It’s time to stop referring to romance as a guilty pleasure and embrace the genre for the joy it brings
Steph Bliss // Contributor
Karla Monterrosa // Illustrator
Romance novels: the domain of swooning, windswept heroines, heaving bosoms and shirtless, long-haired Fabios; ripped bodices, Harlequin novels, and poorly written smut. They’re that half-smushed paperback you found stuffed down the side of your grandma’s couch—something shameful and not worth acknowledging in the open.
Perhaps we should reevaluate that. Instead, jump into a media genre that guarantees a happy ending, increasingly pushes for more representation of all types and has a loudly unashamed and passionate readership community.
That probably sounds pretty fun to you, and if you’re thinking so, you’re far from alone.
When the real world we live in is often confusing and alarming, a guaranteed happy ending is a balm to soothe those ills.
Romance is an old, expansive genre where prolific writers are the norm, so there’s something to suit every desire. All kinds of storytelling are represented, and every trope remixed: nothing is sacred. Not only does this lend romance a willingness to innovate and play, but this also means there are miles of temptation with which to lure in new readers. As it happens, years of listening to a persistent friend finally wore down this now-devoted fan. I’ve never regretted giving in and have joyfully dabbled in many styles of romance, knowing there’s always something exciting on the horizon.
So why is the romance genre routinely dismissed?
The short answer comes down to the genre’s core: it is typically written by women, for women and, as a result, mostly deals with the female experience. You will not have to search far to find long, florid descriptions of breathtaking heroes and heroines arriving to save the day and sweep someone off their feet. Romance oozes with the female gaze, and that’s one of its best-defining features.
The female experience, however, is routinely seen as lesser by a patriarchal society that thrives upon ramming male-as-default down our collective throats. Men’s experiences of the world are considered the norm. Everything from medical studies to crash test dummies has assumed this and further consigned non-male experiences of the world to a dusty little niche in a dark corner of the basement where there’s only one sad, dim lightbulb for ambiance.
Romance is here to stay. It is quietly one of the biggest genres in publishing and has been a force in the industry for many years. Think about it like those Harlequin novels you have been semi-terrified of for years, but notice everywhere once you start to see them.
As a result, an entire book genre is dismissed because they are completely and utterly entwined with women and their lives. When you think about it like that, it feels pretty crappy to dismiss stories about the lived experiences of a large proportion of the people on this rock simply because of sexism.
Predictability is a similar method of dismissing romance because we all know how it ends, of course. People meet, they fall in love, and there’s a happily ever after. It seems rather boring. Turn that on its head, and you have a feature: there’s never any doubt that the characters will work it out by the end, and there’s freedom in being along for the ride when assured a good outcome. When the real world we live in is often confusing and alarming, a guaranteed happy ending is a balm to soothe those ills.
Despite these criticisms, romance is here to stay. It is quietly one of the biggest genres in publishing and has been a force in the industry for many years. Think about it like those Harlequin novels you have been semi-terrified of for years, but notice everywhere once you start to see them. Better, look for novels by authors like Nora Roberts, who is widely perceived as queen of the genre. Publishing multiple books a year, wealthy, and well respected, she typifies long-term success in a genre that subsists on it.
The romance community on social media is loud about their love for the genre and are only getting louder. They’re here to have the discussions about the thing they love, including the hard ones about diversity, representation, and the many other complex topics that romance often deals with. At its heart, people find joy in romance and wanting to improve the thing you love can be seen as the highest form of respect.
Romance’s popularity can be seen in Netflix’s recent adaptation of Julia Quinn’s famous Bridgerton series. With high profile backing from Shonda Rhimes, you can be sure that the characters will have us all swooning for years to come. Those paying attention to viewers’ responses can guess that this is only the beginning of a long and hopefully delightful trend of adaptations.
So the next time you come across a romance book, question your presumptions and perhaps give it a try. Find some happiness in a million different worlds that always end on a good note. Maybe one day soon, you can join that persistent friend and me on our mission to bring a little bit more romance to Vancouver, one book at a time.
You can follow Steph and her friend Denise’s dream of bringing a romance specific bookstore to Vancouver on Instagram @primerosebooksyvr.