I remember the first “romance” novel I ever read. It was my junior year and I was working at my university bookstore. I’d quickly established myself as a book “expert” so I was taken away from the cash register and given a spot in the book department, where I ordered bestsellers and law outlines.
I loved that job.
A little known secret about the paperback book industry is that when books don’t sell and they pass their return date, they must be “destroyed”. To a book lover, this was a nearly impossible task. Their destruction meant tearing off the covers and mailing them back to the distributor as proof that they were no longer saleable, and then the books themselves were thrown away.
(Psst, dear reader: I never threw them away. I took them home.)
It was in one of these “destroyed” books that I discovered a novella by Nora Roberts called “This Magic Moment.” Published years before, the story appeared in one of Roberts’ re-released anthologies.
I knew who Nora Roberts was, of course. I ordered the bestsellers and Roberts was always at the top of the list. My boss used to roll her eyes and shake her head at the number of “T&A” books on the shelf (“As if these will ever sell around here”), despite the fact that her college roommate put herself through grad school writing romance novels, which were always in demand.
What captured my attention about “This Magic Moment” was not that it was a romance, rather it was a book about a magician. And I’d seen enough David Copperfield television specials to know that I loved magic. So I read it, and I loved it.
Soon I realized that I could look up any kind of subgenre and there would always be a romance category for it. From broad to obscure, they were all there.
Love Grey’s Anatomy? Try medical romance.
Love Highlander? Try – you guessed it – Scottish Highlander romance novels.
Does BDSM make you blush? There’s a whole category full of very specific subcategories featuring all the spankings you can handle.
The point is that you can find anything you want to read about in the romance genre, and for many readers it’s less about the romance-y parts and more about the story.
(Yes, it’s exactly like the expression “I read Playboy for the articles” and I know someone who writes for Playboy so I can say without hesitation that this is possible)
This concept translates to any number of fandoms. Even sports.
Like readers, fanboys and fangirls and fans of any genre, sports fans are the same way. I know, because I spent a decade working in college athletics and sports were (and are) my life.
What I noticed while sitting in the stands during games is that there are any number of reasons why people like sports. For some, it’s a pure love of the game. For others, it’s the statistics and being the one to beat on trivia night at the pub. Some people like the atmosphere of a game. (I dated a guy who hated sports – I know, I know, it was a huge mistake – but he loved to tailgate at USC football games) There are the groupies who want to hook up with athletes, and then there are autograph seekers. The list goes on.
For romance readers, it’s the same thing. There are any number of reasons why romance readers love the genre. It can be an escape from reality, the promise of the Happily Ever After, the slow burn relationship that melts your heart or the blush-worthy toss in the sheets. (Or in the barn, in the car, in the kitchen, in the Red Room, on the desk, in the museum…yeah, you get the picture)
The point here is that people enjoy things, from romance novels to sports to painting to any number of hobbies, for their own reasons. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter why you like what you like. What matters is that you like it. That’s your personal choice and you don’t have to explain it or apologize for it.
For me, it’s all about the story itself, and the promise that I can finish the book and not be completely upset that things didn’t work out. These days I need the HEA, but the romance takes a back seat to the story. I think that’s what I love about Gabriel’s Inferno. Sylvain Reynard could have written that book and called it “fiction” and no one would think twice. Sure, it has the elements of a love story, but it could pass as fiction just as easily.
I love vampires, and it just so happens that some of the best vampire stories on the market today can be found in the Young Adult and Paranormal Romance sections. (Bonus for the YA Paranormal Romance books out there, like Crave by Tracy Wolff)
Fun fact: I rarely read actual love scenes in romance books. (Yes, even in Reynard’s books, too!) I’m much more invested in the story and I’ve been known to skip over the love scenes to get to the rest of the story. That said, those love scenes are very well written and make me blush like crazy. Same with every movie with a 3+ BON on Passionflix…
Conversely, I know people who actively read love scenes over and over, like the man who returns to his village in Cinema Paradiso to discover that his mentor had stitched together all of the banned love scenes from the town’s movie theater. The point is that we read romance for many reasons.
The advent of e-readers made reading romance easier for those of us who couldn’t read romance novels in the open. (Have you ever seen the gorgeous covers for Sylvain Reynard’s books? Try reading one on the team bus with a group of 17-23 year old guys. Yeah. Not happening) My e-reader allowed me to read whatever I liked without the need to hide the cover.
These days I’m a lot less apologetic about reading romance novels because it’s way more normalized than it was even ten years ago, just as being able to say that I’ve been to San Diego Comic-Con every year is now a badge of honor rather than a reason to be teased for being a nerd.
Though the media will poke fun at the romance industry from time to time, just remember that the romance genre makes up the lion’s share of the publishing industry. Laugh all you want, but the romance industry is growing stronger each and every day and I’m proud to read romance and support some of the best writers in the business.