Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Get Me Out of Here! (Escapism)

Which of the following statements are true:

1) When I read or watch a movie like The Hunger Games, I am transported to a dystopic world and imagine myself as someone like Katniss, Peeta, or Gale to the point where I actually think I am one of them. Where's my bow and arrow?

 2) When I read The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings (or again, watch the movies) I find myself believing in hobbits and elves, and I am constantly on Google Maps searching for Rivendell and Middle Earth.

3) When I watch Star Trek (in any of its incarnations), read the fan fiction, or dress up like a Klingon or Vulcan and attend a Trekkie convention, I am in need of my anti-psychotic meds because I'm expecting to be beamed up at any moment.

4) When I read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's works, I am a brilliant detective in Victorian London, shrouded in fog and intrigue, working feverishly to solve a complex riddle before something deadly happens. I also talk in a British accent and refer to my dog as Watson, although his name is actually Buster.

5) When I read Pride and Prejudice, I realize that Mr. Darcy is the perfect male specimen and insist that any and every man I meet must measure up to his standards. Relationship expectations cannot be taken too lightly.

Answer: None of them is true. And yet, could any of them possibly be true, in certain situations? Sure.

Most of the articles I've read related to the romance genre would make the claim that none of the above statements is true—except #5.  Apparently the writers of the articles would have us believe that women, in particular, are unable to distinguish between fantasy (as it relates to the romance genre) and reality, when it comes to love and their romantic expectations in their partners.

And yet these same women watch movies like Transformers and the various Harry Potters and have no more expectation of having their Volkswagens turn into a robots, or plan to fly on a broom while playing quidditch than the men seated next to them. Are women actually watching Brad Pitt or Ryan Gosling on screen and expecting either actor (or character played) will propose to them? Are men hoping Megan Fox or Angelina Jolie are going to give them a smile and a "hey, baby, text me" anytime soon? I don't honestly think so.

That being said, everyone—whether sitting in a theater, reading genre fiction, playing online games, or doing the traditional couch potato thing—can benefit from the occasional self-inventory when it comes to escapism. Sometimes people do run too far and escape for too long. And if we frequently find ourselves in that position, seeking to avoid the realities of our daily lives by these means of escape, then I suggest that maybe it's time to figure out why and head safely back to the world of reality.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Romance Novels: Another Form of Porn? A Rebuttal

Dear Ms. Bardsley,

I just read your blog titled "Romance Novels: Another Form of Porn?" in LDS Living Magazine. As a reader—and writer—of romance, I would like to offer a differing viewpoint.

Quoting from the Romance Writers of America genre description page, which I have copied and pasted from their website ( a romance novel is defined as having:

A Central Love Story: The main plot centers around two individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as he/she wants as long as the love story is the main focus of the novel.

An Emotionally-Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love. 

Romance novels may have any tone or style, be set in any place or time, and have varying levels of sensuality—ranging from sweet to extremely hot. These settings and distinctions of plot create specific subgenres within romance fiction. 

The romance genre is frequently and unfairly maligned. Are there those books you describe? Yes, definitely. But it seems to me your blog lumps anything that can be construed a romance into one big, evil pot. You imply that, specifically, romance novel escapist tendencies are bad, while the escapist tendencies of other novels in general are not. Are you telling me that horror, science fiction, fantasy, and mystery cannot potentially do the same things you are accusing romance of doing? In my opinion, your statements paint with too broad a brush.  

You seem to think women's escapist choices in particular undermine individuals, relationships, and families. And yet, if you read the description of the genre from RWA once more, it would appear that the general intent of romance is the struggle, development, and ultimate success of the relationship. The RWA also requires an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. To me, that is what the Gospel is all about: developing a deep and loving relationship with my husband, and looking forward to eternity—the ultimate "happy ending."

That said, I also recognize that one must be careful selecting reading—romance or otherwise—from the national market. We each have our own sensibilities, and each romance author has her individual style and approach when it comes to the inclusion of intimacy and the level of sensuality. However, to clarify, sex scenes are not the primary content of most romances, as you state in your blog. And while there are authors I will not read, there are others whose writing I find to be sensitive, and who deal with intimacy in a context within the story that I feel is respectful. 

Age and experience are definitely factors that need to be considered when choosing any reading materials. It is unfortunate that the 17-yr old you mentioned had a bad experience. Good for her for having good judgment. There have been books (of all types, not simply romance), movies, and TV shows my children have expressed an interest in reading or watching over the years, and I reviewed and censored them as I deemed appropriate. Trips to the library should not be an exception to this rule. 

I am glad Deseret Book is developing a brand of "Proper Romance." Women are relationship driven. It would only make sense that novels dealing with these types of stories and themes would hold appeal for many women. 

Sincerely and respectfully,
Karen Tuft

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Historical Novels: Past Perfect

My thoughts, posted to the Word Wenches blog, regarding historicals:

I grew up with Margaret Evans Price's Myth's and Enchantment Tales. Before I could read I drank in the pictures: fiery gods, willowy nymphs in tunics with flowing hair. I was a kid with a pixie cut, glasses, and two missing front teeth. But I became those willowy nymphs. I needed to feel like a willowy nymph.

It got even better when I could actually read the stories that went with the pictures!

Later, I discovered Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, and others. And I wasn't just Psyche or Andromeda anymore. I was a governess in a castle, and a sassy saloon girl, and a debutante, despite the cat-eye glasses and short hair.

And then a terrible thing happened! Middle school, high school, college, and The Classics. Don't get me wrong, they were great books and I learned a lot. But I wouldn't have picked up Lord of the Flies or Heart of Darkness out of choice. And somehow, in those school classes, it became impressed upon me that The Classics Were the Only Books Worth Reading.

And I forgot what it felt like to be a nymph or a saloon girl.

Life, good life, continued, with marriage and kids and a reading urge filled by newspapers and magazine articles.

And then, after watching Timothy Dalton, I mean Rochester, plead with Jane Eyre not to leave him, I had to read the book. I discovered Mr. Darcy way too late in life. Why had I never found Jane Austen's books before? And, hey? Aren't they classics? I say they are.

I've had a lot of reading to catch up on! And there are a lot of modern authors (Word Wenches included) whom I consider classic.

Side benefit: I'm an avid genealogist, and there is nothing I like better than to find my ancestors and have a living, breathing model of life that makes them more than a name on a page for me. I understand who they are and who I am as part of their legacy; historicals have given that to me.

I'm reading a historical right now. And my good life is even better!

Illustration of As the dragon came near, Perseus darted downward like an eagle by Margaret Evans Price, from the book Myths and Enchantment Tales, also by Margaret Evans Price. Also published under A Child's Book of Myths, and A Children's Treasury of Mythology.