From Window Magazine: Shameless
Photo by Rachel Bayne / for Window Magazine
Field research: Sociology professors Joanna Gregson ('93, Sociology) of Pacific Lutheran University and Jen Lois of Western, seen here at Third Place Books in Seattle, collaboratively study romance writers. Photo by Rachel Bayne / for Window Magazine
Jen Lois wasn't looking for love.
Then, through a neighbor, she discovered the “Twilight” series and fell hard.
Lois read all four books, then read them again. The WWU sociology professor fell in love with romance novels, where endings are always happily ever after.
But “Twilight” was just the beginning. Lois and Joanna Gregson (’93, Sociology), a sociology professor at Pacific Lutheran University, have teamed up to study the authors of the most popular and least respected of literary genres: romantic fiction.
Romance novels – dismissed by many as mindless, formulaic, popculture pulp – are a commercial gold mine, accounting for about half of all commercial paperback book revenue. Romance novels were responsible for $1.44 billion in sales last year, according to a trade association.
To Lois and Gregson, this raises a fascinating question: Who is writing these books about love, all these stories with the power to shape our ideas about relationships and sexuality?
But in academic circles, the pair found romance a tough sell – at least at first.
Lois has studied such sub-cultures as mountain search-and-rescue volunteers and home-schooling mothers. But when she applied for a grant to study romance writers, she was initially denied because the topic was determined to have “dubious scientific merit.”
Last year, Lois and Gregson first presented their findings at a conference. When they introduced their topic, “Sneers and Leers: Romance Writers and the Stigma of Sexual Shamelessness,” the room of sociologists started laughing.