Romance in the 90s

[Note: this post is not about sex for nonagenarians. If that’s the sort of thing you’re looking for, try Google.]

For most of the 1990s, I was in junior high and high school. Being an independent, intelligent girl (read: a chubby girl with braces and a feathered mullet courtesy of Super Cuts), Barnes & Noble supplied all the romance in my life.

This past Christmas, I spent a week clearing out dozens of boxes of books that I’ve stored in my parents’ garage for eight years – since I moved to Europe. My husband, a literature student, showed a mixture of admiration and horror for my collection. There were some old favorites from my literature classes (Ernie Pyle’s Brave Men, Flannery O’Conner’s collected stories – which I’d thought I’d lost and had bought a replacement for), but there were also loads of romance novels with the tawdriest covers.

I did a little happy dance when I saw some of them. I’d completely forgotten I had them, and they’re the closest things I’ve got to high school flames. When Hubby and I were packing to leave California after New Year, we realized we had too much stuff. He lobbied hard for me to leave the romance novels (actually, I think he offered to burn them for me), but there was no way.

I’ve reread a few of them over the past couple months, and I’m really pleasantly surprised by how much the genre has grown and changed since then.

Obviously I can’t speak for all romance novels written in the 90s, but the ones I’d hung on to were clearly written for readers with the emotional maturity of a never-been-kissed teenage girl. The historicals were full of rapist heroes, and the contemporaries had cartoonish characters and laughable situations.

Last night I started flipping through the only one I haven’t reread, and I could tell within a few pages I wouldn’t be investing much time in it. It was a contemporary with a hero from New Orleans (or, “Nawlins”). He consistently calls the heroine “dawlin” and at one point (the point where I laughed so hard I had to put the book down) calls her “honey chile”.

Having only spent two days in New Orleans myself, this book could’ve completely put me off ever going back. A couple weeks ago, though, I read Laura Griffin’s Untraceable (a good book for indulging your inner computer geek), which has a hero from New Orleans, and he doesn’t speak like a jackass.

It made me thankful that there are romance novels out there today written with the thinking woman in mind. Thank you to those writers who recognize I’m in my 30s, I have a better understand of what sex is (and what it isn’t), I can afford a real haircut, and my teeth get compliments on their straightness (and their whiteness because, let’s face it, stereotypes about British teeth exist for a reason).

Have you gone back to read genre books from a bygone age? What differences did you notice?

By Kat

Kat Latham writes sexy contemporary romance, including the London Legends rugby series. With degrees in English lit and human rights, she loves stories that reflect the depth, humor and emotion of real life. She's a California girl living in the Netherlands with her baby girl and British husband.

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