Romance Evangelism: The Final Report

My book club met last night to officially discuss the romance picks.

The discussion itself was good–probably the best discussion we’ve had this year. Everyone who attended (seven of us) had read Bet Me. Two more had read The Unsung Hero. In addition, one (a chronic eye-roller) had tried the Kindle sample of The Unsung Hero and one had made it halfway through and bailed.

They all claimed to be lukewarm about Bet Me, but they all managed to get pretty fired up about some aspect of the discussion, even if it was just the question of what Min actually looks like. (We decided she looks like my sister (who’s a member of the book club) did on her wedding day, which is to say phenomenally gorgeous and curvy unless you’re either a) Our mother, who was obsessed with the question of whether my sister’s navel was overly prominent under the thin material of the dress or b) My sister’s old roommate, who wanted to know if she was pregnant.

The number one criticism leveled at Bet Me was that it seemed to take FOREVER before Min and Cal got together. (While they complained about that, I wondered to myself whether Jennifer Crusie had a moment (or month) of extreme panic when she realized she’d written herself into a plot where she had to delay the sex until the very end, and promised myself I would never do that to myself.)

My sister said she was planning to read more Jennifer Crusie. Probably converting my sister should be considered a lesser accomplishment, but I’ll take what I can get.

The two who’d read The Unsung Hero preferred it to Bet Me on the grounds that it was meatier and less predictable. The one who bailed on The Unsung Hero during the prologue complained that the diplomat’s wife depicted in the prologue was unrealistic because diplomats’ wives have to have their stuff together to a much greater degree than that. Romance is probably not the right genre for extremely left-brained people.

The best part of the evening was when we stopped talking about the books (it so often is) and started talking about why male body parts are named and female body parts are euphemized. (Which the spell checker says is not a word, but you and I know better.)

My sister, who’s a pediatrician, said that patients are much more likely to refer to their boy children’s genitals by name and give a general wave in the direction of their girl children’s parts if they need to be referenced.

Then my sister, who in addition to being a pediatrician is FREAKISHLY AWESOME, also said that she suspects that in lesbian romance/erotica, there’s much more naming, and that the lack of names in romance aimed at straight women reflects the fact that straight female readers are perfectly happy to think about penises but would rather not think about–*hand wave.*

(One eye-roller offered that penises are just more attractive than vaginas, which made me grumpy, and I said, “Tell that to Georgia O’Keeffe.”)

This morning, while brushing my teeth, I had another thought, which is that it’s not about whether we do or don’t want to think about our hoo-has. It’s about the fact that straight female readers need their identification with the heroine to feel unbroken, and we’re SO attached to our own way of thinking about the parts in question that if the heroine uses a different term, we’re, um, thrust out of the dream. Whereas we don’t lay claim to any particular penis terminology, so we don’t get (as) alienated by having the wrong term inserted into our intimate–moments.