#BeatTheBacklist Review: Dangerous Books for Girls

January 15, 2018 Uncategorized 16

#BeatTheBacklist Review: Dangerous Books for GirlsTitle: Dangerous Books For Girls: The Bad Reputation of Romance Novels Explained: Expanded Edition
Author: Maya Rodale
Source: Gift
Links: Indiebound |Goodreads
Rating: four-stars

Summary: A really thoughtful collection of essays, conversational in tone but addressing substantial questions raised by the romance genre.

Even among some romance readers, who may describe reading romance as their ‘guilty pleasure’, romance has something of a bad reputation. Formulaic. Unrealistic. Fluff. These are just some of the charges commonly leveled against romance. In this collection of short essays, romance author and reader Maya Rodale explores the origins of the stigma surrounding romance novels. She explores the history of the romance and discusses how the treatment of romance novels tracks with the way society treats women. She also shares survey results and interview quotes to support claims about how romance novels are perceived.

Initially, I was nervous this book was going to be too light. The first essay or two are a nice, easy introduction to the history of romance novels and how romance novels are commonly perceived. Fortunately, the author uses this foundation to dig more deeply into many of the fascinating questions raised by the romance genre. She discusses how romances are sold; how they’re marketed; and how they’re reviewed. She also critically considers many romance tropes, from the happily ever after (HEA) to the alpha hero. I found these essays thoughtful and well reasoned, while simultaneously maintaining an approachable and conversational tone. There is about 1 typo every 20 pages in my (finished) version – not enough to diminish my enjoyment of a book, but I know it might bother some people.

One of my favorite points that the author made was about the affect being able to rely on the HEA has on the reader. She talks about how this allows the reader to relax and become fully emotionally engaged in the story. As someone who loves the sort of books that you just know will have a HEA, romance and otherwise, I agree with this completely. She also talks about how romance enables readers to explore their own feelings about topics related to romance. This reminded me of my experiment reading romance last February. I found that there was a lot to unpack in every novel. Romance novels can raise questions of what constitutes consent; how power balances should look in a relationship; and where the line is between protective and domineering, take-charge confidence and abuse. Reader’s opinions on these issues are sure to be at lease as diverse as their taste in sex scenes, but whatever their opinions, reading a romance novel can be a great way to clarify those opinions for yourself.

So, in short,  I not only enjoyed this essay collection, I was also reminded of what I think are the strongest points of the romance novel – for me, the HEA and the way they make me think about relationships. Recommended to anyone who reads romance, to anyone who thinks romance isn’t worth reading, and to anyone interested in feminism.

16 Responses to “#BeatTheBacklist Review: Dangerous Books for Girls”

  1. Debbie

    Did she address romance novels that did not include sexual aspects?
    I’m thinking of some of the old fashioned novels like those by Grace Livingston Hill? A lot of her books were formulaic, but the women seemed well, heroic might be too strong a word. The hero was usually a nice guy who didn’t finish last.

    • DoingDewey

      She did, although the only ones she mentioned by name were classics, like Jane Eyre or Pride and Prejudice. I think her essays about women in publishing and some that are specifically about the plots of romance novels might also apply to the sort of books you’re talking about, but I’m pretty new to the genre and haven’t read any older romances to be sure.

  2. Kim@Time2Read

    “this allows the reader to relax and become fully emotionally engaged in the story”

    I know exactly what she means. I don’t read a lot of ‘romance’ novels, though I don’t mind if there is romance in a book I read. But I agree completely about the HEA affect, whether it is romance or thriller; knowing that everything works out in the end makes it a lot easier to enjoy as I read.
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  3. iliana

    I enjoy a good romance novel every once in a while. Sometimes when you are so stressed out or just having a lot going on, it’s kind of nice to fall back on a book you can count on. I think this sounds like a great book and will have to add it to my list.
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    • DoingDewey

      I wish I read more romance, but I have a hard time putting it at the top of my to-read list even though I’ve discovered I enjoy it. I think that’s because I genuinely prefer to read other things most of the time, but fear I may also be put off by the common perception of romance as less worthwhile than other things. Perhaps I’ll make a point of reading some romance for Valentine’s day 🙂

  4. Christina @ You Book Me All Night Long

    I’m so glad you enjoyed this! Your point about the HEA is an interesting one…I nearly always gravitate toward books (romance and otherwise) that I’m confident will have an emotionally satisfying outcome. And I totally agree that reading romance novels can help clarify what kind of behavior you like/dislike in your own relationships.

    • DoingDewey

      I really like your phase, ’emotionally satisfying outcome’. That’s definitely something I look for too 🙂

    • DoingDewey

      The book actually mentions Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, but I’ve not gone and looked it up. I’ll have to now that you’ve suggested it 🙂

    • DoingDewey

      I’d definitely recommend giving it a try! I didn’t expect it to be my thing, but I’ve really enjoyed the few books I’ve read. I’d say the only negative stereotype I’ve found to be true is that the books in a series can be formulaic, but I think that may actually be a good thing, since it helps me find books that won’t include any of my pet peeves and will only have tropes I like 🙂
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    • DoingDewey

      Haha, that makes sense! I think romance is probably not the best genre for someone who wants to wonder about the end 🙂

  5. Naomi

    As someone who doesn’t read romance novels (because I think they’ll be boring, although how do I know that if I don’t read them?), I think I’d like to read this book. Or try a romance novel sometime. The HEA argument is interesting… I’ve never thought about that. I like dark books and don’t mind if there is no HAE. On the other hand, when I want something comforting, I go with something lighter, and they probably have happy endings. I’ll have to pay more attention to that!
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    • DoingDewey

      I’d definitely suggest giving it a try, just to see, because I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the romance books I’ve read. They’ve not become something I read all the time, but I do expect to read more of them and it is nice to know what all the fuss is about 🙂