Stuck inside. All I can do is read shitty romance novels. Why does this feel like a hostage situation?
Since the rousing success of Fonduesdays in December, many of us here in the Bond House have agreed to be a part of other challenges and month-long themes. While Vegan February was left up to the likes of Lark and Brennan (though the rest of us did gladly eat whatever they made), we have found other ways to engage in communal activities. March, for instance, was a speed-reading month, a skill that I was forced to learn in college and was willing to exercise in solidarity. I’ll let you in on the secret to learning this invaluable ability: read things you truly do not care about. This month’s fodder? Romance novels.
Throughout February I scoured second-hand stores and Goodwills all over Boston for reading material. Much to my delight (and eventual horror), people give away paperbacks when they’re done with them. With $30 I secured my fate. To make things more interesting (read as: difficult/painful/hellish), I suggested another layer of the challenge: speed read the 50 Shades series. But wait, there’s more! There were stipulations: 1) We must share one copy of the series 2) We must read the books in the library 3) We must not be caught reading the book by anyone else.
Violation of the rules was to result in punishment.
Yeah, these people. These people didn’t play the game. Y’all owe me some drinks.
HOWEVER, NOT EVERYONE ENGAGED IN THIS EXERCISE AND SOMEBODY WAS LEFT TO DO THIS CHALLENGE ALONE.
Let’s pretend like I’m not bitter. The challenge itself was fun and disturbing as I read some seriously bad books. Books that were poorly written. Books that were funny. Books that were occasionally charming. Books that allowed abusive relationships to parade around as romance. Books that portrayed assault as a man being forward. Books that chilled me to my core.
I spent hours sitting in the kitchen, allowing commentary to spill from my mouth. While my housemates found my outbursts funny, I’m not sure I could properly portray how disgusted I was with the likes of E.L. James and Greta Gilbert, women who wrote male characters in positions of powers that they then used to coerce their supposed love interests into sexual situations. When I read a book that, while poorly written, included enthusiastic consent, I actually cried.
Why are women consuming novels that portray women as simpering children to be rescued or “shrewish” women who need to be tamed? It’s not clever. It’s not sexy. It’s the complicit agreement that assault is okay when a man is attractive, powerful, or wealthy.
I started reading romance novels when I was in high school. My first relationship was emotionally and verbally abusive, but I thought it was okay because our arguments meant that we had passion for one another. Why try to discuss your disagreements when you can fall into bed and forget about it all? What are these romance novels teaching young women about relationships?
Feverishly sketching out my project idea.
So I decided to write my own romance novel. Don’t get me wrong, it’s as ludicrous as any romance novel plot (meaning there’s an unnecessary murder subplot), but my male protagonist is sensitive, my female protagonist innovative, the sex consensual. It’s been a funny, meaningful project that I aim to complete before the year is out. After that? Maybe B.A.Merlin will be the fresh face of romance novels. Who knew that would be a possible result of such a fiendish challenge?
Below, I’ve included the list of 30 books I read over the course of March, scaled from 0 (not a book) to a 5 (oh wow, almost a story). Most stories were middling with a few exceptions in either direction. Some books were binned outright because I refused to allow anyone else in the House to suffer my fate. I imagine a good many of the remaining books will be bonfired up when it gets warmer.
I’m looking forward to that catharsis
Romance Novel Speed Read Fest 2019
The Mirror at the Magic by Carol Smith Sox (1)
Outlander before Outlander with none of the charm.
Into the Flame by Christina Dodd (3)
Cougar shape-shifting fun. Doug ❤ Firebird. Rocket launchers.
The Recruit by Monica McCarty (1)
Kenneth is Scottish and OP, and idgaf.
Only Enchanting by Mary Balough (4)
“I loved someone else, but I guess you’ll do.”
In Thrall of the Enemy Commander by Greta Gilbert (0)
Egyptian the lover may be, but she’s still a slave. Trashed.
The Bridal Quest by Candace Camp (4)
Cute matchmaking story needlessly complicated by murder.
How to Abduct a Highland Lord by Karen Hawkins (4)
A petty love story that I am here for–rushed ending.
The Brazen Bride by Stephanie Laurens (2)
Boring pirate story with semi-decent sex scenes.
One Kiss From You by Christina Dodd (0)
Imprisonment. A shaky revenge plot. Definite sexual assault. Trashed.
The Lady is Tempted by Cathy Maxwell (5)
Honestly a delight with real conflict–nearly a story!
Lord of Temptation by Pamela Quinn (1)
A sex god and an actual slave. Please, kill me.
Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas (5)
My favorite scoundrel and his lovely wife living in a gambling hell.
Secrets and Lies by Selena Montgomery (2)
Treasure. Murder. Betrayal. Secrets and lies. Bored.
Mad Jack by Catherine Coulter (0)
An absolute shit show in construct and character. Trashed.
Ruarc: Bound by Stone by Joan Kayse (4)
Treasure hunts, sexy leprachauns, magic, and a fuckin’ insult.
Husband Swap & Roughing It by Kelly Can (1)
A hilarious stab at erotica tied up in petty jealousy and subpar sex.
The Golden Season by Connie Brockway (1)
Two unlikable characters with money issues are boring for 300+ pages.
Beauty and the Beast by Hannah Howell (1)
Medieval history has never interested me, much like this book.
Deep Midnight by Heather Graham (1)
Pointedly not a romance–a weird vampire mystery, utterly boring.
Tender Lies by Kay McMahon (1)
A surprising political piece on Irish-English relations–the lying English!
50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James (0)
An absolute spit in the eye of anyone who enjoys healthy relationships, BDSM, or decent human beings.
Devil in the Dark by Evelyn Rogers (0)
Bad without charm, which is the second worst thing a romance novel can do.
My Lady’s Desire by Claire Delacroix (1)
Yet another medieval romance, though this one is fraught with second marriages and kidnap.
The Laird by Grace Burrows (3)
What a boring strained love story (9 years of celibacy), but good God the consent!
Tears Like Rain by Connie Mason (0)
Racist. Sexist. The worst thing I’ve ever read. Fuck you, Connie. Trashed.
Hidden Sins by Selena Montgomery (2)
A surprising turn of events but I’m still bored.
50 Shades Darker by E.L. James (0)
Fuck you still. Have you ever seen a whip or been a decent human?
50 Shades Free by E.L. James (0)
Why is manipulation sexy? Why is abuse sexy? Why do women like this?
Grey by E.L. James (0)
It’s like being in the mind of a serial sex offender. Horrifying.
Castle of the Wolf by Sandra Schwab (3)
Halfway decent re imagining of Beauty and the Beast, plus sexy playing cards and PTSD.