August 01, 2008

Why We Read What We Read Book

This is a cut & paste from a comment made on Sancta Sanctis...I was watching the authors of "Why We Read What We Do" on C-Span and they mentioned the incredible popularity of the relational non-fiction (self?)help books and the equally popular romance novels. In the first category we have John Gray ("Men are from Mars...") and Dr. Phil and others. In the second Nora Roberts, Danielle Steele and many others.

They said there is one huge similarity and one huge difference in the fiction/non-fiction approach to relationships. The similarity is both assume men and women to be alien, exotic creatures completely different such that it's a Darwinian miracle we ever get together.

The difference is that with non-fiction, we try to live with the differences peacefully such that the key to happiness is for the guy to take out the trash and give more hugs. In other words, don't expect passion or you'll be disappointed.

With fiction, it's the opposite. The obstacle is not afterwards, it's before. It's the stormy courtship. Couples live happily ever after if they can just *meet*, just meet the one for whom the passion is so strong it will last the rest of their lives.

The authors' main complaint was the lack of nuance in both genres, saying both have all the nuance of those 1950s sexual education videos.

Update: More thoughts here:
Enbrethiliel: So here we have women from successful marriages choosing to write Romance novels rather than self-help books.

In James Fixx's "The Complete Book of Running" he explained there are two ways to deal with painful and fatiguing marathons. (Not to compare love to marathon running of course though someone once wrote that love is "beautiful in dreams but harsh in reality"; for Mother Teresa, love of God was like a grueling marathon.)

One is to escape, to put a headset on and listen to music, to mentally do puzzles, to do anything to get your mind off the pain.

The other is to fully engage, to constantly monitor your body, to pay close attention to your footing. If you feel a twinge in your left foot then you try to correct for that, if you see a hill coming you will bend a bit at the waist and hold the arms higher or lower...etc...

This may be a stretch, but it sounds vaguely similar to the non-fiction/fiction approach to romance. The non-fiction tries to examine pains and be aware of them, and constantly strive for betterment. While the fiction approach - is it escapist? If most romance novelists are mostly happily married are they finding an outlet for their passion in the novels themselves rather than the relationship?

Of course the fact that I know nothing about this subject nor about the inner lives of romance novelists does not preclude me from throwing out possbilities, be they ignorant or not.

Enbrethiliel: Yet Romances do give some credit (perhaps far too much credit) to the fact that romantic love is a grace and a mystery.

That does seem a key difference too. There are many potential analogies going thru my head, like self-help books are the Novu Ordo and the romance novels are the Latin High Mass. Like self-helps are for the left-brain'd and romances for the right-brain'd. Like the self-helps are for conservatives and the romances for liberals. I suppose it's not "either/or" but "and/both" since we need both.

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