It’s February, and I have a suggestion. Let’s eliminate Valentine’s Day and replace it with Tu B’Av.
Tu B’Av, for the curious, is a very minor Jewish holiday that takes place six days after the solemn fast of Tisha B’Av. Once upon a time on the 15th day of the month of Av, girls in white dresses would dance in vineyards under the full moon, saying, “Young man, consider who you would choose.” It was considered one of the happiest days of the Jewish year.
Why is an old matchmaking festival better than a modern-day holiday known for red cardboard heart boxes full of chocolates? Let me count the ways.
Blogger and self-proclaimed “man-titty media pundit” Sarah Wendell posts witty and wicked reviews of romance novels at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, and has also written two books about the genre. The Sisterhood caught up with her to talk “trash,” sex and David Beckham in his underwear, plus what she really wants to know about “50 Shades of Grey.”
THORNBURGH: Your website is called Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. Are the romances really trashy? And are the women who read them actually smart?
WENDELL: No, and yes! Smart women read and write romance, and that has been true for a really long time. They’ve taught me amazing things about women, about history, about feminism, and about language.
There are a lot of reasons why romance as a genre is dismissed. Plain old, everyday, garden-variety sexism. This is a genre that’s written by and actually read by women, and most of the editors and industry professionals are also women. It’s a women-dominated genre and a women-dominated profession and for that reason alone it becomes an object of ridicule.
But on top of that, to quote Nora Roberts, romances contain what she calls “the hat trick of easy targets: emotions, relationships and sex.” Any combination of those three is a ripe target for ridicule as well. We don’t value emotions and we don’t value outward displays of them. And that’s what romance deals in. It doesn’t hide what it is. If you look at a romance novel, you know that’s a romance novel.
Caitlin Flanagan’s use of Rachel, the brassy Jewish character from the Fox television show “Glee”, as an anecdote for her Atlantic essay “Love, Actually” about the renewed interested in the “boyfriend story,” or old-fashioned romance, is a bit flawed. Yes, Rachel wants love, but she is hardly an innocent romantic. Early in the series she kisses her love interest while he is still dating another girl, and now she is juggling more than one love interest.
With Rachel we are not, as Flanagan writes, “back in Kansas.”