Scoff if you will at novels whose covers feature strapping, and occasionally shirtless, young men locked in a passionate embrace with equally desirable women. Go ahead and call them drivel if you dare. Regardless of the ways you attempt to dismiss the likes of Fifty Shades of Grey and other popular titles in the romance fiction genre, the fact remains that they are outselling every other genre of writing. In fact, as several of the authors featured in Love Between the Covers point out, the romance genre is single-handedly keeping the publishing industry alive. Laurie Kahn’s documentary sets out to shine light on how such a frequently maligned genre became a multi-billion dollar industry.
Capturing interviews with notable authors such as Nora Roberts, Mary Bly (better known by her pen name Eloisa James), Beverly Jenkins, Len Barot and a slew of others, Kahn provides a well-rounded look at the trailblazing nature of the genre. Romance novels are one of the few forms of entertainment that is predominantly created by women for women. Unlike other genres, women are not exploited or exist only to prop up their male counterparts. Instead it is the female characters that are the stars of the show. Their sexuality is not shunned or shamed, but rather praised in a positive light. Embracing the sense of empowerment and community, Kahn’s film is most enthralling when it touches on the socially conscious nature of the romance genre.
Author Beverly Jenkins outlines how she ventured into the industry out of necessity. Noticing that nobody was writing historical romances that featured black women, she decided to write them herself. A similar sentiment is conveyed by Len Barot who turned her love for writing lesbian romance into a successful publishing company. The do-it-yourself spirit is prevalent throughout the film. Thousands of women flood romance convention halls each year to not only meet their favourite writers, but also to get constructive critiques on their own works. One would assume that a multi-billion dollar venture such as the romance genre would be more cutthroat, but that is not the case. Kahn offers several examples of writers coming together, regardless of whether they are professionals or amateurs, to co-author novels that prove as fruitful as their solo works.
While it would have been nice if Kahn had incorporated more creative flourishes from a visual standpoint – the film rarely veers outside of the standard talking heads format – Love Between the Covers succeeds in making us rethink our perceptions of the romance genre. Kahn shows that these authors are more than mere peddlers of fantasies. They are individuals responsible for proofing cover images, writing website info, and keeping in constant contact with their fans on the various social media platforms. If we can praise other forms of entertainment for repeatedly riding the same formula to financial success, then it is time to start giving the romance novels the respect they deserve.
Friday May 1, 9:30 PM, Fox Theatre
Tickets can be purchased at the Hot Docs website.