Everyone enjoys a happy ending, right? But isn’t it funny how no one complains that, say, every Arnold Schwarzenegger movie ends with him triumphing, and every crime novel ends with the mystery solved and the killer caught, yet the H.E.A.s — the “happily ever after”s — of romance fiction are looked down upon? Anyone who loves romance books already knows the snobbish disparaging the genre is subjected to, and those contrary examples — Arnie and mysteries — come straight from writers and readers in the delightful Love Between the Covers, the first feature from documentarian Laurie Kahn. These are women who are proud of the fiction they love and can defend it with infectious passion. Which they shouldn’t have to do, because, as is pointed out here, romance fiction is a multibillion-dollar concern with sales so huge that they basically prop up the entirety of publishing.
The sharp and affectionate Covers peeks inside the big, cozy community of writers and fans; many women are both at the same time; fan-favorite authors interviewed include Beverly Jenkins, Nora Roberts, Eloisa James, Radclyffe, and others. They mince no words in explaining why romance don’t get no respect, and why readers love it: the genre removes men from the center of attention, where they so often are in so-called “great literature,” and puts women’s desires — not only of the sexual and romantic variety, either — front and center. The generosity and “pay-it-forward attitude” of the industry makes new authors feel welcomed and encouraged, but it is the charms of the stories themselves that are so, well, seductive: readers find positive — and sex-positive — representations of women like themselves, even if they’re fat, even if they’re brown or black; whether they prefer heroines who are chaste Amish girls or lovestruck lesbians (and if there isn’t already a series about an Amish lesbian, there will be by tomorrow); whether they like stories set in the past, in the future, or in completely different dimensions entirely.
Covers is catnip for fans of the genre, of course, but it should also be observed with keen interest by anyone who wants to understand how incredibly friendly and supportive an industry driven by women, for women can be, how collaboration trumps competition. These smart, creative women will also likely be responsible for whatever the next innovations in publishing are; romance readers were early adopters of ebooks, and romance publishers all but invented modern self-publishing. Pay attention to what they are doing.