Why do you read Romance?
Myself, I have a fundamental interest in how two people with totally different objectives, backgrounds, lifestyles, personalities--you get the picture--can come together and make a relationship work. The higher the conflict and the stakes the better. Maybe this is why I love reading and writing enemies-to-lovers stories. The harder they fall the bigger the emotional payoff for me as a reader.
Some people read Romance for the sex, or so I've been told. As an author and reader, I've delved into my fair share of the steamier stuff. I'm going to admit here and now that this was usually, though not always, at a publisher's insistence. My favorite scenes to read and to write are the first kiss and before. Sexual tension and anticipation on the page is far more interesting and laden with potential for me than the act itself.
Sure, the sexy stuff can be fun, but I usually skim the intimate scenes. I've read so many books in the genre that there's only so much an author can do to surprise me. Shock isn't really my thing as a reader or a writer. I've tried it, and it comes off as fake and shallow because I don't believe in it.
About the sex though? Since Romance is written predominantly for and by women, I absolutely don't discount the sex positivity that the genre has offered its readers. We've gotten better at writing sex and respecting women's bodies since the 1980s bodice ripper (of which I was a giant fan in its day), but the fact that we opened that dialogue with ourselves and explored the question of our right to feel pleasure is a genuinely good thing. Romance is a place to carry out that dialogue, and to experiment as well as evolve our understanding of its merits.
In the pages of a Romance I saw my first female heroes fight for and win positions equal to men. I watched them triumph over real life struggles that I have since faced in my own career in a male dominated profession. They say our psyches tell the stories, whether in our dreams or on the page, that we most need to work through . I read Romance for comfort and for confidence.
The Romance genre is a place where women and relationships triumph over the forces that try to tear them apart. The pages of a Romance are full of adversity, yes, but they are also full of hope. Romance is the genre of the optimist. Or, in our sometimes too-dark world, it's the genre of those who wish to hang onto the belief that a happy ending is theoretically possible.
Romance is the place where I go, too, to be transported and to escape. The genre is a balm for the disappointments of the real world and a vacation from life. We can tell a Romance against the backdrop of other genres: urban fantasy, paranormal, the contemporary, science fiction, fantasy, or history. The Romance can be imbued with art, politics, and the first subtle shot across the bow of a social movement. Our spoonful of sugar in the telling is the Romance--and oh what a lovely medicine it is.
Romance has a tall order to fill. To be a good read it must transport, entertain, uplift, inspire, impress, and tell a damned good story about a conflict that both emulates and steps outside of our everyday existence. Writing all of this is about as difficult as scoring all 10s during an Olympics gymnastics routine. Especially when you consider that the only given formula about achieving this feat is that the relationship must triumph.
Yes, there are shallow books in the Romance genre. There are shallow books in any genre. The reason Romance gets a bad rap is because of misogyny, both internalized and externalized. No one ever scoffs at a Western. Of course, not all books or genres are for all people. Undoubtedly, some people will simply prefer a CIA Thriller, sans relationship entanglements, to a Romance. It's the biting, sarcastic, wink-wink-nudge-nudge commentary that calls into question the socio-political prejudices of the critic.
You don't have to enjoy Romance in order to believe that it cultivates readers who are strong, intelligent, creative, empathetic, and brave. Their entertainment reflects these traits. If anyone ever tells you differently, and they will, they've either never read a Romance or they don't like or understand its readers. In which case, is it really worth engaging them at all? You could be doing better things. Like reading.
Tell me about your favorite reasons to read Romance? What was your first read? What drew you to the genre and what keeps you coming back for more?
Maybe it's the heat or maybe it's those umbrella drinks, but summer can make us do crazy things. The rushing tide, the moonlight, and a gallon jug of sangria inevitably leads to one place...
You know what I'm talking about. Hard, fast, and short. The kind of breathless experience we whisper about over a cup of coffee to our best friend in our favorite cafe. Wide eyed, they listen, leaning forward to catch each salacious detail.
"That sounds so good."
"It was!" You lick the foam off your upper lip, memory's soft-focus cushioning the moment. "I can't wait until the next book comes out."
You didn't know we were talking about books? Roll back. Yes. Books and book boyfriends. Summer reads in particular. Those page turners and burners. Hot, quick, and sensual. You stay up all night to read them because you have the delicious luxury of nowhere to be the next day.
These stories might be printed on paper and bound with dogeared covers, but they linger in memory like the taste of coffee-tinged kisses on your tongue. You might forget the title and the author, but you never, ever forget the hero. Usually, there's one or two scenes in particular that roll over you like a thundering tide.
Have you ever read a book where one scene catches your eye and your breath? You read that same scene, or even the entire book, over and over again, while the world recedes around you? That's what I'm talking about.
My first summer love, and my first Book Boyfriend Moment (TM) was with Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre. You know that scene, when Mr. Rochester steps from the drawing room while Jane is tying her shoe on the stair and he asks her to return to the party? He's looking at her as a woman for perhaps the first time--really seeing her. While the whole employer / employee thing is, in retrospect, a little creepy, it was fiction and I was happy to play along. I was, admittedly, about fifteen, but that was The Moment when I knew beyond a doubt that Mr. Rochester would forever be my first Summer Love.
While I returned to the pages of Jane Eyre again and again over my life, that first moment of romantic discovery held a special place for me. I've had other moments of summer passion since--with Eric and B.G. in Emma Holly's Strange Attractions, the assassin Valek in Maria V. Snyder's Poison Study, and with Raynard in Kim Dare's avian-shifter masterpiece Duck! to name a few.
Summer isn't the only time for book boyfriends, but it is a time when those relaxed nights and oceanside days allow us to sink into reading without the push and pull of normal, every day life. As summer comes to a close and we're tugged willy nilly back into the chaos of school, work, and family, let's take a moment to share those Summer Book Boyfriend Moments that will sustain us through the rest of the year.
So, who was your first summer book love, and who did you romance on the page during these hot August nights? Share in the comments. We won't kiss and tell!
These are the musings of a cynical romantic. Heroes on the page may be closer than they appear.