The Million Romance Reader March
Jan 15 2006 | "F*** New York Times!" an otherwise unassuming old lady of sixty-years of age screams, waving her picket sign with a veracity that belies her age. Dorothea Pinkerstine is practising for tomorrow's Million Romance Reader March. Around her, the usually wide open Central Park is packed with many women like her, many who meet and chat online, who are gathered for what the organizer Romantic Moments calls "the feminist march of the new millennium".
The Million Romance Reader March is held as a reaction to two months' reviewing of romance novels by publications such as the New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, and Los Angeles Times. Romance novels have finally been given the mainstream approval. Oprah Winfrey endorsed Judith Ivory's latest New York Times bestselling hardcover The Compromy two months ago, and the subsequent approvals by major publications spread like wildfire. New York Times made Jayne Ann Krentz's Recycled Affairs a featured review last month, while Entertainment Weekly gave prominent attention to Stephanie Laurens' sixty-fifth book in her long bestselling Bar Cynster series, A Rake's Promise.
Unfortunately, apart from a few who escaped with only mild scratches, the mainstream press are merciless in their ripping to shreds many of these novels. "Bad psychological pap and a most retarded heroine I've read" is what Alanna H Feist says of Kathleen E Woodiwiss's An Eternity Beyond A Kiss. "If romance novels are as f***ed-up as this piece of trash, if heroines cling themselves to misogynist bastards who never change their personalities, worse, if these women make excuses for them, no wonder we have so many fat women sobbing on Jerry Springer," Bertha Weinsteiner rips into Rosemary Rogers's sixteenth book of the Ginny-Steve saga (Sweetest, Passionest Love). The romance community, who initially celebrates Oprah's seal of approval, is outraged. Especially after Entertainment Weekly dismisses Harriet Klausner - although both parties publicly insist that the split is mutual and both parties remain friends, the online community is abuzz with the news that Klausner is actually given the sack for submitting six hundred consecutive A+ reviews of romance novels. The editor suspects Klausner's reliability, and Klausner being the only reviewer to endorse the generally critically reviled romance by Cassie Edwards, Eloquent Chimp, is the straw that break the camel's back.
"It is unacceptable!" Martina Hendezina, webmistress of Romantic Moments rages. "Klausner is the sole reliable reviewer in the romance genre. The male pigs at EW sacked her because she's a woman!"
"Harriet Klausner is always welcome at Romantic Times," Carol Arson, chief editor of the currently-in-danger-of-cancellation Romantic Times, says. "Unlike New York Times, we offer unbiased, impartial reviews of romance novels. We don't discriminate on plot, characters, and gender."
Moira Wrighteousness, president of the online organization Reviewers United International, declares passionately, "We will not accept reviewers of hack, unprofessional rags like New York Times and Chicago Sun Times as our members. We have standards to maintain."
Maggie Flaherty, one of the most vocal defenders of the genre (she also designs websites for authors, organizes book tours for them, feeds their cats, pitches their books at every message boards and conventions, washes their fridge, babysit their kids, and kisses their toes), concludes, "If you have nothing good to say, say nothing! Those moron males have forgotten that! This march will show them that we women will not be oppressed, not in this century!"
When I point out that those mainstream publications have wisely opted for female reviewers for romance novels, Maggie says, "Yeah, and have you ever met these 'female reviewers'?" And as to the fact that many feminists still scoff at romance novels, she says, "Yeah, but those women are not us! They are morons, not one of us and not worthy of our attention and time."
The Million Romance Reader March is the apex of a long struggle by these readers to get the mainstream press to give romance novels 'fair, just reviews'. Although these same publications defend themselves by claiming that they are just giving romance novels the same treatment as they give, say, a Stephen King novel, the women would not be placated. They insist there is a general silent discrimination conspiracy against the romance novel.
They are not silent in their anger. New York Times are flooded with copies of Jayne Ann Krentz's backlist after they call Recycled Affairs a "tepid, piece of recycled junk - can this author think of any new plot? I wonder for her readers who keep buying the same story from her at inflated hardcover prices - Krentz must be laughing all the way to the bank." New York Times send the books to the recycling mill, although they offer their staff first choice of any of the books they want from the pile. This is followed by a series of picketing, which receives stinging derision from the media.
Indeed, the media is already gearing up to report this March as a circus show. I ask Hendezina if her March would only reinforce the stereotype that romance readers are rose-tinted hysterical shrieky biddies who could use some rationale. She is adamant that as long as the romance genre gets its respect even if she and her ladies have to force the mainstream press to do it, the end justifies the means.
She doesn't comment on how exactly she and her ladies are going to force the respect out of New York Times.
"A fair review is one that doesn't attack the author," Hendezina says, repeating a much-quoted saying among many romance readers. "Or the plot or the characters," she adds. "A gentle criticism, that is respect." When pressed, she finally concedes, "Why can't NYT be like Romantic Times?"
She adds, "Authors are humans and have feelings too, and it is up to us readers to defend their honor for the hours of enjoyment they give us selflessly!"
With that final shot, Hendezina marches off to give final orders to the ladies who would play the band. Stiff, rimrod straight in her posture, Hendezina will do a medieval warrior princess proud. As she should be, for her manuscript Undying Aching Love have just been bought by Harper.