Today, I welcome back Sorcha from Writing About Books to talk about a guilty secret: romances. Enjoy!
I have a guilty, shameful secret.
I read romance novels. Not all the time you know, honest, I do read other books most of the time. There are some years I will not read a single romance novel. Last year I read a splurge of romances, many of them Christmas themed.
I don’t know if it’s a particularly English, or European, or global trait – but why do people feel guilty about admitting reading romances? The market is huge (generating $1.4 billion in 2012 according to Business of Consumer Book Publishing 2013), books are released monthly by multiple publishers and millions of people read at least one romance novel a year. So it’s not just me reading them apparently.
So, why the shame and guilt?
I read a lot of books, averaging between 75 and 100 books year covering multiple genres. Romances seem to be the only books I feel guilty or ashamed to admit I read – I certainly don’t have the same reaction when reading Terry Pratchett, Ursula Le Guin or Lawrence Block. I wouldn’t call myself a literary snob, but my reaction to romance novels – reading them furtively, rarely admitting I read them – implies that perhaps I am!
I asked my twitter stream (@brumnordie) whether they read romances, and I think this response sums it for those who don’t: “Avoid. I would expect poor writing, contrived storylines and women who can't think without men” and the same person continues with “Though actually I might just be prejudiced against traditionally female things, because our culture hates women. Damn.”
Even someone I know who regularly reads romance novels replied to my question about whether they felt guilt reading one with “some guilt, lessening over time. Some is cringe-worthy and patterns bad behaviour” but continued with “they're part of my reading, mostly as palate cleansers after more complex books, or when I have no brain.”
So, has feminism destroyed some people’s ability to read romances without shame? Have we been taught that love and compromise - even fictional - is somehow the same as “women who can’t think without men?” How do modern Harlequin novels differ to, for instance, Jane Austen novels, where in the latter I see women as much more constrained by a male dominated society, unable to inherit, have their own land, vote, or keep their own children in the event their husband allows them a divorce? (Isnt that the whole premise for Mansfield Park?)
I think my friend quoted first (above) has had no inclination to read novels produced by RWA etc, in the belief that they are badly written with women she can’t relate to, and hasn’t found the sub genre for her. However, is there a genre for her that would make her happy? I don’t know. I’m sure there are genres she should avoid such as the Historical Romances, all no-sex-before-marriage and complete-submission –to-your-husband types of books. I’ve just realised that An Untitled Lady by Nicky Penttila might just be the book for her....
Thank you Sorcha for another fun read!
Readers: Do you find yourself feeling guilt and/or shame when reading romance novels?