This month’s reading round-up isn’t about a book, because Love Between the Covers isn’t a book. It’s a documentary about the romance novel industry, and I was lucky enough to attend a free screening this past Saturday.
Romance readers and authors are used to being…let’s say “looked down upon” by others. It doesn’t matter that romance authors are more likely than other authors to make a living off their books, or that sales of romance novels outpace all other genres (did you know in 2014, 75 million Americans read at least one romance novel?) Romance is the red-headed stepchild of the literary world.
I wouldn’t say that this documentary aims to change that, but it does give viewers a more in-depth look into the industry. There’s extensive interviews with Beverly Jenkins and Len Barot (aka Radclyffe), both considered pioneers in their particular sub-genres (multicultural and f/f, respectively). Sarah Wendel (of Smart Bitches) as well as several other researchers chime in with their opinions on romance’s place in the literary world – and what it does for women. We get personal stories from Nicole Peeler, Eloisa James, and more.
The thing about romance that a lot of people don’t understand, and something that’s illustrated beautifully with this film, is that it creates community. It’s well known that RWA, the giant national conference, is open and welcoming to all. Romance authors in general are very much “pay it forward”. We know how much shit you take just by writing (and reading) romance, and it’s counterproductive to give you more. But it’s more than that. Beverly Jenkins coordinates “research trips” for her readers, taking them along for the ride as she tours places like Charleston, South Carolina. When medicine changed too much for her liking, Len Barot created her own publishing company (Bold Strokes) and hosts a regular retreat for LGTBQ writers. The stories those women tell when they leave will make you choke up – they’ve finally found a place where they feel accepted, that there are others like them who understand what they’re going through.
And it’s not just the writers, either. Romance readers are big players in this community – because without them, it wouldn’t be nearly as vibrant and diverse as it is today. It’s kind of strange to think about how such a large (and it is large) body of people could be snubbed as much as they are. Readers connect with other readers over their shared love of authors and their books. There’s a scene where readers are eagerly waiting in line for a Nora Roberts signing, and they’re all chatting away, laughing, enjoying themselves. Kim Castillo, assistant to Eloisa James, mentions she found her best friends through reading romance novels – other women who enjoyed them as much as she did and loved to talk about them. Now they talk books, but their conversations aren’t limited to them. Anything goes with these women.
Love Between the Covers interesting, entertaining, and occasionally moving look into an industry that should be taken much more seriously than it is. Check out the official website to see if there’s a screening near you.