Smut Reporting, Wrap Up

Reflections on a year of reviewing smut

My reading log
Why yes, I do still keep an analog reading log

One year ago today, I published my first review for The Smut Report. Since that time, I’ve read more smut than ever before. I’ve always been an avid romance reader, but in the past, I’ve generally switched between romance and other genres. Not this year. This year, there were only a few minor blips – I read The Library Book and also The Invisible Library series (there seems to be a pattern here…).

But by and large, it was all smut, all the time. 

Here’s what I’ve learned, about myself and about the genre.

All Smut, All the Time

Not only am I reading way more romance than ever before, I’m actually thinking about and tracking a lot about the romances I’ve been reading. 

Mostly, this means that I’m actually picking up on and paying attention to the tropes of the genre. The ridiculous tagging system that Erin and Ingrid and I came up with helps with that – we’re constantly texting each other about “what do you call that thing where he sees her right away and KNOWS but she needs convincing?” and other very important questions. 

However, I must admit, I’ve read a lot of mediocre smut. And sometimes it’s hard for me to separate it out – is this book actually mediocre, or am I grumpy from too much smutitude? My emotions are much more tied up in romance than in other works of fiction, so sometimes it’s hard to review objectively, if a book gives me the FEELS (good or bad – anyone who has read my rants knows that I am capable of deep rage about romance novels).

Note: my doctoral dissertation was primarily a literary analysis of books that give me very complicated feels, so I am capable of doing this. It’s just harder with romance – especially when I’m not coming up for air between books.

Bad Sex, Bad Writing, Characters that I Loathe

In my bio, I wrote that my deal-breakers were bad sex, bad writing, and characters that I loathe. Writing reviews has made me really focus in on what works and doesn’t work for me in a romance, so while that assessment still holds true, I can nuance things a little bit. 

Sexytimes are Important

It’s not so much that bad sex is a deal-breaker – rather, it’s that good sex can make the book. That means two things. First, the obvious given: the sex scenes should be well-written. But more importantly, the sex scenes have to actually do something to advance the plot or the characters. I find myself increasingly annoyed when authors throw in a half-assed sex scene right at the end because it’s a romance so they have to. (Erin put it best in her review of Mia Sosa’s One Night With the CEO.) Frankly, I would rather read a kisses-only romance where each kiss was magical and moved the plot forward than another book where there’s perfunctory sex at the end because it’s a romance and we have to have sex. 

Ugh, Alpha Heroes

I’ve discovered that loathing a character is generally only a deal-breaker if I hate the hero. I don’t know why that is, but there you have it. 

More specifically, I am so over alpha heroes. 

I recently learned the term “cinnamon roll hero” – the sweet, gooey guys who are too good for this world, and that’s what I want more of. Think Rafe (the Buff Male Nanny) or Samuel Morse (from The Widow of Rose House).

Look, I get it. Sometimes the fantasy is of a manly man who will sweep you off your feet (*cough*Erin*cough*), but right now, my fantasy is of a man who processes his emotions like an adult human and will also bake me cookies. Author Olivia Dade put together a list of cinnamon roll heroes a couple of years ago, and I may have to explore some of these titles.

The only problem is…alpha heroes are kind of hard to avoid. Especially if you decided that you were going to decode dukes, which was really a terrible plan on my part since I sort of hate duke books. #notalldukes (Don’t worry, readers. I have not given up on The Duke Project.)

On the other hand, I have gotten really into F/F romances, because then you get all of the sexyness and the emotions and the connection and the love, but with none of the alpha posturing. Win/win/win!

Building Community

When I was growing up, reading was a solitary occupation – it was what I did to escape my family when I needed introvert time. 

I still read when I need a break, but I’ve also come to appreciate the joys of finding a community of readers. Erin and I have talked about smut for years – we have lived thousands of miles away from each other for more than half of our 20 year friendship, so that meant we’d mail each other smut packages and every phone call eventually turned into a play-by-play of the most ridiculous books we’d read recently. I have a few other smut buddies as well: my mom, my sister, and a few friends from undergrad. And sometimes I subject my husband to rants about how awesome or terrible or ridiculous a book is; he’s a good sport, but I don’t think he really appreciates it. However, I was generally in the closet about my reading proclivities. I was trying to be a serious scholar, and reading romance was the embarrassing thing I did on the side.  (Except for that time I presented a conference paper on religion and romance novels, but that is a subject for another post.)

Since I started reviewing romance, however, the world has opened up. It turns out that there are tons of people out there who love reading romance novels and talking about them. (Granted, Erin and Ingrid run our social media accounts, so I have not really tapped into the world that is Romancelandia, but still. The folks I’ve interacted with on WordPress are very nice.) 

Writing reviews has also helped me share my enthusiasm for romance with others. I even sent the blog to my graduate advisor – and she had book suggestions.

Reading Goals for The Smut Report: Year 2

The more romance I read, the bigger the romance world gets. When we started The Smut Report, I generally read historicals, with an occasional foray into contemporary romance. But now! Now I know that the world of romance also includes BDSM menage based on King Arthur (definitely on my TBR) and so many aliens (Ingrid is obsessed with Ruby Dixon right now, and I might need to jump on that bandwagon) and many other wild and wonderful times and places where individuals find love. 

So reading goal #1: Explore the world of weird romance a bit more. It seems like it might be higher risk (because weird), but maybe higher reward. I’ll report back. The responses to this tweet seem like a good starting point:

Goal #2: Read the books that are actually on my bookshelf. Much as I love the buzz and excitement of ARCs, some of the best books I read this year were old books that I found at the library or a little free library or that had just been sitting on my bookshelf forever.

Holly's TBR Bookshelf
This pile is getting ridiculous. I think they spawn when I’m not looking.

Goal #3: Find some more historical romances set in unusual times or that have unusual protagonists. (Note to self: this is a good resource.) Dukes and Lords are all very well, but I want more middle class merchants or mid-century love stories. 

Goal #4: Delve into the backlist of some authors I’ve discovered this year. I’m thinking more Alyssa Cole, Mia Sosa, Maya Rodale, and Rebekah Weatherspoon

Goal #5: Maybe read some books that aren’t smut?

4 thoughts on “Reflections on a year of reviewing smut”

    1. The short version is: I was working on my doctorate in religion and happened to read a string of romance novels in a row that had some weird religion stuff going on, so I wrote a paper about it.

      My advisor wants me to repurpose that conference paper into a journal article, but I think turning it into a blog post is more realistic for my life right now. So (hopefully), more on this intersection in the future.

      Like

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