Thursday, July 19, 2012

Links: Librarians, Zombies, Sheihks, and Fifty Shades of Sin

Recently Vassiliki Veros was a member of a reader’s panel at the Australian Library and Information Association's 2012 conference and she's posted her paper at her blog. She's a librarian, but
As a reader, I gave up on accessing my books from my library early on. I bought all my romances from newsagencies, supermarkets, second hand bookstores, bookshops, markets, online and swapping books with friends. As a romance reader I am not unique in this behaviour.
This is because
Libraries have treated romance readers as “the devil” for they maintain a distance from them. We see this in librarians trying to improve the readers choice, cataloguers not valuing the books the readers choose. All this is reflected in the romance readers survey responses that the library is not a provider for their reading needs.

There are a few posts about zombie romance, or "zomrom" over at Undead Studies, including one which asks
Why can’t we love the undead? So many friends push aside the idea of a zombie lover completely (you guys can’t judge me! You read about vampire sex!) [...]
As discussed before [see this post], zombie romance is more romance. Sex never enters the equation. It’s about a relationship of souls (personalities), a coming together of two people.
But still zombies aren’t good enough! The rotting is either done away with completely or can be avoided with medication. The eating of people or brains is the same. So where is the problem? They are undead humans, as are vampires. With rational thought, being capable of emotions, moral agency and free will, why are the undead any less suitable as mates?
Jessica Taylor, author of "And You Can Be My Sheikh: Gender, Race, and Orientalism in Contemporary Romance Novels" evidently prefers sheikhs. This summer
The top shelf of my largest bookshelf is stacked two rows deep with romances with titles like One Night with the Sheikh by Penny Jordan and Desert Barbarian by Charlotte Lamb. These books (and a corresponding set of binders full of photocopies from 1920s movie magazines) are the remnants of a research project on romantic Orientalism in the United States in the 1920s and 2000s which is currently on hiatus. [...] But now the blogosphere is in luck. This summer I’ve decided to set myself a lofty task:
Read and review all of my sheikh romances and post the reviews on this very blog twice a week, on Mondays and Fridays. On Wednesdays I’ll post a scan from one of the many articles about how hot Rudolph Valentino is. Is this an overly optimistic schedule for someone who’s also finishing her thesis? I guess we’ll see…
And you can read all about it here. She begins with an extended synopsis of/commentary on E. M. Hull's The Sheik (1), (2), (3) and (4).

With regards to a very much more recent phenomenon in sexually titillating fiction, Remittance Girl suggests that
Fifty Shades of Grey does an interesting dance with the explicit. It revels in the details of the taboo of BDSM while seeming to condemn it. [...] And many, many readers love this. They can masturbate furiously to the scenes played out in the Red Room of Pain, while waiting for the heroine to cure Mr. Grey of his perversions.

 I am reminded of the masses who enjoyed the spectacle of the Salem Witch Trials or denunciations of heretics during the Spanish Inquisition. 

"She consorted lewdly with the Devil!" the inquisitor proclaims, partly for the judges but loudly enough to entertain the masses. He lovingly details the proof of her perfidy. The women gasp and feel a quiver between their thighs right before they all scream, "Burn the witch!" [...]

I don't think a large portion of mainstream society has evolved much since then. And for erotica writers, who usually situate themselves firmly in the sex-positive camp, this is very hard to comprehend. We write novels about how erotic experience and the exploration of new sexual territories helps us grow as individuals. For us, sex in a doorway. Very often our themes are about revelation, completion, redemption through experience. Not through shame or rejection or closing down our sexual options.

The photo of "Zombie and Bride of the Zombie" came from Wikimedia Commons and was taken by Sam Pullara, who has made it available for use under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

The poster of the film of The Sheik also came from Wikimedia Commons, as did Martin van Maële's "Illustration de La sorcière, de Jules Michelet. 1911" which depicts witches dancing naked.


  1. You know, I have never really thought about it but I now realize I consider vampire erotica "normal" while the idea of a rotting zombie lover is just ... gross. Yet, they are both animated corpses, and thus equally necrophiliac. Huh.

  2. But if a corpse is sentient and able to give consent (as vampires certainly can), is it really necrophilia? I did a bit of searching online and came across a version of

    Jones, Steve. (2011) "Porn of the Dead: Necrophilia, Feminism, and Gendering the Undead", Moreman, C. and Rushton, C. (eds.) Zombies Are Us: Essays on the Humanity of the Walking Dead. Jefferson: McFarland.

    which Jones has put on his website. Here's part of what he has to say about the issue:

    The fantasy that zombies are animated corpses in part negates the necrophilic taboo, which is based upon the principles of defilement and consent. As Dudley observes, “[t]he offense of necrophilia is that it attempts ... to convert a subject that has become an object back into a subject again” (1999: 289)— here the connotations of the sexualized object make the split more complex, as it revolves around a fantasy of the object’s coming into being. The inarticulate undead person is situated somewhere between points of discourse—they are neither human nor non-human. They are unable to consent (or to withhold their permission) without an understanding of human socio-sexual politics, or retention of an identity that ties into that schema.

    So, depending on the worldbuilding, if you had a zombie who is written as being more like a ghost (of the kind that can communicate and has a distinct personality and a sense of being an individual, and the ability to make decisions for itself) but clothed in a rotting body, the main thing that would make the situation "gross" would, presumably, be the "rotting" part. I'm not keen on the idea of cold vampire bodies, either, but I can't remember that being a feature of the romance-novel-vampires I've read about.

  3. Yes, it is definitely the "rotting" that is gross :0)

  4. Huh...I'm somewhat the opposite I guess, but then I am a librarian. I wouldn't have gotten into reading romance if not for the huge stocks of silhoutte 100 pages and you're done when I was in high school. Now I use the library to reserve and read all the Regencies that I can't find at bookstores anymore.

  5. Thanks for commenting, HL. Vassiliki's a librarian too. Her description of the situation in Australia doesn't match mine, either, but I'm in the UK. In my local library system all the romances are properly catalogued and it's easy to request a romance from another branch.

    Vassiliki's in Australia, so I assume that the situation there's quite a bit different (and, I suppose in different countries there are probably local differences too). My impression is that romances make up a far bigger proportion of the mass-market books read in the US than they do in the UK (and perhaps Australia, too). Certainly in the UK we don't have "single title romances" in the same way as you do in the US. We have "romantic fiction" of course, and that includes some longer books which fit the Romance Writers of America's definition of romance (including books by Loretta Chase, Mary Balogh, Julia Quinn etc that have been published across here too) but when I take a look at what's on the "romance" shelves in my local library, unless I already know the author, I can't be sure they'll have (a) a central romantic relationship and (b) happy endings. That's really only guaranteed in the Mills & Boons (Harlequins), and possibly the Robert Hale (library hardback) romances. I think the situation may be very similar in Australia.

  6. Thank you Laura for linking to my blog post and HL for your comment. The definition of romance in Australia used to be more closely related to the UK model but I think that there has been a shift towards the American defintion in the last 10 years. I am not aware of how romance acquisitions in UK libraries work but in Australia practices are inconsistent from one council area to the next. Juliet Flesch observes in From Australia with Love that when it comes to the romance paperbacks many public libraries “depend heavily on donations of recent titles from their patrons, thereby freeing acquisition funds for other titles”. Depending on your council library, their perception of romance, their perception of reading (is it reading as a ladder or reading for leisure) and how they build their relationship with their readers will impact on the types of books that get donated and are consequently accepted as part of the collection. Though many libraries allow for patron led acquisition practices they still have core collections that are co-ordinated by collection development specialists. To plan all collections with the exception of romance means that the romance reader's needs are not being met.

  7. Thanks for the extra details, Vassiliki. I find the differences (and sometimes the similarities) in attitudes towards, and the contents of, romance fiction in the US, Australia and UK very intriguing.