In Defense of Romance Novels or Imma Read What I Want

I realize I don’t have to defend romance novels to this crowd. You’re either at Smart Bitches because you already enjoy the genre or you got here by mistake and are deeply confused (welcome to the Hot Pink Palace of Bitchery, we have mantitty. And also cookies). I am feeling all the rage though, and need to vent.

Every now and again there are some super shitastic articles posted about why adults should be ashamed to read YA or romance or magazines or what have you. Every time it brings back all my romance novel put-down PTSD.

I can’t tell you the number of times people have questioned my taste in reading. For some reason people think it’s totally okay to be super crappy about my choice in books — “Oh my God, why are you reading that?” — but would consider making a similar comment about my choice in clothes too rude to say to my face.

These are the things people have said to me about reading romance novels:

“But you're too smart for books like that.”

“Why would you want to waste your time reading trash when there are so many good books out there.”

“Romance novels are just smut/trash/girl porn”

“You're wasting your degree by not reading serious fiction.”

So here we go.

My name is Elyse. I have a BA in literature. I am a feminist. I have achieved professional success in a male-dominated industry. I am married. I sometimes eat cookies for breakfast. I read romance novels almost to the exclusion of all other books.

I am an adult and I do not need anyone to tell me what I should or should not be reading.

That should end the argument right there. I don’t need anyone’s opinion or judgment on my reading tastes (other than “Oh, I really like that author, too” or “I didn’t care for that book in particular”). But since I will continue to get comments on airplanes and trains and sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, here are some of my responses.

1.      “But you’re a feminist!”

You bet I am. People who believe there is something anti-feminist about romance novels clearly have never read one or lack some serious reasoning skills. This is a genre primarily written for women by women. And, yes, romance novels are a fantasy, an escape (some of the time). So why the ever loving shit would a bunch of women write a fantasy about being oppressed/ mistreated/ unempowered for other women? That makes about as much sense as writing children’s books titled Fluffy the Bunny Gets Run Over by the Lawn Mower or How Many Kitties Did the Shelter Euthanize This Year?

Romance novels, even the Old Skool rapey ones (although more problematic), were about women exercising choice. At their heart they are about women finding emotional and sexual fulfillment with a partner of their choice. For how much of human history has this actually been denied to women? In how many places is it still denied?

When my great-grandmother wanted to marry my great-grandfather she actually had to wait for him to be able to afford to buy her from the people who owned her “contract” (i.e. her person) as a domestic servant. This was in the United States, by the way. Three generations ago.

We are re-writing history with romance novels. Historicals create a narrative where a woman is empowered to choose her spouse or partner, where she consents to and enjoys sex. We are exploring history from the female viewpoint and creating fiction that is inclusive to women. In romance novels women are not silent; they are celebrated.


2.      “Why don’t you read good/serious literature?”

What does that even mean?

I have a BA in literature. I’ve been a reader my entire life. I can tell you that a book being widely accepted as ‘intellectually challenging’ doesn’t make it so. It also doesn’t make it good. Wanna know a secret? I hate every book by Virginia Woolf, and I’ve read them all. Yup, she’s a smart, female author who had significant influence. She says some interesting things. I hated it. I hated Mrs. Dalloway and I really, really hated The Waves. I was okay with A Room of One’s Own, but only because it was less awful than everything else I read.

I’m sure I’ll get some responses to this like “Well, you just didn’t understand her.” Nope, I actually did understand her just fine. I passed that course with flying colors. I just couldn’t enjoy her writing style even a little bit.

Other supposedly great authors I hate: James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Henry Miller and Charles Dickens. I can read them. I can understand them. I’m not going to enjoy them.

Why? Because reading, like everything else, is subjective and a matter of taste. People may widely agree that these are great authors and they write great books, but there is actually nothing inherently good about them.

T-Rex Toy People who hate Charles Dickens are not wrong. People who love Twilight are not wrong. YOU CAN’T BE FUCKNIG WRONG WHEN YOU READ. Unless you completely miss the text and say something like “Great Expectations was about a Tyrannosaurus Rex eating a bi-plane,” but even then, if you can support your thesis, you can probably get away with it.

I wrote an honor’s thesis on Moby Dick. I spent an entire semester on The Dick, and really enjoyed it. I read classic Southern American literature for enjoyment. I don’t think any of those books are more valuable than my romance novels. I am not smarter for having read Moby Dick. It didn’t bump my IQ or make me a more thoughtful person. I would argue that reading in general—of any genre—did that.

Also a lot of “serious” literature is primarily written by and about men. That’s changing if you look at contemporary literary fiction (I hate using that label, but I’m not sure what else to call it). Just like pretty much everyone else, I like it when my fiction is representative of me and my experience. I like reading about women who aren’t being treated like total shit.

I remember finishing Tess D’Ubervilles and the fucking RAGE, man. Or Madame Bovary. Or basically 75% of what I had to read in high school. College was a little better because we delved more into contemporary literature, but in my experience, romance novels and mysteries offer the most empowered, engaged women in contemporary fiction.

Also “serious” fiction tends to be depressing. I don’t want to be depressed. Fuck that.

People who worry about only reading serious literature, in my opinion, are just afraid of the world thinking they are dumb. If you love Faulkner, get down with your bad self. If you read it because of judgment, well, then that’s pretty dumb, isn’t it? I’m only going to get to read so many books in my lifetime. I’d rather they be something I enjoy.


3.      “But romance novels are trashy!”

This really means “romance novels depict women enjoying sex.” The fact that women enjoying sex is perceived as being “trashy” is THE WHOLE FUCKING PROBLEM.

It is 2014 and if a book contains graphic depictions of women enjoying sex, then it is scandalous. Let’s all just think about that for a minute.

I need another fucking cookie.

In the end, it doesn’t matter what I read. It doesn’t even matter that I do read, quite frankly. What matters is that we live in a world where fiction aimed directly at women is perceived as garbage. That doesn’t say anything at all about me, it says a lot about what needs to change.

So, what put-downs have you received? Have you had to defend your love of romances? (And would you like a cookie? We have plenty.)  


Ranty McRant

Comments are Closed

  1. Azure says:

    I have a BA in English and prefer to read romance novels.  I’ve read a number of the “classics,” most of which I didn’t enjoy nearly as much as a nice, comfy historical romance romp.  I don’t care what people think of what I read, which may be why I’ve almost never noticed any sly looks or comments made about it.

    Interestingly enough, the one time I did take note of a comment made about what I was reading, it wasn’t because I was reading a contemporary book.  I was reading Jane Austen.  In an English class, at that.

    The same semester I took a class on 19th-century women authors, I took a phonetics class (ugh).  I was in the middle of reading Emma when one of the guys in the class noticed it and said, “What are you reading that crap for?  Jane Austen’s just an old-fashioned soap opera writer.  You should read this.”  He then tossed something by James Joyce on my desk, going on and on about how brilliant Joyce was and how much Austen sucked.

    I tossed it back but said nothing aside from thanks, but I’m enjoying this book, because I was twenty and too afraid of saying something that would draw attention to myself.  But the comment burned and continues to burn me to this day.  If that’s the kind of attitude some people take toward one of the greatest women authors of all time—a woman who wasn’t a romance writer in the sense we know it today, and depending on your reading of her work, wasn’t a romance writer at all—is it any wonder that today’s romance novels don’t get any respect?

  2. Sarah says:

    Amen to everything written above.  I also have a BA in Literature and have read little but romance, cozy mysteries and suspense since I graduated.  I gritted my teeth through a senior seminar on Virginia Woolf (totally agree with you, Sarah, I like to say I SURVIVED that one even though I got an A, that was one joy-sucking experience), and was condescendingly told by a white Jewish professor that I could never truly understood the Southern African American literature course he taught, so why was I taking the course?  BECAUSE I WANTED TO READ!  Spare me your angst.  I read now for enjoyment, and I’m happy when my kids read cereal boxes or the entire Harry Potter series.

  3. Sarah says:

    Oops, Elyse, not Sarah!  Carry on:-)

  4. Cecilia says:

    Amen to everything you wrote, Elyse!

    If my PhD tutor knew I read romance, she would throw a tantrum.

    I have a PhD in Comparative Literature and I’ve read many (hundreds?) of classics and canon books. While I do believe that some of them are of a superior level than the rest of fiction (Anna Karenina is for me the most perfect novel), I didn’t like each one of so-called classics, neither reading them made me happier.

    I’m not a student anymore and I don’t have to prove anyone that I’m able to read a specific kind of ‘difficult’ books for exams and the like. I read only for my pleasure, and if I chose not to read at all, that wouldn’t be anybody’s business, either. I haven’t stopped reading other kind of fiction when I started reading romances, and surely I haven’t become dumber for doing so. (By the way, I think that the podcast and posts here and on DA raise many points about reading and readership that I’ve not encountered when I studied.)

    As many other people, I go through blue periods from time to time, and I need comfort reading then, something to remind me that hope is possible also for long-time spinsters and that not everything is gloom. If reading HEA stories is good for me, why should it be bad for the people around me?

    In truth, I haven’t suffered any particular bullying for reading romances, yet my closest friends don’t get it (while reading shojo mangas, which for me are almost the same thing.)

  5. Anne says:

    I sympathize. My mother had read her share of books that had violence and sex fifteen years ago, but now she criticizes the books she sees on her adult daughter’s book shelf. I love my mama but she’s a bit of a hypocrite now that she’s older:)

    On the flip side, I wrote an essay when i was in college about the merits of reading romance novels. My instructor was an open-minded, laid back dude in his mid-thirties so I took it as a compliment when I later saw that he had noted in my essay that it was a very good argument…and when will i publish my first romance novel? I remember feeling relieved about that feed back.

    I think my fears of getting judged is rooted in those sexy covers LOL I started to read them when i was barely out of my teens, but being a shy romance reader has carried over to adulthood. I still feel sometimes as if my character was going to be judged from my reading tastes, as illogical as it seems. (Slutty cover means slutty reader, that sort of judgment.)

    I’ve been told by a man i got to know a few years ago that I shouldn’t read romance novels since they’re basically soft porn, that I should instead do better things with my time, such as read the Bible. He was critical about so many things that I decided we were too different to even become casual friends. Hmmm but I have wondered ever since what does he have to say about the Song of Solomon? I never got to ask him.

  6. Maria F says:

    I once had a male student jokingly object to my assigning Sense and Sensibility for class because it was a “chick book” and therefore had nothing to say to him. My reply: it’s about love and money. At least one of those will be a factor in your life.
    I like classic literature, including Virginia Woolf. ๐Ÿ™‚ I like contemporary literary fiction. I like romance and other genre fiction. I find it odd when people seem to think that one person can’t enjoy more than one kind of reading pleasure (I know no one here is suggesting that). Sometimes I want to read Austen or Woolf or Lahiri or Adichie; sometimes I want to read JD Robb or Betty Neels or Loretta Chase or Kit Rocha.
    But then I also loved the huge box of 200 crayons I had as a kid!

  7. TheoLibrarian says:

    Rock on, Elyse!  This is exactly what I needed to kick off my day.

    My BA and MA are in Religion with a focus on ancient literature; my MS is in library science. I have heard so much crap about what I like to read that I only recently started being open with people about it.  While I was in library school, I was appalled by the many people training to be librarians who were being negative towards romance readers. Did they not realize how important romance readers are to public librarians? Bah.  That’s when I started openingly reading romance paperbacks while wearing a Yale Alumni t-shirt.  Take that, book snobs.

    Now, I get a little bit of horror from my colleagues on the faculty at the seminary where I work, but they’ve gotten much better after listening to my many rants similar to this Elyse’s. It’s important for romance readers to speak up for the books they love, and I’m excited to see how opinions are slowly changing!

  8. pet says:

    I am a shy reader too
    Most people are judgemental and I keep it to myself
    Some people feel the need to say it out loud that they dont read this kind of books

  9. Milly says:

    Hi Elyse,
    I’m Milly, I have a BA in History and French literature. I speak 3 languages and also work successfully in a male dominated industry and am a proud feminist. Ever since I can remember I have always wanted my books to have happy endings. Be it fairy tales, girls triumphing over evil, or simply escapist happy places. My stock response has always been a simple: find me something happy where good wins and I’m in. Romance is that for me. The journey can be dark, difficult and angsty BUT the ending needs to leave me uplifted and not wanting to drown my sorrows.

    Life is simply to difficult at times and romance books have honestly gotten me through difficult times with my sanity intact. I actually akin this to back in high school when kids would say you listen to that music?!  My answer then as is now will be YES I DO, who cares?!  I like lots of music, food, activities.  I also like a lot of different books but my one must is that it needs to be happy.

    Keep on reading what you like all and forget the narrow minded haters

  10. FairyKat says:

    What really gets on my nose about the kind of comments Elyse is describing, is that people are criticising as ‘unserious’ something we are doing for fun, in our leisure time, when we aren’t working. 

    This notion that reading *has* to be improving drives me crazy.

    Twentieth-century literature is what I teach at university, and I do think both Joyce and Woolf are amazing—but I also get why other people don’t like them. That’s irrelevant for Lit class (sometimes hating a book makes it easier to get an A).

    But when I am reading for fun, I read for fun.

  11. Miranda says:

    People have comments about any ‘non-grownup’ ways for spending time. I’ll be 50 next month. I still like playing D&D and board games (my friends meet quarterly for Arkham Horror). I’ve been in fandoms. I read fanfic. I’d still be in the SCA if my back was better.

    As long as I meet my responsibilities, then what I do in my off time, including what I like to read, is my business.

  12. redheadedgirl says:

    My name is Redheadedgirl.  I have a BA and a Masters in Criminal Justice, and a law degree.  I have book shelves crammed full of history (Roman, Women’s, Swedish, and Food), legal and crime theory, ghost stories, SFF, and a whole case full of primarily romance.

    And anyone who tells me that the last one negates anything else I have done with my life will get their face eaten. 

  13. Cassie says:

    I wish I was as brave as you. I stopped telling people what I read a long long time ago. When I was in the 4th grade, in a TAG english class, and we had to go around and tell everyone what we were reading. At the time, I was reading some fantasy thing about unicorns or something. Everyone else was reading ‘serious’ children’s books like ‘The Giver or ‘Holes’‘, or classic literature. I’ll never forget how embarrassed and stupid I felt because my book wasn’t important in someone’s eyes. I’ve had similar experiences since then many times (I got so much shit reading Percy Jackson books in high school.)

    I just try and dodge the question at this point. “What are you reading?” “Oh uh… just a dumb kids/teen/fantasy/historical book. I only read silly stuff.” “Like what?” “Um… I don’t really like to say.” “Why not?” ::getting flustered:: “I dunno. It’s just stupid stuff really.” I can’t even admit that what I’m reading is romance.

  14. It took me several years of reading romance novels to finally come out of the closet and admit I love them. I love the happy ending, I love the ability of the woman to make choices and succeed in those choices, and I love strong men who don’t have to bully women or become subservient to them to find a woman who “completes” them.

    My choice of literature is also reflected in my choice of movies. I chose to see “Ever After” over “Saving Private Ryan.” If I needed to be completely depressed, I could have asked my grandfather about his service during World War Two or read the newspaper.

    What do I read? Romance.

  15. Dana says:

    I have dual BS degrees in business and accounting, and for some reason, people seem to think this makes me a very serious person who should only read very serious books. I am married, own my own house and my own (successful) business, and enjoy traveling and good wine and food – again, this apparently only makes it OK for me to read serious, “grown-up” stuff. I also love romance novels, ranging from early-Heyer-era classics to contemporary authors to some very smokin’ erotica. I have book shelves that apparently look very similar to those owned by Redheadedgirl’s, as they are crammed with SF/F, crime and criminal behavior, history, womens studies, agriculture (my chosen profession) and a pretty awesome selection of romance that grows by the month.

    The majority of what I read is either romance or technical agricultural information (the latter is what I’m supposed to be reading, the former is what I read to make my brain start working again). I have heard most of the comments that everyone above has – it’s trashy/soft porn, there are better things to read, etc., etc. My husband definitely doesn’t understand (he only reads nonfiction), but he knows better than to comment ๐Ÿ™‚ I do remember, with pleasure, realizing that the vendor next to me at a very slow farmers’ market that we were selling at was reading a romance novel tucked into a newspaper. I laughed, asked her what she was reading, we had a very nice conversation about our favorite authors, and have been trading books ever since!

  16. KarenF says:

    I have an MA in English Lit, almost a Ph.d. in Theater History (which I am never ever going to go back and finish), and read Romance, Mystery, and Sci Fi almost exclusively. And while I appreciated and understood most of what I was assigned to read in HS/college/grad school – (sorry, but James Joyce will always seem more like the author was mentally masturbating to a mirror of his own perceived genius) – there are few novels/plays I read then that I enjoyed as much as Bet Me and Northern Lights.

  17. Heather S says:

    I was at work one day (I work at a bookstore <3) and these two teen girls walked down the romance aisle and one of them said “Oh, no. Not this aisle! This is where hopes and dreams go to die.”

    I managed to restrain myself from throwing a romance novel at her head. Barely.

    Then I get to hear the assorted “trashy books” comments on a fairly regular basis. I do have a handful of ladies who come in – with lists, notebooks, even three-ring binders filled with the books and authors they’ve read.

    I love my romance-reading ladies (and gentlemen). I just wish there were more of them. :/

  18. Beth Not Elizabeth says:

    Can we talk a little bit about our “shy” sisters. Because my life feels like a lie sometimes. As a librarian people expect me to be a book evangelist. Which I am happy to do. I love reading and I want to share that love with everyone…. but I don’t actually want you to know what I am reading.

    Little secret- I’m an introvert. You probably wouldn’t know it. I’m personable, friendly, happy to chat. But my taste in reading (and music) is my sensitive underbelly. Dismissing or attacking my loves is like a slap in the face. I would just curl up and cry. I won’t share that side of myself without trust. And I always take others recommendations with respect.

    When strangers ask what I am reading I do my introvert kung fu and turn the focus of the conversation back on their reading habits and likes.

    I love print books, but honestly the Kindle is my best buddy. I can keep all book friends in every genre all in one spot and no one has to know what I’m reading. Love it. Blogs like this one are also a wonderful ๐Ÿ™‚

    My bona fides:
    BS Women’s Studies with a minor in Lit
    Master of Library and Information Science

    As a show of trust I am currently reading “The girl with all the gifts” by M.R. Carey.

  19. Heather S says:


    Don’t let anyone talk down to you about your reading choices. Don’t call what you read “stupid” or “silly” – because it’s not. The books you read make you happy, so give them their proper due and say “Yeah, I love this book. It’s awesome and funny and romantic and smart and it makes me happy.” Never apologize for what you read. You are neither wrong nor doing anything shameful. The “Lit Snobs” can take their opinions and shove them where the sun don’t shine.

    If you feel shy, come to where I work. We’ll chat about romance novels and I’ll help you find some good ones. ^_^

  20. Milly says:

    @KarenF your James Joyce comment just made me do a not so ladylike laugh/snort with my coffee here at work!  Wiping monitor now.  Dubliners is one of my faves BUT I have never been able to read any other Joyce.  Thanks for the laugh :).

  21. Heather S says:

    @Beth Not Elizabeth:

    I get that. I’m an introvert, too. To an insanely reclusive “I’d be okay not to see another human being all weekend” extent. I’d go longer if school and work would let me, lol. However, books are what bring me out of my introvert shell. I LOVE talking with my customers about romances, seeing what they read and making recommendations. I consider myself a “knight in shining pink armor” for the romance genre, as most of my coworkers have never read a romance and do occasionally make comments. I feel it’s my duty to stand up for the romance section in my store, and for my romance-reading customers, and create an environment in which, if only in my little space bubble of working time, that my customers can come in and know that not only will they not be judged for their books, but that the genre is celebrated and appreciated.

  22. Olivia says:

    I have a BA in Economics & Mgmt, minors in History and Classics, and a MLIS, I do read romance to the exclusion of all other books. I loved reading the books we read in school, and I want to read more, but I just need to have a reason to read them, and right now I don’t. Right now, I love the escape, and the romance, especially since I’ve never had any romance in my life, never been asked out, etc, nada.

    I don’t care that some aren’t written with stimulating thought, sometimes I just want the frigging tree to be a tree, not a frigging metaphor. And while the writing may be simple sometimes, most are really well researched and thought out, I get to learn about historical events, facts about the West, information about wars, etc, in a fun way that lets you relate to individual people, real or not, with empowered women figuring out what kind of partner they want in life. That’s what matters to me. Figuring out who you are and what you want your life to be.

    And when I was getting my MLIS, I always quickly came up with using romance books as my topic, and because I knew the subject and was interested, it reflected in my work, while challenging me to introduce it to a different audience than usual.

    And something I always get asked, yes I read romance books, but no I did not read Twilight or 50 Shades, and I find Jane Austin extremely boring. I tried to read Pride and Prejudice, literally fell asleep after a few minutes. (But I will admit, at some point I do want to try her Gothics). And you know what instead of having to read Jane Austin for that assignment, I was the only one in the class who read “The Collector” by John Fowles, and it is one of my favorite books.

    I freaking read, that should be the only point that matters.

  23. Violet says:

    This is just what I needed this morning. I’m having a hard time with this myself. I’ve been an avid romance reader since I was 16, and will probably continue to be until I’m 96. I love these books! I love that there are so many types of romance books to read, too.

    The harshest side of my love for romance is that I’m also writing it, and the stigma is even worse. My husband is 110% supportive of my writing, and although I asked him to keep it secret, he’s so excited and is telling everybody that I’m writing. I love that man ๐Ÿ™‚

    But I’m having to deal with varying reactions because of it. Some people are super cool. Most people (mostly family) have called it soft porn, or told me how much romance sucks, or launched into a diatribe over how horribly it compares to more literary works. Hubs’ side of the family is uber religious, and when his aunt asked me about it last summer, I faltered so hard because I couldn’t bring myself to tell her the truth and risk her condemnation for the remainder of the family reunion. It’s not like I can tell her I’m writing erotic romance and expect that to go so well.

    The worst part is that when I want to defend myself and romance in general, I want to say everything that Elyse has so beautifully articulated, but I crash and burn. I’m an introvert and am terrible with conflict. I need to memorize this article and recite it next time ๐Ÿ™‚

  24. Francesca says:

    I have a degree in Ancient History, with a double minor in Latin and Ancient Greek. When I was 18, a fellow I was seeing started on my “trashy” reading choices. I told him to STFU and pointed out that I didn’t make fun of his preferred brand of reading (science fiction). He got the message; he even tried to read a couple of my books while I devoured all of his Asimov, Heinlein and Clarke. We’ve been married 31 years.

    My mother tried to censor my reading, but when you have a 9 year-old reading at an adult level, it’s a losing battle. I remember being awfully puzzled by some of what I read, such as my first encounter with oral sex (ew!) or gay sex (huh?). Thank God I discovered historical fiction. My mother didn’t mind me reading Jean Plaidy and could tolerate Regencies, but couldn’t understand why her supposedly gifted daughter preferred them to Hemingway and Dickens. There seems to be an expectation that, if one is bright, one’s tastes will naturally gravitate towards the “highbrow”.

    I came of age at the dawn of the rapey Old Skool bodice-ripper and never had moment’s embarrassment about being seen with one. After spending two hours picking apart two pages of Thucydides, I’ll damn well read whatever I want and that is still my mantra. Right now, I am, for some reason, on an Enid Blyton kick and re-reading all of her girls’ school-stories.

  25. LAS says:

    I read just about constantly and my preferred genre has always been romance novels.  My love affair began way, way back when the romance novels were bodice rippers.  I have a lot of male friends and I was constantly needled about this with all of the comments that everyone here has mentioned.  Back in high school, one of my male friends was looking for something to read and I had just finished a romance but it was missing the covers.  He grabbed it and proceeded to read it straight through, not realizing that it was one of ‘those’ books.  He described it as an adventure and told all my other friends that they should read it and asked me if I had any more great books like that one.  Imagine his surprise when I handed him a few historical romances.  Needless to say the teasing ended, at least from him, and he became a staunch defender of the genre.

    And yes, my bookshelves are eclectic as well – lots of history, philosophy, science, and even some classics.  Seems to me that the classification for a ‘classic’ is that it has endured the test of time and certainly some of those books were considered pretty trashy when they were released.  Dickens’ novels were penny serials and books such as Moll Flanders, Madame Bovary, and Lady Chatterley’s Lover were banned as being obscene.  Maybe 200 years from now our beloved romances will be considered classic as well.  We can always hope and in the meantime, I will continue to unapologetically read and recommend romance.

  26. I’ve had to beat my friends about the head and face (figuratively for *blushingly* asking if I’ve read/heard of/can recommend such and such book.. blushing because they know it’s romance and I read ‘such deep, thoughtful material…’

    Hell. I watch a lot of documentaries and also Food Factory. AND? I read romances just like I read a lot of other stuff. There’s place for romance and all its sub genres in the world of literature. Scoot over Wolfe. There’s some Lavyrle Spencer that needs readin’.  I encourage people to let that freak flag fly. If you like romance that’s what you like. If you like it SMUTTY and Dominating, then THAT’S WHAT YOU LIKE. If you like it sweet and syrupy, or old school purple prose-y and bodice ripping, own that and read the HELL out of it. 

  27. Jaime says:

    I have no college degree. I work as a secretary. I love romance novels. And I don’t think any one of those things says anything about my intelligence.

    While I totally understand the reasoning behind it, it bothers me a bit when I see people listing their degrees or their professions as part of the “look, intelligent people read these books” defense. I believe romance novels are for readers with PhDs, readers who never finished high school, and everyone in between. Intelligence and taste aren’t measured by the number of years a person spent in school. A genre’s worthiness isn’t based on how many academic papers have been written about it.

    … which I know is part of your point. But invariably, when someone makes a post like this, the comments are a string of people listing their academic accomplishments before talking about their love of romance. I think, in a way, that’s missing the point. The woman who reads romance on her break from working the cash register at McDonald’s deserves just as much respect for her reading choices as the doctor reading it between patient appointments. Because reading for enjoyment is important, no matter who does it, for the reasons you listed above and a million other reasons besides.

  28. Sarah says:

    this is just fantastic.

    Midwest Darling

  29. JacquiC says:

    I am with you on the freedom of educated, enlightened women to choose what they want to read and to be spared the need to justify romance reading.  I am almost 50, have an Honours B.A. in French and Philosophy, and a law degree. I clerked at the Supreme Court. I am a partner at a big law firm.  And I read almost exclusively in the romance genre, with occasional forays into contemporary literature, non-fiction, biography and mystery/thriller.

    I am married with two kids and would definitely describe myself as a feminist. My hubby is absolutely non-judgmental about my reading choices.

    My mother, who is an academic, spent much of my adolescence shaming me about my “low brow” reading choices (though she is an avid reader of mysteries, which aren’t really any more “serious” as literature goes). So much so that I hid my romance reading for a long time, and have only come back to it in recent years when I got my Kindle and realized that there is a whole on-line community of intelligent female romance readers out there.

  30. Well said, Elyse. Thank you! Women’s sexuality is so dichotomized in our culture now, and so feared, novels that celebrate it really are easy targets. And when the critique is about literary merit, it’s nearly impossible to show those who’ve bought into the patriarchal models of determining quality—models that’ve been around as long as the theories of the dangers inherent in female sexuality—that they’re just flat out wrong.

    My fave insult these days concerns writing rather than reading romance. I occasionally hear it from my colleagues in academia: “Wow, you really churn those things out.” I reply, yes, I am a giant Play-Doh shape-making machine, it’s true. While writers of other sorts of books are, perhaps, Michelangelo, chipping away at marble? Then I calmly explain how they need to reconsider ever saying anything like that again, and why, and offer them a cookie.

  31. Meka says:

    I don’t know what to call my particular malady—reader shame? Romance shame?  Because I will defend my reading choices all day long over the Internet, but when people criticize me in person, it’s harder. 
    I remember meeting this woman in the airport and we started talking about books. I asked her what she was reading, and the title sounded so over my head and literary that I totally lied about a book I was reading and then was all ‘but I also like romance, too. But I don’t read the fluffy stuff, I only read the stuff with substance.’  Wow, way to just completely lose that argument, Meka!  By downplaying my enjoyment and the genre as a whole and then giving some backhanded compliment about how there were great subgenres, I contributed to the problem.  Sometimes I get ‘oh wow, you read that trashy stuff, huh?’  Or ‘you should really read more about reality.’  I do read a great deal about reality. It’s called my news list on Twitter.

    My good friends tease me about romance novels, but I know that with them it’s in jest and I can tease them right back. Besides, those same friends typicallyh love what I recommend to them.  But it’s different with a stranger. Maybe I assume they will think I am less intelligent.  Like you, Elyse, I typically read romance to the exclusion of all else, but sometimes I find myself saying ‘Hey, I read romance, but I read other genres too!’ It’s like I’m screaming, ‘Please don’t be a judgy pants.’  When I find people at the hair salon that love romance novels and they say it with great hesitancy, then I’m all ‘here, let me give you six thousand recs!’

    I don’t know that I will ever be completely comfortable telling a perfect stranger that I read romance novels without stressing what I used to say before, or feeling some guilt or judgment.  So I guess I need a cookie too.  This is my genre, and the Internet coupled with a few close friends who are as crazy about the genre as I am sustains me!

  32. Alexis Anne says:

    Yesterday I spent my afternoon at an author event/book signing at the library. I was told “And it’s totally okay that you write romance. I suppose there is a place for those kinds of stories, too,” when another author was describing how important his memoir was. Thank you, thank you very much for telling me that it is “okay” that I write romance. I also heard a lot of other degrading things from people who didn’t consider romance “appropriate”. A representative of the local university book fair stopped by to invite all of us to submit, but then noted she probably wouldn’t accept the romances due to content (while also telling us that she didn’t understand why the event was steadily declining in attendance and was looking for advice. Hmmm…I don’t know, how about you don’t slam romances or exclude them at the same book fair you are going to feature spy novels? I’m pretty sure there is violence and sex in those. You might want to exclude those due to content).

    Juxtapose this with a romance convention two weeks ago that was filled with a thousand women all talking about books. Talking about love, life, triumph, business, and marketing. Husbands (gasp) were having fun, too. Give me my romances, empowered women, female authors making money, and happy readers actually reading books any day.

  33. Leah says:

    Jaime: so well said.

  34. KellyJo says:

    It must be my personality or maybe the look I’ve perfected but I have never had problems with my reading choice. I am a nobody. I don’t have a decent job or a degree. I have a degree in bs, maybe.  I have never once in all my 46 years (yes, the spring has left this chicken) have had someone comment directly to me about what I am reading. Of course those who know me, definitely know they would get the Kelly Verbal Smack Down should they criticize my reading choices. Those who don’t, well I don’t really give a shit. I have never had a stranger ever confront me on what I am reading. I would never consider confronting anyone about anything they are reading. Well, unless I have read it too. Then it is too say, “Oh, Good book!” or “I love that author”.
    I am almost exclusively a romance genre reader. My sister-in-law sends me books that she reads to her high school English class. My brother and niece’s husband read military biographies and they send me those too. Both are hit and miss and definitely a mood thing for me. My husband just waits for the movie to come out. ๐Ÿ™‚

  35. Heather H says:


    This +1000 “While I was in library school, I was appalled by the many people training to be librarians who were being negative towards romance readers. Did they not realize how important romance readers are to public librarians? “

    My reader’s advisory class was taught by a FAMOUS book-recommending librarian and she was totally disdainful of romance. She suggested at one point that if someone came looking for a romance, we should try to steer them to the “true romances” : Jane Austen, Bronte, etc.

    I was part of a small but very vocal group of students who brought up romance every single class period to counter it. It probably didn’t work, but we tried.

  36. Sarah Morgan says:

    A few years ago I was standing with a group of women I didn’t know well, waiting to pick up my son, when one of them started telling us the scary story of how she’d narrowly avoided a serious house fire during the night. She’d lit candles in the bathroom earlier in the evening and then gone to bed and forgotten to put them out. The only reason there wasn’t a major fire was because she’d been awake at 3am reading and smelled burning. The other women all quizzed her on the details of the fire, I asked her what she’d been reading. She had very young children so it had to be a fantastic book to make her choose reading over sleep. At first she ignored my question, then when I pressed she said dismissively that it was ‘just light rubbish’. I pointed out that the ‘light rubbish’ had not only kept her turning the pages, but kept her alive. It turned out to be a romance, and I remember thinking at the time had it been any other type of book she would have said ‘have you read this? I couldn’t put it down and it saved my life’.

  37. Amanda says:


    This is from Elyse. She’s having some phone troubles and can’t get the comments to work. (Oh, Mondays.)

    She says:

    Jamie, I listed my degree, profession and marital status in my piece to help illustrate that romance readership is an awesome, diverse group of people.

    I didn’t mean to make anyone feel excluded. I agree with you that a degree doesn’t necessarily equate to intelligence or worthiness to judge a book.

    One of the amazing thing about the romance community is how diverse it is. Readers and authors come from lots of different backgrounds and it makes for great discussion.

    Happy reading to you!

  38. jimthered says:

      This is a genre primarily written for women by women.

    I have to laugh, ‘cuz the original slogan for the Black Lace line of erotica was “erotic fiction written for women by women.”  For some reason, this always made me think of odd pairings to match their slogan, like “erotic fiction written by wombats for ferrets” or “erotic fiction written by dyslexics for Mormons.”  My mind moves in mysterious ways.

    As for the actual topic, sadly in almost every genre or area there are people who will put their own likes/dislikes over other people’s.  The key is to resist the urge to curse them out (tempting as it may be) and to remind them politely but firmly that your pleasures are up to you, not them.

  39. Amanda says:


    So…where can I get this erotic fiction by wombats for ferrets? ASKING FOR A FRIEND!

  40. Vasha says:

    A German woman requesting an assortment of books specified to not include any “PMHR”, and thus did I learn the German term for “bodice-ripper”: “Popp mich, holder Recke”. I have to admit I laughed for a long time at that. “Poppen” is an old fashioned mildly vulgar word for intercourse, whereas “holder Recke” are lofty and medieval words, respectively “beloved” and “hero, warrior”. So, how to give the flavor in English? “Do me, gallant swain”?

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