My, my, my, how the turn tables.
Jaimie Morimoto is now a Romance reader, and I, for one, couldn’t be happier.
We start by discussing what it means when we dismiss an entire genre/hobby/aesthetic because it is largely by and for women. Then we cover the strange experience of cringing at our old favorite books, movies, and TV shows. And we wrap it up with the fascinating history of Monopoly. I absolutely love talking with Jaimie!
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In the Patreon clip, Jaimie and I admit the truth about the authors we tell other people we have read, but have not actually read. We also talk about how easy it is to get into a habit of reading books by people who look just like us. According to Jaimie, “I was reading my own story back to myself over and over.” This clip is available exclusively to my Patreon supporters.
Guest: Jaimie Morimoto
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Discussed in this episode:
Best Book Ever Episode 024 – Jaimie Morimoto on Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Beach Read by Emily Henry
Best Book Ever Episode 014 – Jeff Adams on The Understatement of the Year by Sarina Bowen
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Best Book Ever Episode 057 – Ellene Glenn Moore on “Bitterblue” by Kristen Cashore
Book of the Month Club
Best Book Ever Episode 043 Jami Albright on The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren
Having and Being Had by Eula Biss
On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss
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Hello, Bookworms welcome to the Best Book Ever, the podcast where I get to know interesting people by asking them about their favorite books. I’m your host, Julie Strauss, And today I’m so excited that one of my all-time favorite guests, Jamie Morimoto has returned. You may remember way back in Episode 024 when Jamie and I were discussing Pride and Prejudice, and she told me she doesn’t really like to read romance. Well, listeners there has been a plot twist. Not only does Jamie now read romance, but today she joined me to talk about why a romcom called Beach Read by Emily Henry is the Best Book Ever.
Julie Strauss: Hello, Jamie Morimoto! Welcome back to the Best Book Ever podcast.
Jaimie Morimoto: Thank you for having me on again. The second time I’ve invited myself on.
JS: Jamie. I’m so committed to this bookish relationship that we have. I want to actually get it in pen right away to have you on again in 2022.
JM: I’m all in. I’m so into it, because I keep having these middle of the night thoughts. I think I did email you in the middle of the night to come back on because I had this weird fugue state memory where I was like, did I say on the last episode that I – can I give a spoiler about what has changed in my reading life?
JM: Okay. So on the last episode I said I don’t really read much romance. That’s not my thing. I’m not into it. And within a month of that, the book that we’re going to talk about today, Beach Read by Emily Henry came into my life and it completely changed my perception of the genre. I would guess that close to 30% of the books that I have read this year since my last recording were romance books. I love them. I have a lot of feelings about my previous assertions, because I think there was a lot of internalized sexism and internalized misogyny in my dismissing the genre. And then I emailed you in the middle of the night and I was like, Julie, I said something a year ago and I need to take it back publicly.
JS: Okay. So, this is your public atonement.
JM: My public atonement. I was so wrong. Romance is such a great genre and I’m all in.
JS: Well, we are so delighted to have you over here in RomanceLandia. Let’s get to the heart of the question. Why did you dislike it before, do you think? Why was it something you dismissed?
JM: Well, I feel like it’s conflating the two. I thought I disliked it when, really, I had only dismissed it. I had barely read any.
JM: I think it was several things. I think the conceit of the genre, the promise of a happy ending. I somehow felt that that made it less like art, which is possibly very unfair. And I think there’s something about it being written, oftentimes, by women, but almost exclusively for women. Obviously not always. I know you’ve had a guest on who talked about hockey romance. I listened to that episode. It was wonderful. I forget his name.
JS: Yeah. Jeff Adams on Episode 014.
JM: Yes. That was a great episode.
JS: It was a great episode and a great book. And I hate hockey. I mean, I hate sports.
JM: I hear you. So there’s so much more within the romance umbrella than I understood. And I think I was dismissing it as: you can get it at a grocery store, so it must not be worthy. I don’t know. There were just so many things that I think are chalked up to me thinking that art made by women for women isn’t cool or isn’t high art. And I think the book we’re talking about today is quite possibly the best defense of the genre that I have ever read. And it actually reminds me a great deal of Jane Austen’s defense of the novel in her novel Northanger Abbey. I would bet that Emily Henry read that defense was like, I can do it.
JS: You brought up our our mutual friend Jane. Since we talked last time about Pride and Prejudice. You said one of my favorite quotes of all time on this podcast, which is that a lot of people don’t like Pride and Prejudice – because I told you how surprised I was that nobody had chosen it to that point; I thought it was going to be the first one chosen on this podcast – and you said a lot of people don’t like it because of the “pumpkin spice factor.” Do you remember saying that?
JM: Not really, but I’m hilarious.
JS: Yes you are.
JM: That sounds like something I would say.
JS: I have actually been thinking a lot about this. You know, I hear the teenagers say things are “basic” all the time. “She such a basic bitch.” And the thing about the word basic is it’s always about things that women like.
JM: Yes. And I think that I was falling into that exact same trap that I was railing against in my holding up Jane Austen as The Best Book Ever. Well, Pride and Prejudice, specifically, but yes, to all of her cannon. At the same time, I was holding up Pride and Prejudice as being dismissed because of the pumpkin spice factor, and being too basic, I was doing the exact same thing to an entire genre. And I have since seen the light. I’m not somebody in my reading life who stays up all night reading. I’m always reading. I read every morning and I read at night before I fall asleep. But I know how to put a book down. This book, Beach Read by Emily Henry, and since then, several other romance novels, have kept me up reading past my bedtime. That really sort of brought me back to the giddiness of reading and childhood, where even if you know where it’s going to go, you just have to turn the page. You just have to see it. And there’s magic in that. There’s absolute magic in that. And it’s hard to do. It takes a great deal of skill.
JS: Did you know before you started this book that it was a romance?
JM: Well, I actually had this book recommended to me by a friend of the podcast, Leni Moore. I think she goes by Ellene Glenn Moore. She’s a good friend of mine.
JS: Oh, no kidding?
JM: Yes. And I had written a blog post. During 2020, I was blogging. I’ve since had to put it to bed because my job got busy again. It was largely about my life’s interaction with the patriarchy and how once you identify it one time you start seeing it everywhere. I had written a post about my love of Hallmark movies and she and I were on Zoom and she sort of leaned into the screen and goes, “I read romance novels.” She’s, you know, an amazing artist, incredible reader, and has never recommended anything I didn’t like. And she reads very widely across all genres. She’s a poet, but when she came on Best Book Ever, I believe she spoke about, was it a YA fantasy?
JS: She chose Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore.
JM: Yeah, she reads very, very widely. So it’s really no surprise that she would also be delving into the romance genre, because she is not as willing to tow the party line in terms of high art. She’s like, if it’s good, it’s good. I don’t care what shelf it’s from. She gave me the recommendation of “Beach Read” and I got it from the library. I couldn’t put it down. And then I re-read it for this podcast. And I felt the exact same way all over.
JS: All these points you make, I agree with completely, because I think what’s interesting about the romance genre is that somehow the conventions of it, which it has to end with happily ever after or happy for now, it has to end with the main couple together – it’s a specific rule. Somehow because of that convention, it’s always looked down upon. Mysteries aren’t. Mysteries have very specific rules. There has to be a dead body in chapter one, and it has to be solved in the last chapter. And it’s the same strict convention, but oh my goodness, mystery writers are serious. SciFi writers are more serious than romance writers. Why? Because they’re men. I don’t know.
JM: I mean, it seems to be the only real difference if you’re operating within a genre. I’d contend that maybe where the artistry comes in is how do you fulfill those requirements? Hit those same beats, meet those expectations and do it in a fresh way that keeps a reader excited? You know, somebody who reads within a genre. If you’re reading mysteries all the time, you can probably guess who done it by the end of chapter one, unless it’s done with artistry. And the same thing with a romance novel. Yes, you’ve got two people who are inevitably going to be either happily ever after or happy for now. Well then why are we invested? Why do we want to see how they get there? And I love it now.
JS: This is amazing.
JM: It really is. My life is better. Full stop.
JS: Oh my God. This makes me so happy. Why don’t you tell my listeners what Beach Read is about?
JM: Beach Reed is about two novelists, January and Gus, who knew each other in college and were rivals. And then went on to have their own separate careers. Gus writes literary fiction, January writes women’s fiction. And one summer they end up living next door to one another in two beach houses in Michigan. Soon after that, they form a pact that they will each write a book in the other person’s genre. And from January, our protagonist’s point of view, the goal is to prove that her genre is as difficult to write as his, even though it’s sort of looked down upon in the mainstream. Part of how they’ve constructed this deal is he’s going to give her lessons in researching for literary fiction, and she’s going to give him lessons in romance. So they go to a carnival, they walk by the beach, they do daily things that would show up in that she refers to it as women’s fiction, which I think it is. But it’s also in a romance novel, which is, I would say a sub-genre maybe.
JS: And then he takes her – e can’t forget that part, where he takes her.
JS: Yes, but where is very significant.
JM: This is the thing about this book that is so remarkable to me. I can remember almost nothing about it, except for how it makes me feel. And I think that’s actually a testament to how wonderful it is that the plot is there and is beautifully constructed and is good. He takes her camping at the sight of a burned down cult. Which is where he has decided to write a love story. In a cult.
JS: Which is not funny. I don’t know why it makes me laugh. It’s weird that this book is so funny.
JM: It’s hilarious. They’re incredibly funny together. Super charming. You can tell they’re meant to be together even before they know they’re meant to be together.
JS: When you went in to this, were you thinking, oh, it’s going to be so dumb or, I’m just going to skim through this and be done with it? What were your expectations for this particular book?
JM: I feel like I went into it with a pretty open mind, actually, because it was recommended by somebody whose taste I really trust. She had recommended books to me before that were outside of my usual fare. And I liked them all. So, when she said it’s good, I gave it a shot. It’s a library book, that’s pretty low stakes. If I don’t like it, I’ll just be like, oh yeah, it was great. And then I’ll change the subject when she asks me!
JS: Do you normally tell her, your book whisperer, do you tell her if you don’t like it?
JM: I mean, in Leni’s case, it hasn’t happened that I don’t like them.
JS: God, those are magical friends.
JM: They’re magical friends. Though I also am usually pretty reluctant to take a recommendation. I often feel overwhelmed by there being too many books and being unable to finish all the books that I want to read. So when people are handing books to me, I’m like, leave me alone, keep your eyes on your own paper! It takes a great deal of trust in a person that if they’ll tell me to read a book, I’ll actually go get it. She’s one of those people for me.
JS: This is sort of a shallow question, but it pertains to the way we are talking about this book. What do you think of the cover of this book?
JM: I like it, but I also think it’s misleading. It makes it seem like it’s going to be simpler than it is. Like it will not be as smart as it is, because it’s a very smart book to be simultaneously defending all of these beats within a genre and then create a plot that fulfills those expectations. She’s doing both at once. It’s a juggling act that she is doing, and she’s pulling it off. That said, I bet that the cover they chose sold a lot more books than a cover that makes it seem like it’s going to be a smart read. That makes it seem like it’s going to be this intellectual highwire act, complete with happily ever after and some really impressively, not cheesy, sex. That kind of writing is hard to do; it takes some skill to not make me laugh when I’m reading a sex scene.
JS: Did you feel like they kind of addressed it? That was the other thing I thought was so clever in this was that January, several times, gets in a few digs about just cause it’s about women, just cause it’s about falling in love, it’s not less of a book.
JS: Absolutely. I actually pulled that quote: She says, “If you swapped out all of my Jessica’s for John’s, do you know what you have? Fiction. Just fiction, ready and willing to be read by anyone. But somehow by being a woman who writes about women, I’ve eliminated half the Earth’s population from my potential readers. And you know what? I don’t feel ashamed of that. I feel pissed.” Beautifully said. What else is there to say? It’s a mic drop moment.
JS: Where did you go after this? You closed this and you went, oh my God, I like romance! So what’d you do next?
JM: I don’t think I went to another romance right away. It kind of felt like a little bit of a one-off, and I was like, oh, okay, well, I should re-examine that bias. I should stop thinking that that section of the bookstore is not for me. I do Book of the Month Club and they let you choose one of five books. It’s a curated thing. They’re not paying me, but oh my God, do I love Book of the Month, it’s the best mail I get all month. It really is. I started looking at the romance titles through Book of the Month. I also, I listened to your podcast and I started noticing when romance books popped up. I read The Hating Game by Sally Thorne on the recommendation of…
JS: Her name’s Jami Albright, Episode 043.
JM: It was really just a matter of slowly opening the door. I’m in a book club and they had chosen too many sad books in a row and they didn’t know what to do. So I went and found The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren and they were like, yes, great, perfect! Finally, something that’s not going to make us contemplate whether or not the world means anything at all. It’s nice to read something that has a happy ending. It’s nice to admit that we care about human connection. Absolutely everybody on earth does. There are people who maybe don’t care about that, but the vast majority do care about human connection and do end up wanting to have some sort of a life partner in some capacity. Everybody wants to be loved. This is a book about people who want to be loved finding love. How is that not worthy?
JS: And particularly now. It hit really hard now, didn’t it? Because it’s really hard to meet new friends right now. I mean, it is once you leave college anyway, but particularly after this year of isolation, I was reading this thinking how neat it would be to just meet someone new and form a new friendship or relationship. It’s been so long since I’ve had that new connection in person. I have tons of them on Zoom.
JM: Yeah, tons of them on Zoom. I have this summer had a chance to meet some new people out in the world and it’s been so wonderful. I live in Minnesota, so for me, I’m looking around, I’m like, you know, I’ve got about three more weeks before I have to just stay inside again.
JS: When we talked about Pride and Prejudice, and I knew what you were doing as a feminist blogger, I asked you specifically how does a feminist approach Pride and Prejudice. And that was such an interesting conversation. And so I want to ask you, as you go forward into this new life of being a romance reader, how are you approaching your re your reading life as a feminist romance reader?
JM: I will say that I have been pleasantly surprised how little I feel like my romance reading is at odds with my identity as a feminist. And I think that’s largely because of contemporary romance writers really valuing women’s empowerment. You’ll read all of these more explicit love scenes, and there is a conversation about consent that is put in to the storyline and treated as loving and sexy. But I would say my initial perception of romance, before having read it, I thought it was a lot of pushing women up against bookshelves. Actually, no, that’s something that happens in Beach Read – he pushes her up against a bookshelf. But, like, in a good way!
JS: In a good way.
JM: Yeah. But I thought it was a lot of women being taken by a man who is going to show her what happiness is. And I really was not into what I thought that was. I haven’t gone back to read much other than the new releases because there’s so much out there. But that would be really where for me, it would be a hard no. I am not interested in reading a love story about a man pursuing a woman who isn’t that interested and then he wears her down. That’s not appealing to me, that sort of thing. And it seems like in contemporary romance writing, that’s not even the conversation. It is a much more equal footing and these women have things in their lives other than just a desire for a man.
JS: Yeah, don’t go back. ‘Cause I’ve been a romance reader for a long time and there’s no doubt a lot of them are just very rapey.
JM: That does not surprise me to hear. I’ve been rewatching a lot of television that I used to really love from 20 years ago. 20 years ago is not that long ago in the global landscape, in the history of the world. But boy, oh boy. Some of those love stories are messed up.
JS: Which ones, for example?
JM: well, I’ve been watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer and if you think too hard, I was also an adolescent when I was watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer and if you think too hard about how old Angel really is, that’s a big problem. Spoilers for Buffy the vampire Slayer.
JS: Which I’ve never seen, but I know the story. That’s always the thing in the vampire ones.
JM: It’s the thing in all of the vampire ones. I suspect it’s because it appeals to the adolescent brain that believes they’re so mature and that they could handle it. But once you’re not in possession of that adolescent brain, it’s trouble. There’s been some of that, that I’m not so into. There’s another storyline on Buffy that gives me some pause and it’s Buffy and Spike later on. Some people are all in on the Buffy/Spike storyline, and it left me pretty upset.
JS: What’s the problem with that one?
JM: Well, she’s in a dark place and so she sort of gets into this friends-with-benefits with a guy. But he’s kind of rapey. It’s a little violent. It might speak to whatever psychological stuff was going on with her. But I dunno, man.
JS: I remember in film school, there was always that conversation about those scenes. Like the one in Gone With the Wind that one scene – I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the movie – where they’re fighting and he basically just kisses her and takes her up the stairs. And the next morning she’s all of a sudden like, Oh, I really do like Rhett and his prowess. Well, yeah, but that was not a consensual thing. But you know, he basically assaulted you into liking him and, and that happens. You look into those old movies where the women is going, no, no, no! And then it fades to black and the next morning she’s wildly in love with him. And that myth of they can just bully us into liking them.
JS: That’s also a sub-genre in erotica. There’s Bully Romance erotica. Have you heard of that?
JM: Really? Yeah, no, I have not heard of that. I guess I’m not entirely surprised because you know, there’s a lid for every pot.
JS: Well, my friends who have read it say that consent is still a big part of the conversation of those books. But that’s not my thing at all. I don’t like that. I’ve never read any of them.
JM: I mean, I hesitate to be like, that’s not my thing. Cause then next year, 2022, I’m going to be like, okay, guess what I’m into now?
JS: Jamie, tell me what you’re reading right now.
JM: I am currently reading Having and Being Had by Eula Biss, which is a collection of essays about the intersection of art and capitalism. It’s fascinating.
JS: What is it? Tell me what it teaches you, or tells you?
JM: They’re sort of lyric essays. More like meditations. Bunches of very short moments with businesses, attempts to understand what capitalism is and how it impacts our life. She’s an artist, she’s a poet, and lyric essayist. She’s probably best known for her book On Immunity, which was on some bestsellers lists. And I think probably got a couple of awards and people were reading it all over again during 2020, because suddenly understanding inoculation was really useful. I guess there are little nuggets, cause it’s not really plot driven, or thesis driven. I learned that the game of Monopoly was invented by somebody who was actually trying to teach why capitalism is problematic. And that initially there were two sets of rules, one which is winner take all and the alternate set of rules, which allowed people to work collaboratively. And there was ultimately no winner. And that when it was bought by, is it Parker Brothers? I can’t recall.
JS: That sounds right.
JM: By the board game people, they did not publish both sets of rules. It’s winner take all. And that’s what we play now.
JS: So the collaborative one, you would think all four of the neighborhoods have all sorts of houses and all the hotels.
JM: Something like that. She doesn’t get into the nitty gritty of the rules, but just the idea that it was actually written or created as a game to demonstrate that capitalism is deeply problematic and in many ways unfair, because one person gets everything and everyone else is left with nothing. There, there was a whole other set of rules. Same board, same pieces.
JS: That is incredible.
JM: Yeah. So lots of little things like that.
JS: How does she say an artist is to exist in this environment?
JM: That’s the real question. I don’t know that she draws a conclusion so much as she draws many little conclusions that might contradict one another. I’m okay with it, if that makes sense. It’s, it’s almost too much to wrap your head around and she does a really great job of trying, but we’ll see. I’ve still got a couple of more essays left before I finish that one.
JS: Would you tell your fellow academics that you had read and loved a romance?
JM: Yeah, I think I would. But I will say, the people from my academic past who I’m still in touch with are fun people who won’t look down their nose at something that’s not of their caliber. I kept the good ones.
JS: Will you tell my listeners where they can find you?
JM: They can find me on Instagram, basically exclusively, at Suddenly_Suburban, which is my on-hiatus-for-over-a-year blog. But I do still have the Instagram account. I’m really not on social media. It bums me out to be on social media. So I’m out in nature with my dog. Most of the time they can find me in the Twin Cities on various nature trials.
JS: Oh, that’s lovely.
JS: Or in bookstores.
JM: Or in bookstores.
JS: Jamie, I want to thank you for joining me again. Can I put it in pen that I’m going to see you this time in 2022?
JM: Yes. Put it in pen. I’m sure I’ll have had some other huge transformation in my reading life that I cannot wait to share.
JS: Thank you so much for joining me today.
JM: Happy to. Thank you for having me.
If you loved this episode as much as I loved making it, why not leave a revie wherever you’re listening? Each review helps new listeners find my work, and I’m so grateful for your help. Thanks for joining me today. And I will see you at the library.