‘Ridgefield in Love’: giving romance novels a fair shake

The arbitrary distinction made by some critics (and readers) between “literary fiction” and mysteries has always driven me crazy because I happen to think that some of the best books being published in this country today fall into the crime fiction category.

The madness continues within the mystery genre where books are subdivided into smaller categories such as “hard-boiled” and “cozy” and some writers believe their “thrillers” should not be lumped with mysteries.

My favorite story about the foolishly arbitrary categorization of books is one Sandra Brown has told about her own fantastic books which span many genres — from mystery to romance to thriller to erotic fiction.

Years ago, when Brown delivered one of her novels, someone in the publishing company said something to the effect of “Sandra, you don’t make our job easy. We don’t know where your books should be shelved. The mystery section? Romance?”

The author paused a moment before saying, “How about in the front of the store with the best-sellers?”

As bad as mystery writers have it — in terms of snobbery — the science-fiction writers probably have it worse (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say, “I’ll read anything — except science-fiction”).

This afternoon at 5 at the Ridgefield Library’s “Ridgefield in Love,” three terrific writers are appearing — Eloisa James, Julia Quinn and Sarah MacLean (below) — who happen to work in the historical romance genre.

Until I started interviewing romance writers for my Sunday “Book Beat” column — and began to read their books to prepare for our interviews — I was as snooty as the next guy about the genre.

Then I realized I was guilty of the one of worst sins in the world of novels — judging books by their covers (and their genres). Although I’ve grown to admire the art on many of these novels, the bare-chested men and the women with the come hither looks initially made me believe romance novels had to be some sub-”chick lit” genre.

Digging into books by the three women who will be in Ridgefield today, I quickly realized that they are simply good storytellers who also happen to have the ability to bring the past back to vivid life.

Yes, I squirmed a bit last weekend on Metro North when I realized a woman across the aisle had a peculiar look on her face because of the bold pink cover of Sarah MacLean’s “A Rogue By Any Other Name” — which I raced through on a few rides in and out of New York. But I felt like leaning over to tell her she was missing a great read.

(For more information on today’s “Ridgefield in Love” event go to www.ridgefieldlibrary.org)

Joe Meyers