I’ve always loved a good romance novel. There’s just something about the woman getting the man (or woman, or man getting man, whatever floats your boat) and living, supposedly, happily ever after that makes my heart sing for joy. Except, there’s a little bit of guilt attached to romance novels, isn’t there? From the first Danielle Steele novels I read of my grandma’s at age 13, hidden in my room, feeling like I wasn’t supposed to be reading them (hello, those sex scenes are something else), to constantly buying a ‘smarter’ book whenever checking out at the bookstore, there’s always been that little niggling feeling that someone is judging me. Also, people are actually are judging me. My in-laws, a lot of them academics, scoff at the idea of romance novels, laughing at the absurdity of them like they’re gossip rags.
Romance novels, fluff novels, are looked down upon in the literary world, for obvious reasons. You don’t expect someone in a tweed jacket with elbow patches to sit down with a Linda Lael Miller and a tea, do you? No, of course not! They’d go for something a little more…Gatsby or Austen, if they were feeling romantically inclined. A paperback bought at the grocery or drug store? Same kind of street cred as a dime novel from the mercantile; I guess nothing has really changed over the years. I used to only read my romance novels before bed, or interspersed with something a little more studious so that people would think I was smart, that they wouldn’t judge me for loving romance novels. Never mind the fact that I actually have an English degree and have studied great works of art, including a snore-inducing semester of Milton.
Judging someone on their taste in books is stupid. Aren’t we supposed to be happy people are interested in reading instead of watching yet another home reno or reality TV show? Oops, sorry, there’s the judgment rearing its ugly head. There’s no reason to judge someone else on what type of music, books, TV, or movies they like. They’re used as escapism, so why not escape to somewhere that makes you smile and has a happy ending (in more ways than one)?
It’s only now, at 32 years of age, that I’ve finally let myself blatantly enjoy romance novels. I’ll buy them with pride at the bookstore, or grocery store. I’ll display them on my bookshelves, the bookshelves out in the open, not tucked next to my bed or in the closet. I’ll bring them to the cabin and on trips and not worry about judgment on an airplane. I don’t stuff them deep down into my carry on and hold a non-fiction novel, or a Hunter S. Thompson under my arm to prove that I’m superior when it comes to reading. Romance novels, and fluff novels, are perfect pieces of escapism. It’s also now that I’m realizing that a lot of great works are centered around a love story.
Perhaps my worry about looking stupid has more to do with the fact that I’m a blonde woman who dresses like a, supposed, airhead. I love putting together outfits, I love heels (well, my body used to love heels), I love wearing dresses and patterned tights. I want that beautiful bag in the window. I yearn for designer labels I can’t quite afford. Perhaps some of the judgment, with me since adolescence, falls onto the way that society views women, especially women who love clothes and shopping. Perhaps it’s not just about judging the silly plots, the unbelievable meet-cutes, and the sex. Then, again, great literary romance novels don’t have the same sneer used when talked about in living rooms.
A Tale of Two Cities, though mainly about the French Revolution, revolves around a love story. The Great Gatsby? Well, we all know that tragically obsessive love-story. I’ve studied The Great Gatsby in University, discussed each character, the plot, the writing style. We’ve labeled Fitzgerald as a genius. We don’t do this with romance novelists like Steele or Palmer, as their stories are a little less substantial in the literary world, but we do it with novels written years ago when the writing style differed greatly. If these women had taken on a man’s name, and perhaps a slightly different writing style, 80 years ago, would they be lauded for their writing prowess? Or, would they have just been dime novels, bought out of excited desperation?
There is a flooding of horribly written romance novels, some barely holding a plot together by a thread, but there are some wonderful ones out there that leave the reader wanting more, intriguing them with suspense and excitement, and ending it all with a happily ever after. We’re fed fairytales as children, being told we can grow up to be princes and princesses, or we can choose any career we’d like (perhaps the biggest fairytale of them all). Why can’t we still love those same types of tales as adults? We all want that happily ever after, don’t we?
Buy your romance novels with pride and roll your eyes at anyone who tries to tell you that great literary works are better, and not the snore-fest that some of them really are. I mean, who could ever fall asleep to Danielle Steele’s racy scenes?