I just learned last week that August is Read a Romance Month! If you know my reading habits, you know that I’ve been reading romances no matter the month’s designation. (That website is chock-full of awesome posts from romance authors, I highly recommend checking it out.) I had planned on doing a romance round-up this week, but I decided that first, I’d dedicate a post to speaking briefly about how much richer my reading life has become thanks to romance.
I’ve always read romances. When I was a teen, I wouldn’t pick up a book unless I was pretty sure there was some kissing in it (this started my habit of skipping to the end), even if that storyline wasn’t the main one. Even now I prefer at least a little romance in my books, though it’s no longer a strict requirement (and it’s less of a preference for the YA I read).
It wasn’t until just a couple of years ago, though, that I really started to embrace being a romance-reader, when I finally came to the realization that one of the main reasons romance as a genre is so disparaged is because of how female-centric it is. Women are its primary readers and its primary writers (not to mention most of the protagonists are women). The books are written by people like me for people like me, and that is the reason they’re looked down upon. They’re seen as wish-fulfillment for bored women (They’re not! They’re just as well-written, engaging, and meaningful as any other sort of book out there). But here’s the thing: I can name a dozen critically-acclaimed, award-winning books that are clearly wish-fulfillment for straight white men without thinking too hard about it. The idea that romances are “unrealistic” implies that other genres (i.e. those written by and for men) are realistic, which is laughable. I could go on and on – and others have, much more eloquently. Tessa Dare, for example:
Once I realized all of this, I got angry about it. And I stopped being embarrassed about liking romance.
The increase in the amount of romance I’ve read within the past few years has led me to pay more attention to the romance-writing world. I follow a few of my favorite authors on Twitter and through them, I’ve come to learn that the romance publishing world’s problems mirror a lot of those in YA (and publishing in general). I’ve learned about the We Need Diverse Romance movement, which sprang from the more general We Need Diverse Books initiative. I learned about the RITA finalist For Such a Time and through that, how the RITA awards work (and how a genre that celebrates women can also take a decidedly opposite tack when it comes to other marginalized groups).
I’ve learned about self-publishing and how to pick the good ones, and now some of my favorite romances are self-published ones. I read a lot more novellas and short stories. I read a lot more e-books, too! I wouldn’t touch any of that just a few years ago, and now it’s not uncommon for me to open up a self-published (edited and vetted) romance novella on my phone for my evening reading.
Reading romance has absolutely strengthened my feminism and helped fortify my talking points. I’ve learned how to better stand up not just for the genre, but also for anything that women like and participate in, and by extension, women themselves. I’ve been able to bolster my arguments in support of romance, but have ultimately discovered that the best argument is no argument at all – it’s simply telling the other person to Grow Up.