Can you read Outside of the Box?

OK. I recently gave a quick response over at AAR’s RtR board. I had mentioned that Julia Spencer-Flemings new book was out. I know she has a few fans on that board. Another reader stated that she just couldn’t get into the books. You can probably guess what it is since it is one of the most taboo plots in romance. Forbidden. But then Julia Spencer-Fleming doesn’t write romance.

What are the taboo subjects never to be written in romance? First one comes to mind is adultery then rape (but it gets written anyway and some readers rationalize their enjoyment of it) , political or social issues, violence to little kids, incest and I’m sure there’s more. I think I’d put a book down faster if it was preaching to me about politics I don’t agree with versus someone having an adulterous affair. I’d take the adulterous affair. That’s just me.

Can romance readers read outside the box? Just asking. I mean, come on, I love books written well that feature plots or characters that seem ambiguous. It makes for captivating reading to me. Adultery? Doesn’t bother me and it’s nothing I would do or condone in real life but to see how the author  handles the characters, the situation makes all the difference in the world to me. I think romance genre can use all the help it can get in writing more captivating plots. Don’t you all get tired of the Navy SEALS and secret PI’s, detectives, bodyguards that do the same thing over and over again? In historicals, again you have the rake, the duke, secret spy – I’m bored already.

I’m willing to concede that romance readers are happy with the same ole stuff.

I think as readers we are limiting ourselves when don’t allow the growth of other topics or plots to be explored because we just  don’t condone it or agree with it. Granted, some things in real life does intrude but not everything. I can read just about anything and everything. I am willing to give it a try.  I love that authors like Linda Howard do try to surprise us and/or push the envelope and get people talking. That’s a good book! Romance readers need to be a bit more daring and don’t knock till you try it. You’d be surprised at how much you may enjoy a book written outside your comfort zone.


About Keishon

Voracious reader of just about everything.
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14 Responses to Can you read Outside of the Box?

  1. Bev (BB) says:

    I once had another reader basically give me a rather long lecture on a discussion list because I dared to say I couldn’t read a romance past the first chapter because I didn’t like what happened. Her point was that I should’ve finished the entire book before deciding. She even made the mistake of using the “enlightenment” argument on me.

    Basically, I responded by asking why I should read it when I already knew I wasn’t going to like it? Actually, my full response was a lot longer than that but that was the gist because it is that simple.

    No, I mean really, it’s as simple as that – it is my choice. It is each reader’s choice. Do they always make the right choices? Well, heck no, but so what if they are the wrong ones? Who exactly decides what’s wrong?

    We each do for ourselves.

    I know, that type of simplicity drives the enlightenment crowd who want to change romance for the better crazy but there you have it. I guess there are just a lot of us who honestly believe romance is more enlightened than most literature already. ;p

  2. Avid Reader says:

    I respect your choices, don’t get me wrong but has there ever been a book that had a plot device that you hated but it worked out? I mean, there are certain plots I won’t read that follow in the footsteps of Sarah’s Child by Linda Howard. I hated the hero and found nothing sympathetic about his character. But if there is a book that manages to pull off the same plot line and make it different, I’ll give it a shot. I’m not telling readers what to do. Your gonna do what your gonna do – but I’m just saying in the right hands, certain plot devices or taboo topics can be written well. Readers I think should be a just a little bit open-minded sometimes. What fun is there to always close yourself in and never experience anything new or daring? That’s all I was getting at in my post. I may stand alone here LOL, but that’s OK. Thanks Bev for sharing your thoughts. I do appreciate it.

  3. AngieW says:

    I lost my response so I’m going to take another stab at this 🙂

    For me, incest is stepping outside my comfort zone. It’s icky to me, for whatever reasons, but it just is. I don’t even like to see that picture of Angelina Jolie kissing her brother. It strikes me as…wrong. And no, I was never a VC Andrews fan 😉

    I think we all have comfort zones, just like we have foods we won’t eat because they’re not good to us, there are certain topics we don’t like, because we don’t find them appealing. There’s nothing wrong with that!

    I recently read a book that had incest in it. I was enjoying the book, but getting a bad feeling in my stomach, that the author was going to go there. And she did. And she tried to write/explain her way out of it, but in my mind, the deed was done. I can recognize that the book is well written, I can even recognize that it’s a unique story. But I finished the book very reluctantly and I won’t be buying the sequel. Because she stepped outside my personal boundaries.

    Everyone’s are different and I don’t think that’s a big deal, really. Does it really hurt me if someone else doesn’t want to read anal sex (like the person who posted on AAR today)? Not particularly. Is it hurting them? I don’t think so. Yes, they might not read a book I think is very good, but is it really affecting their quality of life overall? I doubt it, lol. I don’t think not wanting to read certain topics that aren’t comfortable to you means you’re never experiencing anything new or daring. Many read for pleasure, and if their pleasure is derived from certain genres or certain character types, why should we judge that? Shouldn’t we just be glad that, in a society of tv watchers, they’re reading at all?

    We’re driven and encouraged to push ourselves in so many aspects of life, shouldn’t we be allowed to take pleasure and “comfort” in our hobbies, rather than using them as just one more way to show that we can be open-minded, that we’re expanding our horizons, that we’re learning? Sometimes, I want to be able to do something (or read something) because I love it, not because it’s the right thing to do or because someone has told me I should try new things. I read because it gives me pleasure to do so. If I’m constantly pushing myself outside my comfort zone, some of the pleasure is taken away, because now I’m doing it because someone said I should, not because I want to 😦

  4. Bev (BB) says:

    Readers I think should be a just a little bit open-minded sometimes. What fun is there to always close yourself in and never experience anything new or daring? That’s all I was getting at in my post. I may stand alone here LOL, but that’s OK.

    I don’t believe you stand alone, Keishon, but I do tend to believe you and others are working from a misconception. Just because I see nothing wrong with the romance genre as it is, doesn’t necessarily imply that I don’t take chances both within and without it. I’m always finding something I thought I wouldn’t like in romances BUT that doesn’t mean that I’m going to always want to read it either.

    OTOH, if a genre is too restrictive for a reader then maybe they need to read something else entirely. Why should romance as a genre expand to fit those needs when it apparently already meets the needs of quite a few readers?

    That’s what I don’t understand about the “enlightenment” reasoning. Why this apparent drive to change what romance is?

    Can you, and that’s a general you, not find what those expanded choices elsewhere?

    Conversely, am I or any other reader supposed to feel, I don’t know, guilt because I do like things the way they are?

    Just thinking out loud here but could any genre truly expand that far and still retain its unique identity? Do people ask these same type questions about mysteries? Or science fiction? Okay, maybe I could see that, but even so, one has to wonder.

  5. Jane says:

    I read for pleasure. Pure pleasure and entertainment. Like AngieW said, there is a lot of stress involved at work and I just don’t want to think or be very challenged when reading a book. I don’t mind reading outside the genre, but I also primarily read romances because they are uplifting and pleasant. Maybe I have very pedantic reading tastes but I can’t help it. Or maybe I should say I don’t want to help it.

  6. Karen Scott says:

    I often read outside the romance box, my fave guilty pleasures are auto biographies. TTG and I have almost 200 between us. I especially like auto-bio’s of famous sporting personalities.

    I also love crime books, and mysteries, and psychological thrillers.

    The thing is, I have to be in the right mood to read any of the above, whereas, when I pick up a romance, I basically know what I’m gonna get, and I don’t have to strain the brain too much.

    I refuse to read inspirational romance books, not that I can’t read books with a deeply religious content, (after 9/11, TTG bought a book called Holy War, which I read cover to cover) but I hate the thought of being preached to, whilst in the act of fulfilling my fave pastime. Plus, I like hot books, and I don’t get the whole sex before marriage thing. What if you married a man with a shrivelled penis and didn’t find out until after you got married?

    Anyway, I digress, incest is another big no-no for me, I don’t understand it, I don’t want to understand it, and I’d rather pretend it doesn’t exist, and in my world, it really doesn’t.

    I can read romance books that have some of the traditional taboos, but they have to be written well.

  7. AngieW says:

    I was thinking about this further, and I have to say that I do think I have a fairly broad comfort zone, as far as taboos are concerned. And I do read in other genres besides romance, I think there are many romance readers who do.

    But in the end, there are still favored genres that I rely on and return to for my every day reading. And others that I have to be in just the right mood for.

  8. name CindyS says:

    I used to be more closed off in my reading but as I get older I am open to many more possibilities.

    I’m the odd duck that likes to read about how a rape victim finds love. No, I don’t want her hero to be the rapist but I want to see a woman find her happiness.

    Incest – Anne Stuart wrote a book where the heroine thought the hero was her brother (he wasn’t) and the ramifications of it. I wasn’t icked out although I struggled along with the heroine over her feelings for her ‘brother’. Others have mentioned a Linda Howard book where the H/H are cousins but I’m not sure if I knew that or if my brain just blocked it 😉

    Okay, I prefer my books to be more than subtle sexually. I have tried outside of that – Anne Gracie for example and it was an excellent book but I did miss the intimacy of sex.

    So even though I do try and read outside of my comfort zone from time to time I do sometimes hit a wall (there’s a secret baby in this book!?) that I can’t get past.

    Good topic.


  9. Avid Reader says:

    Bev, my biggest critic:

    OTOH, if a genre is too restrictive for a reader then maybe they need to read something else entirely. Why should romance as a genre expand to fit those needs when it apparently already meets the needs of quite a few readers?

    I’ve always felt that the romance genre was stagnant. Everything is just “too safe.” I do read mostly outside the romance genre and have for years. Mysteries, SF/F are not as restrictive as the romance genre seems to be but by definition romance is about a committed relationship defined by [you can add the variables] I was just thinking out loud and was curious to know if romance readers would be willing to be more daring in their plots, characters, etc. Guess not since so many of them are satisfied with the way things are now. I’m not which is why I’ve moved along…

    Karen S and AngieW – uh, on the incest thing. I did enjoy V.C. Andrews books and (so did Mrs Giggles, so I’m in good company) – that featured incest. Compelling stuff, on the outside looking in, it seems that we are a bunch of sick bunnies but the plot, characters, writing, loved all of it. The author pulled it off. That’s all I have to say. Reread it every summer. Even Dennis Lehane managed to make a wife beater a sympathetic character (he did, trust me) but he bought the farm in the next book.

    Now the Linda Howard title that CindyS mentioned – yuck. Couldn’t wrap my mind around that book and the author didn’t pull it off for me.

    Thank you EVERYONE for sharing your opinions. I disagree with all of you naturally 😉 but that’s just me in a nutshell (she said partially in jest). Take care.

    Off to finish reading my mystery that features a taboo topic.

  10. Tara Marie says:

    99% of what I read is romance. But, my comfort zone within romance is incredibly broad. Like some of the other posters my ick factor falls in line with incest. But, I didn’t have a problem with Linda Howard’s Shadows of Twilight and I a long time ago I read VC Andrews faithfully.

    Things that push taboos need to be taken in context, why is the author including it? Does it work? Each reader is different, what works for one wont work for another.

    I want books that outside of the box, it helps keep the genre evolving.

  11. Bev (BB) says:

    You know, I really hate to pull out this card because it implies ages that I ain’t owning up to, but I have been reading romances for well, heck, over thirly years and trust me, as a genre, it is in no way stagnate.

    Stagnate would us still having true bodice rippers in all forms. Stagnate would be truly mindless heriones and wealthy heroes being in almost every single book. Take the variety available today and compare it to just twenty years ago and one realizes that stagnate does not describe romance in any way, shape or form.

    Are there topics that may never be in a romance? Yeah, there probably are. However, and it’s a big thing, there are also always new things being used in romances that wouldn’t have been allowed years ago, too. It’s a trade-off and personally I like the compromises the publishers tend to make for the most part.

    Hey, there have been books that made me wonder why they got the romance label but they did. They also got published. Will that particular topic/issue be dealt with again in another “romance”? I guess it all depends on whether that one did well or not.

    And if it didn’t, it isn’t our fault individually, but it is the market’s overall.

    Oh, and I’m not being critical of you specifically, Keishon, because this is a discussion I’ve had before. I’m just basically being practical. It’s one thing to wish for ideal situations where everything gets published just because but it’s a completely other thing to bloody one’s forehead on walls made out of practicality. Those don’t budge very easily because they’re there for extremely solid reasons in the first place. The best one can usually do is poke holes in them unless we’re talking about major upheavals. Upheavals don’t come along all that often when there’s a good thing going.

  12. Karen Scott says:

    Keishon, I just remembered that Flowers In The Attic is one of my fave books. So I’ll change that to all incest other than the incest in Virginia Andrews books. (g)

  13. May says:

    To some extent, I agree with you.

    Every now and then, somebody comes along who dares to cross the line. Anne Stuart’s latest featuring the heroine who has slept with men before would be one.

    It’s just that they don’t come often enough for me. Sometimes I resent spending time and money on books that are not what I’m looking for.

    I can’t speak for other readers. I am hardly your average reader. But I can’t help but assume that the supply of Navy SEALs and secret PIs exists because it meets a demand for Navy SEALs and secret PIs.

  14. Avid Reader says:

    But I can’t help but assume that the supply of Navy SEALs and secret PIs exists because it meets a demand for Navy SEALs and secret PIs.

    I’m not your average reader either. I remember Anne Stuart’s next book has generated enough buzz to make me look out for it because it features a hero who slept with men and women. It sounds gripping to me and I look forward to read it. It is a story that is “outside the box” of your standard romance novel and the debate over it certainly seems to suggest that this book will be a test of what is acceptable or not acceptable in the romance genre.

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