Today, let's welcome Katie from Doing Dewey. She is here to tell us about some ideas she had about Romance and what she learned on her month of reading four very different romance novels this month.
Although I think of myself as an eclectic reader, in reality, I only read a handful of different genres. Like most everyone else, I have my comfort zone and I tend to stick with it. In particular, I must confess, I’ve become a bit of a genre snob. I used to read a lot of thrillers, but they’ve started to feel all the same to me. Ditto fantasy and sci-fi. But I have been a particularly reluctant romance reader and this month, I decided to do something about it. In order to broaden my experiences and confront my own snobbery, I picked up four very different romance novels this month, with love interests including: a Macedonian demi-god, a small town boy, a member of the highland guard, and a prince. Here are some of the questions (most representing misconceptions) I had about romance and the answers I found this month.
Is the writing in romance novels terrible and/or overwrought?
As I mentioned in one of my reviews this month, romance novels always make me think about a scene in 10 Things I Hate About You. You know the one – where the guidance counselor is writing her own erotica using the word ‘bratwurst’.
I’m not really afraid that the writing in romance novels will be quite that bad, but I do fear overwrought descriptions of sex scenes and love interests. I particularly worry about the use of superlatives and metaphors. In a previous book I read, And Then She Fell, there were some metaphors that just made me laugh, but in the four books I read this month, that wasn’t ever a problem. Sure, the characters were unbelievably beautiful and the sex was unfailingly perfect, but the writing wasn’t over the top. I can’t promise no romance novels are, but my experience suggests this is a fear best forgotten.
Are romance novels feminist? Anti-feminist?
Like every genre, I think romance novels can be a mix of good and bad. One argument that romance novels are feminist is that they often involve unconventional women. My first response to that was to think sure – if you live in regency England. As in so many other cases when it comes to romance, I was wrong.
In the books I read, there was premarital sex; a woman who was known as the school slut, but was clearly the heroine; and a woman who didn’t want children. In general, I also thought these romance novels were awesome for the positive images of sex they put out in the world - the women enjoy themselves, they aren't slut shamed, they're often empowered and get a turn in charge, and they demand respect from their partner. I know things could be still more progressive, but I thought this was a pretty solid showing.
One exception in pretty much every book I read though was that the woman said no to the hero at first and he continued to kiss her anyway. I think we’re supposed to be OK with this because we know the woman really wants to have sex with him. I think the authors’ have the protagonist be the only woman who can say no to the love interest because they want us to see her as strong. Unfortunately, with the exception of Monica McCarty’s protagonist who wants to have sex and really will only have it on her terms, the other protagonists I read about were OK with the love interest pressing them to have sex after they said no. This is not OK! The love interest doesn’t know they want to have sex and they’ve said no. I’d love to find more romance novels to read where this is not the case.
Are romance novels light on plot?
In short, no. Every romance novel I’ve picked up has had a secondary plot, in addition to the relationship development, which surprised me. Some were better than others (my little experience suggests historical romance might be the best subgenre for this), but none were purely about the relationship, much less purely about the sex.
More importantly, I must confess that I missed an important point here – in romance, the relationship development is the plot. I want to give major props to the authors I read this month, because the relationship development alone hooked me, made me want to know what happened next, and made these books hard to put down. I think that’s the sign of a great plot.
Will romance novels rot your brain?
Romance novels are light reads. I found that I flew through them faster than some YA, more than twice the speed I read nonfiction. They’re no lighter than thrillers though, even if sexism in society may mean they’re criticized more often for being easy reads. That’s a discussion for another day though. Bottom line, although romance novels are easy to read and hard to put down, you can tell from this discussion that they really made me think.
Is it inevitably embarrassing to be reading a romance novel?
I’m sure you all know already that ereaders are a godsend if you don’t want to be seen checking a book out at the library or reading it at work. However, I’d like to also encourage you to join me in trying to get over any embarrassment about romance novels at least with your friends. Reading these novels actually made me think a lot. The only thing that I think would make it better is having a book club discussion on some of these same topics.
Are romance novels formulaic?
To be determined! While I’m certainly starting to build up a collection of romance tropes I love and romance tropes I hate as I get to know this new genre, I intentionally read books that were very different. I’m still concerned romance novels will get formulaic is if I go to read more books by an author I enjoyed. Fortunately, I loved Monica McCarty’s The Recruit so much this month that I’m happy to go do some more research and find out J