Passion Deep in the Heart of the Metro: Romance Novel Fans React to Slight

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

His face was obscured by a novel of intellectual might. His hand grasped the tome with an unusual strength.

But instead of being swept off her feet by the man depicted in the advertisement on her train last week, one Metro rider took to the blogs to express fury at the ad. It shows an "average" subway rider reading a romance novel called "Abandon." Next to him, the "Greater Washington" rider is engrossed in a copy of Plato's "Republic."

The ad is part of an effort by the Greater Washington Initiative, a nonprofit development group, to lure businesses to the area by promoting the region's uber-intelligent workforce. But romance readers took umbrage. On the blogs, comments started pouring in from aficionados and authors alike, including the popular novelist Nora Roberts.

"They went, as often people do, for the least common denominator," said Roberts, a Silver Spring native who now lives in western Maryland. "What's the stupidest thing somebody could read? 'Oh, a romance novel.' That's really insulting all across the board."

Tim Priest, executive director of the Greater Washington Initiative, said the ad was meant to show a contrast: "I think most people are smart enough to see the humor in this."

The Metro ads are slated to run through the end of the month and in area newspapers, including The Washington Post, through December. The group plans to take the $175,000 campaign to other highly educated markets across the country early next year.

-- Chris Kirkham

© 2006 The Washington Post Company