Romance novels have a bad name among serious readers because as genre fiction, so many of them are—well—bad. Theodore Sturgeon, a name writer of science fiction, was addressed by a critic who said, “Ninety percent of science fiction is crap.” He replied, “Ninety percent of everything is crap.”
Well said, sir. His point was—you know this already—that 90 percent of movies, books, magazines—name it—are barely worth your time.
That certainly includes romance novels, many of which are a disgrace to the sacrifice of the trees that provide their paper.
Still, there are some good reasons to include them in our reading, and I’m suggesting the following.
- Many romance novels are classics. You know why you had to read Jane Eyre in high school/college? Because it’s a classic. And you know what else? It’s a romance novel. So is Wuthering Heights. So is about everything Jane Austen wrote.
- Many classics are romance novels in disguise. You think The Scarlet Letter was about a bunch of Puritans persecuting an adulterer, don’t you? What if I told you it was about a woman and a man who loved each other so much that they were willing to cross social and religious boundaries to be together? Make it sound a bit better? Worse? Different? I’d think so…
- Romance novels have satisfying endings. Don’t discount this. A former college roommate of mine refused to go to some “realistic” film with the rest of us. She said, “I have to live with reality. When I go to a movie, I want entertainment.” I understand that entirely.
- You may already be reading romance under another disguise. I discovered, a few years back, a writer named Rafael Sabatini. He wrote many years ago, so don’t be perturbed if you’ve never heard of him. He wrote all those books that were turned into Errol Flynn swashbucklers—Captain Blood, for instance—and Scaramouche, with Stewart Granger. Written for men, they’re called “adventure” novels. But get over it, kids. A romance by any other name is still a romance. Show me a Hemingway novel without a romance, or a Louis L’Amour western with no love interest…I rest my case.
- Find out what the women you know are thinking. The main readers of romance novels are women. Why do they do that? Even if you are, yourself, female and do not read romances, wouldn’t you like to know why your grandmother/mother/aunt/friend does? Get some of the good stuff. Don’t just pull bodice rippers off the shelf; go to Amazon, read some reviews, and find out what’s good. Start with classics if necessary.
I think you might be in for some pleasant surprises.