Romance in the 90s

[Note: this post is not about sex for nonagenarians. If that’s the sort of thing you’re looking for, try Google.]

For most of the 1990s, I was in junior high and high school. Being an independent, intelligent girl (read: a chubby girl with braces and a feathered mullet courtesy of Super Cuts), Barnes & Noble supplied all the romance in my life.

This past Christmas, I spent a week clearing out dozens of boxes of books that I’ve stored in my parents’ garage for eight years – since I moved to Europe. My husband, a literature student, showed a mixture of admiration and horror for my collection. There were some old favorites from my literature classes (Ernie Pyle’s Brave Men, Flannery O’Conner’s collected stories – which I’d thought I’d lost and had bought a replacement for), but there were also loads of romance novels with the tawdriest covers.

I did a little happy dance when I saw some of them. I’d completely forgotten I had them, and they’re the closest things I’ve got to high school flames. When Hubby and I were packing to leave California after New Year, we realized we had too much stuff. He lobbied hard for me to leave the romance novels (actually, I think he offered to burn them for me), but there was no way.

I’ve reread a few of them over the past couple months, and I’m really pleasantly surprised by how much the genre has grown and changed since then.

Obviously I can’t speak for all romance novels written in the 90s, but the ones I’d hung on to were clearly written for readers with the emotional maturity of a never-been-kissed teenage girl. The historicals were full of rapist heroes, and the contemporaries had cartoonish characters and laughable situations.

Last night I started flipping through the only one I haven’t reread, and I could tell within a few pages I wouldn’t be investing much time in it. It was a contemporary with a hero from New Orleans (or, “Nawlins”). He consistently calls the heroine “dawlin” and at one point (the point where I laughed so hard I had to put the book down) calls her “honey chile”.

Having only spent two days in New Orleans myself, this book could’ve completely put me off ever going back. A couple weeks ago, though, I read Laura Griffin’s Untraceable (a good book for indulging your inner computer geek), which has a hero from New Orleans, and he doesn’t speak like a jackass.

It made me thankful that there are romance novels out there today written with the thinking woman in mind. Thank you to those writers who recognize I’m in my 30s, I have a better understand of what sex is (and what it isn’t), I can afford a real haircut, and my teeth get compliments on their straightness (and their whiteness because, let’s face it, stereotypes about British teeth exist for a reason).

Have you gone back to read genre books from a bygone age? What differences did you notice?

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