There’s a shelf of books I keep hidden in my spare room. I’m embarrassed to own them. But some of their genre-mates live in my sitting room bookshelf. What am I talking about? Historical romances.
You’ll have seen from earlier posts that I’ve got a bit of a thing for Georgette Heyer. Now a few years back, I started looking for other similar books that I could read – and stumbled into the world of historical romances. Mostly written by American authors, they’ve beguiled many a happy hour in the years since. So why the segregation? Well it’s simple. In this country (that is the UK) books by writers like Julia Quinn come with nice, innocuous pastel coloured covers. But where I’ve had to buy in from the US to fill in collections – for example the Desperate Duchesses series by Eloisa James – they tend to come with busty women breaking free of their dresses on the cover. I am literally too embarrassed to be seen to own them – let alone be seen out in public with them on the train.
In cases like this – the Kindle is a god-send – no one can see the cover of the book that I’m reading on my e-reader – and unless they’re invading my personal space, they’re not going to know that I’m reading a “bodice-ripper”. But take one of these babies out in public and I’m embarrassed about people judging me.
Now this is, of course, ridiculous. There is nothing wrong with reading historical fiction or even reading it in public. Many are very well researched and historically accurate – Eloisa James is actually Mary Bly, a respected Shakespeare professor at Fordham University – and they’re hardly (or at least not often) up their with Fifty Shades of Grey for their explicit content* and there’s nothing wrong with a bit of escapist fiction anyway.
I’ve read a lot of article recently about people not taking romantic fiction seriously – and I’d suggest that covers like these are part of the reason why. And some of them aren’t even that accurate when it comes to reflecting the content of the book – whether it is the look of the heroine or the action it portrays.
I also think the American style covers look incredibly retro and naff. If I had come across them in a bookshop before I’d read some of the authors, I would never have even thought of picking one of them up – I would have ruled them out as being clichéd, inaccurate and one note – the same way I did with old school Mills and Boons once I’d read a couple of dozen of my gran’s collection. And they’re not. For me, the best of them are the logical successors to Georgette Heyer – but with kissing. And some sex. Sometimes quite a lot of sex. But the world has changed since Heyer picked up her pen – and it’s mostly very well written sex.
I’d love to know what it is about the US book-buying public (or how publishers perceive them) that means that the books are packaged and styled like this – and what the authors think of such radical differences. But until the books start looking a little bit less like a cliché, my American imports will continue to be hidden away at the back of the top shelf of the spare room bookcase!
* I read the Fifty Shades trilogy on my Kindle, in secret, in Poland to make sure no-one would know what I was doing. And I read it so that I could tell my sister and my mum if they needed to read it. I concluded they didn’t.