Shelf Love

085. Reflections on 2020 Listener Favorite Episodes, 2021 Plans

Short Description

I reflect on listener favorite episodes from 2020, share what I'll be speaking more of in 2021, and say thank you to the Holiday Fairies! (Originally recorded in January when 2021 was still fresh.)

Show Notes

I reflect on listener favorite episodes from 2020, share what I'll be speaking more of in 2021, and say thank you to the Holiday Fairies! (Originally recorded in January when 2021 was still fresh.)

Show Notes:

Shelf Love:

Listener Favorite Episodes from 2020 (Popular Vote - i.e. downloads)

Jess's Favorites: (You can hear Jess on 047. Rose Lerner Double Header with Shelf Lovely Jess)

Super Special Thank You's who went above and beyond to help with Holiday Fairies:

Holiday Fairies: Amazing Newsletter Sponsors To Support


[00:00:00]Andrea Martucci:   Hello. And welcome to episode 85 of Shelf Love, a podcast that unpacks romance novels with nuance. In conversations with scholars, readers, and other experts, Shelf Love contextualizes the popular romance genre within the broader, critical discussion of identity, culture, and love.

I'm your host, Andrea Martucci and on today's podcast, I am giving 2020 some closure and I'll share what you can look forward to in 2021, at least as far as the podcast goes.

I recorded this episode on January 8th, 2021. When the new year was still fresh. This is present day, Andrea popping in a third of a year later on April 10th, 2021. I meant to record a super short episode way back in January, which we all know I am not capable of doing, so it ended up being super long and it didn't fit into my episode release schedule slash I didn't have time to edit it. So I ended up not releasing this episode back in January. Oopsie.

You can hear that. I was really restrained talking about listener favorite episodes for like two of them. And then I obviously couldn't help myself from really digging into the whole reflection bit. Look, you're not here for listicles, right? You're here to hear me circle around topics again and again, constantly introspecting until I understand everything there is to understand about romance novels. Right?

But seriously, I certainly learned a lot from revisiting topics. So I hope you enjoy this as well. Or perhaps you check out some of these episodes if you missed them when they came out. I also answered listener questions in this recording session back in January, and I will release that as a separate episode soon. Anyways, here I am back in January, Andrea.

Marker [00:01:46]  As you might know, 2020 was Shelf Love's first full calendar year as a podcast. And I released 59 episodes. I also had 48 unique guests. Some episodes had multiple guests and some guests showed up more than once. In fact, my most guested guest was Katrina Jackson who was on eight different episodes.

I selected about eight listener favorites from 2020 and have been sharing them on social media. Here are the top eight listener favorite episodes from 2020.

  First we've got episode 52, which was about the modern romance canon and my guests were, you guessed [00:02:30] it Katrina Jackson, and also Dr. Eric Selinger. And they helped me unpack why romance resists canonization. That's a super interesting episode, especially in the context of the modern romance canon project I was doing. And, I still feel like the project is interesting in what it was trying to do. I think that the name is incredibly triggering for some people.

I was explicitly not trying to talk about foundational texts. I was trying to be like, well, like what if we made our own canon about. Books that we really liked now. But apparently canon is a very loaded term that, uh, has a lot of history that isn't very savory. So I'm going to have to rename that project at some point and come back to that. I still haven't come up with an ideal name. So I will be working on that in 2021.

  Another listener favorite from 2020 was episode 64, which was called women in pants, problematic, favorite tropes. And I was joined by John Jacobson who joined me to trouble the binaries, as we unpack a problematic favorite trope, which was what we came up with calling a woman in a historical romance wearing pants and like disguising herself as a boy or a man.

And, as you can imagine, this is complicated because these are often cis women. So go listen to that episode. It's part of the problematic favorite trope series. And John Jacobson does a fantastic job helping me break this down.

  Another listener favorite from 2020 was episode 41, which was about The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang.

And I was joined by Dr. Maria DeBlassie who helped me unpack bodice rippers and courtship narratives in this episode. And if you have read The Kiss Quotient, you may also know that it is a Pretty Woman inspired romance. Although the male main character is the sex worker in this and I love this conversation with Maria, because she has so much to share about the context of courtship narratives, because it's something that she has studied.

And this episode was also sort of a surprise because Maria reached out to me and pitched the episode basically. And I was like, okay, that sounds really interesting. Sure. Why not? And I think we recorded it around the beginning of the pandemic and I was feeling all sorts of just like, I [00:05:00] don't know what's happening. Let's just try new things. It was one of those situations that worked out really well.

And I got to know Maria and she has come back on the podcast. And we actually talked about conjuring practices, particularly in African diaspora conjuring practices. So those were two episodes that came out around Halloween. Uh, I'll put the link in the show notes.

Another listener favorite episode was episode 58 about East Asian American romance. My guest was Dr. Hsu-Ming Teo, who is a cultural historian and romance scholar.  Hsu-Ming is fantastic, and we discussed her research on cultural authenticity and East Asian American romance novels.

Now, Hsu-Ming as I said, she's a cultural historian and romance scholar, and she had so many interesting tidbits about how differently people have thought about love over time. So for example in one cultural context that she mentioned it was the ultimate sign of love to pee on the skirt of the woman you love. And, uh, you know, I think it's just a really good illustration of how much cultural context makes a difference in how we conceptualize love. And that's something I would love to continue to dig into more. You can definitely expect me to have more thoughts on that in 2021. 

Episode 33 was a compilation episode about romance myths and misconceptions. And so when I was talking to my guests, I was also asking them these questions and I gathered it into one episode and I was joined by Kennedy Ryan, Emma, Berry, Talia Hibbert, TIFF Marcello, and Suzanne Jeffries to respond to common misconceptions about romance.

And this was a fun episode because I also interspersed things that  I had pulled from interviews with some of my former coworkers where they were very easily able to pull out those myths and misconceptions about romance when I asked them innocuous questions about what they thought of when they thought of romance novels, and you can also hear me badger one of my coworkers about the root cause let's say of why they think what they think about romance.

I am a romance bully. So episode 33 myths and misconceptions about romance. Each of my guests takes a different myth about romance and kind of breaks it down, why it's kind of bullshit.

And something to keep in mind is that it's not that romance novels are above critique. I [00:07:30] very much do not believe they're above critique. There is a lot to really talk about with romance novels, but the problem with a lot of romance myths and misconceptions is that they're not really about romance novels.

They're about people's perception of romance. Jayashree Kamble, who has also been on the podcast, I've read multiple things she's written where she talks about the idea of the media romance and the media romance is how media portrays romance novels, or people who read romance novels, or people who write romance novels. And there's this cultural understanding of what romance novels are and who reads them that doesn't actually really bear any actual resemblance to reality.

So there's two things to unpack. There's two things to really look into there. There's why do people believe these things about romance and why are they factually untrue or, or sort of generally untrue? For example, if you say, romance readers are uneducated or romance novels are only read by women, now factually you can say those things are untrue and then you can also say, well, why does it matter if readers of genre have attained a lower level of educational attainment than readers of another genre. What does that mean?

Let's really think about what we're really saying when we say that and why these misconceptions then seem to follow around romance novels, because what is it about romance novels that makes the media so easily believe some things about it.

  So I think with a lot of romance novel criticism, what we as romance readers and fans find ourselves doing is having the wrong argument. And I think a lot of times what we really need to be saying is, that's the wrong question to ask. The question isn't how much education do romance readers and writers have? The question is, why do we believe that literature is only good, or entertainment is only good if the people who read it have a higher level of education, or you must have a certain level of education to understand it and appreciate it? That's a better question.

  Episode 63, the three waves of romance research. I was once again, joined by Dr. Eric Selinger and he shared how romance research, interest and methods have evolved [00:10:00] over time. And so this is actually very related to that question of what questions about romance do we want to ask and what are we really interested in here? And what are interesting questions?

And so Eric, in this episode talks about how, early romance research that really was coming out  initially in the late seventies, early 1980s. And it was very focused on coming at the romance genre from the perspective of non-fans or non-readers of the genre and many of the early critics were asking questions, like how do romance novels harm the readers, or, you know, how are romance novels duping the readers who are believing this fantasy and how has this fantasy harmful? And there's a lot of reasons for why this is happening.

And Eric definitely goes into some of those reasons, but we're definitely in an era now of romance research where the scholars who are studying romance do appreciate romance. They read romance, they enjoy it. And I think that they're asking more interesting questions. And so Eric, along with Hsu-Ming Teo, and Jayashree Kamble edited the Routledge Research Companion to Popular Romance Fiction, which just came out in September 2020.

And that's another book that I am making my way through right now. It is a pretty big tome. There are many chapters all by different authors and each of the chapters basically covers high level what research has been done on different topics. So on historical romance or queer romance or the Gothic romance and then also doing these sort of surveys of what work has been done and what questions still haven't been covered that much. There's a lot left to be talked about in romance research, and I'm still getting my feet under me with what recent scholarship has been published and rereading some of the early scholarship, finding some of the early scholarship that I hadn't read before when I was initially doing some reading on romance scholarship back when I was in college.

And so this book is really helpful as a way to get your bearing in what's going on. It's not meant to be a deep dive in any of those topics. In particular I think the bibliographies of all of those sections, all of those chapters are incredibly helpful for [00:12:30] then if you're interested in something going in and doing a deep dive in that direction but I think that it does something that is really important and is really needed in popular romance fiction scholarship to help people who are just finding their way in.

Another episode that was a listener favorite this year was episode 45, History in Romance. This was part of the Decameron quarantine romance book club, which was an idea that I had like two days into quarantine when I thought that the quarantine was going to last for like, two weeks. And of course I had no idea what was going to happen. And I recorded like 10 episodes in a two week period.

And, then I was like, Oh, wow, no, this is going to go on for awhile and so, so anyways, that was totally a case of like, I had no idea what I was in for here. And I was joined by Katrina Jackson, Rebekah Weatherspoon, and Felicia Grossman. And in that episode, my guests skillfully unpacked why historical accuracy is a fantasy. And I love this episode. This is one of those episodes where I just feel like the stars aligned and the conversation that we had and it's like a 30 minute conversation. This is not a super long conversation. And we also talk about book recommendations in this episode.  It just so quickly covers a lot of the big issues and a lot of the conversation that we are going to have again and again and again, in romancelandia about historical accuracy in romance.

And so every time on Twitter people start having their tweet threads or they're outraged or whatever about historical accuracy, I think that this episode is evergreen. It will always be relevant. So if you have not listened to episode 45 history in romance, please go check it out. You will not regret it.

Irelisten to that episode and maybe that sounds like I'm just very full of myself listening to episodes, but I just, I can hear what my guests say again and again, and there's just always more to think about.

All right. So the last episode I want to highlight was my first problematic favorite trope episode, which was episode 61 on alphaholes with Dame Jodie Slaughter. I knighted her when she came on the podcast and we talked about [00:15:00] taming toxic masculinity. This is one of those episodes that, again, it's short, it's 20 something minutes max 30 minutes. And we talk about what is pleasurable about the alpha asshole character archetype, and why we see this a lot in romance  and we see different executions, right? So we see some that seem to be kind of unaware of what they're playing with. And then we might see some that really like mitigate the problematic aspects or address the more problematic aspects of this trope. But basically where we got to is that we turn what we fear into desire.

And first of all, I love Jodie Slaughter and you're going to be hearing from Jodie Slaughter again in 2021. I'm also incredibly proud of Jodie. She announced a book deal at the end of 2020. She'll have some traditionally published books along with continuing to self pub. So incredibly proud of Jodie. And you're going to hear from Jodie again, but what I love about this episode, and I think what listeners really loved as well was that it clarified and it exposed sort of the structure of a problematic trope, which is exactly what this series has meant to do is sort of to expose, you know, do we love these things because they're problematic or in spite of them being problematic.

And I think a lot of people, and I think it depends on the trope, but I think a lot of people say, Oh, no, I only love this trope when it's done this way. But I think really at their core, these are subconscious fantasies. I don't think that we're going into these romances and saying like, yes, I want to tame toxic masculinity. That's why I love this book. And I think different books fulfill that promise differently, obviously, but I think these are subconscious desires and I think that we find them pleasurable as readers despite ourselves really.

And there's also, I think, some sociological cultural conditioning there. So that is something that I'm going to talk a lot more about in 2021, which is basically fantasies and reality and unpacking basically, what is a myth about romance, which is that readers can't tell the difference between fantasy and reality and, after having some problematic favorite trope conversations and having some other conversations towards the end of 2020, [00:17:30] I think I've always had that feeling of, Oh, sure. No, of course. Readers can tell the difference between fantasy and reality and fantasy is harmless.

However, I think I'm actually changing how I feel about this and I'm doing some more reading to help me crystallize how I am thinking about this and kind of what distinctions need to be made, because I've said this before on the podcast, I don't think werewolves are real, you know, I think that's really clearly a fantasy element and it's very clear that that is fiction.

However, I think there are a lot of aspects of romance that are wrapped in a fantasy, but look very close to reality. And I personally think that those elements of fantasy are actually what are much more compelling to us about romance as readers. I think that that is what we are truly drawn to is the things that look very much like reality or that are familiar to us and to our experience in the real world. And I think that when those things are presented within a romance narrative, that that changes how we feel about those things. And so I think that the romance author has an incredible amount of power to influence our understanding of the world.

And really what I'm doing here Is saying that what romance writers write matters and it does make a difference in how we feel about things. And I think that we talk often and we hear lots of conversation among fans of romance saying how much romance matters to us as readers and how much the hope in romance means to us and how much it impacts our moods and our feelings and how we look at the world.

And so really what I want to continue to talk about in 2021, I've already started talking about this, is I really want to dig deeper into that because I think that we need to talk about the harm. We need to talk about which elements of romance when they recur again and again, and again, reinforce things like white supremacy either through erasure or by harmful stereotypes. I think that there are many stereotypes, either racial or gender, or about ability or about what [00:20:00] is desirable in life and relating to what kind of work is valuable, what kinds of activities are valuable and what life we should desire for ourselves as people.

And a lot of those ideals are really wrapped up in capitalism and in becoming powerful and, having power over other people and also in having extreme privilege and other people in the same world being extremely lacking in privilege. So 2021 is going to be fun and.

I don't want to get too, too far ahead of myself in what's happening in 2021. But that is definitely at the forefront of my mind.

  All right. And so now just for fun, I asked Shelf Lovely Jess. Jess is known around these parts as Shelf Love's first listener. Jess also joined the podcast in episode 47 to talk about Rose Lerner's books. And so if you want to learn more about Jess, you should head on over there. But Jess has basically been contributing to the podcast since the very beginning. So I was curious what Jess's top five episodes were from 2020.

And so here's her list.

So her list included episode 67, which was the Halloween episode was called Everyday Black Magic. And my guest was Dr. Maria DeBlassie. Although you really should listen to episode 66, which is with Dr. Maria DeBlassie, as well as Dr. Margarita Guillory, who is a scholar about  African diaspora conjuring practices and digital religions.

And we talked about Black women in romance who were identifying as witches or as people who were conjuring or manifesting or engaging in these esoteric practices. And this was a super fun episode. It was such a joy to be able to go right to somebody who knows so much about the topic and getting the background before then bringing that over into the romance sphere specifically because Dr. Guillory is not a romance reader herself. That's a super fun episode. I agree, Jess, great episode.

Another episode that she loved was episode 19, which was from the very beginning of 2020. [00:22:30] It was with Penny Reid. And we talked about A Court of Thorns and Roses and I asked Jess, I was like, out of curiosity, what did you like so much about 19?

And I was not surprised because a lot of people liked 19. It was very close to being a listener favorite from 2020. And, Jess was talking about how it was really interesting to hear the discussion about A Court Of Thorns and Roses because it was a book that she liked in theory, more than in practice.

And, apparently we got her to try the second book in the series. This book in this series is really interesting because the romantic leads actually switch, which you don't see a lot and I think maybe, Sarah J Maas gets away with it because it's a little bit more on the YA end of the spectrum and I think that's a little bit more accepted over there. But anyways, it's very interesting. And Penny Reid had lots of fun stuff to share in that episode.

Another favorite was episode 30 and that was a seditious affair with Emma Barry. That's A Seditious Affair by KJ Charles.

And now that I'm thinking about it sedition, there's a lot in there about sedition and what counts as sedition in a corrupt government. It has become increasingly relevant as time has gone on, I'm trying to remember, like that episode was almost a year ago at this point, and now I'm trying to remember the details, but I do remember that I had a fantastic conversation with Emma Barry and I remember that she introduced me to the term political exigencies. So that was fun.

Another favorite of Jess's was episode 58 East Asian American romances with Hsu-Ming Teo, which also made listener favorites.

And then she also loved episode 46, which was about A Conspiracy of Whispers, with Bree who is half of Kit Rocha and that episode, we also recorded very early in quarantine. And, there are some kind of hilarious style things that we say, Oh my God, like, what if things are never the same after this?

Like, Oh, can you imagine? And, it's just kind of funny to go back and listen to you now, in retrospect, especially because it came out like three months into the quarantine. So even at the time it came out. Some of the things we're saying are kind of ridiculous. So anyways, those are Jess's listener favorites, check those out.

And Jess's love of Sunfire Romances, which are the series of teen romances from the eighties, [00:25:00] her love inspired me to actually go buy some of these. And I think in 2021, I might talk about these a little bit. I have started to read a few of them. I don't know if you listener are somebody who read these Sunfire romances, they're historical. There's always like a love triangle with the young woman and two guys who one usually represents the life that she's been taught that she should have and the other one represents the life of sort of freedom. And he appreciates her for who she is and encourages her to be herself. And to take the less conventional path in life. There's a lot to talk about in there though. These books are almost 40 years old. And I think that I'm actually just surprised at how blatant some of the messages are in them. And I'm really curious because you know, maybe if I re-read some of the teen books that I read as a teen, I would also be like, well, when I read this, this was not so obvious, but now I'm reading it and it is super obvious. I think I might talk about that at some point in 2021.

Marker [00:26:06]

  Around Thanksgiving 2020 I was very inspired by what I saw happen with Romancing The Runoff and found myself thinking about other ways that people needed help and potentially what I could do to help those people or connect people to help those people. And so Romancelandia Holiday Fairies 2020 was born. And, as I've talked about in some previous episodes, the tactical execution of this was very much borrowed from something that Bree Bridges of Kit Rocha had done for her readers at a previous point so I'm not claiming originality with execution here. But as I organized the holiday fairies, I think it changed how I was feeling at the time. And I think that it helped other people feel like they had a little bit more power over the variety of situations that we were facing, as individuals across the us and other countries, with the pandemic and with  economic situations that are going on because of the pandemic or, or not.

And, just general feeling like people were sort of isolated and unable to help each other in ways that they maybe would normally be helping each other in a year where we are we're not in lockdown. And so Holiday Fairies was very much a mutual aid effort where it was just about connecting people directly to help [00:27:30] some people help other people.

And we ended up having 67 wishlists. So these were 67 different people who submitted an Amazon wishlist to the project. And people would go and buy things from their Amazon wishlist and get it shipped directly to the gift recipient and I want to thank everybody who participated in this in any way, either because you submitted a wishlist because you shared it on social media with other people.

If you were one of the 140 plus people who signed up for email reminders so that you could stay in the loop about how you could contribute or  stay up to date on the initiative. I want to thank you so much.

And I also have a special group of newsletter sponsors. These are people who had a newsletter list and they offered to sponsor a wishlist.

And, what that meant was that  I gave them some graphics and I said, Hey, you're sponsoring this wishlist. And then they shared it with their followers on social media and on their email newsletter and encourage people to focus on that wishlist. And so I really want to say thank you to these people, because I think you really helped get the word out more broadly.

And I think that all of these efforts helped direct resources towards people who needed them. And I think that it's clear that, when we organize efforts like this, we can go farther than everybody having their own thing that they're putting out into the world. And it's kind of dependent upon them having a big platform already.

So I think that this really helped leverage existing platforms and helped surface people who needed help on those platforms. So I want to say a big thank you to all of the newsletter sponsors.

And, these newsletter sponsors included, of course, my editorial advisory board members, Katrina Jackson, and Tasha L Harrison, who barely had a chance to say no to being newsletter sponsors, but of course they are all in and, took it in stride and followed through.

So thank you again to Tasha and Katrina. Dame Jodie Slaughter, you know, that the Dame was like the first person to sign up.

I also want to say thank you to Roan Parrish who also signed up like immediately. We've got, Torrance Sene who's an author. Elizabeth Everett, another author, The Bawdy Bookworms, which I believe is like a romance gift box type thing. Check them [00:30:00] out. we've also got RomBkPod. Rom Book Pod is a podcast about inclusive romance and they give inclusive romance recommendations. They have multiple revolving hosts.

We've got the Smexy Books Team, and I  know that Kini Allen submitted this on behalf of the Smexy Books team, but Smexy Books where you can get romance book reviews, also Mindy McKinley, who is a romance author. Thank you so much. And then Nikki from Angelic Devil who sponsored a wishlist on her social media account.

So thank you again to all of the newsletter sponsors for taking part this year and using your platform to help other people

And of course, huge thank you to Bree Bridges who offered advice as I was getting this up off the ground, I totally would have overcomplicated it if she hadn't given me a really simple way to do this. So I'm really thankful for that, especially because I was like planning this super last minute. I did not plan ahead for this. I did not think I was doing it. And then all of a sudden within the space of two or three days, I was doing it. So, you know, that's how things happen.

And I also want to thank Candace Harper who I was introduced to on Bree's Discord server, and she jumped right in and was helping with graphics and copywriting and was really helping a lot behind the scenes.

So thank you so much to Candace Harper. She's an author and, I will put a link to her website and her books in the show notes. You should check her out, give her some support as well. Also all of the newsletter sponsors, I'm putting links to their email newsletters in the show notes. So show them some support as well, get on their email newsletters, you know that they've got great email newsletter content, right?

So say thank you by signing up to hear from them.

Marker [00:31:51]

  Thanks for listening episode 85 of Shelf Love. A transcript and show notes for this episode can be found on Since this episode was recorded Katrina Jackson has made her ninth appearance on the podcast. And now I think Tasha and Jodie Slaughter are trying to catch up in numbers. Tasha is at three, Jodie's at three, and Katrina, Tasha, and Jodie are all scheduled for more in the near future. In fact, I think next week, it's looking like next week, you'll be hearing an episode I've already recorded with Dame Jodie Slaughter about safe sex in romance. It might have to be a [00:32:30] two-parter because we were verbose, but we'll see.

Coincidentally a listener question that I answered in this recording session that you didn't hear just now, was about condoms in romance. And it also came up with Dr. Julie Moody-Freeman in her recent episode. So I guess that topic has been percolating for awhile.

Also I haven't asked this in awhile, so if you enjoy this podcast, would you take a moment and rate and review in Apple podcasts? Who knows what it actually does for helping listeners find the podcast other than convey a general sense of, "Hey, some people took the time to do this for this podcast. It must be worth a listen." But also, I like to hear your thoughts on the podcast. I get super excited when a new rating or review comes in, especially if you can manage to get romance nerd or joyless hag in your review, hint, hint, but also, I mean this whole podcasting thing is mostly uni directional, so it's nice to get some feedback on what you think. Anyways. I appreciate it. And thank you in advance for rating and reviewing.

Thanks so much for joining me today. If you have any thoughts on the show, I would love for you to reach out to me. You can send an email to [email protected]. This episode is produced by me, Andrea Martucci. Thank you to Shelf Love's editorial advisory board members, Katrina Jackson and Tasha L. Harrison.

That's all for this week. Black lives matter.

Stay safe, stay mad and keep reading romance.