In Praise of Smut…

**This post originally appeared in the June 2011 issue of Review Direct**

“Novels that pander/To my taste for candor/Give me a pleasure sublime.” –Tom Lehrer, Smut

This week marks a great day in literature, for me at least. Neil Gaiman’s American Gods: The Tenth Anniversary Edition was released with the author’s preferred text! (Read my review here)Being one of the few books to actually stay in my ever shifting Top Five book list, the excitement for an expanded edition has me all a twitter.

I suppose at this point I should back up and explain that I do not in any way consider American Gods “smut”. Please, give me a bit of leeway. I will get there.

As much as I love to support my local, independent bookstore when I purchase books, I had a pesky Amazon gift certificate that needed to be used. So, I decided to put it to use with a preorder of American Gods.

My karmic penance was swift. The book was not delivered on the release date. But, I had cleared my reading schedule and was ready to go! Now what? Starting something too engaging did not seem like a good idea given the eminent arrival of this new edition and the workload I had returned to after a conference in DC last week. A good story at the end of the day was essential, though.

There was one clear choice: get a smutty book from the library. That’s right, I read smut. I have degrees in History and International Relations and a minor in Russian/Eastern European Studies, but sometimes I really like a good, ol’ romance. This is my first public declaration of my fondness for the genre.

For the sake of this discussion I think Urban Dictionary has the most adept definition:

“Smut: Highly developed stories with love lines and other things that appeal to women that also include a lot of sexually explicit scenes…”

Voracious even in my youth, I read whatever I could get my hands on and sometimes my hands landed on my mom’s historical romances. In one summer night I could often read, cover to cover, the thrilling tale of a woman in an unfortunate circumstance who overcame obstacles, was thrown into the arms of her great love (sometimes literally), and got her happy ending. They weren’t penny dreadfuls, but they were as close as this modern girl could get.

These days I prefer the likes of Amanda Quick, Lauren Willig, and a handful of others whose historical romances primarily feature slightly older wonks (imagine that) who find their not so mainstream heroes in ways that allow them to be part of the adventure, not just a bystander waiting to be saved. There is just something so inviting about occasionally losing yourself in these tales. The historical detail varies from just enough to be believable to plots that revolve around very real historical events with the fictional characters dropped in (these are mostly found with Willig, who has a graduate degree from Harvard). The romances are not overwrought with obstacles stemming from misunderstandings, but with intrigue and mystery. When I finished War and Peace, I followed it with an Amanda Quick novel. It is like a RomCom movie after a long, trying day.

I live and work in books. Some of my closest friends are wonderful, bright, and clever people. Great books are my life and I am lucky enough to have intelligent discourse in abundance, but sometimes I just need a mental break. I want a story I can simply enjoy, but with characters who are not insipid. I find that in a certain smut.

Am I the only bibliophile to find secret pleasure in a little romp through the romance section?

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