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April 14th, 2009

10:29 PM

The reviewing erotic romance dilemma

Seriously, I'd be very interested to know how "serious" people who review erotic romances say how well they work for those people. I've been reading many erotic romances lately - I tend to rotate genres or subgenres, moving along when I've had enough of one, and it's just that time for erotic romances.

I find myself thinking, it's very easy to make fun of a badly written erotic romance, because the jokes write themselves. The author will give the reader enough rope to hang the author by means of awfully written sex scenes, hilarious phraseology, or such. However, how do you celebrate a well-written erotic romance?

There are review sites out there that judge such books using things like "five vibrators" or "seven hot bananas", but I personally feel such methods are so not my cup of tea. Then there are readers who say things like how the book drove them into "Me and my BOB" frenzy. Good for them, but I wouldn't like to give the reader of my reviews the impression that I am going to be doing such things in the background while they are reading the review. It's a little... undignified, let's just say, not to mention embarrassing especially if the review is read by someone who knows me in real life.

In fact, I sometimes get very self-conscious when I am declaring my love for a story that I know feature very... um, let's just say, unconventional things. The rise of MM romances, for example, allow me to open my closet door where my "other" reading preference is concerned, and I'll be one of the first people to tell you how glad I am to get an alternative to depressing literary queer lit where very few people are ever happy by the last page. (As an aside: queer lit veteran Edmund White has written some of the most erotic/raunchy MM scenes I've come across - too bad his characters are rarely happy.)

But I still get emails and reactions from people who will go, "Oh wait, I never pegged you as one of those types!" I know I have lost some long-time visitors when I begin reviewing MM and erotic romances because they couldn't reconcile the old me who read Avon and Harper romances to the same person who also reads naughty stories. I've seen my favorable reviews of erotic romances mocked at other places, with those people quoting what I thought were amusing phrases to describe how well the stories worked for me as evidence of how... off I am as a person. We are not talking about fluffy fan girl hangouts, mind you, which are easy to dismiss. So yeah, I guess after a while I have to look back at those reviews and think, "Okay, so maybe I do come off as a little too much like an embarrassing horny old woman..."

I have said many times that I have labored at my website for ten years now because I like what I do - in a way, it's more about me than anything else - but I have to also admit, I can't help feeling a little self-conscious after getting enough of those reactions. I don't think it's shame I am feeling here, since heaven knows, that feeling has never caused me to give up reading those Dirty and Shameful (snort) Stories. I think it's more like a self-conscious kind of "Wait, am I actually embarrassing myself by gushing so much about these things? Is it TMI to let people know that I like reading stories of sodomy? Am I going to give people this impression that I am going to abuse the showerhead after reading this story?"

Maybe it's a Chinese thing - we old coots are raised to be prim, proper, and always "keep face" in public. We are not supposed to be doing overly excitable things that may embarrass ourselves after all, and perhaps it is inevitable that as a result of my upbringing, I feel self-conscious about letting people think that I am going to do things that mother had warned would make me go blind just because I've read a hot book.

Which brings me back to the question: how do I give a well-written erotic romance a great review without being overcome by the self-conscious thingy? How do I write it without instinctively pausing over a sentence because a part of me is worried that I may lead people to think that I am going to be streaking naked across the lawn after this to have a threesome with the guys next door?

Perhaps it's a matter of me trying not to worry about what people may think about me, my sex life, my relationship with the showerhead, or what sex toys I have in my collection because of a review.

Oh, I don't know. That's why I'm seriously thinking that, if I have the time, I'd start a sister site under another pseudonym to review things that will really shock some people even more out there. That will be easier than having to examine my own feelings or whether I suffer from some kind of secret shame about my reading preferences. Sigh.

10 comment(s).

Posted by Teddypig:

Edmund White? Ugh, the epitome of pretty white gay boy angst and the only saving grace was the sex scenes. BLAH!
April 15th, 2009 @ 1:09 AM

Posted by Ciar Cullen:

It's a review! If I write that I like shapeshifting shark gods, it doesn't mean I have a shark fetish. Oh, wait...

I cannot imagine that folks are stupid enough to care "what Mrs. Giggles likes" in terms of erotic content. Wait...what am I saying?

I'll speak for myself. I don't assume anything by a good review of an erotic romance about the reviewer. Simply that they were able to put their own preferences aside (or not) to critique the story.
April 15th, 2009 @ 2:13 AM

Posted by Louise van Hine:

People are going to send the emails anyway, it doesn't matter what impression you convey. I think the only responsibility of a reviewer is to make a distinction between "The sex in this story was steamy and arousing" and "the sex in this story kept me up half the night with my favorite sex toy." Yes, there's a difference, however, most people who are shocked! shocked! about your enjoying and reviewing M/M or other explicit content, don't care what that difference is. The rest of us do. That's my two cents.
April 15th, 2009 @ 3:07 AM

Posted by Charlotte Stein:

"I've seen my favorable reviews of erotic romances mocked at other places, with those people quoting what I thought were amusing phrases to describe how well the stories worked for me as evidence of how... off I am as a person."

What a person likes in erotic romance or erotica has nothing to do with what they might like in literary or straightforward romance stuff.

I love Margaret Atwood. I'm a creative writing teacher. I should laugh at some of the things Emma Holly puts in her books. But instead, I give her kudos for using graphic language and putting out there the idea that love and sex go together so well. That's what I want to read about when I read erotic romance. And if something floats my boat, I'm not going to apologise for it.

I've always been glad that you review erotic romances so fairly, Mrs Giggles. I'm glad that this is a place where I can read reviews of Emma Holly, that you stick to your guns and take no prisoners.

Don't ever stop.
April 15th, 2009 @ 4:56 AM

Posted by Jill Sorenson:

I've never read a review here that made me wonder about your sexual proclivities. That would be rude and presumptuous of me, I'd say. I don't assume too much about erotic romance authors, either. Like, I doubt Maya Banks has three boyfriends.

The most I recall you saying about a hot book is that we need a cool glass of water nearby. Not TMI, Mrs. G.

I do wonder how you could POSSIBLY not love How to Knit a Wild Bikini or Just Perfect, but that's another topic...
April 15th, 2009 @ 10:16 AM

Posted by Clare London:

As someone said above - don't ever stop. I personally feel that a good reviewer like you brings the same, consistent standards to a book whatever the genre. I follow blogs that cover many genres, because as a reader I read a wide range, too. I wish we could all read about and discuss books from many sources, and not have to segregate in advance. But that's not intended as any disrespect to your idea of a separate site, just a result of my naivety *lol*.

I'll like a book for many reasons - it's fun, it's moving, it's fascinating, it's well written, I fall in love with the characters, the prose is exotic, the sex is more so etc etc - and I wish I *didn't* feel embarrassed about admitting to the sexiness parameter. I like to be stimulated and excited when I read, in a variety of ways, but no, it doesn't mean I rush off afterwards with that showerhead!

I resent the restrictive use of 'literary' as a term actually, because I find many books of equal quality and enjoyment, just in different areas. It's surely a personal opinion, at the end of the day. Who's to say some are more 'worthy' than others, and can be discussed/reviewed respectably, whereas others - often purely because of their genre - are somehow consumable and less important? If a book stays in my mind and emotions, it's a keeper for me, whatever.

But maybe I protest too much, as I have plenty of erotic content in my books ^_~.

Many thanks for a thought-provoking post.
April 15th, 2009 @ 6:37 PM

Posted by Mrs G:

Hey, don't apologize - if you talking about my splitting the book review section into three, I still have mixed feelings about segregating reviews into the three sections. But at the same time, I have to do SOMETHING because, unfortunately, not all ebook is created equal to a dead tree book, just as not all self-published/small press book is equal to a dead tree book. If I don't segregate them, chances are, if I rate all books using the same yardstick, very few ebooks will get scores over 80, while self-pub books will have an average score of even lower. Either way, it's not easy for me to have an absolute stance on this. I really wish I can put them all in the same section - it also means less work for me during updating, lol.

Complicating matters up, there are visitors who like it when I segregate the three types of reviews, because some of them, for example, like reading ebooks and they know straight away where to find reviews of them.

Either way, I do try not to get too bogged down by labels, but sometimes it's hard to avoid dealing with them.
April 15th, 2009 @ 7:10 PM

Posted by Mrs G:

Edmund White? Ugh, the epitome of pretty white gay boy angst and the only saving grace was the sex scenes. BLAH!

No disagreement from me there, Teddy. There's one reason I read his books, and you've nailed it! Alan Hollinghurst has some very nice erotic scenes too, but frankly, I prefer some of the 1960s-1970s underground written porn scene, like that BDSM-horror "Blue Light" - the author's name, alas, I can't remember.

I resent the restrictive use of 'literary' as a term actually, because I find many books of equal quality and enjoyment, just in different areas.

I used the word "literary" as a way to distinguish those stuff published by Penguin and what-not, usually in trade paperbacks and shelved under "Gender Studies" over here, even if some of them are straight-up erotica with a respectable cover. After all, those books are published with a "literary" packaging. Again, this is just artificial labeling, with no reflection to the actual quality of the work.
April 15th, 2009 @ 7:17 PM

Posted by Conrad:

You do realise that MM romance first became popular in Asia, and the rest of the world only just caught on, right? Cause its COOL.
And as for being Chinese, how long has it been since you went to the mainland? Anything featuring MM romance is HUGE. Phillipines, CHINA, Korea etc they LOVE the gays.
And who are these people so horrified by someone else's love of da gheys?? Sounds like a whole bunch of self-hating Republicans to me. Ne'er a weary soul hath ever met-th a flock of ye hypocrites I tells ya, matey! ARR! Seriously, its full of gays in denial FIGHTING to opress their OWN rights. Kind of reminds me of when porn first came out. People fought tooth and nail to blow it out of existance. "Why would any one ever want to watch sexy, bib breasted babes getting corned by hunky, muscular, well endowed guys?!" they said pretending to be scandelous. Hua, hua, hua! Where are they now? Now there are porn conventions where they ask for the stars autograph. Highly regarded religious bupkiss' are coming out on Oprah saying they've got porn addiction and getting oodles of sympathy.
It seems like the kettle calling the pot black. People make fun of people who reads ROMANCE NOVELS, so they have to make fun of those who reads gay ROMANCE NOVELS? What is this?
I dunno why but this highly regarded religious guy comes to mind. Flat out refuses to support condom usage in Africa. Of coure, people are furious. But what they don't realise is he is just ashamed of mentioning things about sex. So prim and proper is he that to him "condom" is the same as "sex". All he'll need is time and the courage to muster the will to fully comprehend the plight of those people.:-(
April 15th, 2009 @ 11:37 PM

Posted by Jody W.:

When a reviewer or online personality is colorful and opinionated, people will seek out reasons to criticize that individual--like questioning their sexual proclivities based on book reviews. If they aren't singling out your ER reading preferences, they'll just find something else. Which they probably already do. Online it seems you can either be nobody and raise no ripples or somebody and have as many haterz as fanz. Hey, even my Meankitty has haterz who have been known to question her sexual (spayed) preferences!
April 15th, 2009 @ 11:58 PM