I don’t like reading Romance.
Mills & Boon books aren’t even proper books.
Besides I’m a feminist, so I have better things to do than read about some woman with no personality swooning over a man.
Above, ladies, gents and enbys, are shitty things I’ve convinced myself of during my reading life, and I’m here today to say it’s all bollocks.
Tor recently got into a spot of bother on Twitter when they advertised the works of KJ Charles with the words “don’t let the Romance label scare you off”. Understandably, the Romance community weren’t impressed.
Romance isn’t “scary”. It’s a genre a lot of people love to read and write and implying that it’s somehow lesser than any of the other genres Charles’s works fall into is incredibly insulting to those readers and writers, including KJ Charles!
If Tor were trying to target readers who don’t usually read Romance, there are far nicer, more respectful and more productive ways to have put that. Or, they could have taken the chance to promote SFF to Romance readers who perhaps don’t usually reach for SFF.
Not only that, but SFF is a genre that’s spent a long time breaking away from disrespectful stereotypes, so it’s a shame to see such a huge publisher within that genre passing that stigma onto another genre instead. Not cool, Tor.
Now I would be a huge hypocrite if I said I was never someone who looked down on the Romance genre, and today I’m ashamed to admit that. But hey! We never grow if we don’t make mistakes and learn from them.
Internalised misogyny is a thing, and it took me a while as I grew as a reader, and as a person, to come to the realisation that feminism means choice, and a woman who likes traditionally feminine things, such as Romance stories, isn’t any less of a feminist than me and is certainly not someone who deserves derision for what she enjoys.
I work in the publishing industry so I know firsthand we still have a long way to go when it comes to treating all books with the same respect. I hate seeing “Women’s Fiction” in the supermarket, full of books with pink covers about marriages breaking down. Not because the covers are pink or because of their content, but because when a man writes about the breakdown of a marriage it’s a superb piece of literary fiction, and I’ve yet to see a “Men’s Fiction” stand in the same supermarkets. But that’s a whole other discussion for another day.
Because of that, Romance is a genre I’ve stayed away from for the majority of my reading life.
Or is it?
Jane Austen wrote Romance. The Brontës wrote Romance. I’ve read multiple books by Jenny Colgan, all Romance, and enjoyed them. I’ve read multiple books by Gail Carriger, several of which can be classed as Romance as well as SFF, and loved them. I’ve read three of Mary Robinette Kowal’s Glamourist Histories series over the past year, a series which is Historical, SFF and also Romance and I’ve enjoyed them.
In 2016 I read and loved Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik. It’s a contemporary novel. It’s also Romance. This year I read and enjoyed The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang which is 100% a Romance novel.
And that’s not even counting all the YA I’ve read over the years. What are Becky Albertalli’s books if not Romance? And she’s my favourite YA contemporary author.
(And what about outside of books? Disney’s 1991 version of Beauty and the Beast is my favourite film and that’s 100% a Romance.)
Besides, even when it isn’t a main part of the story, I love reading about love when it’s done well.
Essentially what I’m saying is I don’t seem to dislike Romance as much as I’ve always told myself I do. So this is my apology to the Romance community – I am sincerely sorry I’ve sneakily read Romance from the edges while claiming I don’t like reading it, and from now on I’d like to be a proper part of the community.
Like literally every genre on earth, Romance has its problems. There will be books in the genre that aren’t as good as others, and while love is at the centre of a Romance book I am the type of reader who likes to have some kind of plot there to keep the book going rather than simply reading a book about two people who meet and immediately get into each other’s pants.
What I shouldn’t be doing, though, is assuming every Romance book is that kind of book.
Am I about to become a voracious Romance reader? No, I don’t think so. My favourite genres will always be SFF and Historical, but there are plenty of books within those genres that are also Romance and I want to read more of them. Particularly Historical Romance, which is a genre I’ve definitely neglected because I’ve always thought I’d be reading nothing but the same bodice-ripper again and again.
In fact I’m going to start with A Touch Wicked by Katrina Kendrick, the pseudonym Elizabeth May writes her Romance under, because it has a masquerade ball and mistaken identities and it sounds like so much fun.
I’ve also been very into novellas lately, there’s something so satisfying about reading a story in one sitting, and I’m looking forward to reading this one, which precedes a new series of Historical Romance novels I’m also interested in trying in future.
I’d also love your recommendations! Whether you’re an avid Romance reader or a newbie to the genre, if you have a Romance book you think I need to check out I’d love to hear it. As I mentioned I’m particularly interested in exploring more Historical Romance, but if you know of any books along the lines of Jenny Colgan or Ayisha Malik I’d love your recommendations.