It’s not a new thing – people dismissing romance novels as “trashy”, or sordid, or just plain bad. It seems like it’s easy for people who’ve never read any of the romance genre to make fun of those that do. But truth be told, it’s an incredibly large portion of the market, and millions1 of people read romance in one form or another.
The overall romance umbrella consists of several sub-genres. Romantic Suspense, Historical, Erotica, LGBT, and Paranormal – to name just a few. Contemporary Romance makes up the largest portion of the whole, and that’s most probably because the readers can relate directly to the characters contained within.
Let me ask some questions and give my answers. I’d love to hear your take on some of these points as well, so hit up the comments.
- Do readers of romance use it as a way to eschew their own empowered lifestyle?
I say no. The majority of the romance novels I’ve read concern very strong female leads, even if their love interest is what’s known as an “Alpha” male. I use Kristen Ashley as an example here. Her leading men are incredibly Alpha, but the women they fall in love with are their equals, and a match for them in every way.
- Are romance enthusiasts unhappy with their lives and use the books as an escape?
I say no here as well. People who read romance are mostly successful women in a stable, healthy relationship.2 While they might use books as a way to wind-down from their daily responsibilities, they’re not a way to retreat from their lives altogether.
- Are romance novels so far removed from reality that they become unrealistic and fanciful?
I have to answer a qualified yes to this question. While contemporary stories usually have a basis in reality, there are many sub-genres that definitely fall into the fantastical category. However, I want to point out that there are many other genres outside romance that regularly indulge in unrealistic and fanciful themes. Science Fiction, Horror, Thrillers – the same can be said for them, and they are much less maligned.
So, let’s do a summation. Romance lovers are sometimes shamed into hiding something they love doing – reading a genre of fiction that might be deemed ‘unacceptable’ by others. This might even mean they get teased by their friends and family, which in my book is just plain mean.
All people like different things. There are football fans, Sci-Fi Nerds (I use that term only because I also fall into that category, and I use the term lovingly), Foodies, Travel Buffs, etc. Why can we not accept people for who they are and let them have the things they love doing without censure?
The facts can’t be refuted. Romance is a huge business3, and it should already be considered ‘mainstream’. Of course, that’s my opinion. Maybe you have another one? Let us know!1. 74.8 million people read at least one romance novel in 2008. (source: RWA Reader Survey)
2. The greatest percentage of romance book buyers (39 percent) have an income between $50,000 and $99,900 and slightly more than half of survey respondents live with a spouse or significant other. (Statistics from Bowker® Market Research, Q2 2012, New Books Purchased and RWA’s 2012 Romance Book Consumer survey)
3. Romance fiction was the largest share of the U.S. consumer market in 2012 at 16.7 percent. (source: Business of Consumer Book Publishing 2013)
I have been reading romance in all forms since my mom bought me my first HP in the late 60’s. I even read one book a day way back then, I was a nerd who needed love thru the books even then.
Awesome! It was a bonding thing for my mother and me as well. I think we also liked HP, and the purple covered Silhouettes.
I have been reading romance novels since my early teens. My cousin lend me her HP (Love’s Tangled Web) and it was a done deal for me… have not looked back since. Romance books are definitely my form of ‘Escapism’ from my number crunching day job ruled by metrics and other boring stuff. I will admit that for a long while I was a closet reader of romance novels. But no more! Founding Harlequin Junkie Blog and tweeting romance book reviews has pretty much let the cat out of the bag so to speak 🙂
Same for me Sara! I’m so glad you give me an outlet – along with twitter. 🙂
I have read romance since I was in my early teens. I’m a happily married, mom of 4 and grandmother. Reading is a passion and a love. My children laugh and joke about my choice of books sometimes but we have a healthy relationship and can talk about anything.
Yup! That’s what I’m talking about. Teasing is okay, belittling isn’t. I have a couple of friends that I tease about a certain ‘shade’ of book they’ve read, *wink* and they tease me right back. We all have our passions!
I started out in my 20’s with just Regency then had my children and had no time. Now retired for several yrs I went back at first to them but couple yrs ago discovered the great authors of New Adult, Paranormal and of course my old staple regency. When your down and need a lift me up you have a hero to save the day. When you need a little romance its there at your ginger tips. And where else are you going to go to give your imagination the lift it needs to go places it can’t always go on its own. I’m 65 now and love my books. Keep them coming.
I’m glad you said something about NA books. I’ve recently gotten into those too, and I find them very good. I wasn’t sure about them. I still have issues with some Paranormals, but I do love my fairy tales.
I also completely agree, books help to spark imagination. How important is that? Movies are great, but they tend to take that part away – they’re much more passive. I tend to let a book paint it’s own picture in my mind – no matter the genre. Of course, having a hero in my brain is most excellent.
You guys are restoring my faith in humanity. Let’s shout it from the rooftops! Romance is awesome! 🙂
I agree with all the points you made, Karen! I started reading romance as a pre-teen and have never stopped. My husband and I fell in love in high school & even though he lovingly teases me about the books I read, he doesn’t judge my choice in book genres. Although some of my co-workers have commented…lol
I’d be willing to bet your co-workers have some vices of their own – they’re just not letting on about them. Everyone has guilty pleasures. I’m glad you just keep keeping on!
Both of my grandmothers read romance, and one taught English in high school for 30 years. It’s relaxing entertainment. And ALL types of readers choose romance.
Awesome! I think my favorite teachers were either English Lit teachers or teachers that read. I had a Social Studies teacher that would bring me books to read after she read them. One of my fave teachers of all time. (Ms. Babczak)
I agree, it’s very relaxing, although not so much that it puts one to sleep. Some romances actually keep me up afterwards. 😉
I’ve been reading romance since I used to “borrow” my mom’s harlequins when I was a kid. She discovered that and bought me teen romances. Like that would stop me. I found her copy of Peyton Place and read it as a teenager in the 80’s–not shocking by today’s reads. 😉
I’m so right there with you. Although my mom knew I was reading her books. I think she was just glad I was devouring novels of any kind. The library was one of our favorite places over the summer, and then I read any genre – lots of Star Trek books back then. I think I also read “Peyton Place” back in the day, I also read “The Second Lady” – which would probably *still* be shocking.
I have been reading romance since my teens, my daughter and I are the only ones to read romance in my family or my husbands. I am constantly not only teased but told I’m loosing brain cells and shouldn’t waste my time or money, even when I’ve showed them the statistics of the romance business. I went to Romcon 2 1/2 years ago and still haven’t’t heard the end of it. I also write and have submitted work and I write under a false name just in case I ever get published the won’t notice. My husband however is very supportive and he is the only one who should matter to me. I agree that people should just accept others the way they are.
I feel for you. I’m glad your husband is in your corner – and the others should just shove off. I’m here for you!