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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect for the feminist who LIKES happily ever after
Janice Radway does a terrific job of crossing and blurrign the lines of academic critical writing. Never before have I read a book that looks critically at a literary reality but manages to do it in a personable, friendly way. By the end of the novel, I felt as if Janice, Dot, and the other ladies of the reading group were my personal friends. As a graduate student...
Published on March 23, 1999 by Wendy Lee (tklsh1@juno.com)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good points, bad points
Ambivalence is the name of my game here. I find Radice's points interesting, but at the same time I cannot but find issues with her reasoning and method. Also, if you want to read it you should be warned that this book is dated, being written in the social context of '84, which is different from the social context today.

To comment on the title: the 'women' are...
Published on September 12, 2011 by Sarshi


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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect for the feminist who LIKES happily ever after, March 23, 1999
This review is from: Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature (Paperback)
Janice Radway does a terrific job of crossing and blurrign the lines of academic critical writing. Never before have I read a book that looks critically at a literary reality but manages to do it in a personable, friendly way. By the end of the novel, I felt as if Janice, Dot, and the other ladies of the reading group were my personal friends. As a graduate student in literature whose focus is feminist literary studies, I have often found my choice in studies at odds with my passion for reading romance novels. What a pleasure (and relief) to see someone who has taken the desire and need to read popular literature seriously. Often, studies on popular lit, particularly romance novels, are often critical of the preferences of non-academic individuals. What they tend to forget is that the purpose of reading is most frequently for the purpose of pleasure. I recommend this book to both "academics," potential writers of romance novels (a great way to learn what your audience is really thinking) and to those of us who just need a little ammunition against those who critique our choice in reading!
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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Conflict of Interest Makes it Interesting, July 18, 2002
This review is from: Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature (Paperback)
An interesting book and a pretty good read. With the exception of the first chapter, which is an enlightening but pretty dry history of book publishing, the author writes with an enganging and personable style that's highly unusual for an "academic" book. I picked it up thinking that I'd browse through it and found myself reading it cover to cover. There's a bit of the usual feminist/critical studies rhetoric but it's neither bombastic enough nor pervasive enough to dampen the book's accessibility nor its credibility.
What keeps the book interesting is the author's ongoing engagement with a smallish group of midwestern romance readers. The group makes up the core of her study and she cites interviews with these readers as well as statistical results from a questionnaire. An undercurrent which runs through this book but which Radway doesn't directly address is her conflicted relationship with this group. On the one hand, she is seems to respect them a great deal and doesn't want to dismiss them the way many romance readers have been dismissed as mindless and passive women. Indeed, part of her analysis is that the romance novel is a complex response to power relations between men and women and that it does not simply reinforce the status quo. On the other hand, she seems to suggest that the readers she's interviewed aren't entirely aware of this agenda--that they simply read to escape.
Radway refers over and over again to the idea that the women she's interviewed read romances in order to experience vicariously what they are missing in their lives. She makes a pretty interesting case, but it's significant, I think, that she never asks the women about whether or not they think they are missing anything in their lives. Thus, though interesting, the book takes a sort of, "I know what you really need and why you really read these books even if you don't" mentality. She cares about and respects these women and she listens closely to their experiences and opinions. But she still thinks she knows their motivations better than the readers themselves. I'm not sure it's really so much condescending as conflicted.
It would have been interesting to have Radway actually address this issue with the readers she interviewed or at least in an afterword to the book. I wonder if the women she interviewed read the book and what they thought about it if they did.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A major contribution to the field of cultural studies, March 7, 2001
This review is from: Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature (Paperback)
I was disappointed to see that an earlier reviewer found the book condescending. I think it is true that when the book was written, for a largely academic audience, back in 1984, she probably felt she had to bend over backwards to have her work taken seriously by academics, so she couldn't have written "as a fan." But condescending? I really didn't think so. This book was inspirational to me when I was trying to find a way to approach the material I study (and personally enjoy), Japanese girls' and women's comics. I don't know if Janice (whom I know and admire) is a fan of romance novels, but I know she has always enjoyed popular literature, and that she really tried, in this book, to see romances as their readers see them, and to convey that point of view to academics and feminists who have always looked on romance with contempt. But think about it: if she had written the book from a "fannish," "gee-aren't-romance-novels-great" point of view, it would have ended up as a book by and for romance readers, and wouldn't have contributed to helping non romance-readers understand the genre. I would recommend this book to A) anyone who has always considered "genre fiction" to be pap, B) feminists who want to break out of the "feminists vs. non-feminist women" paradigm, and C) romance readers who would like some ammunition in defending the genre to others.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Groundbreaking Study, Now Dated--But Still Worth a Look, February 20, 2010
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Anastasia Beaverhausen (Where the Beavers Live) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature (Paperback)
READING THE ROMANCE was a groundbreaking study in 1984. As one of the first studies to seriously examine romance reading, it is worth a read for scholars studying popular genre fiction. The first chapter is an invaluable and detailed history of the romance novel--the rise of Harlequin is a fascinating publishing story in particular.

Unfortunately, there are a few caveats. The sample size of readers that were surveyed and interviewed is disturbingly low (41), and all live in the same Midwestern town. The author extrapolates the results of her study with this small group of women into a 200-page book. While it's fascinating, it isn't quite the definitive documentary of romance readers that its subtitle ("Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature") suggests. While romance novels and romance reader demographics have changed considerably in the past 26 years, this remains a good starting point for scholars.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good points, bad points, September 12, 2011
This review is from: Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature (Paperback)
Ambivalence is the name of my game here. I find Radice's points interesting, but at the same time I cannot but find issues with her reasoning and method. Also, if you want to read it you should be warned that this book is dated, being written in the social context of '84, which is different from the social context today.

To comment on the title: the 'women' are only a certain category of women; the 'patriarchy' is indeed a central theme of the book; and 'popular literature' refers strictly and entirely to romance, except in the beginning where others are mentioned. It isn't a bad title, but it might mislead.

The most interesting part, for me, was learning how the romance novel came to be such a popular form. I was unaware of the marketing or of how it was distributed to readers. In fact, the history of publishing at the start of the book is quite fascinating.

The actual study, however, felt lacking for a number of reasons. The sample of women asked about their reading habits was small - 41 - and unvaried - all women from Smithton of pretty much the same background - which leaves room for quite a lot of error. I feel that a better study would have been achieved if she had encountered a larger number of women from different other places and checked to see which are the homogenous and which the heterogeneous traits of these readers.

The point is, mostly, that these women would read romances to 'escape' from too much external pressure from their families into a world where they can identify with the heroine that is the center of the attention of the manly, nurturing hero and thus they extract from books the pleasure and spoiling of sorts that they can't get in real life. On a personal level, I would much rather the author had skipped the Freudian-looking 'pre-oedipal mother-daughter bond' explanation because I find it quite disturbing. But that's just me. Also, she comes with the idea that romances both reinforce the patriarchal society rules and work against them somehow. Romance comes off as not entirely opposed to feminism, but perhaps as the more realistic solution to the realities of a patriarchal society.

So, yes, there's interesting ideas and weaknesses. All in all, a good book to read if you're interested in the subject and willing to take a pinch of salt with you into the reading.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Smart and (mostly) fair, January 17, 2001
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frumiousb "frumiousb" (Amsterdam, the Netherlands) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature (Paperback)
It's easy to look at the title and expect an exercise in shooting fish in a barrel. There's been more than enough written about the romance as rape fantasy or patriarchal imagining without trying to understand the appeal behind the books themselves. Radway is much more fair than earlier writers and I was impressed, particularly considering that the book was written in 1984 (this was a reprint edition).
She begins the book by tracing the history of the popular novel in America and then narrowing that down to the history of the romance. This is an informative and effective way of setting the context. She then spends time interviewing women in the town of Smithton who center around a bookstore that caters to romance readers. Radway seems to genuinely like the women she's interviewing and there's a real sense that she makes an effort to understand the whys even though she clearly doesn't share the taste.
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8 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening, April 2, 2002
By 
Steven Reynolds (Sydney, Australia) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature (Paperback)
Despite the growing popularity of cultural studies, it's still surprising to find a literary academic who embraces popular culture. More surprising still is that Janice Radway managed to head down this path almost twenty years ago. Recognizing that a theorist who refuses to engage with popular fiction is ignoring perhaps 90% of what people actually read, Radway does not dismiss romantic fiction as beneath her attention. Rather, she sets out to conduct an empirical study into the genre. In doing so, she addresses some important questions: Why do women read romance? What social and psychological needs does it meet? If there is an "ideal" romance, what are its components and why? How does the unique language of romance do its work? In answering these, Radway not only manages to define an entire genre. She also draws out some rather chilling and not so obvious conclusions about the role of romantic fiction in preventing the feminist agenda from taking hold. And unlike many criticisms of romance, Radway's is based on observation, experience and facts. Her preference for foregrounding the evidence rather than her own views is mightily refreshing. My only reservation is the ease with which she extrapolates the reading experiences of a small group of women into conclusions about American culture in general. However, her excellent introduction to the second edition recognizes this, positions her study in relation to the emerging discipline of cultural studies, and suggests ways in which her study's insights might be further explored and tested. I strongly recommend this to anyone interested in the romance genre, or in academic approaches to popular fiction in general. Readers, writers, students and critics will all find something to learn here.
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12 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A bit condescending, but interesting, March 12, 2000
By 
L. S. Tucker (Port St. Lucie, FL USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature (Paperback)
I found the book interesting, but there was an undercurrent of snobbishness. The author "tries" to be "fair and understanding" to romance books and readers. However, the underlying theme I got from this study was "I only read these books for my thesis, I would NEVER personally enjoy them!" which is a great pity. This is a book that is interesting to read for the background and analysis contained within. But, if you are a romance reader, as I am, you will be tempted to contact the author and educate her. Don't try, it never works.
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3 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Strongly Feminist, August 9, 2005
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This review is from: Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature (Paperback)
I found the responses of the individuals interviewed interesting, but the analysis rather uninteresting. Unless you are a proponent of feminist theory the authors thoughts and interpretations of the women's reasons for reading romance novels is bound to seem pretty suspect. She does own up to this in the introduction, and the material is still interesting, I just got sick of hearing about patriarchal marriages mighty quick.
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17 of 37 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Pretentious Over-Analysis, April 13, 2004
This review is from: Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature (Paperback)
Not being a fan of romance novels, I approached this analysis by Radway from a cultural studies standpoint. This is a relatively informative example from that field, with some reasonably well-defined conclusions about its phenomenon of interest. I have no problem with stipulations that women read romance novels to escape from daily drudgery, to identify with a strong-willed heroine who wins the heart of an ideal man, and even to rebel against their insensitive husbands. Radway could have made these points in a very straightforward manner, but this book takes us on a severely pretentious academic over-analysis, with several methodological problems that make the book difficult to take seriously.
First, I will second the claims by previous reviewer M. Dargan who found that Radway shows little evidence that her pseudonymous town of Smithton really exists, under any name. She maintains that the town is a suburb of 112 thousand people, next to a city of 800 thousand (the last two figures are supposedly from the 1970 census), is in the Midwest, is about 2000 miles from New York City, and is in a state with 115 counties. Do a little research, as M. Dargan did, and you'll find that no location satisfying all five of these descriptions exists. I'm willing to concede that Radway may have made some minor mistakes in description, but should this happen in a book that is so extensively researched otherwise? Meanwhile, except for "Dot" the women profiled in the book appear very homogenous and undifferentiated. Radway's general lack of definition for these women is at least a problem of research methodology, if not outright misrepresentation.
In any case, such questions of method would be of little concern if Radway had stuck to her planned thesis, which is to find out why women read romance novels. However, this book descends into a swamp of rusty Hite-style feminist theories on gender roles and sexuality (especially in the interminable Chapter 4), of the type that are just as unyielding and condescending as the male-oriented conceptions they are rebelling against. Radway even concedes that the women in the study rarely had conceptions of such supposedly deep thoughts. On the other hand, they regularly make the standard claims that men are only thinking of one thing, that husbands are threatened by their wives' reading material, et cetera. They can think these things if they wish, but Radway fails to notice that these are stereotypical categorizations of the type that feminist theory is supposed to counter against. Once again, I have no problem with romance novels or the goals of feminism. However, one must wonder about the true agenda of a researcher who turns a thin cultural study of 42 homogenous women who read romance novels, in a town that may not really exist, into 200+ pages of pretentious theorizing and pontification. (...)
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Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature
Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature by Janice A. Radway (Paperback - November 30, 1991)
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