29Even more so than other material aspects of the romance, the preview scene is marked by a double codification and is accordingly interpreted rather differently by the public and the romance reader. In the public’s interpretation, the extreme conventionality of the scene is the dominant feature and the scene is consequently interpreted as yet another code that signifies the novel’s popular romance identity. Because the scene explicitly evokes stereotypes of the genre that are particularly widespread in our culture – the first kiss, the typical tension between conflict and attraction that is widely associated with popular romances, the clichéd and euphemistic language describing sexual attraction, etc. – this interpretation is guaranteed irrespective of the reader’s profile. Indeed, even a reader who is only aware of the most basic cultural stereotypes surrounding popular romance recognizes in this scene the genre’s conventions and will correctly interpret it as a code for the narrative’s popular romance genre identity. In this process the preview scene not only invokes but also reinforces and perpetuates a number of the stereotypes already surrounding the genre, much like the clinch that is its visual equivalent.
40The apparent simplicity of the category romance novel’s materiality conceals a complex semiotic system of double encoding. The strong conventionality that marks the material packaging of the novel functions in a complex way that defies the stereotypes of simplicity, formula and repetition that surround the genre even as, on its surface level, it reinforces and perpetuates these same stereotypes. Whereas the mass public relies on this stereotype-confirming surface level to simplistically interpret the book as a formulaic instance of genre fiction, understanding – decoding – the hidden complexities of the underlying secondary semiotic layer requires the romance reader’s extensive knowledge of both the romance genre’s overall conventions and those that are specific to the category romance format. Only on the basis of such generic knowledge can this seemingly overwhelming conventionality be perceived and recognized as markers of variation and deviation instead of repetition and similarity.
At first, it might feel silly to look for reasons to pat yourself on the back, and the reasons you come up with might make you uncomfortable. Still, commit to doing this whether or not it feels good. You can decide to be worthy of your own applause and enjoy the feeling, even if just for a split second. If it feels fake or forced, that’s normal, because the circuits that berate your accomplishments feel strong and true.
Which is exactly how I’ve felt lately. I know my life is full of good things—I have wonderful friends, wonderful parents, and I love what I do. But, as someone who tends to overthink things, I’ve been feeling a little let down about some things in my life that aren’t working out as well as I’d hoped—like a recent breakup, uncertainty about my career path, and not exactly loving where I live.
35That the public codification of the category romance novel’s materiality revolves around a generic interpretation is no surprise given the commercial character of popular fiction. As scholars such as John Cawelti and Ken Gelder have argued, the field of popular fiction is much more preoccupied with the notion of genre than that of literary fiction :
Just try to frown while listening to upbeat songs (like any of the ones on our Ultimate Happy Playlist)—we dare you! Jamming out can help reduce stress—which leads to greater happiness in general. Plus, research shows listening to music with the goal and desire to become happier may actually lead to greater happiness than simply listening for the sake of listening. So the next time you pump up the volume, keep that positive intention in mind—you may just find yourself smiling a little wider.