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You Should Be Reading Romance Novels – Here’s Why

Go ahead and savour the fantasy.

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Written by Emma Kenny.

Art by Muhammad Burhan.

If you know me at all, you know this about me: I love romance novels.

I’ve loved romance my whole life, but I was deeply ashamed of that love for a long time. I remember when an ex-friend from high school “outed” me in senior year for reading 50 Shades of Grey. The way people reacted made me feel like crawling into a hole and dying, especially since none of their judgement reflected the very valid concerns about the series, but instead focused on how deeply uncool it was for me to read books that were explicitly about sex and love. (Please note that my tastes in romance fiction have since improved, as I myself have aged like a fine wine.)

No matter how badly I wanted to have unimpeachable tastes in literature, I never stopped buying paperbacks with covers featuring women in ball gowns with their hair down and their tits out.

But I couldn’t give up romance. No matter how badly I wanted to have unimpeachable tastes in literature, I never stopped buying paperbacks with covers featuring women in ball gowns with their hair down and their tits out. By the time I was halfway through my undergrad, I had given up trying to deny my love for romance, and I started to discuss the genre more openly with friends and classmates. Studying literature at university had further opened my eyes to the complexities of the genre, and I felt pulp romance deserved the rigorous discussion we reserved for the “serious” books we covered in class.

Beyond the usual reactions of open derision and shy intrigue, when I brought up romance fiction people often asked me how I could love romance and still consider myself a feminist? That dichotomy always rang false to me – what is unfeminist about pursuing personal pleasure between the pages of a book – but it inspired me to study romance fiction more seriously.

I wanted to know how romance could be so maligned while still enjoying such a lucrative position in the market. Romance authors make money. Like, real money: the genre produces about a billion dollars of revenue annually, making it worth more than the sci-fi/fantasy and mystery genres combined. As much as we hate to acknowledge it, we are hungry for happily ever afters (also known as HEAs) and the people who write them make quite a nice living churning out books that are criticized widely for being too formulaic and too corny. These numbers don’t lie, so how can romance still be so taboo?

The fear that being open about reading books where pleasure and emotional vulnerability are the driving narrative force might make you seem sad and desperate is pervasive.

I think books that centre on emotion – books often sneeringly referred to as “women’s literature” – still are not taken seriously in most settings, largely because people think it’s just too cringey to admit that you like them. The fear that being open about reading books where pleasure and emotional vulnerability are the driving narrative force might make you seem sad and desperate is pervasive.

Things are changing, as romance fiction gains new readers and critics begin to acknowledge that the genre is well equipped to handle serious themes with the respect they deserve. But as a longtime romance devotee and someone who has spent many, many hours studying the genre, I don’t think the change is happening fast enough. So I’m here to convert you.

I would never claim that romance is a perfect genre; romance novels can perpetuate problematic ideas about gender roles, pose masculine violence as evidence of affection, and refincorce white, cishetero patriarchal norms for relationships. These are serious problems, but the genre is evolving as more readers demand narratives that prioritize genuine respect and enthusiastic consent. And blessedly, there are about a million subgenres under the romance umbrella, a million ways to personalize the HEA, so the chances that you’ll find something that really turns your crank are high. It just might take a little research.

And besides all those noble reasons, it's really good to read some horny books, because being horny is foundational to the human condition.

I believe we need romance now more than ever. In a time when human connection is so tenuous and so many of us are seeking new and inventive ways to get ourselves off, why not try a tender story where the happy ending (Get it? This is an orgasm joke.) is guaranteed? Living in a world where calamity is usually just around the corner, romance novels provide a certain comfort. The HEA is an insurance policy against whatever anxiety the conflicts in the book might bring you, freeing you to fully enjoy all the twists the narrative may contain.

In real life, love is messy and scary, and it often cannot triumph over even meagre obstacles. In real life, the threat of rejection casts a shadow over all of our relationships, making it difficult to say how we really feel and be who we really are. In a romance novel, these obstacles certainly do arise, but our protagonists can and do overcome them, every single time. Talia Hibbert wrote it best in her novel Take a Hint Dani Brown: “It’s all about emotion…the whole thing, the whole story, the whole point. Just book after book about people facing their issues head on, and handling it, and never, ever failing – at least, not for good.”

I strongly recommend taking refuge from the uncertainty and peril of this life in the arms of a romance novel. Head off on a mental vacation to a world where the HEA is a given and true connection is possible. I have found this to be the best cure for the ailment of living full-time in a world where things always seem to be getting worse and alienation is almost guaranteed. Romance novels let you take heart from characters with grace and courage and wit, qualities you can borrow for yourself when your own store of those essentials is running low. And besides all those noble reasons, it's really good to read some horny books, because being horny is foundational to the human condition.

So go ahead and savour the fantasy. Real life will still be here when you’re ready for it.


About the Author

Emma Kenny is queer Virgo with a lot of opinions, living and sometimes writing in Ottawa, ON, Canada. When she’s not stuffing her head with romance novels and her mouth with ketchup Doritos, you can find them working on their roller derby skills, cooking an elaborate vegetarian meal, or petting her cats. You can find more of Emma’s work on Medium at @emma.w.kenny.

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