Sunday, July 12, 2009


For book club, we decided to read a romance novel upon the suggestion of C. who read a few for a class on popular lit., along with an article on romance novels ("Bodice Rippers", I like to call them, based on the usual cover art): "Reading is not eating" by Janice Radway (Publishing Research Quarterly, Volume 2, Number 3, September, 1986).

The chosen book was Brazen, by Susan Johnson. I don't suppose I'll go into a long explanation of the book aside to say that it followed the usual formulas of the strong-willed, sexually unfulfilled woman who falls for the seemingly unattainable Kit Braddock and they soon find themselves in an illicit love affair that threatens both their lives! (This is in contrast to the other formula of the innocent young woman who finds herself the unwilling object of desire to the local rogue - contains rape scene.) No one in our club, except, uh, myself had ever read such a book before and all were quite shocked by sex scenes therein ("It's PORN!" said G.).

I did not enjoying Johnson's writing style, and the sex scenes were kind of oogy - mainly re: all the inane dialogue and repetition of the word "cleft". Also, every time Kit and the Countess engaged in the ol' vaginal/penile, Kit would pause: Am I hurting you?

The vagina, as everyone knows, is a rather remarkable body part capable of astonishing elasticity. Most of us know that a small human can be squeezed through its walls; it can certainly accommodate the penis of Kit Braddock.

Radway's twenty year-old article was a really interesting exploration of the women who write and read romance fiction. I believe her goal was to illustrate that women who read these types of books form a community and have more forward beliefs than the books typically illustrate (basically your standard issue white, hetero-normative, patriarchal hierarchy.) While she was not able to support that suspicion (only that some woman may have had what you might call a "community" by the purest, simplest definition, but certainly not anything fulfilling or supportive), she surmised that the women had the fullest potential of creating such communities and being a force of active change within their social spheres. (Of course, you might argue that everyone has that potential...) But what was really interesting to me was that both writers and readers considered themselves feminists for reading the books and that the subjects therein were feminist triumphs as well.

Naturally, everyone's definition of "feminism" is a little different, but I found it rather alarming that something that absolutely operated within the confines of a patriarchal system (both the story itself and the capitalistic structure of the mass-produced paperback) was interpreted as "feminist". Far be it from me to get up in someone's grill when they think they're a feminist and I don't, but it was very curious indeed.

Anywho, all that lead to a really interesting conversation about Marxism and the replacement of real interaction with goods, and the question of how the internet breaks down some of the tenants of Marxism by providing a mostly free place for people to share book recommendations. I'll even bet there's now a lot of those communities of women (And men! Apparently men are reading these novels too!) Radway was looking for - blogging about their Bodice Rippers (I hope someone will correct me and tell me it's "Historical Fiction") and maybe even planning the next cultural revolution for us! (I hope so!)

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