My Readers Advisory class is so much fun! You’ve got to love a class where novels are part of the required reading. I never realized how spoiled I was as an English major, just reading novels all the time, until I had to face my first semester of grad school, which was completely devoid of fiction!
I have to admit, I wasn’t too enthused about having to read a romance novel as part of our genre studies. I mean, I only made it to book six in Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series before the romance drove me off. All the sex was getting in the way of my vampire story, dang it!
Nevertheless, I’m learning to rethink my scorn of the romance genre–it never hurts to reanalyze the validity of your prejudices. I’m learning about the appeal elements in various genres so I can offer customers suggestions for books they may like. Romance fans are looking for a romantic fantasy, a fairy tale love story for the escapism, vicarious enjoyment of the emotional relationship, and the happy ending. I have to admit that escapism has been a major motive for my reading habits. If my guilty pleasures are the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, it isn’t really fair for me to disparage other readers’ appreciation for escapist literature.
For my romance study, I read Honor Bound by Sandra Brown. I have to admit, I tore through the book in about two days. It wasn’t terribly suspenseful, but just enough to keep me turning the pages, wondering what would happen next. Which doesn’t make much sense to me because at the end of the book I had to say I didn’t care for it much. The characters were too flat, too idealized for my personal tastes, but I have to understand that some readers are looking for an idealized fairy tale story. Some people want a knight in shining armor and a happily ever after, even if I can’t buy into that stuff.
I guess the thing that always turned me off from Romances is the gender stereotypes, the woman that has to be rescued by the handsome hero, the hostage who falls in love with her kidnapper. blech. It seemed to me that these stories painted unrealistic pictures of relationships and reinforced gender stereotypes. I hated to think of young women reading these stories and buying into the misogyny. But Dr. Van Fleet suggested that these romance novels could actually be empowering to women–these novels encourage female readers to carve out some time for themselves in their busy schedules. These books give women permission to enjoy a little escapism, to preserve a personal time and space for themselves.
And then I thought, aren’t I being rather misogynistic, thinking that women need to be protected from the lie of romance novels? I’m assuming that women cannot tell the difference between reality and fantasy. Who am I to tell anyone what they can and cannot read? I certainly don’t want anyone dictating what I read. If I believe in the freedom to read–and I do–I have to quit judging readers and start serving them!
The Romance Writers of America report that over 64 million Americans read at least one romance novel in the past year. These readers are part of my service community. I don’t have love romances, but I do need to respect the reading needs of my customers.