Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What Do Women Really Want? It's All There in Popular Romance Novels

It is impossible to ignore the volume of romance novels published every year. They make up almost half of all hard-copy books printed, and are re-issued in over 25 languages. Grand Damme of the romance writing industry, Danielle Steel, has her name on an incredible 100 million copies.

So what is it about these stories that so captivate their readers? Most obviously, the books are about women. Our dusty English literary cannon is the domain of male protagonists. If a girl wants to read about other girls, then look no further than the romance shelf in the drug store or at Barnes and Noble. Even so-called feminist novels can't satisfy us. Like regular novels, what happens to women in them is often depressing. Not exactly a wonderful way to escape day to day doldrums.

Which brings up another important point - romance novels don't disappoint. Especially with love. The girl gets her guy in the end. Granted she will have to solve some problems on the way, like clearing up the inevitable relationship misunderstandings, kick the current BF to the curb, or straightening out her prince before she disappears into the sunset with him. But half the fun of the story is seeing her get there.

The women in the stories also have it going on. They travel to exotic places and have adventures. They work at interesting jobs while they're waiting for "Mr. Right." Often the love of their lives will be in the well-to-do or leisure class, which will liberate our heroine from drudgery or economic woes forever!

Last, but not least, the men in the stories are wonderful. They're hunky, and they aren't out for just one thing. Romance and sex are not fraught with danger and nasty transmittable diseases. In short, the guys are interesting, and not the dull heteros we typically encounter in real life.

When we bury our noses in those pages, everyone knows to stay clear. We are in the zone (even if we're reading on the subway), and doing something just for ourselves. Occasionally, we may even trade reviews with a fellow reader from the romance novel fan community. If we see someone with a cover we recognize, there is an instant bond, and we say something like, "That was a really good one" or "If you like X, you should definitely read Y!"

(Reference) Busting Textual Bodices: Gender, Reading, and the Popular Romance. Carol Ricker-Wilson. The English Journal. Vol. 88, No. 3, Jan., 1999.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Fighting Angel: Portrait of a Soul by Pearl S. Buck 1936 Biography 1st Ed

Click to Enlarge
Title: Fighting Angel: Portrait of a Soul

Author: Pearl S. Buck

Storyline: A vigorous biography of the author's father, a lonely adventurer ranging the turbulent interior of old China through the hazards of famine, banditry, and revolution. Buck portrays an austere and stern father, Andrew, who holds an unshakable faith of his convictions in his untiring work as a missionary in China. This is a companion volume to the biography of her mother, The Exile, and is written with the beauty and charm that characterizes her work.

Copyright: 1936

Published: 1936 (First Edition)

Publisher: John Day, in association with Reynal & Hitchcock, New York

Format: Reddish-brown cloth-bound hardcover with embossed design on front and spine, gilt lettering on spine

Page Count: 302

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Just Off Fifth by Edith P. Begner 1959 New York Society Novel

Click to Enlarge
Title: Just Off Fifth

Author: Edith P. Begner

Storyline: A revealing novel of life in apartment house number ten just off New York's fabulous Fifth Avenue. The cast of characters includes a brilliant chemist who terrorizes his beautiful wife, a young advertising executive and his attractive family, a woman crippled by obesity who has found happiness in her penthouse garden, a pair of elderly sisters, a charming french couple, and others. Enter a neurotic, alcoholic woman - a famous writer - intent on finding refuge. However, her twisted nature forces her to find a victim instead, and she closes in on the only youngster in Number Ten. Will the climax tragedy result? How will the true natures of each character be unsparingly revealed?

Copyright: 1959 (Book Club Edition)

Publisher: Rinehart & Company, Inc., New York

Format: Black cloth-bound hardcover with red lettering to spine, in original dust-jacket

Page Count: 288

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Road to Romance: A.L. Burt, the first great mass marketer of women's novels and genre fiction

Born in Massachusetts, Albert L. Burt lived from 1883 to 1913. Before he was  a publisher, Burt sold  leather goods on the road. According to Madeleine Stern in Getting Out the Books, Burt had been "a commercial traveler ... who 'built up a coast-to-coast staff of trade salesmen." As a traveling salesman, he hit upon the idea of publishing books for use as give-aways or gifts-with-purchase for mail order houses. These premiums Burt first published were guides and other household reference works, such as dictionaries and medical remedy guides, for his first Beekman and Home Library imprint.

Here at Vintage Women's Books, we consider Burt's most important innovation to be his subsequent decision to manufacture affordable books accessible and for sale to a wide range of people. His obituary in Publisher's Weekly tells us that in 1890, as he began publishing cloth-bound standard works, Burt became "a pioneer in this country in the field of printing the classics in attractive form at popular prices."

Fans of early 20th century romance novels and other popular works know that in addition to producing affordable classics, Burt's publishing also produced an extensive catalogue of fiction and novels for the female audience.

No one is more appreciative than we are of Burt's first attempts to mass market fiction to American women. Burt's early cloth bound additions have richly embellished cover art and beautiful illustrations inside that depict characters and settings meant to entice the reader into their world.

Far from being classics, the fiction Burt mass-marketed to women addressed the universal concerns and aspirations of ordinary gals, such as love, courtship, and making a home. This prosaic and very compelling formula translated into unprecedented sales which, much to the consternation of traditional publishers, left sales of stodgy literary canon in the dust. Books by and for women, like the ones Burt published, never achieved critical legitimacy, but Burt and his authors would likely have been left laughing about it all the way to the bank. Or trout fishing, which is what his obit said Burt retired to, after making commercial fiction printing history.

A. L. Burt's embellished cloth-bound early Twentieth Century editions of contemporary women's novels are highly collectible for their innovation of an appealing graphic format that was affordable and accessible to most American middle class women. These were the books that romantic dreams were made of.