Attention, Cool Teens who are like already totally over Valentine's Day: The Toronto Public Library has planned an event just for you! The Anti-Valentine's Day Anti-Party, as originally planned, would give prematurely jaded pre-adults the opportunity to vandalize romance novels. Totally punk rock, right?!
The event, which will be held next Monday, February 10th, encourages attendees to bring their sarcasm and wear black, like a herd of 1992 Wynona Ryders and Skeet Ulriches. The library's initial announcement read like so:
Blech! Yeesh! Tired of making a fuss over Valentine's Day? Seek refuge from the mushiness at one of the Anti-Valentine's Day Anti-Parties.
Join us for a party where hearts, Cupid, the colour red and public displays of affection are banned and black clothing is encouraged. Join us to vandalize romance novel covers, test your knowledge of former celebrity couples and write the worst break-up letter.
Problem is, some fans of romance novels weren't entirely amused by the idea of a library using book-ruining as a way to encourage adolescent literacy. Namely, Harlequin author and Torontonian Vicki Essex. In an open letter to the Toronto Public Library, Essex expressed her dismay that the library was encouraging teens to essentially shit on the romance novel genre, and she's kind of over it. Essex writes:
Historically, romance novels have faced much criticism and disrespect, much of it due to the fact that the main audience is women and the writers are predominantly women. By adding to the chorus of voices decrying the non-value of romance through this event, the Toronto Public Library fosters an environment in which it is considered acceptable to judge people for the things they like.
As a romance author who has done events with the TPL and as someone who works on the production side of the publishing business, I can tell you that hundreds of people work tirelessly to produce these covers and the books. While I recognize the sometimes salacious or hilarious end products and have enough of a sense of humor to poke fun at the industry, these hardworking folks take pride in their work, and it would break my heart to see people who have little to no concept of the work or genre treat these covers with such disrespect.
Essex is absolutely right — the romance genre is disparaged enough already and even as a non-consumer of romance novels, it's not hard to see that. (Hell, a few years ago, when I was just a baby writer, I wrote something shitty about romance novels only to be sharply — and rightly— reprimanded for sounding like a jackass. Even This American Life did an episode about how a too-cool-for-romance-novels producer discovered just how cool people inside the "romance industry" are.)
Furthermore, this is an endeavor that's doomed to lead to embarrassment. Think, for a second, about what would happen if teens were given Sharpies and romance novel covers and told to go to town in an authority-sanctioned environment. It doesn't take a Masters in Library Science to understand that this stunt can only end in Fabio face after Fabio face covered in oversized cartoon dicks.
After Essex wrote her letter, the Toronto Public Library changed its tune, replacing the vandalism event with one that encouraged Cool Teens to design their own "bad" romance novel cover.
Alternately, Toronto's Cool Teens can drop the tired "UGH I HATE VALENTINE'S DAY!" veneer and just watch House of Cards like normal people.