The America of Nora Roberts.
Lauren Collins’ New Yorker article on Nora Roberts (June 22nd issue, not online yet) was, at first, the most culturally alienating thing I’ve read in a while. But maybe it’s not so bad. Key numbers:
“According to the R.W.A., romance generated nearly $1.4 billion in sales in 2007, more than science fiction and fantasy combined (seven hundred million dollars), mystery (six hundred and fifty million), or literary fiction (four hundred and sixty six million). Of people who read books, one in five read a romance.”
I don’t really have a problem with Nora Roberts. I’ve never read any of her books—I’ve never read anything in the romance genre. I do have some history with thrillers, which I can’t read anymore, and science fiction, which I go back to from time to time. I suppose most of the novels I read would fall under the category of “literary fiction,” though I don’t quite know what the extension of that term is. So my first reaction to the numbers above is a lament: nobody reads what I read.
That’s not at all true, though. Four hundred and sixty six million dollars is still a lot of money. You can’t (or at least I can’t) burn straight through Phillip Roth the way I used to burn through Tom Clancy. So I wonder how these genre numbers would balance out if instead of sales figures we used some harder-to-record measure like time spent reading for each genre, including re-reads.
And when I get in this snooty mood, I have to remind myself that I’m not above reading for entertainment. I’ve had experiences like this one. I think one time I paused on Faulkner in order to read Steven King. And I often interrupt my non-fiction reading with Philip K. Dick or something like that.