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Sunday, January 22, 2012

It's All About The Happy Endings

When I decided to start a blog, I made a list of subjects that I wanted to write about so that if I drew a blank in front of my computer and couldn’t think of the next subject, I would have some ideas to inspire me along the way. One of the subjects on the top of my list was Why I Love Romance Novels.

Before you judge, think less of me as a human being, or just plain start hating, give me a minute. I was you, five years ago. Romance novels? Puleeze! People who read “those” books, well, they’re not very smart. Romance readers are sad, hopeless mopes who wish they had exciting lives and good sex, or any sex. They only read “those” books to get what they can’t get in real life. And the books themselves are poorly written porn! They’re nothing but sex scenes strung together with little plot, the characters are one dimensional stereotypes with formulaic, cookie-cutter stories, written by sad women who couldn’t write real books and never had sex themselves.

I only read important books written by smart people!

So there I was, reading my important book while visiting my stepmom on a vacation. I came to the very depressing end with a heavy sigh, put it down and complained that it was the 3rd book that I’d read in a row with a depressing ending. I picked up the other book that I’d packed, a two-for-one deal that I’d bought at Costco the week before. My college-educated, super-smart stepmom said, “Oh, then you’ll love that book. Nora Roberts always writes happy endings!”

I didn’t know that Nora Roberts wrote romances. I knew that she wrote books. But a few chapters into it, I was hooked. It was a sweet story that ended happily and so I kept reading her books. I ordered her books from Amazon so I didn’t realize right away that I was reading romances, but by the time I figured it out, it didn’t matter. They were good, and they didn’t end badly. The books made me happy.

The biggest surprise that I got from these books was that the stereotypes I knew were all wrong. The heroines aren’t all large-breasted, bubble-headed, beautiful, or blonde/redheaded cut-outs. They’re flawed and sometimes flat-chested, usually ordinary women with ordinary looks. They aren’t about pirates or arranged marriages (usually), and they aren’t all about sex. They’re all about the relationship, how it begins, what the couple has to sacrifice to be together, how they come together as equals, how they overcome the obstacles to being a couple. Sometimes they aren’t even about a man and a woman. The genre has become a true reflection of society.

Later on, I branched out into the sub-genres of romance. I found that I enjoyed romantic suspense and paranormal romance mainly, but there are many others sub-genres, such as Westerns, Native American, interracial, GLBT, historical, inspirational, and even NASCAR. The sexual content runs from “clean” to erotic, and many authors release their books in hardcover (just like REAL authors!) first, before being released in paperback, so there goes some more stereotypes.

I joined online communities of romance readers, and I met smart, funny, interesting, educated women who had known that reading romance novels was a fine way to pass the time for many years.

I did some research, (most recent stats are for 2010) and found out that 90% of romance readers are women. So guess what? That means that 10% of its readers are MEN. Shocker! And I found out that 24% of all Americans read at least ONE romance novel. More people bought romances than mysteries, science fiction, religion/inspirational or even classic literary fiction. The average income of your typical romance (paper) book buyer is $58,000, and the average e-book romance buyer makes around $70.000. Not exactly what you were thinking, was it?

And yet, romance novels are in the back corner of most bookstores. I worked at my local Barnes & Noble bookstore for a year and put up with the somewhat good-natured teasing from my coworkers for reading this red-headed stepchild of literature. But they always asked me what the book I was reading in the break room was about.

I don’t hide my love for these books, I tell people all of the time that I’m reading a romance novel. I am convinced that the majority of people who have bought e-readers have done so to hide their scandalous book covers from the scorn of perfect strangers.

I’m not trying to sell anyone on romances. If you don’t think you’d enjoy reading them, then don’t. But don’t look down your nose at the next woman (or man) that you see in a waiting room or an airplane with their nose in a romance novel. They just know what I’ve learned about them: happy endings are a whole lot better to read than sad ones.

Brain Candy: Romance readers have senses of humor about their reading choices. Here are some of my favorite romance novel-related websites: