Being Snobby About Romance Novels

Last month, on Valentine’s Day, I read an article about Romance novels that I keep thinking about. The author started reading romance novels when she was in her early 30s because she needed to for work, and she has kept reading romance novels, because she says she found out they were awesome. The article is titled “Why You Should Be Reading Romance Novels” and suggests that if you think you don’t like romance novels, you might want to unpack why that is (the author thinks the reason may be: misogyny). 

The article discusses why romance novels have been historically disrespected, why they’re important and valuable, and why they’re way better than you might think. The author also includes tons of links to romance novels if you need a recommendation.

Here are a few paragraphs from the article to get you started:

“I don’t want to spend too much time on romance’s bad reputation, which is born of misogyny, snobbishness, bias against small paperbacks, misogyny, and a lack of appreciation for delightfully cheesy book covers. But if you’re thinking, Bad reputation is right, and fairly earned!, then please just keep reading. Because if that’s what you think, odds are you haven’t read any romance, at least not recently.”

“After growing up on Madeleine L’Engle or Louisa May Alcott and graduating into a high-school canon so dominated by men, imagine the relief and delight to read about women. And to read about such adult things — not adult as in sex, but adult concerns, like love and courtship and family strife. To see in those pages possible paths forward, worlds and happy endings to imagine yourself into.”

“Women have been historically excluded from the canon, and that carries on through to publishing today. Women’s voices and stories — as authors and characters — have been systematically devalued in literature. We see how a man’s thinly veiled autobiographical musings are hailed as revolutionary, but a woman’s are dismissed. How male authors write women who only serve their male characters’ journeys and are lauded for the bare minimum beyond that. How sex, in literary fiction, is rarely actually fun, and if it is then someone must pay the price.”

“People love to demean romance as “smut,” as if the only thing worse than women writing stories about women is women writing stories about women having sex. But if you’re just looking for titillation you are going to be very disappointed with all the pages spent on things like plot and character development.”


I definitely put myself in the I-don’t-read-or-like-romance-novels category, but I found the article’s arguments very compelling, and now I’m thinking I should seek them out. Related, I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been reading more non-fiction lately — it seems like all the acclaimed novels are just too heavy and sad for me at the moment, and this article spoke directly to that feeling.

Which makes me curious. Do any of you read romance novels? And what exactly counts as a romance novel? Am I reading romance novels already and I don’t know it? For example, when I picture romance novels, I assume we’re talking about an inexpensive paperback with a bare-chested man on the cover. But my friend Katherine Center writes lovely feel-good novels that have happy endings and are inevitably romantic. Are they considered part of the Romance Novel Genre? If not, why not?

If you read the article and find yourself convinced to give romance novels a chance, I’d love to hear. If you read the article and still feel like you can’t take romance novels seriously, I’d also love to hear that. And if you’re already a huge romance novel reader, please feel free to share your favorites!

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