Are Romance novels the white bread of literature?

Or: Why there’s nothing wrong with listening to Romance audiobooks…

 

Why there's nothing wrong with reading Romance...

 

On Being a Romance Reader

 

As a romance audiobook listener, I sometimes feel like I’m not viewed as a “real reader”. If you ever shared this experience and/or want to know what this has to do with feminism, please read on.

I get the impression that many people believe the following:

#1 Audiobooks are not real books.

#2 Romance is just fluff.

Is this true? Are romance audiobooks the empty calories of reading? Does listening to them have no positive effect on you? Is it just a waste of your time and brain cells? And does science have any opinion on this?

In this part of my The Why and How of Audiobooks series I will take a detour. Let’s discuss the genre of romance!

 

The Assumptions

 

While the tone in author forums indicates that authors and publishers view romance readers as a wild demanding horde of women who will run amok if not provided with enough reading material on a regular basis (1), the traditional view of them is of an older bored housewife whose husband does not satisfy her sufficiently. Either way, THE romance reader is not taken very seriously by anyone other than romance authors, it seems. Who in turn, aren’t take very serious as authors (2).

 

If you don’t believe this, let’s take a look at Nicholas Sparks. Some consider him the king of romance. He himself has stated prominently on his website that he is, in fact, not a romance author at all. And doesn’t it make you wonder why he feels it’s important to make that somewhat questionable distinction instead of embracing the huge romance market? And why does he say on his website that romance is distinguishable from his chosen genre of “love story fiction” because “romance novels have a general theme—’the taming of a man.’“? (3) There are so many things wrong with that statement. But we will just let it stand like that and take a step back to look at one more question:

 

Why is the one genre that is almost entirely comprised of female authors writing for female readers and gay authors writing for gay men the one that is marginalized like no other? Not just by men, mind you, but by women, too, who think that something that’s so female just can’t be as good as the things most men like.

 

Romance is hopeful

 

A poll in a big romance audiobooks group on Facebook (4) showed that, first and foremost, women like romance because, unlike most other genres, it lifts their mood. This is also beautifully described by Kristina Adams in Why I love Writing Romance (incidentally in regard to a Nicholas Sparks movie).

 

Whilst watching it, I felt an odd sense of comfort. The plot was predictable and the ending was bittersweet, but I still felt better after I’d finished watching it.

 

Romance novels usually touch on a topic of societal or personal concern, but they do so in the hopeful context that everyone can find their life partner and have a Happily Ever After. To some, this might seem superficial. But science has taught us that positivity is actually a strong motivator. Conversely, depression paralyzes. By weaving problems into their novels, romance authors achieve a balance between hopefulness and reflection. Scott Barry Haufman, Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology, says: “Hope is not just a feel-good emotion, but a dynamic cognitive motivational system.” (5)

 

Those viewing Romance as superfluous because it puts readers into a good mood have it the wrong way around. The hope those novels transport – that you can find a good place in a broken world – is something that activates the reader. Is the glum, brooding reader a more valuable member of society than the hopeful one?

 

Is listening to Romance audiobooks real reading? - The thoughtful glum readerIs listening to Romance audiobooks real reading? - The hopeful listener

 

Read anything, just read!

 

The thoughtful novels that show a detailed or different perspective on this world’s issues are important and necessary. They deserve the recognition they get. But a reader of literary novels is not superior to a reader of romance novels. And we should find our common ground as readers, not be elitists who marginalize those we share a passion for reading with.

 

Many romance readers – in the aforementioned poll this was the second most popular answer – read romance only as one of many genres. Seeing someone read romance does not imply that they aren’t well read in the conventional sense. And it is too easy to judge an entire genre by just a few bad examples. When someone says: “But this novel was clearly amazing!”, the reply is: “That’s the exception.” And this so very much tastes of jealousy and resentment. It’s just not necessary to give your own favorite genre more value by devaluing another reader’s preferred stories.

This is a good time to quote Sturgeon’s law (6):

I repeat Sturgeon’s Revelation, which was wrung out of me after twenty years of wearying defense of science fiction against attacks of people who used the worst examples of the field for ammunition, and whose conclusion was that ninety percent of SF is crud. Using the same standards that categorize 90% of science fiction as trash, crud, or crap, it can be argued that 90% of film, literature, consumer goods, etc. is crap. In other words, the claim (or fact) that 90% of science fiction is crap is ultimately uninformative, because science fiction conforms to the same trends of quality as all other artforms.

90% of any genre is crap!

 

Educational Romance

 

Love is an integral part of Everything. Many of the biggest stories of humanity are about love. And good romance novels carry a positive message about what relationships should be like.

 

Characters, especially men, in literary novels are often broken and they don’t do much about it. In Romance, I see more and more often how protagonists are expected to take responsibility for themselves. The love interest forces them to get their act together and become a better person. It is not love that fixes them, that is only the trigger to start acting responsibly and move forward. It’s an empowering message that you don’t have to go through life being screwed up, that you will have a happier and fulfilled life if you work on your personal issues. That you can take control.

 

Now, let’s go back to Nicholas Sparks and the taming of a man and follow it up with Guy Bergstrom’s article Romance novelists are a secret, epic army.

 

And the message is good. Romance novels don’t want men to be office drones, worried about TPS reports, or the moody, over-educated basket cases you read about in literary novels.

Romance novels want men of action and charm, packing swords if not guns, and sometimes guns and swords. Any man can learn this from hitting up the google for “romance novel covers.” IT IS AN EDUCATION.

 

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And it is true. Some romance heroes are broken, some are grumpy or jaded. But when it comes down to it, they will all become active and fight for their woman – though in contemporary usually without guns or swords. They will also show personal growth just like the female protagonists. But they are never forced to change who they are as a person (unless, maybe, in very unsuccessful novels).

 

Keeping in mind how very many books an avid romance reader consumes per year, especially those listening to audiobooks, as well as the immense competition for authors in the romance genre, it is also safe to assume that romance novels indeed need to offer a lot more than a cookie-cutter love story between two cardboard characters. Romance readers are not such simple minds that a mere change of names and places would be enough. Every novel they read needs to be unique and have something special and different to offer. Otherwise many bad Amazon reviews will follow (you know, what with them being such a wild and demanding horde).

 

Listening to Romance

 

And how do audiobooks factor into all of this? That’s simple. As stated before, the romance reader is often an avid reader. But the romance reader is also often a mother and/or a career woman with very little time to sit down with a book. Audiobooks give us the freedom to enjoy the stories while commuting to work or cleaning the kitchen. We can continue being readers through life phases that leave us with very little time to sit down with a book.

 

And sometimes, like for me or for Alex Witt as per his article “Listening to Audiobooks Is Just As Good As Reading, If Not Better, So Back the Hell Off“, it turns into a lifestyle because you learn that audiobooks have so very many advantages over books and TV. They seamlessly fit into an active lifestyle and sometimes are the solution for everyday problems. The avid reader wants to enjoy books in any format and as much as possible. Audiobooks are not better than print or e-book. But they are the only way to read while you are folding laundry or jogging in the park.

 

And what is the bottom line?

 

Listening to 50 romance audiobooks a year makes you a kick-ass reader. What you read does not have less intrinsic value than what contemporary fiction readers with hardcover editions read. Your favorite independently published book is not by definition worse than the big publishing house’s bestseller. Embrace your status as a reader and be proud of it!

And if you want to know why audiobooks matter so much, make literature more accessible and are inclusive, read on here.

 

Discussion:

Have you ever experienced the feeling of not being taken serious as a reader because “you only read this genre / listen to audiobooks / read ebooks, that’s not real reading”? And how do you feel about the “taming of a man”? Let me know in a comment what you think.

_______________

Sources:

(1) https://the-digital-reader.com/2018/02/28/authors-flee-audibles-romance-subscription-ridiculously-low-royalty-rate/

(2) https://www.writerscookbook.com/prejudices-against-genre-writing/

(3) http://nicholassparks.com/faqs/

(4) https://www.facebook.com/groups/auralfixationaudio/permalink/764666490536555

(5) https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/beautiful-minds/201112/the-will-and-ways-hope

(6) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sturgeon%27s_law
_______________

You want a happy ending? Read a Romance novel, son. - Captain by Lauren Rowe

Find my favorite Romance novels here:

My 8 absolute favorite Romance novels

3 Love Triangle stories that will give you all the feels!

6 of the best Enemies to Lovers Romance novels

Before you leave, take a second to share! Thank you <3

41 thoughts on “Are Romance novels the white bread of literature?

  1. I loved everything about this post! I love reading romance for exactly the reason you stated! I sometimes just need a happy, fluffy book to assure me that there is joy in the world. And what you say is very true, I enjoy the fact that most romances focus on communication, and becoming better people. And the fact that a genre that brings be so much joy is so easily disparaged makes me very upset. Just let me read and be happy!
    Malka @ Paper Procrastinators recently posted…March Madness Mini-ReviewsMy Profile

  2. Oh wow, I didn’t know that about Nicholas Sparks. It really does sound like he’s just trying to shake off the whole “my books are not stupid girly books” thing ://// how distasteful. Now I’m definitely not ever reading his books. Ugh, how… ugh.

    Unlike most readers, romance books make me feel really bad though. Bad about myself and my life, and that my love experiences have somehow don’t measure up and are not good enough. (Although, ironically, I could write my own book about my story and I bet it would sell.) But I think I am a non-typical reader in this regard. Romance certainly does make a lot of people’s lives and moods better, and that’s a great thing.

    Although I have to say, I hate those naked dude covers xD I just can’t. They just… no xD not for me, again! I guess they do sell the books, so most readers probably love them.

    Loved your post!!
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    1. Thank you!! And I totally agree on the covers! This probably falls into the category of unpopular opinion among my peer readers, but I read romance *despite* the naked dude covers, haha. I much prefer clothed cover models instead of the shirtless ripped bodybuilder types. It’s just not my thing.
      I hope you have a lot of books that make you feel good too 🙂

  3. I read a lot of romance books by indie authors, and I tend to actually like them more than the typical Harlequin romance novels. They seem to have characters that are more real, imperfections and all, rather than the Harlequin “perfect couples.” But I will read both, depending on my mood. Great post!

    1. I haven’t actually read any of the “original” romance novels, the ones I would see in the grocery store, haha. I found my love for romance at the same time I found the world of indie books 🙂 But I think I should read some Harlequin too.

  4. Such a beautifully written post. I understand and agree with all your points made throughout the posts. I do read in all formats, whether it’s hard copy, ebook or audiobook. Whatever genre one chooses too read, they should not be judged for it. We all love what we read, read what we love.

  5. Excellent post! I’m 50 yrs old. I’ve seen things. I’ve done things. I’ve read ALL the things (multiple thousands of things) at some point or another and in every format conceived (that I know of anyway). And here is what I’ve determined: Reading is reading. I do not give a rat’s ass what others say about “this way is the only way” or “this genre is inferior becuz reasons”. Screw that shit. Pardon my French. I love expletives. lol If people are reading then I’m happy. How’s that for a HEA? 😀
    The End
    A Voracious Reader recently posted…AVR Weekly News ~ 273rd EditionMy Profile

  6. I’m really not surprised by Nicholas Sparks’ comment, I’ve heard he’s kind of a jerkface before. This is really insightful post! So interesting to me that people look down at romance when it’s a highest grossing genre.

  7. I had a debate with my husband last night about “is listening to an audiobook really reading,” and I am on the side of YES, audiobooks count as real reading! Some people don’t have time to read books because of schedules, commutes, etc., and having a book read TO you is a great way to absorb the story in a little less time. I absolutely think it counts!

    And, I happen to like romance books every now and then. I particularly like Debbie Macomber’s easy-breezy Christmas romance books during the holiday season because I know EXACTLY what I’m in for — something sweet, some slight drama but nothing too overwhelming, a feeling of coziness, and a happy ending. Sometimes, that’s exactly what I want out of my literature.

    I also recently discovered Larissa Ione’s romance novels — she is an AMAZING writer!! Witty, sharp, hilarious, and some fantastic naughty scenes. I was blown away by how much I really enjoyed her writing, sexiness aside. She’s what made me a true believer in the romance genre!

  8. This post is really insightful. When I was in high school, I read almost all of Nicholas Sparks’ books and you got my attention about him saying he’s not a romance author. Because if you read his books and watch the movies..they’re definitely categorize under the romance genre. Contemporary or not, I love reading romance and even sometimes the formula comes out the same to all stories which made it predictable, I STILL love every story that is romance. Tbh, romance books were actually the ones that pull me out of a reading slump. EVERY. SINGLE.TIME especially after reading heavy thriller, drama and fantasy.

    With audiobooks, though I haven’t tried it yet, I don’t think it as any less because like you said, the accessibility that it provides for those with a busy lifestyle like mine who is a mom, I wouldn’t think twice to try it. It’s comforting to read this and I truly appreciate you for writing this post!🤗

    1. Thank you, that means a lot 🙂
      As for Nicholas Sparks, it makes me a bit sad that he feels this need to distance himself from a genre that could so clearly be his. And even if he doesn’t intend to do it, his words are denigrating.
      I’m pretty sure it comes down to being a gender issue. I suppose he has trouble dealing with being a romance author? But I wish he’d react to that differently.

      1. That’s a big possibility and I don’t think there is something wrong in being called a romance author when you are a male. All kinds of genres can be written by anyone of any gender and I hope somehow, he would say something about his stand on this.

  9. Wonderful post! I am not a romance reader, but you state your case very persuasively and eloquently. Lately I’ve been into love songs by artists like Prince, Michael Jackson, and Whitney Houston for many of the same reasons that you mention people gravitate toward romance: they’re upbeat and give us hope and ultimately, like you said, feature proactive characters, like when Prince says, “Is it him or is it me?” And you’re right that “literary” characters tend to be gloomy, defeatist, and downright whiny! Personally, I love horror books, which people also dismiss as being “not real literature.” Yes, I love the classics (some of them, some of them are super boring haha), but I’ll take Stephen King over Joseph Conrad any day!

  10. I was told multiple times that audiobooks don’t count as reading and while I don’t read romance I read a lot of YA which is similarly looked down upon.
    I’ve also had people telling me I should read not so much fantasy and I quote: it’s always the same.
    Like … no? I could understand it a bit more of someone made that assumption about crime books or even romance novels (both would be false of course but I could see why one might think that from the outside. Crime always follows the same base structure but so do nearly all books in some way? And if the books didn’t offer different things no one would read them all?) but fantasy has so many options? They’re not bound on this world or our physical laws or anything. But anyway. I just don’t understand why people need to be elitist about reading instead of being glad that so many people read. Great post!! ☺️

    1. Great points! It’s a shame so many people feel this need to lift themselves up by putting someone else down. The value of what we read doesn’t take away from the value of what they read.

  11. I love to read. I also love romance or women’s lit when I need a pick me up. Really the genre’s I read are heavily based on my mood.

  12. Thank you so much for this. As a reader and reviewer of mostly romance. A fact that I attribute mainly to the breath and scope of said genre. And its overwhelming influence in both publishing and entertainment. Let’s face it. Books are the stuff of movies and TV.
    I wholeheartedly stand securely in the first-hand knowledge that romance reading and audiobook reading are in fact READING!
    Why do so many of us persist in the belief that the fact that the story is being read to one serves to negate the legitimacy of the reading.
    We read to our children. Do they not experience the book in much the same way that they would having sat there with their eyes glued to page or screen? Are the interactions, lessons, or emotions felt any less profound?
    I think not.
    Just my 4 cents!

  13. I love this! I read a variety of genres, but romance makes up a large portion of that and people do tend to make assumptions when I say I like romance novels. I also listen to audiobooks and greatly enjoy the way they help make time pass when I’m cleaning or working.

  14. This is marvelous! I read tons of romance for years. Ye, I read and I enjoyed. I read mostly psychological thrillers these days, but do read at least a few romance titles each month and really enjoy them.

  15. Thank you for this!! Reading romance is super valid. It’s a genre written largely by women and largely for women, which is pretty awesome and empowering.

    1. Yes, it’s true. And it’s okay to like things many men don’t like. We shouldn’t look down on what’s ours because “it’s only girl stuff”.

  16. I agree with you: Just READ! It shouldn’t really matter what you’re reading, as long as you enjoy it! I was also told by a college professor (many many moons ago) that I should stop reading the so-called best sellers and focus on “real” literature. Ugh!

  17. When I am in a reading slump, or feeling down I often find that romance novels (for me its those second chance at loves tropes) keep me engaged and can help get my mood back on track. Reading means different things to you at different points in your life, and it shouldn’t matter the genre – stories are stories that spark imagination, inspiration and a wide range of emotions. Stories spark discussion (whether you read them or listen to them). I always wonder why readers are so critical of genres or audiobooks. You can have your certain preferences but reading is reading.

  18. Wow this post is epic! Excellently written and very good points. I love reading romance and although I don’t regularly listen to audio books (I prefer written text) I will occasionally pick one up.

  19. I enjoy a good romance and listen to a whole lot of audiobooks. I am of the opinion that whether you are reading with your eyes or your ears, you are still reading. To enjoy reading, we have to choose a genre that appeals to us, it all counts. A book is a book and tastes differ. 🙂

  20. I was told by professors that romance was a waste of time and talent. That it was ”cookie cutter” writing. I think some of it is, and some of it isn’t. I’m have seen other genres do the same thing. So it’s not just romances.
    I just don’t like romance because love and sex don’t do it for me.

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