I was first introduced to the world of romance novels when I was a young girl perusing the book shelves in our house for a new adventure. I was bored and needed something new to read while waiting for the next Harry Potter installment. In between my dad’s collection of Star Wars and James Bond novels sat a row of my mom’s Mills and Boon books. Curiously, I pulled one off the shelf and was greeted by the typical Harlequin-esque cover of a man and woman locked in some kind of passionate embrace—because, aren’t they always? Before I could flip it over to see what it was all about, my mom just happened to walk by. To my annoyance, she plucked the book right out of my hands, put it out of reach and told me, “This is not for kids.” As any little girl with a rebellious streak would do, I just had to find out why.
So, one day, when no one was looking, I went back to the bookshelves, pulled a random title out, situated the remaining books on the shelf so it didn’t look like anything was missing, ran to my room and locked the door. I don’t remember exactly what that first story was about, but I do remember tearing through it easily. At the time I had no idea what the hell it meant for a man to “ravish” a woman, but I quickly found out and secretly kind of liked it.
In Bustle’s latest podcast, we talked to Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, and author of the book, Everything I Know About Love, I Learned From Romance Novels . Take a listen below:
If you’re new to the romance genre, or like me, have been secretly reading your mom’s books since you were 12, here are five things you should know about them:
1. It's A Form Of Social Bonding For Women
“I think of romances as a very female literary inheritance. For many, many people we inherit these books from other women—your friends or an aunt or a sister or a babysitter or a mother or there’s a very large population who inherits these books from someone who doesn’t want that person to read them. So, you almost find them in spite of everyone else,” Wendell says. “We all sort of learn about the genre a lot of different ways through other women either in spite of or because of. I think one of the reasons is that in romances, the heroine is the center. She’s the most important part and her happiness.”
2. Not All Romance Novels Are Fifty Shades Of Grey
There’s no denying that Fifty Shades really brought the romance novel to the forefront. People who would normally write those types of books off as “trash” read the book simply because everyone and their mom was suddenly reading it.
If Fifty Shades of Grey was your introduction to the world of romance novels, you should know that not every book in the genre is like that. In fact, there are a wide range of different time periods, characters, and situations to choose from. You should have no problem finding one that fits your tastes. I, for one, am partial to the ones about smart, stubborn career women whose defenses are slowly brought down by the irritatingly charming and handsome guys who just happen to show up conveniently. The banter is always fun and playful, the sexual tension tends to build nicely, and the sex is hot. In the end, everyone is happy and in love.
Then again, what works for me, might not work for you. So the best thing for you to do is to, “figure out what kinds of books you like and figure out what kind of romance matches your taste,” Wendell says.
3. There Is A Market For LGBT Romance Novels
Recent studies have found that women like to watch gay porn. So, it’s no surprise that gay romance—in particular male-male romance—has been very popular for a while. As Wendell notes, it’s not a genre of its own. People just choose to read male-male romance books in the same way that people like BDSM-centered books.
At the same time, however, lesbian romance is not as popular. “In any of the lesbian romances, the emotional intensity is not always there,” Wendell says. “Male-male, there’s an enormous amount of emotional tension.”
Wendell also notes that lesbian romances read more like women’s fiction in the way that it tends to focus more on the main heroines personally and professionally. The romance is not really a central part. But if you’re looking for a good read, Wendell recommends A Little Bit of Spice by Georgia Beers.
4. Yes, There Are Some Ridiculous Titles Out There
It’s universally known that a lot of romance novels have some pretty ridiculous titles. That’s probably one of many reasons why many of those books would never cross into classic literature territory.
From “cutesy” ones like, Forever Your Earl to the more straightforward ones like, Ravished by the Triceratops (yes, that’s an actual book), you can be sure that your romance novel experience will be entertaining from the get-go.
5. It’s Nothing To Be Ashamed About
Who cares if people say they’re trashy? Who cares if people say they’re not “real books?” Just like with anything in life, you do you.
“If you were truly, truly ashamed of something, you wouldn’t keep doing it,” Wendell says. “We give less of a sh*t what other people think because we know we’re not alone. We know there’s thousands and thousands of other people who, like us, love romances.”
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