One of my goals for the year is to read more widely. I tend to gravitate mostly toward “literary fiction” and not as much to “genre fiction” books such as romance, mystery, sci-fi or fantasy. However, genre fiction is very popular, so I decided to try one out. Since it is February, Valentine’s season, I thought this would be the perfect time of year to read a romance novel.
Romance is a hugely popular genre — as the second-largest category of fiction, it outsells science fiction, fantasy and classics. I will admit that in the past I have been, possibly unfairly, averse to the genre. I had assumed they were all cheesy, predictable bodice-rippers with impossibly chiseled Fabio’s on the covers. But lately I have seen a very wide variety of romance novels coming through the library and know a lot of people who absolutely love to read them.
Even if they were all cheesy, predictable bodice-rippers, there is nothing wrong with a cutesy, steamy or even formulaic story. One of my missions as a librarian is to get more people reading, and one of the best ways to do that is to empower people to read what they like without shame. I believe there is value in all literature, and if you find something that brings you joy, let yourself savor that!
Fantasy and sci-fi help us explore the existential questions of life (and cool alien technology), mysteries help us think outside the box to problem solve, and romance can inspire hope and may help the reader approach life with a lighthearted playfulness. And let’s be honest … right now, a little bit of predictability can be a much-needed escape from reality in these uncertain times.
So I decided to dip my toe into the world of romance, and let me tell you, it did not disappoint. I binge-listened to the audiobook of One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston on CloudLibrary last weekend and discovered the pure joy the genre has to offer. I learned that the content in these books encompasses a wide range of subjects and appeal terms. Contrary to my initial expectations, this book didn’t just tell the story of two people meeting and falling in love. It had a little bit of sci-fi, magical realism, history, gender/identity studies and even mystery thrown in.
As expected it was a tad predictable from time to time, but as I said earlier, I didn’t find it entirely off-putting. Although twists and turns can be very exciting, it was kind of nice to be able to guess what might be coming next and not be completely thrown off by things coming out of left field. I found myself laughing, crying, relating to the characters, seeing a new perspective, and examining my thoughts and feelings in a new way. Everything I want from a book. I can’t say I am going to read all romance all the time from now on, but the experience left me feeling like I had a better understanding of my own emotions and relationships, and even a little better understanding of multiverse theory.
From a little bit of research, I also discovered that there are practical benefits to reading romance books. They can be a way to get in touch with your own sensitivity while exploring the characters’ emotional as well as physical intimacy. They have the ability to examine family dynamics, power structures, identity and many other issues through the lens of the love story, but they don’t necessarily always focus on just the romance.
Reading any kind of fiction can help us cultivate emotional resilience. It offers a particular kind of hope for something new and inspires us to see a path forward in difficult circumstances. This world can feel like a never ceasing onslaught of challenges, so learning how we can more deftly cope with those trials is of particular interest to me.
A more creative mind has the ability to imagine solutions to problems rather than getting stuck when faced with obstacles. Escaping into a good book can also give us a little break and help us return to our daily lives feeling refreshed and ready to take on difficulties. Romance books also provide us with feelings of warmth, safety and happiness and that can help us discover and create more of those in our daily lives as well.
Aside from the practical reasons why you should try one out, romance books can be simply fun, sweet and heartwarming. The banter between characters can be amusing and entertaining. Meet cutes are adorable. They can conjure up our own memories of first loves, young loves, new loves, and allow us to bask in the nostalgia. They can help us see the magic in the mundane, rekindle passion and help us view even the most seemingly banal events in our own lives through fresh eyes.
I also want to dispel the myth that it is read exclusively by women. On the contrary, rather. According to the nonprofit Romance Writers of America, 18% of romance readers are male and that rate is steadily increasing. There is a growing movement of men realizing the benefits and joy of reading romance, and even starting their own “Bromance” book clubs to talk about it.
Historically, one of the benefits of the genre is that it has given agency to women writers and characters. It can be important for all of us to read any literature that gives a window into a different perspective. We all benefit from being able to peek into the world of someone whose experience in the world may be different from our own. It helps us to empathize with others.
Additionally, the misconception that it’s only women who write romance, or that these books solely focus on female characters, is just not true.There are plenty of romance novels written by and about men. Nicholas Sparks is probably one of the most well-known, but other prolific male writers of romance have often used female pen names to publish. A search for “romance books by male authors” even credits Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy and James Patterson to the genre.
Since there are so many different sub-genres, there are romance novels to fit any taste or preference. The genre is becoming so diversified; you can find novels that feature sports, spaceships, espionage, superheroes, dragons, history, magic, mysteries and so many topics that almost anyone can find something they will enjoy. You can also find a wide range of levels of sensuality, from innocent all the way up to steamy. A resource I like to use to help find a romance book that will be the right fit for individual preferences is AllAboutRomance.com. It provides a wealth of book reviews and you can search for titles using many different facets to find one that is just right for your tastes.
You can also start your journey to finding a great book to read, of any type or genre, by visiting our website for book lists or sign up to receive book lists by email! You can also search the entire collection by visiting our catalog page. Simply type in a title, author, or even genre like romance into the search bar, then narrow the search using the facets on the left hand side of the page to find the type of book or other material you are looking for. Our downloadable ebook and audiobook platforms CloudLibrary and Overdrive/Libby also offer a variety of curated lists you can browse to find titles you will enjoy. I’ve also included a short list of suggested romance titles to peruse.
(Julia Engel is a reference librarian at Philomath Community Library. She can be reached via email at Julia.Engel@corvallisoregon.gov or by phone at 541-929-3016.)