Everyone Loves a Lover

Most genre fiction readers (whether they admit it or not) want some element of romance in a novel. Otherwise, the most popular series wouldn’t always at least hint at the possibility of a romantic entanglement for the male or female main character.
During the month of Valentine’s Day chocolates and roses, my thoughts about the audiobooks I was listening to focused around love. More specifically, how love seemed to show up somewhere along the line in all genre fiction — from fantasy and science fiction to mystery and suspense.
Listening to Dead Until Dark on audio, the first of the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris (which the TV show True Blood is based on), I took note of several blush-worthy scenes that made me think this series should really be shelved with the paranormal romances instead of the cozy mysteries, despite the murders and the humor in the book. But then I remembered sampling Christine Feehan’s straight-out steamy Dark Prince (first in her Dark series) on audio and realized that, along the paranormal romance spectrum, Dead Until Dark was actually pretty mild.
“Bedroom scenes” are an issue to be raised delicately, if at all, during a reader’s advisory exchange. One person’s idea of graphic detail is what another reader considers innocently suggestive. So we can avoid suggesting straight-out erotica while getting to know a person’s tastes in this area, but it’s still going to be tricky. Even a favorite author’s handling of bedroom scenes can vary between one series and the next, or between one book in the same series to the next.
Comparing Dead Until Dark to other books I listened to in February, I noticed that even the books I’d tend to suggest more often to male readers — Without Fail (Lee Child‘s sixth suspense novel about tough guy/loner Jack Reacher) and Ringworld (first in a series of science fiction novels by Larry Niven) — had several scenes of lovemaking each, although the authors were discreet about the details, compared to Charlaine Harris. But in both of the books aimed primarily at male readers, the beginnings of romantic involvement were portrayed as a nuisance — a distraction — for the male main character, something he couldn’t prevent, despite his best efforts to keep the relationship at the level of physical attraction.
In the two audiobooks I listened to in February that were aimed primarily at a female audience — Dead Until Dark and The Masque of the Black Tulip (second in Lauren Willig’s genre-blending chick-lit/historical romance series) — it seemed to be the other way around. The female main characters struggled to keep their romantic inclinations in check, to avoid becoming more deeply involved with the male characters by having the relationships progress to a physical level.
So there we have it: The conventional wisdom about the difference between men and women’s general attitudes to romance as played out in genre fiction. Luckily, we’re not restricted to reading by gender, and can roam freely through the genres.

Read a review of Dead Until Dark at the On a Pale Star book blog.
Get suggestions for readalikes for Dead Until Dark from the Berwyn (IL) Public Library.

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