Monday, October 11, 2010

In Defense of Romance--YA or otherwise.

Eek, this is a rant; fair warning!

I remember going through one or two historical romance novels a week as a teen. I don’t know WHY that genre appealed to me so much at the time; maybe because there were always teenage heroines going on unbelievable adventures. Stowing away on Viking ships; escaping from medieval convents; stealing into the night in disguise, only to be captured by evil villains-- I mean, I gobbled those stories up. They were so different than my real life. The romance was heavenly, the action and adventure beyond my wildest dreams, and nothing in the YA section could even come close.
I LOVE romance novels, YA or otherwise. I’ve loved them since I was twelve. I can’t be alone. Sales-wise, romance is the most popular genre in fiction (there are statistics here from RWA and also here listed on Wikipedia, I’m sure AAP has something but I have a query to re-write and a synopsis that wants to kill me, so I don’t have time to dig up the exact numbers. It’s crazy though, like 46 percent of paperback sales, and twelve percent of ALL sales-- that’s more than one in ten books-- which means romance dwarfs all other genres in sales *gasp*).
So what’s up with romance being a dirty word? My friend-- a guy-- told me that when he sees someone reading a romance novel, it’s like they’re advertising that they’re lonely and sex-deprived. What the-- seriously dude? Nooooooo!
When I see him reading a horror novel, I don’t AT ALL imagine that he wishes he could be out murdering people!!! Since when do we read the things we want to happen to us in real life? Do readers of sad literary novels want the endings of their favorite books to actually happen? With tragic deaths and all that? No-no-no-no!
But that’s just one person, right? Or so I thought. My other friend, also a guy, told me he thinks it’s weird that I have romance novels in my bookcase, “like all your trashy books are classic literature or something.” Ummmm, guy, I love you, but I have books that I enjoy reading on my bookcase. Some are hard-core fantasy novels, some were written five hundred years ago, some are romance novels, some are young adult fiction, some are historical dramatizations-- the bookcase is about the books I love! Me. It’s MY bookcase GAH!!! 
So in his opinion, I’m allowed to have all the books I love on display... except romance novels because they’re somehow less??
Is it a guy thing? Is it??? (Sorry, that’s more rhetorical nonsense for anyone playing the rhetorical questions game). NO IT’S NOT A GUY THING! It’s a Diana’s-friends-thing, apparently. My awesome friend-who-I-adore rolled her eyes at a book I chose because it was from the romance section of the bookstore. Her words were, “Come on Di, really? A romance novel?” It was accompanied by her head dropping sideways, look of embarrassed pity. Hey friend-who-I-adore, I refuse to feel embarrassed about the books I choose to read. I hadn’t read a historical in a while and it looked good. Don’t try and shame me, please :(
There’s nothing wrong with reading any genre, in my opinion. But that brings me to the reason for this blog post. I googled up “YA romance” because I wanted to see if any new books came up. You all know by now, I’m a huge fan of romance novels, and much like my little sisters, YA romance especially gives me that intense, brand-new love feeling I like to read about. So almost at the end of my search page I come across a post by someone trashing YA romance. And I find a few more articles and posts like it. It makes me want to defend the genre. 
Just like horror-readers don’t read about murder because they’re on the brink of a killing spree, romance readers-- YA or otherwise-- don’t read about love because they’re about to go find a stalker boyfriend or give up everything for an unhealthy love. Not now, and not as a teen did I ever model my real-life relationships after books, tv shows, movies, or anything else. No more did I expect to find real-life dragons and ogres after reading a fantasy novel-- come on people, are YA romance-haters really suggesting that teens can only read realistic romance books? Does that mean they can only read about realistic everything-else? No science fiction, no horror, no fantasy, because they might start believing the world is really that way??? 
As a teen, I would NOT have been a reader if the only books out there portrayed normal, balanced, healthy relationships with normal, balanced, healthy characters. That’s what I wanted out of my REAL life, not in the stories I read.
The stories I read were there to thrill me, shock me, make me think, make me laugh. I wanted the girls in the story to do horrible things that I would never do in my safe little life. If books hadn't shown me, I'd have watched television shows that showed me. I'd have found a way to see exciting, marvelous things. Somehow
The Twilight Factor:

One article suggested that Twilight started girls on a crazed desire for unhealthy stories. I can’t agree. Unhealthy stories have always been popular with teen girls. It’s not like teens were reading wholesome, well-balanced books and all of a sudden Twilight came along and they went off the deep-end. Teens were finding their way to unwholesome stories-- be they in book form, TV shows, movies, music, whatever-- and Twilight merely directed an energy that was already there. If Twilight hadn’t come along, those teens might not have turned to BOOKS for their unhealthy stories (unless they were like me, and knew where to look), but they would have turned to something. They might have latched on to the latest 90210 or Buffy spin-off, or found some other outlet, but whatever the case, girls who enjoy that kind of story are going to find a way to hear it.
There is a kind of girl-- and I was one of them-- who liked to watch princess movies and pretend to be Ariel/Jasmine/Belle/whoever for a little while. Not every girl is this way, but a lot of girls are, or there wouldn’t be a market for them. Some of those girls grow up and want older versions of those tales of romantic adventure. It doesn’t mean they’ll defy their father and ask a sea-witch for legs, or disguise themselves and escape the palace, or agree to live with a beast with rage issues. It just means they like a story about romance and adventure. 
They. Just. Like. The. Story. So, let them like it. 
They’ll still grow up and be successful if that’s what they choose. If they’re smart enough to pick up a book, they’re already showing signs of intelligence, especially considering all the other ways they could be spending their time.


  1. It is not just your friends. My husband thinks the same thing about Romance novels. Heck, I won't even step into the Romance section of Borders to browse, if I'm honest with you. YA Romance allows me to purchase romance on the SLY sometimes, which maybe accounts for why it sells so well. Romance without the associated shame of being in the romance section! The only way I get Adult romance is to raid my mom's IMPRESSIVE collection in the attic, where it never sees the light of day. And why does she hoard all these romance novels that she will never read again? She's embarrassed to donate them and doesn't want people to know she reads them!

    But the fact of the matter is-- it wasn't romance novels that made me evaluate the kind of romantic relationships I wanted in my life, or the kinds of romantic relationships which were healthy for people to have. Flat Out, in respect to my socialization, I took more advice (I guess you would say, though it seems like the wrong word) from Adult Science Fiction, and in particular Robert Heinlein. I'll freely admit that those books were incredibly adult, and I possibly read them too young. But that was because his books ADDRESSED social issues! And even then, I didn't model my life and relationships toward the propensity for polygamy reflected in almost every single one of his adult novels (at least the ones I've read to date). I'm happily married to my SINGULAR husband, in a loving and respectful relationship! But I did THINK about the issues involved and what love was supposed to be, and where I stood on the matter. And do we want our kids NOT thinking about their personal feelings in regard to how they want to carry on? I mean, books and fiction, IMAGINARY FRIENDS, those are ways for children, adults, young adults, to test out boundaries, try things on, in SAFE ways, without the consequence of the real world. That doesn't mean you're learning life lessons, just that you're exploring the options available! Healthy, unhealthy, indifferent...

    We don't give kids enough credit for knowing what's real and what isn't, but science backs you up, Di. Kids KNOW the difference, and I'll be honest with you, I'd rather have my kid reading about a female MC in a sketchy-possibly-abusive relationship than going out and finding the sketchy guy to experience it first hand.

    I guess I feel pretty strongly about this topic too. haha.

  2. Amalia you said it so well!! I especially agree with your thoughts on kids reading about sketchy-possibly-abusive relationships being a way to explore that kind of relationship in a safe way. Better to do so from a story than from real-life, definitely.

    As for embarrassment about owning/buying/reading romance, it's sad that there's a stigma attached, but it's really there. I remember an indy bookshop I used to go to sold bookcovers in paperback size. When I bought some romance novels the salesperson asked if I wanted one to cover that I was reading romance. It was just a landscape cover but the curly letters "gave it away." Geeze really??

    What really burns me is when people rag on YA romance, as if all the other unrealistic genres of YA are fine, but bring in an unrealistic romance and suddenly it's not a good book. *huge eyeroll*

    Haha look at me, I could write a new blog post!! Thanks for the comment, it's good knowing I'm not alone. I suppose I really couldn't be, considering the sales figures :P

  3. SING IT SISTAH!!!!!!! This sort of ignorant mindset drives me insane. INSANE I TELL YOU!

    As you know, I write, read, and breathe romance novels. I devour them and I'm proud! Thankfully, my fiance has no problem with it and is respectful of my reading choices =)

  4. Hahahaha Natalie I know how you feel! When people belittle my reading choices I tend to be nice and bottle it in, but on the INSIDE it drives me insane, and now I've written a whole blog post about it pfffft!!

  5. Romance is the only way to go IMO. Without it, I don't want to read, watch, whatevs. And I have heard the stigma against romance, but I've never experienced it myself. No one has ever said a word to me about it. *shrugs*

  6. My wife reads the books your talking about, and she keeps them hidden under the bed. I have never said a derogatory word to her about them, and I wouldn't because I believe in "To each their own". I do not judge, but still she is embarassed. There is a 'stigma' as you say, but I have to wonder if some of that is self-imposed. ??

  7. Hey, Jane Austen wrote romance (aren't her books the templates for all Regencies?) So did the Brontes. Emily wrote the first Gothic. I wish the snotipotimuses would get over themselves.

  8. Girl you are on a roll today! Your rant was very well spoken and I agree with the whole shame to admit you like the genre. Like me a thirty something woman in the YA adult section, I get judging eyes always. I will have to admit I have tried to find romance novels before and I guess I didn't know what I was looking for because the books I picked up said stuff like "Thrusting his body" or "her loins burned" which I felt was a little too erotica for me. Thank goodness I have you to call now to recommend me a good romance.

    Preach on sister! I hope you ripped your buddies a new one or at least directed them to your blog. If all else fails, I hear lemon juice in the eyes burns pretty good. hehe.

  9. Tina, lucky you!! I catch flak for my reading choices. I don't know why :(

    DL, hmmm, interesting theory. A self-imposed stigma. Maybe if more of us walked around with romance novels like it was no big deal (which, it isn't) some of the stigma ~would~ go away.

    Michelle, thanks!! I don't rant often, but when I do I suppose I get a little carried away *blush*

    Anne, EXACTLY!!!! Snotipotimuses *laughing!!*

    Dana, No, I'm not the "ripping your buddies a new one" type haha :) I didn't apologize for myself either though. I suppose contrary silence and picking up an extra romance novel on the way out of the bookstore is pretty close to lemon juice in the eyes *evil grin*

    I love the comments! And to think I ALMOST deleted this post after I posted it.

  10. Absolute ignorance! Isn't it sad??? I mean really really sad! All those misconceptions and they're the thoughts and opinions that make it out in the world! It's just not right! Your post was fantastic!!!

    BTW - I'm a new follower! Your blog is adorable and anyone who has a PET on their blog is AMAZING!!!!!!!!! I love the little guy... I'm going to come back just to play!

  11. Haha thank you Jen!! The ignorance and judgement are so unnecessary, especially because there are so many other things besides reading that truly are destructive-- why focus negative energy on something as wonderful as book?

    And I do love my blog. It seemed to need a pet to keep it company when I'm off gallivanting on Twitter :)

  12. This has been going on since the first novels were set into type. The first novels were romances. When Samuel Richardson had a huge success with a romance called "Pamela" in 1740, Henry Fielding (of Tom Jones fame) made fun of it with a silly parody called Shamela. Nothing has changed.

    My theory is it's a guy/girl thing. Guys see their girlfriends more interested in some romance hero than themselves and they have to make snarky remarks.

    But Jane Austen, The Brontes, Dickens (at least stuff like A Tale of Two Cities)--what did they write but romance?

    Sexism is alive and well in the book business. You'd think after 270 years they'd get over it.

  13. Hi, Diana! Wow, I've noticed I've spent a whole lot of time on yours and Dana's blog today! ;)

    I was just reading Amalia's reply and a thought popped me right in the head. I think the reason a LOT of people sneer romance, are you ready? But before I say it, please correct me if I'm wrong...

    It's because the books are cliched with tons of explicit sex scenes because of the steamy cover jackets. The models are usually half-naked, and it appears as if that's what the book is mostly about. Then it's linked to the 'curly writing' or the pearls with flowers if there aren't any people.

    It could also be attributed as portable soap operas, or what the read on the back of the covers or the 'hook' before the book dives into the story.

    And people's minds tend to think 'sex' with 'romantic' media.

    Indeed, it IS ignorance, and not only is it that, but those people judge the readers of romantic books.

    Maybe they should eye-roll at the erotic books and not romance, because they are NOT the same!

    Here is a defender of your cause if you're interested!

    As for me, personally, I LOVE romance. I always pepper my novels with romance, and lately I've been writing straight-up romance. There's something appealing about reliving those exciting firsts and the escapism it lends to our daily thump and grind as working women, mothers, and just about anyone who loves feeling 'romanced'.

    This is just my opinions and thoughts. I love to philosophize. ;)

    What do you think?

    ~Elizabeth :)

  14. Brilliant post! I love a good historical romance. For the hours it takes me to read it I can experience something I never would have otherwise...unless somehow a time machine gets invented. Or when I read a thriller...I don't want to get chased by a murderer in real life but I can safely enjoy the adrenaline rush by the hours it takes me to read. That's the beauty of books--they can allow people to discover and experience things they wouldn't otherwise no matter the genre. Just wish people could be more accepting of that.

  15. Anne- So true Anne. Sexism is a real thing, whether people realize it or not. And I can see the guy/girl thing that you're talking about. Some guys are insecure, and threatened by the larger-than-life book heroes. What really gets under my skin though, is how judgmental some people can be over what a person chooses to read. ARGH.

    Elizabeth- The half-naked covers DO propagate a negative stereotype, but if people still sneer at the covers with pearls and flowers and curvy writing, what then can a cover have that people won't sneer at? It's a story about love and romance, so what possible cover can indicate that without people judging me? So frustrating. If a horror book has a black cover with a bloody knife, no one bothers me. It's okay to read about a gruesome murder, but love? I must have no brain :P I can't wait to head over to the link you supplied, thanks!! I love philosophizing too :)

    Nicole- Thanks!! I agree COMPLETELY. For me, it's about the adventure and the experience-- yes the experience of falling in love, but also of being in another time/world, one I have no way (and no real-life desire) to be a part of.

    I don't expect others to love the same books as I do; I do wish I weren't judged for my preferences though.