Bodice Rippers, chick books, mommy porn… romance books have been referred to in many disparaging terms over the years. Luckily, I’ve never held that bias against this genre. As long as I’ve been reading, I remember being drawn to romance books. In middle school, one of my favorite series to read was called Couples by M.E. Cooper and Linda A. Cooney. In high school, I graduated to anything written by Danielle Steel. Post college, as we began our family, I needed time to relax after work and found myself drawn to The Mitford Series by Jan Karon. Not a traditional romance, but one that has romance at the core.
Over the years my reading life has varied. At times I read more for my students than I do for myself. Three years ago, I found that I was drawn to the world of romance once again. When I began reading these books and recommending them to others, there were two general responses. One, people would ask why I was reading this genre when there were so many better books out there. Or two, friends would quietly message me, confiding they were romance readers as well, and wondered if I had any recommendations.
Today, as we celebrate Bookstore Romance Day, I thought I’d share my top ten reasons to read this genre. If you want any recommendations, head on over to my blog (linked at the bottom of this post) and I have another top ten list for you, my top ten must reads in this genre. Or, stop by Hartfield Book Co. where they'll have my recommendations on display, or Nicole can point you in the direction of another great book. Because romance books or not, we’re not here to judge what you read, just to celebrate that you do.
10. Romance is one of the most popular selling genres in fiction. According to Publishers Weekly, romance fiction and crime/thriller fiction typically battle it out for the top genre, each claiming their fair share of victories over the past few years. No other genre in fiction even comes close to touching these two. In a typical year, they bring in roughly 1.4 billion dollars in sales each.
9. Romance books of today celebrate feminism. The romance books of my childhood with Fabio on the cover, stacked beside my grandma’s armchair, were not books celebrating independent of women. However, today’s books certainly do. The books I read have consent and respect for women at the forefront of their stories. Even books with alpha males as the hero have a love and respect of women at their core.
8. Like other fiction genre, romance books offer the chance to escape. One of the many podcasts I listen to about this genre of books, Hot and Bothered, discussed that romance books are often read by nurses and hospice workers, doctors and prisoners, as well as people working and living in nursing homes. Why? Because romance books offer the chance for the reader to escape into a book that will bring about a positive ending, no matter what.
7. Romance readers are voracious readers, often reading a book a week, sometimes as much as a book a day. In contrast, the average adult in the United States read five books last year, according to the Pew Research study. We need to celebrate these readers. Reading has been shown to lower stress, improve memory recall, improve vocabulary, increase analytical thinking skills and more. Romance books, like other books, can do just that. And these are books you will want to devour.
6. Romance books are all about love. According to Romance Writers of America, one of the defining characteristics of a romance book is that there is a central love story between the characters. Many romance books are disparaged because people believe they are only about sex, however there are all levels of “heat” in romance books, from books with absolutely no sex in the book all the way to erotica. No matter what romance book you pick up, you can be assured it will celebrate love at the core of the story.
5. Romance books are often referred to as a genre written by women, for women. According to Writing Digest and The Huffington Post, males account for less than ten percent of the authors of romance books and around sixteen percent of the readers. While there aren’t a lot of female centric spaces in the world, in the genre of romance it still holds true.
4. While romance is considered a genre by itself, romance books encompass a wide variety of subgenres. My favorite type to read is contemporary romance, which is essentially realistic fiction with a romance storyline. That being said, you can find romance suspense, romance fantasy, romance crime, romance historical fiction, erotic romance, and spiritual romance.
3. Something I’ve noticed lately in my reading of romance is the inclusion of all types of people as deserving of romance stories, which is something I hope we see even more of in the future. In the books I’ve read this summer, I’ve had characters who are in a wheelchair, one that had a hysterectomy scheduled at the age of twenty-nine, one that is autistic, one that has multiple sclerosis, one that has an autoimmune disease, and more. We all deserve love.
2. Similar to the idea above, I’ve been thrilled to see the diversity of characters in romance books. This is something that the publishing industry in general has been working on in the past few years. When I read young adult books for my students, I’ve been working to add a lot of #ownvoices books to our classroom library. Own voices means if your writing a book with a main character that is part of a marginalized group, you are also part of that marginalized group. Just last week I learned a lot about the culture of an immigrant and her family that came to America from India. Own voice books of all genres have the potential to teach us a lot.
1. The number one reason I read romance and became a voracious reader of these books in the past few years is a defining characteristic of the genre. Romance Writers of America define romance books as books that one, have a central love story between the characters, and two, there is an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. In other words, romance books have a happily ever after at the end. As I’ve gotten older, and as the news of our world has become more depressing, now more than ever, I need to be reminded of what can be good. In romance books, I can fall into the world of these characters and know that no matter what the obstacle is that they face, when I end their story there will be a happy ending.
Katherine Sokolowski has been a romance reader since she was eleven years old. Today, thirty plus years later, she is working on writing her own romance novel. When not reading, writing, or watching her sons run; Katherine can be found teaching seventh grade at Monticello Middle School. You can check out her blog at https://readwriteandreflect.blogspot.com.