Think romance novels are trash? That's a stereotype — one that's not necessarily true.

In college during summer and holiday breaks, I worked in a mall bookstore.

Our most popular promotion was a summer one: buy two books, get one free. Romance readers loved it. One afternoon, an older woman filled up a milk crate with books and told me as she paid that it was her "favorite day of the year."

Our stockroom guy, who liked parachute pants, muttered "loser" when she left. I wasn't surprised. I wouldn't be surprised if someone said it to me today, nearly 20 years later. Romance novels have been labeled as bad, stupid, insipid, and for "losers" since long before parachute pants existed.


Unfairly, romance novels are still pushed aside as "mommy porn" or the default favorite of lonely, cat-laden spinsters.

In reality, romance novels made up 23% of the U.S. fiction market in 2016 — proof that they deserve more credit than they get.

Romance gets trashed, says Sarah Wendell, co-founder and mastermind of Smart Bitches Trashy Books, because "it traffics in emotion and empathy and personal connection and values happiness."

It's also a business run by women that sells to women. The Nielsen Romance Buyer Survey has consistently tracked women as making up more than 80% of romance-novel buyers. "It is mostly women in publishing houses that work in the romance genre. It's women who are reading it. We are telling our stories to ourselves," she says.

That said, the genre isn't without its problems.

Ironically, romance novels are incredibly diverse in subject and not so much in substance. Subgenres abound: from pregnancy romances to Amish romances to shape shifter romances to male/male romances written for heterosexual women to BSDM books that make "Fifty Shades of Grey" look tame.

But when it comes to people, traditional romance publishing, like the rest of publishing, isn't as diverse as the general population (only 7.8% of books published by romance publishers in 2016 were written by people of color), but romance writers were also among the "earliest to figure out how to make self publishing work and form small group publishing enterprises to publish their stories," Wendell says. "When women of color and from other marginalized communities weren't reaching readers through traditional publishers, they made their own careers and made their own enterprises and connected with other readers."

Popular coverage doesn't often embrace the more modern, diverse side of romance novels, though, and still leans heavily into the "bodice rippers" stereotype, even though that style of romance largely fell out of popularity in the 1970s. The criticism of romance fiction often doesn't line up with the reality. "You just come back to 'it's s**t fiction because women read it,' and the people who condemn it very seldom read it themselves," says John Market, author of "Publishing Romance: The History of an Industry 1940 to Present."

When The New York Times Book Review dedicated its cover to romance novels in September 2017, for example, they gave the assignment to Robert Gotlieb, an 87-year-old white man. The results are about what you'd expect.

But in February 2018, the Times launched a romance column — indicating that, perhaps, the genre is finally being taken seriously.

Still, I don't expect it to be the norm. As long as women are treated as though their greatest value is still determined by what their bodies can provide for men, books written for and by women will be treated like dirt too.

"If those attitudes are there about the woman's place as a sexual object, then we've got a long way to go," Market says. "Since the books are about women's sexuality and focuses on the sexual aspect and emotions revolving around love, it tends to be put down as fluff."

This article was originally published by The Lily, a publication of The Washington Post, and is reprinted here with permission.

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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