A Few Words about Literary Snobbery

A new bookstore opened in Los Angeles recently. It’s gutsy to open an independent bookstore anywhere these days, but this one is particularly noteworthy. It’s called The Ripped Bodice and it sells only romance novels.

The women who opened the store are Bea and Leah Koch, sisters who grew up in Chicago. Bea went to college at Yale and NYU, where she wrote a graduate thesis titled, “Mending the Ripped Bodice.” Leah moved to Los Angeles to attend USC, graduating cum laude with a degree in visual and performing arts.

In their twenties, they funded their enterprise as a Kickstarter campaign, raising $91,000 and opening their store in four months. Was it a shaky investment? Not really. The romance novel industry hit $1.3 billion in 2014 and comprises one fifth of the adult fiction market.

Their clientele is loyal and stable. Bookstats claims that romance readers buy a book a week, sometimes more, and if they discover a new author they go back and buy the rest of their books.

But there is still a stigma attached to romance.

In a recent article Bea Koch discussed this issue. “In a normal bookstore, you don’t know what reaction you’re going to get when you ask for a romance novel. It can be quite rude, and also a little scary! It’s frequently a sexist, kinda-gross leer. Like, ‘Oh, you like that stuff?’”

The reaction is called literary snobbery and it is alive and well in small bookstores across America, many of which (to their own detriment) do not sell even one romance novel. These stores host book release parties for cookbook authors, poets, mystery writers, and others but never invite romance authors. I guess it makes sense if romance is not a genre to be found in the store.

The attitude is so prevalent it sparked a documentary film, shown all over the country and locally at the Marin and Alexander Valley Film Festivals, called “Love Between the Covers.” By Emmy-award winning director Laurie Kahn, the film is about the powerful women who read and write romance novels and touches on sexism as a large part of the generally condescending attitude toward books that are by, for and about women.

In the film popular authors are interviewed about the snobbery they endured as they wrote and published their first books. Mary Bly (Eloisa James), a popular Regency author, actually found her career as a professor in jeopardy when her colleagues found out about her avocation.

I’d like to believe that those of us who like to read would be advocates of reading, no matter what the genre. I write romance, but I read a number of other genres as well. My particular favorite is historical fiction.

I like romance because I am guaranteed a happy or hopeful ending every single time. In a world that has too many sad endings, this is a nice constant.

Having the only romance bookstore in the U.S., the Koch sisters must think so, too. Their only competition is in Australia.

1 thought on “A Few Words about Literary Snobbery”

  1. Jayne Ann Krentz collected a terrific series of essays from romance authors back in 1992 called Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women. It’s a great discussion of this phenomenon, and still relevant (and available, tho not in ebook form) today.


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