An Ode To Romance Novels by Karen Alley
By Karen M. Alley
I love romance novels. There, I’ve said it. Out loud. Well, in writing at least, which is even more permanent.
Romance novels are a guilty pleasure I’ve had since my college days. As an English major, my school year was filled with reading Chaucer, Shakespeare, Hawthorne, Milton, Poe, Hemingway … the list goes on, but you get the picture – heavy-hitting literature. So during the summer months my brain needed
a break. But for me, an avid reader since before kindergarten, that didn’t mean a break from books.
At the time I was working summers as a floating teller for the local bank, and right across from one of the branches was a used book store. I became a regular in that place, buying a stack of romance novels and turning them back in for more at least twice a week. My stack was filled with the classic Harlequins, but I read plenty of Jude Deveraux, LaVyrle Spencer and Judith McNaught and others. Basically whatever I could get my hands on.
My love for romances didn’t end when I graduated from college. As a single working girl, I found myself drawn to the stories of independent-minded heroines, charming leading men with a slightly dangerous side who swept them off their feet, and of course, the steamy love scenes where it seemed like everything was right in the world for this one wonderful couple.
Even now, as a happily married housewife, I find myself dipping into the romances once in a while. And just like the advice columnists say, it’s not a bad way to spice up your love life.
So why am I so ashamed to admit to my friends that I read romance novels? Romance novels are like many other types of genre fiction, such as
mysteries or westerns, which typically follow a similar plot line in each story. And of course, there’s the assumption that it’s not great writing in these books either. But you don’t see people ducking their head in shame when they admit they read mysteries.
Honestly, I think it’s the sex. You can choose, by which author you read or even the publishing house, whether you have a simple, PG-rated romance
novel or one that borders on soft porn. And maybe the more extreme novels have given the entire genre a bad reputation. But I’m here to say that romance novels have a lot more to offer than just an outlet for a little passion.
Reading is reading. Whether you’re reading Hemingway or a Harlequin, you’re using your brain to read the words and using your imagination to create pictures in your head of these characters and their lives. You can even learn from some of the simplest writing. It might not be like reading a history book, but reading some historical fiction of the romance genre did its part to help me understand the class structure in 19th-century England. And those independent-minded heroines? If it’s a book set in modern times, they usually all have jobs of some sort, so you learn about that career choice while following their progress on their way to a lover.
One might say that romance novels do nothing but encourage the fairy tale dream in girls, alluding to a happily-ever-after life once you
fall in love because these books don’t follow the couples on to the struggles of marriage, kids and real life. That’s true. Leave that up to Joan Didion and Anne Tyler. There are plenty of great novels written about the hardships that come with marriage. For me, the great escape is picking up a Harlequin and immersing myself in a fairy tale world for a few hours. It’s pure, unadulterated fun.
Karen M. Alley is a freelance writer and editor, with a special love for editing romance novels, as they are her guilty pleasure.
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