Tuesday, November 25, 2014

New Thesis Looks at Innovation and Change in the Romance Novel Industry

Andrea Cipriano Barra's sociology PhD thesis takes a look at the ways in which
Romance novels have changed significantly since they first entered the public consciousness. Instead of seeking to understand the changes that have occurred in the industry, in readership, in authorship, and in the romance novel product itself, both academic and popular perception has remained firmly in the early 1980s when many of the surface criticisms were still valid. Using Wendy Griswold’s (2004) idea of a cultural diamond, I analyze the multiple and sometimes overlapping relationships within broader trends in the romance industry based on content analysis and interviews with romance readers and authors. Three major issues emerge from this study. First, content of romance novels sampled from the past fourteen years is more reflective of contemporary ideas of love, sex, and relationships. Second, romance has been a leader and innovator in the trend of electronic publishing, with major independent presses adding to the proliferation of subgenres and pushing the boundaries of what is considered romance. Finally, readers have a complicated relationship with the act of reading romance and what the books mean in their lives.
The pdf can be downloaded here as it's been made available online via the Rutgers University Community Repository.

Barra, Andrea Cipriano, 2014. 
Beyond the Bodice Ripper: Innovation and Change in the Romance Novel Industry. PhD dissertation in Sociology, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Romance Research: Shakespeare, Breast Cancer

I don't mention all the new additions to the Romance Wiki bibliography but since I haven't posted for a while, I thought I'd share a couple of the most recent (which were added by Christina Martinez):

Whyte, Tamara Lynn. 2013. "Shakespeare in Love: Appropriation of Shakespeare in Popular Romance Novels." U of Alabama. (Dissertation Abstracts International) 75, no. 6 (December 2014).
Popular romance authors frequently allude to William Shakespeare's works within their novels. In my dissertation, I survey and analyze the various ways current authors of historical romance novels appropriate Shakespeare and how those appropriations reinterpret his works. I argue in part that the inclusion of Shakespearean allusions has become part of the codes of romance novels, with various types of allusions serving different purposes. Performances of Shakespeare's plays tend to serve as a backdrop for courtship or as a foil to the plot of the novel. When romance authors rewrite Shakespeare's plays to suit the romance novel audience, they often refocus on the heroine and give her more agency. Romance authors also rewrite Shakespeare's tragedies as romance in ways that draw on reader familiarity with the plays. These revisions tend to reduce the plays to key moments or themes and focus on female characters in Shakespeare's works. When romance novel heroes or heroines quote Shakespeare, his words serve as a signal to the reader of elements of their character, such as their intelligence or emotional availability. When authors allude to Shakespeare's works in titles, names, or opening quotations, they openly signal their appropriation of the Bard in ways that distinguish their novels from others. In these more minor appropriations, Shakespearean allusions can function as marketing tools.
The whole dissertation is available for download from the University of Alabama.

Zeiger, Melissa F. " 'Less Than Perfect': Negotiating Breast Cancer in Popular Romance Novels." Tulsa Studies In Women's Literature. Fall 2013/Spring 2014, Vol. 32, No. 2/Vol. 33, No. 1: 107-128.
Over the last twenty years, breast cancer novels have quietly become a large subgenre within popular romance, reflecting both the increase in public breast cancer awareness and the commercialization of that awareness. The emergence of this subgenre both reflects and participates in a shift of what is acceptable to say about breast cancer and expands the range of romance novel topics, including, among other innovations, cancer narratives for lesbian and African American characters. While still liable to many of the criticisms leveled by feminists in the 1980s and beyond, romances can tell new stories as well as the old ones, expanding an inadequate set of cultural and emotional vocabularies. The space for feeling that this genre opens has produced a new reading community and is at least one of the major ways that romance has been and continues to be rewritten. Contradictory movements have accompanied greater freedoms in discussing breast cancer, and this essay argues that feminists can find in romance novels a powerful site, supplementary to feminist theory and activism, for elaborating a productive and critical public breast cancer discourse.
This one isn't available for free online but here's a link to the abstract.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

"Reading From Behind": M/M Romance Event at Princeton University

--Eric Selinger

Having hosted two international conferences on popular romance fiction (2009 and 2014), Princeton University continues to be the hot spot for Ivy League study of the genre.  

Today, their English Department's Graduate Student Genres Colloquium hosts Jonathan A. Allan,  Canada Research Chair in Queer Theory at Brandon University and Associate Editor of JPRS, who'll be speaking about M/M romance, or at least one topos in it.  Details about the event are here, and here's the abstract:
Reading from Behind: Thinking Through Male/Male Romance Novels 
In my book, Reading from Behind (forthcoming, University of Regina Press), I ask a number of questions about how we read and think about the anus: what would happen – even if only ever as a thought experiment – we privileged the anal dimensions of texts and textual and cultural analysis? What if the anus, the booty, the moneymaker, the tukhus were fully loaded signs endowed with rich and complex meanings much like the anus’s numerous nerve endings? What if we relaxed, loosened up our critical inquiries, embraced the deep fullness of the pleasure of the text, a pleasure that tickles and titillates, and removed ourselves from the paranoid, sphincter-tightening hermeneutics of suspicion? In this paper, I return to many of these questions to think about the anus and anal sexuality in the popular romance novel, particularly male/male romance novels. I argue that if “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, then the way to his psyche is his asshole.” Simply put, masculinity is dependent upon its refusal to be opened and this is, in many and complicated ways, what the male/male romance novel attempts to deconstruct. At bottom, what would it mean to read these novels from the vantage of the ass, rather than the phallus, the penis, the mighty wang, etc. (which have long been the subject of feminist critiques of the popular romance novel)?
I don't know if Allen Ginsberg's poem "Sphincter" shows up in his project, but if it doesn't, Jonathan, here's a link.  Good luck, and bottoms up!