As an avid reader and book nerd, I love reading every genre of books. Well, every genre except romance (and self-help, but that’s not the point). Therefore, please understand my bewilderment when every other Bookstagram and Booktok recommendation is a romance novel. Or my surprise when I found out that romance is the genre that makes the most revenue in the US (1.44 billion $ to be precise). I was at a loss for words, so I thought I would do a little research to find out the reason why romance novels are so popular. After doing some reading, I came to three conclusions.
First, romance novels are more often than not a way for readers to escape reality. It creates a way for a reader tied down by social norms and conventions to let their wings loose and fly through the sky of unlimited possibilities. The dreamlike setting, the delicious food, the cute and romantic story, the love interest that is so sexy, the amazing fornication; everything in the story is to die for. In other words, romance novels make readers dream. This can be addicting, especially in a society where everything is based on facts and progress and where there is little place for imagination. In brief, escapism is one of the main reasons for romance’s huge popularity.
Second, emotions. Yes, emotions. Romance books put their readers through a roller coaster of emotions. Often, these feelings are emotions that are not felt in the reader’s life; therefore, filling a gap in the reader’s emotional health. Moreover, romance books are designed to reflect the reader’s desires. Publishing houses and authors have been doing this for many years; they have now become very good at it. Consequently, we, as a society, cannot blame romance readers for being addicted to romance (and only ever reading romance). For a long time, romance has given women the power to read books about them and for them. Romance gives a voice to their feelings, desires, and fantasies. Historically, it gave them the power to put something that resembles them on their shelves. Additionally, romance novels make readers feel like their feelings are seen —you know, those emotions that are not always nice, like rejection, failure, etc.—and replace these feelings with new anticipatory emotions. That is, it gives them hope. Hope for their love life, for the state of the world, hope for everything, but most importantly, hope for a happy ending.
Third, the hype surrounding romance books is rather simple and can be shortened to three words: happy, ever, after. The recipe for a good romance novel is not complicated: a romantic relationship and a happy ending. This way, when the reader picks up a romance book, they know the basic guidelines of the story. There’s a meeting between the main characters, some obstacles they have to go through in order to find their love, and finally a reunion which permits them to be together happily ever after. The predictability of the story comforts the reader, as opposed to any other book genre in which there is no story pattern and anything can happen. Furthermore, a happy ending is always welcomed in peoples’ hearts since it brings hope and happiness.
In conclusion, romance novels tend to have a bad reputation. Some critics even say that romance is not true literature. But with all the good it brings to people and its huge community worldwide, I am questioning the validity of these critics. Honestly, after reading about the strong escapism, the great emotional effects, and the nurturance that comes with reading romance, I now understand why romance novels are everywhere, from Booktok to your grandma’s bookshelf. Who knows, I might even start reading and actually enjoying romance novels myself!
***I am no professional, please do your own research for some clarifications. Thank you.***
A Companion to Romance : From Classical to Contemporary, edited by Corinne Saunders, John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, 2004. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/champlaincollege-ebooks/detail.action?docID=350883.
Croston, Glenn. “The Allure of Romance.” Psychology Today, 12 December 2012, The Allure of Romance | Psychology Today.
Herold, Thomas. “Book Publishing Market Overview for Authors – Statistics & Facts.” Book Ad Report, Book Publishing Market Overview for Authors – Statistics & Facts (bookadreport.com).
McKnight-Trontz, Jennifer. Look of Love : The Art of the Romance Novel, Princeton Architectural Press, 2001. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/champlaincollege-ebooks/detail.action?docID=3387414.
Pagan, Amanda. “A Brief History of the Romance Novel.” New York Public Library, 15 February 2019, A Brief History of the Romance Novel | The New York Public Library (nypl.org).