Thursday, May 29, 2008

MLA Conference Report ~ Genre Blocks

Massachusetts Library Association Annual Conference 2008 Report

Genre Blocks: Romance

Speakers: Cathy Maxwell and Nanci Milone Hill

11:00 a.m. Friday

My conference companion agrees to attend the program, Genre Blocks: Romance with me; she’s a high school librarian and the last time I was in her library, I noticed she had an entire section devoted to romance. The conference program says that the romance genre is one of the most popular of fiction and perhaps the most misunderstood. As a graduate of the school of “give them what they want” I’m ready to hear what the presenters have to say.

Our first speaker, Nanci Milone Hill, reference librarian and NoveList contributing author, asks the audience how many of us read romance novels. More than half raise a hand. She makes a joke when she “confesses” that she’s an inveterate reader. I wonder if all the romance novels I read in high school count. In any case, I’m already thinking about making a display of the genre the minute I get back to my library. I can’t wait. I want to see if they fly out of the library as fast as she says they fly out of the box when they get to the book store. She presents her powerpoint (see and gives us more than just what’s on the print out. Things to know: Romance novels have a satisfactory ending (what’s not to like?), the love story is the most important facet though there may be multiple plotlines, the hero and heroine have a love/hate relationship in the beginning of the story; the romance is usually challenged and the story is generally told from both character’s point of view. Three things from her talk resonate. The first, a gay and lesbian romance book group at her library can’t get enough copies of titles for everyone because not enough libraries have them – shame on us here in Massachusetts where gay marriage has been legal for what can now be said to be years. The second is that interest in romance novels began to rise after 9/11 because they reaffirm that people are basically good at a time when some of us are thinking it ain’t so. The third is that romance novels contain strong female characters (I wonder, what are the characteristics of a strong female character circa 2008?) In closing Hill gives us a complete list of romance resources, and pokes fun at book covers by spoofing titles with her made up ones - “I Married a Sissy Boy” (from a cover with a bride kissing a frilly bow tied groom) and “Okay, You’re Taller Than Me, Happy Now?” (she barely reaches his naked solar plexus when they kiss).

Romance author Cathy Maxwell, speaks next. The romance novel is all about commitment and the reader wants to read about valuable relationships. Today’s romance writers are sticklers for facts, especially writers of historical romance because readers are much more discriminating than they used to be. Romance writers are an amiable and cooperative group. Her Harper Collins editor, sitting on the side of the room, nods in confirmation. Local romance authors willing to visit your library can be contacted through The New England Chapter of the Romance Writers of America

Then it’s question time. A correctional facility librarian tells how romance/fantasy books by Diana Gabaldon are the most pilfered in her library, which prompts Maxwell to surmise that if the inmates had been reading from the start they might not be where they are today. It’s nice to be reminded that reading changes lives. (See the "Books Change Lives" report available from The Center For The Book Next, my conference companion wants to know how she can tell from a review just how explicit the sex is in an upcoming title (don’t forget, she’s a high school librarian). Hill refers her to the exhaustive resources list she’s provided – All About Romance uses a “sensuality” rating system.

At this point I become preoccupied with wondering if what is really meant is sexual instead of sensual or explicit vs. implicit. Isn’t sensuality more a matter of taste and preference, relating to the senses? Before I get totally stuck, the HP guy is handing out free copies of Maxwell’s latest “In the Highlander’s Bed” and participants are lining up to get them autographed. I grab my copy, my companion takes one look at the cover and says she’ll never be able to put it in the collection at her high school without inviting a challenge and we make our way to lunch.

~ Sara Woodbury, Director, Tilton Library, South Deerfield

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