Romance isn’t my genre of choice, yet romance novels have been cropping up on my “recent reads” lists a lot more often lately.
I usually read mysteries, and most of my personal collection is made up of stories about supposedly haunted sites in Canada. Once in a while, however, I enter the public library’s romance section and if a book looks interesting, I take it home. Then I spend the duration of the novel waiting for the two protagonists to finally get together.
So, what is a romance? And what’s the difference between a proper romance and a romantic novel?
In CREW 221 (Genre Fiction), I learned that romances have a specific formula: the love interests meet, either falling in love straight away or hating each other’s guts; obstacles separate them; they confess their feelings and/or get married. There must be a happy ending—that’s why George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss technically isn’t a romance.
Category romances, like Harlequin books, usually have scantily clad women and bare-chested men on the covers. I had to shelve them when I worked at a library this past year, and I swear I felt a few brain cells die every time.
Growing up, I thought romances were overrated, silly, and a waste of time (unless they were classics by Jane Austen), and unlike in a movie, you couldn’t easily skip the sex scenes.
A woman from church lent me Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds. The premise was iffy—a Catholic bishop and a woman 20 years his junior fall in love—but what really shocked me were the anatomically detailed, page-long sex scenes.
For comparison, I read D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, where there were only a few sex scenes, all of which were more poetic than graphic and the scenes didn’t traumatize me. Nowadays, I don’t mind an intimate scene so long as it’s brief and not too descriptive.
My cousins paid me a visit a few years ago, and one of them had a Danielle Steele novel with them. I’d never heard of her, so I started to check her books out.
They weren’t the best. The pages were often one or two large blocks of text, making the long chapters seem even longer. There was more narration than dialogue, and the characters weren’t particularly memorable. Still, I could see the books’ appeal.
Since then, I’ve read romances that I’ve genuinely enjoyed. And here’s why I read them:
1) To experience different cultures: I feel less guilty reading romance novels when they include BIPOC characters and/or storylines in international locations than if the novel were set in the USA with white, cis gendered characters. This way, I’m actually learning something alongside the sometimes steamy action. (I personally recommend Sonali Dev’s Bollywood takes on Jane Austen’s novels.)
2) To “travel”: Jenny Colgan is one of my new favourite authors. I loved being taken away to rural Scotland through her Scottish Bookshop series. The same goes for Roselle Lim’s Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop: a large part of the fun was experiencing her version of Paris. As I read, I was in the characters’ world, not in Kamloops or Nanaimo. If you’re a broke student unable to travel, these might be the books for you.
3) For the food: Anything with chocolate, coffee, or Asian cuisine.
4) To feel happy: Imagine reading 300 or more pages only to find the couple dead at the end. You’d probably feel pretty cheated. That’s why I like to read romances that have a sense of humour—I’m not looking to invest my time in a novel that leaves me in tears.
While I may still be partial to my mystery novels, I find I’m more willing to expand my horizons lately. That doesn’t mean I’m willing to give up my unsolved murders for roses and lingerie, but there may just be room for both genres on my shelves.