In Defense Of Romance Novels

Romance is the bestselling genre in literature. And odds are you’ve already read romance if you’ve read Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, or Jane Eyre. Most books have an element of romance or some romantic intrigue, even popular series like Harry Potter or The Hunger Games (Team Gale!). Here I attempt to defend the much-derided genre of romance from some of its most typical criticisms.

1. Romance novels are unrealistic.

Please. Romance novels simply use love to guide their narrative arcs. Why is it considered silly to read about the wild passions of two unlikely lovers, but appropriate to read a violent thriller about mutant zombies? Why is it lame to read about love and a healthy sexual relationship, but it’s cool to read about a serial killer chopping up bodies in his basement? Maybe I’m never going to have an illicit affair with a swarthy river pirate, but I’m also probably not going to solve a murder mystery. When did love become the taboo and violence become the norm?

2. Romance novels are pornography.

Untrue. There are some sexy scenes in any romance novel and you might blush when reading them on the bus, but the scenes are generally very small parts of a whole. Think about it in real life terms. When you’re romantically involved with someone, there is way more to your relationship than sex: they know you like tomatoes on your grilled cheese, or they hold your hand when they can tell you’re nervous, or maybe they laugh at your jokes. Nonetheless, sex is still very important in life and in romance novels, so steamy scenes are a must!

The heroines in romance novels have robust sexual appetites, and the hero never judges the heroine for how much she loves to put her hands on him. He embraces it, because that’s the best for both parties. In porn, women are negatively labeled for similar appetites, but in romance their desires are accepted, exalted even. Dominated by female writers, romance is about respecting the person you’re boning, which is the opposite of porn (an industry dominated by men).

The world is forever telling women they’re not good enough: romance is porn, not literature. Literature prides itself on its bad sex scenes, novels that pull off the worst sex scenes are often some of the most feted.* Romance prides itself on good sex scenes, but is bashed for it. So, bad sex is good and good sex is bad? Our culture is sending some pretty mixed signals to readers, not to mention trivializing love and good sex by so thoroughly dismissing romance and the romance readership.

3. Romance novels are predictable.

Yes, most romance novels have a similar love plot. The first half is typically “the chase,” so perhaps the couple has a few stolen kisses, close encounters, or a tasteful boob grab. Then you have the climax, where the couple gets it on. The entire thing usually includes one to three instances of coitus.** Finally, toward the end, the “L” word is dropped.

If you’ve ever re-read a book or watched a movie more than once, you understand that knowing how something will turn out can make your experience better. When you know the ending, you can sit back and enjoy the journey.

4. Romance novels are poorly written.

To be clear, all romance novels are not created equal. Scandalous Desires is not even on the same planet (let alone playing field) as Her Best Worst Mistake. Sometimes you find yourself rolling your eyes at the italics that are meant to express suppressed thoughts, or the misuse of a word, and you’re like, “Why do I read this shit?”

But some of the genre is good. Some of it is really good. Like when the heroine in a historical romance decides to cross dress and go fencing, because, well, she’s never done it before. And she runs into the man she can’t stop thinking of while practicing. Let me tell you, romance writers definitely have imagination. Additionally, many writers like Julia Quinn (a Harvard grad) are very smart women, their books reflect their wit and careful writing. It’s a matter of distinguishing the good from the bad, like in any other literary genre.

The fact is, we all want love, it’s universal and it’s awesome, whether it’s from a parent, friend, lover, or animal. As a social species, we are always looking for it, waiting for it to take a shape that we can love back. So, the protagonist has a crush on that girl from the record store? Been there. It’s an immediate connection; love is an emotion that everyone can empathize. So read romance, if you want to, and don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed of it! Don’t hide those vibrant covers from the judging eyes of the world. Love is a great thing, no one should ever tell you otherwise. TC mark

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  • Shana

    Grats for a very well-written article!

  • http://emotionaldomesticate.com Hailey

    Any other romance novel suggestions?

    • http://natramm.wordpress.com Natalie Ramm

      My personal favorite is Her Best Worst Mistake by Sarah Mayberry. But you should check out SmartBitchesTrashyBooks.com! They have some great suggestions.

  • Gina

    This is great! I’m tired of seeing romance novels always being dismissed. PS: If anyone’s looking for a completely awesome historical romance series, check out Lauren Willig’s “Secret History of the Pink Carnation”! It, and its sequels, are just wonderful.

  • http://twitter.com/lindseyrenee lindsey (@lindseyrenee)

    I’ve recently gotten really into romance novels (sexy Regency novels are my favorite). There *is* some really great writing (looking at you, Julia Quinn and Suzanne Enoch!). And there’s some really awful writing (whoever wrote “Glorious Angel”). But I enjoy them all. Seriously. And if you read someone like Victoria Holt then you can learn about things, like painting miniature portraits or mining opals in Australia.

    Anyways. Yes, to all of this. Fantastic.

  • Sierra

    I have (thanks to a freewill ‘leave one, take another’ collection at my old, small town library) an awesome collection of old romance books when the sex scenes weren’t as smutty and the writing is excellent. And I love them! They’re a good break book – so small I can read them in a night or two. Rock on, Natalie! No shame in this Harlequin-lovin’ girl. :)

    • http://www.fryingoffthehandle.com.au/ Zye

      Amen from another Harlequin-lovin’ girl! :)

  • Sarah C

    Awesome article. Kinda strange that your dad is the one that forward it to me, but hey, different family dynamics :) He’s a proud guy, and you are a good writer.

    • http://natramm.wordpress.com Natalie Ramm

      Thanks! He’s the best :)

  • http://kelseyrolfe.wordpress.com/2012/08/13/some-articles-for-you-to-read/ Some articles for you to read | The Independent Review

    […] from that, I found two articles worth sharing. First, check out Natalie Ramm’s “In Defense of Romance Novels” on Thought Catalog, which is an infinitely more eloquent and clever defence of the romance […]

  • KOKAY

    Haven’t read a romance novel before. Been into mysteries and detective fictions. Maybe I should. It looks..exciting! >_<

  • Ranching

    In what porn is a woman’s sexual appetite ever scorned…that would make no sense, the whole point of porn is to see women have sex…

  • sharonunleashed

    When my father was young his parents did not approve of his reading so he would run to the woods to read books. They were farmers and work came first. To them, especially my grandfather, reading was a waste of time. As time escaped and they grew old, my grandfather had a bag full of romance novels and he would read them outloud to my grandmother. This was the highlight of their day. Who knows if they tried any of the ideas they ran upon, but to this day, that is one of my fondest memories of them. They were in their 80’s and they had a designated time to read romance novels with him reading them outloud for both to enjoy. My how their lives changed with time! I think romance novels changed their lives, even in their 80’s. So, yes, I find value in them because the enhanced the lives of my grandparents!

    • http://natramm.wordpress.com Natalie Ramm

      That’s an awesome story! I read them aloud to my girlfriends, but usually it involves a lot of snickering and eye rolling rather than a couple “growing together in love” as Nicolas Sparks would say. Thanks for sharing!!

  • Stephanie

    I love romance novels and I’m not ashamed of it. (I’m also pushing 40 and aside from romance read mostly YA, preferably with some romance thrown in.) I have friends writing in the genre and their stories are incredibly well written.

    Also, this part of the footnote: *(Cue Fifty Shades of Grey – one of the worst books ever written)*. Thank you, thank you, thank you for acknowledging what I’ve said for months.

  • http://annieseatonromance.com Annie Seaton

    I have read romance since my teens and as I commenced my career as an academic… I was criticized for reading the genre and would feel embarrassed about reading in public. However,
    maturity, throwing away the academic and teaching career and becoming a published romance author has been the highlight of my working life. Long live romance!

  • http://kindbooksandcoronets.wordpress.com faeriemyst

    Reblogged this on Kind Books and Coronets.

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