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The Ignorant Journalist…

Saturday, August 13, 2005
Posted in: Uncategorized

Anne Marble from All About Romance, highlighted this article written by Zoe Williams at The Guardian newspaper. Talk about pressing my hot button. Anyhoo, I wrote a letter of complaint to the editor, just because I could. Here’s the letter in its entirety.

Dear Sir/Madam

I am writing to express my utter disgust at Zoe Williams’ article entitled ‘Get Real’ which was published on Thursday 11th August.

In this article, Ms Williams unconscionably attacks both Mills and Boon, and the readers of books published by Mills and Boon.

My overall impression was that a lot of her comments were snidely made, in order to elicit a snigger or two from like-minded readers, but I have to confess, it left a rather sour taste in my mouth.

Of course everybody is entitled to their own opinion, but surely a journalist who writes for a paper such as yours needs to get her facts straight, and should have some idea of what she is talking about?

It has been a long accepted fact, that romance books, especially category romance books such as the ones that are very popular at Mills and Boon, appear to be the poor relation to it’s literary cousins, but surely, if you appoint somebody to write about a particular subject, that person should endeavour to comprehensively and accurately, research the subject in question, rather than relying on reader’s ignorance, and filling your column inches with uncorroborated and unsubstantiated statements?

Ms Williams writes:
“Mills & Boon is a lot like the Bible; there are many, many books, and some people can even name some of them, especially the ones with the funny names (At the French Baron’s Bidding; and Genesis. Yes! Like the band!). You find them in bedside drawers in hospitals. Everybody could tell you broadly what they do, but nobody ever reads them; it’s not so much literature as a kind of seepage.”

What an appalling sweeping generalisation. Is it really true that nobody reads Mills and Boon Books? May I ask, from which statistical set of data, did Ms Williams obtain this information from?

She continues:

“I’m surmising wildly here, but the publishers must be aware that books about the grittier side of life already exist, and in many guises. You could even say that most authors, apart from those at Mills & Boon, deal with hard things most of the time. Even books so clearly aimed at the bathing reader that their covers are bright pink and delicately laminated tackle things such as cancer and divorce.”

Which Mills and Boon books, is Ms Williams referring to?

I myself subscribe to Mills and Boon, and I can honestly say that I haven’t come across books such as the ones that she describes with so much acidic scorn. Sadly, I suspect that her comment was made purely for impact, with little or no basis in reality.

She also goes on to add this pearl of wisdom:

“I understand the urge for a comfort read entirely, but my feeling about the Mills & Boon reader has always been that she’s very, very idle. There is so little variance within the template that, really, you should be able to make stuff like this up for yourself.”

Well as a reader of these books, if it was her intention to insult me, then she has surely achieved her goal.

I would say that these type of sweeping generalisations are what makes journalists like Ms Williams, so very dangerous.

Is it wise to let somebody who obviously has an axe to grind with the romance genre as a whole, pass judgement on those she obviously deems less worthy due to their reading choices?

I read Mills and Boon stories, but I daresay that my reading habits are probably more diverse than Ms Williams, yet she insists on calling me ‘idle’ and questions my intelligence for opting to read this type of book.

I am a lover of all books, and I have within my numerous book collections, a whole host of different genres, from autobiographical light reads such as Sir Alex Ferguson’s Managing My Life, to William L. Shirer’s, The Rise and Fall of The Third Reich. Two very different books, I’m sure you’d agree.

Do I then, as a woman who reads Mills and Boon books fit into Ms Williams’ obvious attempt at stereo-typing? I think not. Am I alone in this? Certainly not. Many of my friends and colleague’s read Mills and Boon books, and they, like myself have the same divergent reading habits.

The Literacy Trust is a noble organisation, which constantly campaigns to motivate people in this country to read more books, and in recent years, their endeavours have met with success, but it only takes a commentator like Ms Williams, to make a mockery of their efforts.

A Mills and Boon book may not set world on fire, but what it does do, is to promote the ideology of love and romance, in a world which at this current time, is filled with very little of either.

It may be deemed more worthy to pick up Homer’s Illiad, but surely people have the right to read what they choose without the fear of being disparaged for the choices they make?

Ms William’s concludes:

“The act of reading true romance fiction is different – it has a kernel of self-hate, that unmistakable tang, when you pick up Breathless for a Bachelor, that you’re nothing, really, nothing more than a bag of ego, you don’t even have the animal nobility of a libido going for you, all you really want is to be adored. Adored and rich.”

Self-hate? Is Ms Williams actually trying to suggest that those of us who read Mills and Boon books, read these books because we hate ourselves?

I am staggered beyond belief by this statement. I find it very difficult to compute this rationalisation.
Let’s see if I’ve understood this correctly. Because I read these books, which she obviously holds in great contempt, I must therefore hate myself? Right. Got it.

Is this the kind of all-encompassing generalisation that your journalists should be making? If I have misunderstood her comment, I apologise in advance, but would also seek clarification on this matter.

Mills and Boon books, may not be on the same great literary heights as Arthur C. Clarke’s, 2001: A Space Odyssey, but whatever happened to freedom of choice and expression without fear of oppression?
My personal opinion is that 101 Dalmatians was one of the driest books that I ever read as a child, and was incomparable to Diana Wynne Jones’s, A Charmed Life, but does that give me the right to pass judgment over Ms Williams’ reading habits? I think not.

I suggest that if this journalist is going to make viperous comments about a whole genre, she really needs to bring some facts, stats and examples to the table. Sweeping generalisations have never been particularly useful, when trying to prove a point, and they only ever succeed in making the protagonist look foolish.

I look forward to your reply in due course.

Of course, I’m not expecting to hear back from the editor, but it was a worthwhile excercise in trying to avoid using the term ‘f*cking ignoramus’ in every other sentence.