DEAR ABBY: You told "Nervous in Bernardsville, N.J." (9/2), whose daughter reads romance novels, that "some might argue that the idealized depiction of romance and women being 'rescued' by powerful, wealthy men is more worrisome than the sex and eroticism." It is clear from that statement that you haven't read one yourself in a long time.
Abby, the historical "bodice rippers" and the contemporary "doctor-nurse/millionaire-secretary" plotlines of the 1970s and 1980s long ago gave way to stories about independent, professional women who insist that men meet them on their own terms. (Not to say that this doesn't lead to increased sexual tension, but the point is, it is tension between two equals, not an alpha figure and a doormat.) "Nervous Mom" would be surprised to discover that her daughter is not just reading about romance and sex; she might also be acquiring strong, independent, feminist role models between those pages. -- NANCY BUTLER, ROMANCE WRITER, ROSCOE, N.Y.
DEAR NANCY: You're right. I have been so busy reading the mail that comes pouring into my office each week that it has been decades since I've had the time to delve into a romance novel. (Sob!) I heard from other romance writers who echoed your message, including Sharon Mignerey, Arlene James, Joy Nash, Cheryl Norman and P.C. Cast.
One writer conceded, however, that the romances she writes are "essentially sexual fantasies" containing graphic descriptions "of things I cannot mention in a family newspaper ... definitely written with the adult reader in mind." Her name is Kate Douglas, and her point -- with which I agree -- was that parents do need to be aware of what their children are reading. (And that includes on computers.) Read on:
DEAR ABBY: Your suggestion to borrow the book after the daughter reads it was a start, but I believe the mother should be more proactive. What about the novels attracts her daughter? Because, believe me, the intimacy aspect is only a small part of it. Perhaps the mother could explore the genre, find authors whose characters are more in line with her own views, and suggest those to her daughter. They could have a lively discussion of character development, narratives, etc.
Keeping the communication going is the most important aspect of all. Forbidding her daughter to read romances will do nothing but drive the behavior underground. -- WYOMING READER
DEAR ABBY: I was around the same age when I came home from school and said my classmates were reading a "terrible" book. Mom said I should bring it home and we would both read it. Mother would read a chapter while I was at school, and then we would discuss the story. The other girls were reading the novel under their blankets, holding a flashlight. My mom used the book as a teaching tool. She would say, "That girl didn't handle that situation right. What she should have done was ..."
I no longer remember much about the book -- not even the title. But I had a close relationship with my mother, and I guess I turned out all right. Wasn't Bertha Chamberlin a smart lady? You may use our names. I'm proud of Mama. -- JANET E. BACON
DEAR ABBY: I discovered romantic fiction at the public library as a 14-year-old. I was normal, curious and shy around boys -- but nonetheless longed for romance and adventure. Those books were "spicy," but they filled that niche without any risk to my physical health or reputation. I lived vicariously through them and avoided getting into "real life" trouble because of it! -- NEVER PROMISCUOUS, ALWAYS A FEMINIST, IN DENVER