Sooner or later, most romance novel readers experience the sting of criticism from someone who looks down on such reading material.
Whether you were caught off guard while reading a romance, or mentioned how enjoyable you found a particular book, you were probably shocked when you saw the veil of judgment descend across your friend’s face.
The self-appointed judge and jury stared at you with a condescending smirk. Or worse, made a cutting remark about ‘silly’ novels, or announced they’d never have suspected you enjoy reading such ‘trashy’ material.
For those of us who admit over cocktails at a dinner party that we write romance novels, the judgmental looks and comments can take on an even dimmer degree of censure. The slant shifts to, “you must be a millionaire since so many people read that drivel,” or, “anyone can write one since there’s nothing in them.”
And it’s not just men – a fair share of women look down on romance novels. I’ve often wondered what lies behind this attitude.
The pages of romance novels mirror our lives. They are filled with love, doubts, getting along, overcoming obstacles, loyalty, loss, truth, trust and compromise. They are often about sexuality, whether the bedroom door is open or closed.
Always complex, they deal with psychology. Two flawed people face their fears and grow. We cheer them on and journey with them. By the end of the story, the heroine is empowered and more self-confident than she was at the beginning. She faced her greatest challenges and also found love.
That’s just the love aspect... we also have all the different genres, locations and lifestyles to choose from. We can time travel to ancient Ireland where we fall for a king, or fall in love with an alien on a different planet. We can learn history from the historical romance set in ancient Egypt or be stalked by a lonely billionaire in downtown New York. There’s a romance for everyone.
Romance novels are entertaining, but are also relationship teaching tools. We learn from the cause and effect that plays out between the covers.
Many people believe bodice-ripping covers caused some misperception over the years.
If so, how do we account for the explosive sales figures of erotic romance, and the lengthy bestseller status of 50 Shades of Grey? Millions of people have purchased it, many of whom aren’t your average romance readers.
It’s been said that people don’t buy 50 Shades of Grey for the sex; it’s the dynamic of the man/woman relationship that fascinates them. Just like men buy men’s magazines for the articles, not the pictures.
Romance writing has morphed over the past two decades, and this makes it possible for more people to enjoy it. Characters and plots are often more realistic now, and just about anything is possible. Sassy, opinionated heroines who don’t need a relationship are swept off their feet by the guy next door, a poet who is in touch with his emotions and oozes tenderness and strength all at once. Not that the aloof billionaire has sailed off into the sunset in a mega yacht just yet...
As more readers can relate to these ‘new’ heroes and heroines, it’s likely the public view of romance novels will be more positive.
What do you think? Have romance novels generally come of age in the eyes of the public? Do you think the wave of popularity surrounding erotic romance has helped shift public perception?