A friend has a friend whose sister just published a romance novel. It's not the boring kind about the woman waiting in the suburbs for Mr. Right; it features a saucy English lady who longs for adventure on the high seas, and sails around with a dashingly handsome, yet tortured, pirate, who's really a Milanese count and happens to be Mr. Right. I figure that's not enough information to give away the book, since that basically seems to be the plot of every romance novel of this genre (2) I've read. Sometimes the woman gets sold into slavery in Algiers, sometimes not.
ANYWAY. I digress. The point is that my friend brought in a dozen free copies to my department's office, I took one home, and now I'm reading it over breakfast and before bed. And hey, it's entertaining. It's certainly no worse than the horrible fantasy novels I just re-read from my childhood days, and better-researched. But I can't imagine walking into a bookstore and actually purchasing another purple (literally) paperback with a tanned, flowy-haired man on the cover, even though I'm not embarassed to show up at the cash register with a book with magical horses on the cover. Ditto for reading in front of my housemates; I find myself trying to hold the book cover-side in, even though the back cover is both pink and purple (literally).
But I don't really want to feel comfortable reading novels with TFM on the cover, because all I associate with the genre is trash -- that is, there are, as far as I know, no "high-class" romance in the way that Asimov or Tolkien might be considered the "better class" of sci-fi and fantasy, respectively. Has "romance" become a genre defined by bad writing? If so, that's kind of sad, considering the venerable history of the term. Or am I missing something obvious?