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.

Courtesy of Verizon
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If someone were to say "video games" to you, what are the first words that come to mind? Whatever words you thought of (fun, exciting, etc.), we're willing to guess "healthy" or "mental health tool" didn't pop into your mind.

And yet… it turns out they are. Especially for Veterans.

How? Well, for one thing, video games — and virtual reality more generally — are also more accessible and less stigmatized to veterans than mental health treatment. In fact, some psychiatrists are using virtual reality systems for this reason to treat PTSD.

Secondly, video games allow people to socialize in new ways with people who share common interests and goals. And for Veterans, many of whom leave the military feeling isolated or lonely after they lose the daily camaraderie of their regiment, that socialization is critical to their mental health. It gives them a virtual group of friends to talk with, connect to, and relate to through shared goals and interests.

In addition, according to a 2018 study, since many video games simulate real-life situations they encountered during their service, it makes socialization easier since they can relate to and find common ground with other gamers while playing.

This can help ease symptoms of depression, anxiety, and even PTSD in Veterans, which affects 20% of the Veterans who have served since 9/11.

Watch here as Verizon dives into the stories of three Veteran gamers to learn how video games helped them build community, deal with trauma and have some fun.

Band of Gamers www.youtube.com

Video games have been especially beneficial to Veterans since the beginning of the pandemic when all of us — Veterans included — have been even more isolated than ever before.

And that's why Verizon launched a challenge last year, which saw $30,000 donated to four military charities.

And this year, they're going even bigger by launching a new World of Warships charity tournament in partnership with Wargaming and Wounded Warrior Project called "Verizon Warrior Series." During the tournament, gamers will be able to interact with the game's iconic ships in new and exciting ways, all while giving back.

Together with these nonprofits, the tournament will welcome teams all across the nation in order to raise money for military charities helping Veterans in need. There will be a $100,000 prize pool donated to these charities, as well as donation drives for injured Veterans at every match during the tournament to raise extra funds.

Verizon is also providing special discounts to Those Who Serve communities, including military and first responders, and they're offering a $75 in-game content military promo for World of Warships.

Tournament finals are scheduled for August 8, so be sure to tune in to the tournament and donate if you can in order to give back to Veterans in need.

Courtesy of Verizon

via @Todd_Spence / Twitter

Seven years ago, Bill Murray shared a powerful story about the importance of art. The revelation came during a discussion at the National Gallery in London for the release of 2014's "The Monuments Men." The film is about a troop of soldiers on a mission to recover art stolen by the Nazis.

After his first time performing on stage in Chicago, Murray was so upset with himself that he contemplated taking his own life.

"I wasn't very good, and I remember my first experience, I was so bad I just walked out — out onto the street and just started walking," he said.

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