On Reading Romance

"I became intrigued by your rating system and did some exploring in your archives. Did you realize that of your 9- and 10-of-10 rated books, none are romance novels? Of your 1- and 2-of-10 rated books, nearly all are romance novels? I know I tease you about your affinity for romance novels, but based on your ratings, my teasing has a lot of merit."

My friend Jennifer left that comment to a post I wrote a while back. Ever since then, I've been pondering the idea of "Why I read romance."

Indeed, I do tend to rate romance novels in the the "Meh" area. In fact, I probably spend more time complaining about the problems found in most romance novels than speaking about the enjoyment I find in reading them. Despite the fact that I often disparage the lack of a clear and meaningful plot, character chemistry, and/or character development of these books, I still devour them like a kindergartener eating an ice cream sundae. So why, if I am so frustrated by these books, do I keep on reading this genre?

Over much pondering, I found the answer: I simply like the way they make me feel. After most books, including the more painful ones, I am always left with a residual feeling of pure, unabashed happiness.

It would truly be impossible to articulate to a non-romance reader the feeling of glee and comfort I obtain from these books. There is just something about the age-old story of boy meets girl meets OMG Big Misunderstanding that is just plain addictive. I derive nothing but pleasure out of rooting for the main characters to get together. It drives me nuts when the two leads are kept apart for pages upon pages (I want those characters in the same room either picking a fight or finding creative uses for a billiards table) but that separation makes the pay-off of the classic happy ending all the more pleasing. I actually like the formula of the romance novel because there is nothing more satisfying then two people overcoming all odds to be together.

I may rate these books poorly, but I actually rate most books in the 5/10 [Meh.] area. I have very high requirements for a book to receive an 8, let alone an 9 or 10. Romance novels tend to be stuck in the 5 area because the writing, characters, and plots tend to be more flat than I require for a better grade. That does not mean these books are bad, it just means that they don't meet my (mostly over-elevated) standards for greatness.

That said, most of my higher rated books, particularly the 8/10s (which include a set of romance novels) have strong elements of romance. The romance may not take center stage, but it plays a large and vital role in most of the books.

For me it comes down to the simple fact that these books make me smile. Whether they were horrendous or fabulous, romance novels always leave me happy.

After my self-inventory, I'm now very interested in what reasons individual people read romance novels. Anyone care to share?


Jennie said…
My reasons are very much like yours--I just like the happy ending and the emotional catharsis of reading about two people meet, fall in love, and get together. I know that lots of romance books are poorly written (but then so are lots of books in other genres). And the formulaic nature of romances can be limiting, but mostly I just find it comforting.
Zeek said…
heh. I've been giving alot of romances lower ratings also when compared to my non-romance reviews- but that's because, I feel at least, there hasn't been any out there for a looooong time that makes fall in love with them as I did yrs ago. I can't seem to find any that suck me in the same way as they used to.

So is it a quality issue?

But I keep trying ...
Jennifer said…
I just wanted to express my deep joy that I inspired an entry.
Meghan said…
Jennie - I'm glad I'm not the only person who reads these books for the comfort feeling.

Zeek - For me, I don't know if it's a quality issue or if I've begun to overdose on the genre. I find that I rate romances higher if I have not read one in a while.

Jennifer - *clears throat and tunes vocal chords* You're the In-SPIR-aaaaaa-tion!