Once again, I've failed at the TBR Challenge. (Sorry, Wendy.) Mostly that's because I'm not reading as much. I started Heat by R. Lee Smith, which had been recommended by Dear Author, but it's a long book, and I don't seem to have the time to devote to reading that I used to, so I haven't come close to finishing it.
But the challenge itself, to read a book in my TBR that was recommended, nearly stymied me. First, I don't make a note of why I've bought a book when I order it. By the time I next look at the book--in molecules or electrons--I have no idea why I own it. In some sense, they've all been recommended by someone, whether it's a friend or a book review.
I did have an obvious choice, though. Shadow Kin by M.J. Scott. A friend strongly recommended this to me, and I started it, got a quarter of the way through and stopped. Not "DNF" stopped, but "good book" stopped. This loops back to the point about not having Heat finished in time for this post -- good books take longer to read. Often because they are longer, but sometimes it's just that quality takes longer to enjoy, absorb, contemplate, assimilate. A bad book, well, a readable-but-still-bad book, can whiz by. Other good books I haven't gotten around to finishing? The Black Hawk by Joanna Bourne, Spoiled by the Fuggirls, and The Affair by Lee Child.
No big surprise, but despite reading less I'm still making time for the Interwebs. I loved this gargantuan essay by Maria Bustillos in The Awl in support of romance novels as "the last great bastion of underground writing." I didn't pick it apart bit by bit, but I liked the author's tone and enthusiasm. So I was surprised when people on Twitter complained about Bustillos's claim that "Romance novels are feminist documents." Of course it depends on what you consider a feminist document. Is it one that was crafted in a free and fair environment of equal rights for women? Or is it one that espouses and reflects the feminist doctrine? (Assuming there's a single feminist doctrine that all feminists can agree on -- a big assumption.)
That's the problem, isn't it? If women write what they want to write, edit what they want to edit, and buy what they want to buy (because no one can argue there are too few books in the marketplace for choice), then those books are what women want them to be. And if the resulting books have retrogressive titles like "The Billionaire Sexist Sheik's Patronized Personal Assistant," guess what: women want that. I have a hard time believing that after more than 50 years of Harlequin Romances, the market can be seen as inherently corrupted by The Patriarchy simply because women like to write, and want to read, books that don't espouse a feminist agenda.
Women are sexist. Yup, I said it. Smart women are sexist. In 35 years, the worst sexism I encountered and witnessed was inflicted by women attorneys on other women attorneys. The second worst sexism was by a high-ranking public health official (a woman) against a staffer. I've been taken out to lunch by professional women who assured me they believe in supporting women in the profession, and then turned around and reflexively discriminated against me and other women while favoring men.
I have a theory why this happened, but suffice it to say, I don't think women are completely on board with the feminist agenda. They may know it's the right way to go, and they may say it's the right way to go, but then some guy comes along... Or, in the specific case of romance novels, some hot hero comes along...
So, like it or not, romance novels are feminist documents. Every last one of them. And if their plots and characters are too sexist for your scruples, write better ones. It's one of the great rules: Write what you want to read. That's the beauty of the current publishing situation; self-publishing means you can write what you want and put it out in the marketplace. If what you write isn't what the majority of the book buyers wants to read, you just won't sell as many copies.
You can't say you support women's right to choose and then insist that what women freely choose to write and read isn't feminist. It's not like a man is forcing us to read this stuff.