I find myself wondering a lot of times while watching this series whether it was better to be liked or to be respected, and whether it was possible to be both.

When I was younger I used to be quite arrogant and a bit full of myself. I was probably masking some deep deep insecurities (which may or may not have been related to my weight issues) but the one thing I always had going for me was my intelligence. I knew I was smart. I was first on the honour roll from kindergarten onwards. I graduated class valedictorian in high school and had so many medals around my neck after the graduation ceremony you could hear them clanking as I walked.

Then I started college and for the first time I was around people who a) have not been my classmates since we were practically in diapers and b) who were just as if not more intelligent than I was. Suddenly I was in a class where we had 14 valedictorians and about half as many salutatorians. It was a whole other playing field. And like MJ (just so we don’t lose the thread here! Haha) I revelled in that. I pushed myself hard and I was determined to be the best of the best.

I’m a really competitive person. I want to win. I don’t want to do something if I can’t be great at it. I don’t believe in mediocrity. That attitude has gotten me to where I am today. But my greatest weakness has always been caring too much about what other people think. I have this pathological need to be universally liked. And in college, I rubbed a lot of people off the wrong way because what I thought was me being determined (and okay, showing off a little) most people saw as me being a complete bitch with a superiority complex. I still cringe at the thought of how much people I now call friends must have hated me in college. Oh well. At least they like me now.

Needless to say, I graduated college with one medal, a lot of friends, a more humble attitude and a greater appreciation of my place in the great circle of life.

Why am I suddenly bringing this up? I suppose its because I wonder where I would be if I had the same attitude as Mike…the whole isolation is the price of winning mentality that seems to be a characteristic of the greats. Is it worth it? Or is the old adage true, that its incredibly lonely up top all by yourself? I’m sure my feelings would have been different if you asked me when I was younger, but with the wisdom of old age I can say (with only a slight hesitation) that I would rather have friends than reluctant admirers. I would rather have people who will be there for me no matter what, even and especially if I fail – and its almost a guarantee that you will fail at some point in your life.

As usual I’ve managed to make this about me but whatever.

Takeaway messages from The Last Dance: Dennis Rodman is a Dude, Steve Kerr is proof that nice guys don’t always finish last and you should never judge a book by its cover, Scottie Pippen deserved better and finally, it takes a village. MJ wasn’t winning championships until he had a winning team. 72-10, baby.

P.S. this blog is in part dedicated to the guy whose job it was to shout “What time is it?” during the Bulls’ pre-game huddle. You, my man, are an icon.