Love Between the Covers, a documentary about the romance novel industry, went on sale on iTunes and Amazon last week after over a year of screenings and multiple years of filming and development. The film is an entertaining, accessible rundown of the romance industry, featuring interviews with authors, readers, and researchers.
Those who aren’t familiar with the genre could learn a lot from Love Between the Covers. Those who are familiar could learn a few things too, or at least be reminded that Beverly Jenkins is wonderful and that they could have made an entire documentary about her. Someone should maybe get on that.
In the meantime, here are some of the top quotes from Love Between the Covers and thoughts on why they matter:
“I think all genres of literature circle around the same human emotions over and over and over…That can be happening in a novel about a Navy SEAL as easily as it’s happening in Tolstoy.”
– Mary Bly, author and professor of Shakespeare, writes romance as Eloisa James
“We don’t see Ernest Hemmingway as formulaic, but every single one of his novels ends exactly the same way. So why does one get coded as realistic and the other get coded as hopelessly optimistic?”
– Deborah Chappel Traylor, Arkansas State University
Despite what we teach in high school literature classrooms, not all stories of humanity have to end in tragedy. Believe it or not, sometimes a happy ending is a more familiar part of the human experience than tragedy.
“Why does romance get sneered at? I’m going to give you the same answer everyone else has given: romance is sneered at because it’s written by women, it’s written for women, and it’s written about women.”
– Sarah Frantz Lyons, Editor, Riptide Publishing
“This is the one place where you will consistently see women’s sexuality treated fairly and positively. Everyone is going to experience some sort of sexual exploration or satisfaction. The women will always win, and everyone will be happy in the end.”
– Sarah Wendell, founder of the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books website
“And it’s a fantasy, yes. But so are the Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. Arnold’s never killed at the end of his movies. So why beat up women?
– Beverly Jenkins, author
There is good romance and mediocre romance and romance that just really needed an editor. But that’s true of all books, and the particular disdain visited upon the romance genre certainly seems related to the fact that the genre is more focused on women than possibly anything else in art and entertainment.
“When I did Indigo, which was my third book, in ’96, women were coming to the signing crying. ‘There are no African-American historical love stories. We’ve never had anyone who thought we were beautiful.’”
– Beverly Jenkins
“And as I read some of the other pulp fiction books, it was always sad. And I never felt like my life should be sad. I didn’t want to have to get married. I didn’t want to have to commit suicide. I didn’t want to have to do any of those things. I wanted to just be a nice, normal queer.”
– Romance reader
One of the best things about romance is that is allows for happy endings, but it’s so important that romance and those happy endings be inclusive. All people should see themselves reflected and represented in romance. It matters that everyone has a chance at a story with a happy ending.
“Honey, if you can relate to shape-shifters and werewolves and (laughs) …chameleon people, but you can’t relate to an African American story, that’s a problem for me.”
Jenkins is making a good point about an important issue here, but unfortunately the topic passes quickly. The fact that Love Between the Covers largely ignores the issues non-white authors face in finding success and industry support is by far the film’s biggest flaw.
“By the time I retired from State Farm, I had written my first 53 books.”
Brenda Jackson is in a class of her own in terms of prolific writing, but a lot of authors put out multiple books a year while also often holding down another full-time job.
“Non-practical romance is really annoying. Like when the characters have sex three times, I’m totally thinking UTI. The girl has a urinary tract infection.”
“I had bone cancer when I was 16 and I read romance through that entire year of chemo, which sucked. Hard. Romance has gotten me through the tough times in my life. Because when you can’t get your own happy ending, reading that happy endings are possible…”
“For me, coming from a divorced family and not having that (happy ever after) dynamic, It taught me normalcy and it taught me, you know, you don’t have to date your married boss. You don’t have to meet men in bars and you can demand, you can have a man who loves you unconditionally and treats you like a princess and I held our for that and I wouldn’t settle for less and I demanded no less.”
-Kim Castillo, Author’s Assistant
All three of these quotes come from a conversation about romance among a group of women who are fans, hobbyists, and/or industry professionals. They illustrate the value of romance to readers as well as what they’re looking for. Do readers want or need escapism? Sometimes, yes. But they want a Happy Ever After (HEA) that feels real. Love shouldn’t have to be a fantasy. And a relationship can be great even if no one has sex three times in an hour.
Watch Love Between the Covers and post your thoughts in the comments.