Thursday, February 19, 2009

The future of romance novels?

As I read Radway, I found her observations of romance reading in a particular historical moment interesting and her observations on how the women used the romance genre to "escape". Also historically how she follows how the political women's movement of the time period influenced readership and the type of novels that the women may be attracted to.

Also her first chapters about the history of books was fascinating to me as a library professional as I did not realize how genres were started as a publishing industry here in the United States. As her study was conducted in the late 1970-80's, I wonder how much the publishing industry has changed in regards to the romance genre? Has readership gone down or up? What are the current demographics of romance readers today?

Also I wonder what genres might also provide the same "escape" and pleasure as for the women readers Radway interviews. Has the emergence of "chick lit" replaced or given another type of genre women can relate to? What are they relating to in regards to chick lit?

Also, there is a growing number of lesbian and gay romance novels as well. I personally enjoy Jane Fletcher, who writes fantasy romance novels involving two lesbians. It's been a while since I have read one of her novels, but I wonder if those books also follow some of the same themes, plots, and character developments that the romance novel contains from Radway observations.

Radway discusses how reading romance gives the women a chance to relax, gives them time of their own, allows them to indulge in fantasy, and escape (p. 60). Many of these same ideas are seen in Reader Response Theory, which is a reading theory that educators are taught in regards to school-age children. What I have not seen (at least in my limited experience with educational theory) is this being applied to adult readers. Yet, many of their experiences seem to fit within how theorists have observed younger readers who "escape" into literature and make meaningful experiences.

Here's a definition of Reader Response Theory:

readerresponse theory, a body of literary investigations, chiefly German and American, into the nature of the reader's activity in the process of understanding literary texts. A major contribution to debates on this topic was made by Wolfgang Iser ( 1926 – ), whose books The Implied Reader ( 1974 ) and The Act of Reading ( 1979 ) argue that a literary work is incomplete until the reader has ‘actualized’ those elements that are left to her imagination. The more controversial arguments of Stanley Fish ( 1938 – ), in his essays collected as Is There a Text in This Class? ( 1980 ), include the claim that literary texts are produced by the strategies of interpretation that guide us to seek certain meanings in them; and that the way we read poems is determined by the ‘interpretive community’ in which we are trained

reader‐response theory" The Concise Oxford Companion to English Literature. Ed. Margaret Drabble and Jenny Stringer. Oxford university Press, 2007. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. Marquette University. 19 February 2009

For my last thoughts, I'm going to end on page 211. Radway brings up an interesting observation when she says "the act of reading as combative and compensatory. It is combative in the sense that it enables them to refuse the other-directed social role prescribed for them by their position within the institution of marriage....Their activity is compensatory, then, in that it permits them to focus on themselves and to carve out a solitary space within an arena where their self-interest is usually identified with the interests of others and where they are defined as a public resource to be mined as will by the family."

This duel role that these women play in their communities, as mothers who take care of their family and household and then the independent women they are as they allow space and time for their wants and needs is something I think Radway shows through her observations throughout the book. Again, I wonder is this type of reading only held to the romance genre or has that changed? Is this unique to popular culture as a whole, this appeal only to a very specific type of woman in a particular society or is it possible to see in other cultures or genres?

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