Accounting for Tastes: Australian Everyday Cultures

Cambridge University Press
Publication year

The findings presented in this book are based on "a national survey of the cultural practices and preferences of 2756 adult Australians that we conducted in late 1994/early 1995" (1), a "pilot study centred on Brisbane and its neighbouring postal districts [...] in late 1993" and "home-based interviews with 34 of the respondents who filled in the Australian Everyday Cultures survey" which were conducted "in late 1996 through into early 1997" (2). A very small portion of this related to romance novels, but given the size and thoroughness of the survey, the book seemed worth including in this database.

Chapter 6 discusses reading preferences and habits.

however much these new accounts of reading may have revalued the status of both women readers and women's genres, many women clearly still hold the genres they like in low regard. This is clear from the way in which the women in our interview sample react when asked whether they like romance fiction. Only one of them expresses an unambiguous preference for romance fiction and outlines her reasons in a manner that is not apologetic, explaining her reading habits without feeling any need to explain them away. (145)


Statistically, however, despite these disavowals, romance fiction remains high in women's reading preferences. In the Australian Everyday Cultures survey, it is the third most popular genre with women readers, with 26.2% of women including it among their favourite books after 28.2% for thrillers and adventure books and 27.4% for crime, murder and mystery books. A rather more telling point, however, is that romance fiction is, by and large, read only by women, whereas both thrillers and crime fiction recruit a substantial cross-gender readership. There is, however, another side to this statistical picture. For if women's association with romance fiction - the most frequently disparaged and despised of genres within conventional literary hierarchies - is a strong one - so also is their association with the most valued genres in those hierarchies. We shall look at the details later. For now, suffice it to note that women are much more likely than men to read the literary forms which conventionally enjoy the highest aesthetic esteem - poetry, classical authors and contemporary novels - just as they are also considerably more likely to own those kinds of books which suggest a deep involvement in literary and aesthetic culture. However, these are unlikely to be the same women. When we look more closely at women's genre preferences, we find that the preferences for both romance fiction and for aesthetic literature have strongly marked class locations. Only 13.3% of professional women include romances among their favourite books, compared with 34.9% of women sales and clerical workers, whereas these ratios are reversed in the case of classical authors who are read by 19.2% of professional women but by only 5.7% of women sales and clerical workers. (147)


It is worth noting that, in the estimation of many readers, women's magazines enjoy a low status on a par with romance. Only one interviewee - Elizabeth, a working-class mother who had little formal education - speaks unselfconsciously about her reasons for liking women's magazines. (153)


In table 6.6 genres have been assigned to the educational cohorts with which they have the strongest association: romance fiction, for example, has been assigned to those who have completed their secondary education, on the basis that the members of this educational cohort are, at 19.9%, more likely to read romances than are the members of each of all the other educational cohorts. (159)


That horror should be of particular interest to women readers among the manual working classes is also partially explicable in terms of the strong links, examined in convincing detail by Ken Gelder (1994), between the formal and thematic properties of contemporary forms of horror fiction and the female-centred sexual codes of the gothic romance. (169)


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