Amazon Is Reshaping Contemporary Literature

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Romance has been obliterated as a vehicle for conveying interesting messages. The genre has seen better days. Jane Austen was a writer of romance novels. She’s both transcendent and pleasurable to read. Austen is unique for the formal perfection of her work, as well as the majestic third-person perspective she takes on human folly. She mastered a sense of warmth and distance in her writing.

So, romance novels can be masterpieces. Beginning in the twentieth century, though, the genre’s quality absolutely collapsed. But its popularity didn’t. Numerically, romance remained the most popular genre by far.

Many romance readers just read one or two novels per year. But the genre also has a large number of devotees, some of whom read as many as four hundred or five hundred romances per year. This is a form of literary consumption that is quite distinct.

I wanted to consider all of that in the book. Romance is the backdrop against which literary history moves. The same is true of the literary present.

A wrinkle I’ve noticed since finishing the book is the importance of Sally Rooney. She has described her own works as romance novels of a certain kind. And that’s the operative phrase: “of a certain kind.” There are perceptible differences between Rooney’s writing and a Harlequin romance — or Fifty Shades of Grey, God knows. Nonetheless, Rooney believes — and this can be contextualized with her left politics — that romance is appealing because humans are at their most interesting in intimate situations.

All of this is to say that the history of romance is a huge, fascinating story. There have been some great critics who have written about romance. I wanted to add my bit by reminding everyone that romance is the norm. It’s the average novel that people are reading right now.

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