The Radical Joy of Romance Novels
I was afraid romance novels would take over my life. And they did.
I used to be afraid that if I started reading romance novels I would love it so much and be ruined for all other books (especially the hard and important ones I read for school, where all the female characters died in the end). I knew romances would be fun and as a result, they would be addicting. I imagined myself a hoarder of books in an NYC studio apartment, stuffed from floor to ceiling with mass market paperbacks (I am “reading before kindle” years old), leaving no room for friends or family. There goes my life. Sad!
This sort of did happen.
And it has been glorious.
As I look back on that nugget of feeling I am struck by the idea that reading should be hard work and that my value was linked to the hard books that I read. To be fair, I was an English major and I was being graded on all this.
But why weren’t the fun books considered in same category as worthy of study? Why were they somehow less because they were fun?
What’s up with the link between pleasure and value and the idea that if something is pleasurable, it doesn’t have value and we should feel ashamed for enjoying it? (Ahem, “guilty pleasures.”)
Even many think pieces that champion the genre point out how much damn money the romance category makes, which is arguing for the value of romance on capitalist terms. I know, because I have written a bunch of them. These days, I’m thinking maybe that’s an irrelevant argument. These days, I just want to experience and revel in the joy that romance novels and romantic comedies bring. But I also think that reevaluating our attitudes to joy and pleasure—and things that bring us joy and pleasure—can change the world for the better.
Sorry not sorry
For a long time, many of us have been made to feel bad about enjoying romance novels or romantic comedies. Women have been told they are dumb, foolish, silly, delusional for reading and enjoying romance novels, those silly, fluffy, unrealistic books that ruin us for reality. The scorn, snark and sense of shame is real. I wrote a whole book about the how and the why and WTF of it all, called Dangerous Books For Girls: The Bad Reputation of Romance Novels, Explained.
The reason is simple: a romance novel empowers a group of people that the status quo doesn’t want empowered. The way it does this is through joy and the happy ever after (or happy for now).
By making these books so delightful we are encouraged to consume the messages of love and self worth over and over again until we believe it and maybe even think we can achieve it. That is dangerous to the system that we live in.
But I’ve been kicking around Romancelandia for a long time now and I have noticed something wonderful…More and more readers have fewer and fewer fucks to give about anyone who snarks on the genre. We simply like what we like, talk about it unabashedly with our friends and carry on.
I’m happy to report that romance novels are being more “accepted” these days. Which is to say, The New York Times reviews them without condescension and Shonda Rhimes adapted Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series for Netflix and it is outrageously popular. Oprah recommends them. The novels are no longer hidden under the bed or secretly stashed in mom’s bedside table.
It’s not that we needed approval from the newspaper or a streaming service—we don’t. We, as a genre and and a community, are unapologetically taking up cultural space.
I did start to read romance novels (obviously) and it did take over my life, in a way I didn’t expect. I am now the proud author of almost two dozen romance novels, in addition to Dangerous Books For Girls. It’s what I do all day for work and what I do for fun. A lot of my friends are fellow authors or fellow romance readers. The genre has given me more than employment, a social life and entertainment, it’s also given me a certain lens or point of view through which to view the world.
There goes my life, indeed.
This newsletter is about the radical joy of the romance genre….how it works, who gets to enjoy it, why it matters. How the HEA and all the fun along the way is what makes it so subversive, so revolutionary. Like a romance novel, this newsletter will touch on history, intersectional feminism, class, self care, race, comfort, capitalism, pop culture. It will be about how reading for pleasure is a radical act that might inspire us to change the world for the better.
What you can expect when you subscribe
Free subscribers will receive a weekly essay and/or interview, plus community features such as commenting.
Paid subscribers will be getting all of the above, as well as:
A monthly post of my recommended new releases.
Other bonus content and community perks plus my eternal gratitude
For those who will go above and beyond to become my Founding Members, I will also send a signed and personalized copy of the updated Dangerous Books For Girls: The Bad Reputation of Romance Novels, Explained.
I will add to all these benefits as we go!
I want to hear from you!
Please say hello, introduce yourself and share how romance novels bring you joy!
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a tiny anecdote. a young relative of mine, talented writer and reader, at one time had the task of 'pre-screening' romance novels for a major publisher. roughly, according to account, at times (probably seasonal) skimming up to 500 manuscripts a week!...i can hardly imagine, if that were me, it would feel like (no word for task-agony)...this was a while ago, she persisted, and on to other opportunities. so, a happy ending...; )
This is such a good question and I think the short answer is yes, sure! And a longer answer is coming when I get back to my laptop! 😉