Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Read - A - Romance Month

August is national Read - A - Romance Month (RARM) so to celebrate that I thought that I would do something a little different on the blog this week and talk in the defence of romance and why I read and love romance novels.

Romance novels are, unfortunately, still the subject of much derision. I'll admit that this is something I really don't understand on two levels: does it matter what people read? For me, as long as people are reading they can read whatever they damn please; and where has this prevailing notion that romance novels are somehow lesser come from? And how do people justify it?

Romance novels can sometimes be a difficult breed to pin down. There are your obvious romance novels, sold as such, with publishing houses like Mills & Boon and Harlequin devoted solely to their production, and then there are your books which have been categorised into a different genre but have a strong romance/love story running through. I'll admit that sometimes my favourite "romance" stories aren't really romance novels at all but books that feature a particularly well written or poignant love story.

I read my first romance novel when I was about 12, I remember my mother recommended it to me when I complained that I had nothing to read. For me it felt like a rite of passage, my mother was entrusting one of her books to me, a book which she felt that I was now old enough to read. Despite its hefty volume I devoured it in a mere few days, I absolutely loved it! I couldn’t believe books like this existed! Why hadn’t I been entrusted with this secret sooner? And yet, despite having read and loved my first real romance I still looked upon others (such as the lurid, pink Mills & Boon that my sister hid under her bed) with disdain. I mean really, even I at 12 could read something more highbrow than that. Eventually, you’ll be pleased to know, my sister forced me to read one (a Penny Jordan if you’re interested, about a sheikh no less) and I have to say I loved that one too, I even have a copy sitting on my shelf to this day. 

Despite openly enjoying these novels there is still this sense of shame, of judgement, surrounding reading romance. When reading them in public I occasionally see the sneer as someone spots a cover, or the arch of an eyebrow at a expressive descriptive title. Why is it that people judge others so harshly on their reading material? The idea that romance novels are “fluff” or merely “chick -lit” (a term which I heartily dislike) is still prevalent, even the authors of such books don’t escape judgement. Admittedly not every romance book is well written, but then again no genre is without its imperfections. For me reading is about enjoyment and I enjoy romance. I also enjoy crime, thrillers, historical non-fiction, ‘general’ fiction and horror - but no one seems to care about those.

Romance novels are, at their very essence, uplifting. If you’re tired, feeling a little down, need a good laugh or even a cry, romance novels are always there. There’s a romance (and a hero) to suit every mood and every reader. Romance novels aren’t merely books for the love starved, they’re books for everyone. Admittedly not everyone may enjoy a romance, but that doesn’t mean that others can’t. For me romance books are comforting, they make me laugh and they cheer me up. For the world to fully embrace romance novels we need to get rid of the stigma surrounding them. I still get surprised looks from people who see me, a 24 year old grad student, reading a romance; “I just thought you’d enjoy something more.” 

However, it’s not just others that judge us for reading romance, we’re guilty of doing this ourselves. Recently I was scanning some reviews on Goodreads when I came across a review for one of my favourite romance novels:

Well it is almost 1 o'clock and I just finished this book. I couldn't put it down. I really enjoyed it! I gave it 5 stars, the definition for 5 stars is "it was amazing" and I probably wouldn't say that because I don't think you can say that chic lit is "amazing".

Why not? Why can’t “chick lit” be amazing? Romance dominates the publishing industry. In America romance fiction generated $1.43 billion in sales in 2012 (beating out religious/inspiration, mystery, sci-fi/fantasty and classic literary fiction) and was the top-performing category on the best-seller lists throughout 2012. In the UK last year ‘romance and sagas’ topped the bestselling books with 11.26 million sales, with the top three bestselling books of last year all by E. L. James. With facts and figures like these it’s hard to argue against the popularity of the genre and it’s about time that we admitted that romance is a genre read and written by intelligent, educated, and strong women and that there is nothing wrong with that.

If you want to find out more about RARM then you can check out the web page here. Each day well-known romance authors are contributing to the site and talking about why they think romance is important. 


  1. Hooray, Rosie! My sentiments exactly. I am a new reader to historical romance--November 2011--when I read my first Stephanie Laurens book, Tangled Reins, based on a library journal review (I'm a librarian). As a teen, I read teen romances (I think they were Love Swept?) but then, in my twenties, I thought I should be reading "serious literature." Ha! Twenty years later, I'm tired of depressing highbrow books and it's the number one reason I don't belong to a book club anymore--Oprah anyone? I have loved Jane Austen since college so still read her but am enchanted by the historical fiction out there set during Austen's time period. I can't get enough.

    1. Thanks, Maria! Yes, depressing high-brow books can get a bit heavy, we all need some levity in our lives. In regards to Austen, I stopped myself before straying into a classics rant, but people often forget that many of our finest authors and books are romantic in basis.