A listener called the programme's Readers' Clinic asking for to be recommended romantic comedy for an intelligent reader. I was so taken aback by what was suggested for her that I ended up e-mailing Open Book to complain. Since their automatic response says that they don't read or reply to all their e-mails I thought that I would post my message here.
I was very disappointed with the response on today's programme to your reader's query about romantic comedy for intelligent readers. The tone was set by Mariella's flippant remark about the term being an oxymoron, but it was Tim Lott's selection of books which was the biggest problem.Unlike other BBC arts programmes (such as the always excellent Front Row), Open Book has a bit of a track record of sneering at romantic fiction, which is a great pity.
There is nothing wrong with any of the books per se. Two are already classics of modern American literature[John Updike's Rabbit Run and Anne Tyler's The Accidental Tourist], and the other two [Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections and Nick Hornby's About a Boy] will no doubt achieve similar status in time, but, with the possible exception of the Nick Hornby, none of them would strike an intelligent reader as being romantic comedy.
I am an intelligent reader who reads romantic fiction, and I can suggest a number of authors who would fit your listener's requirements somewhat better than Anne Tyler, John Updike and Jonathan Franzen.
I would start with Georgette Heyer, whose historical romances are stuffed with wit and humour. Frederica is one of her best.
Then there is Katie Fforde, whose books cannot easily be dismissed as light-weight "chick lit". The characters are engaging, the situations are plausible, the outcomes are just the thing to drive away midwinter blues. Try Paradise Fields.
I won't go on, but I will point out that romantic fiction is probably second only to crime in terms of its popularity. Surely Open Book can serve readers of romantic fiction better than it does?
(a member of the Romantic Novelists' Association team that reached the final of University Challenge - the Professionals last year)