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Popular Romance, American Identity, and Feminist Criticism

Van Slooten, Jessica.  : a Feminist Review; Madison Vol. 39, Iss. 1,  (Winter 2018): 1.
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Catherine M. Roach, Happily Ever After: The Romance Story in Popular Culture. Indiana University Press, 2016. 240 pp. notes. blbl. index. $26.00, ISBN 978-0253020444.

William A. Gleason and Eric Murphy Selinger, eds., Romance Fiction and American Culture: Love as the Practice of Freedom? Ashgate/ Routledge, 2016. 456 pp. notes. index. pap., $50.95, ISBN 978-472431530.

Laura Vivanco, Pursuing Happiness: Reading American Romance as Political Fiction. Humanities-Ebooks, 2016. 164 pp. PDF, ?8.95, ISBN 9781847603593; pap., $17.33 (, ISBN 978-1847603609.

A September 2017 New York Times Book Review (NYTBR) cover story on popular romance fiction stunned many readers. Critic Robert Gottlieb's book review, "A Roundup of the Season's Romance Novels," which focused on recently published novels, created a stir in the popular romance field.1

Publication of the review was itself a huge coup: Earlier in the decade, chick-lit author Jennifer Wiener "waged a campaign against the literary media for being biased against female writers, and against books written for women," with great attention directed toward the NYTBR,2 which has since changed editors and diversified its reviews somewhat. The September 2017 cover story and review are a mark of progress for genre fiction written largely by and for women.

However, the review proved reductive of a diverse genre and reinforced a number of stereotypes about romance. As Sarah Wendell ("SB Sarah") at the popular romance blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books3 writes, "Gottlieb's editorial content was a sexist, misogynist, racist, and condescending assembly of words and letters. It doesn't represent a roundup of anything but antiquated stereotypes with a side order of reductive suppression. It was outstanding exposure for romance... framed entirely by mansplaining."4 And yet Sarah herself notes that such reviews aren't problematic enough to overshadow the "[increased] media coverage of the genre."5

Popular romance fiction - from slim Harlequin category novels to longer stand-alone...