The Ripped Bodice in Los Angeles, a bookstore in the U.S. devoted to romance novels, is throwing a month-long reading party called the Great Big Romance Read. If you're not in Los Angeles, don't worry, this is a nationwide event and there are plenty of ways for you to join in.
Sisters Bea and Leah Koch founded the Ripped Bodice in the spring of 2016, following a successful Kickstarter the previous fall. The campaign sought $90,000, and ultimately raised $91,187 with the help of 599 backers. In 2018, the Ripped Bodice launched its Great Big Romance Read, inviting book clubs and individuals around the country to read the same romance novel in the same month. This year, it will take place in September.
Readers interested in taking part in the Great Big Romance Read can find a participating book club at the event website. There are book clubs in nine states, as well as online reading groups and podcasts. If none of those options work for you, you can always read the book with friends, or with your own, local book club, in September!
"We really wanted to connect with other independent bookstores around the country and other groups that are enthusiastic about romance," Leah Koch tells Bustle in an email. "The internet is such a wonderful place to bring people together but we wanted something specific and action based that people could participate in. I think there has been wonderful growth in the number of indies and libraries that are getting invested in the romance game and we wanted to get all those people connected and celebrating together."
This year's Great Big Romance Read pick is Olivia Waite's The Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics, an LGBTQIA+ Regency romance that centers on "a Countess and a brilliant unmarried woman," who "fall in love while collaborating on a translation of an astronomical text, breaking social, occupational, and sexual taboos in the famously strict society," according to Publishers Weekly. Waite's novel first appeared in stores on June 4, but it's already on its third printing at publisher Avon Impulse, thanks to the popularity of the Great Big Romance Read.
Although the selection of an LGBTQIA+ romance novel will pleasantly surprise many readers, those who are familiar with the Ripped Bodice and its owners shouldn't be too shocked. Every year, the Kochs publish The State of Racial Diversity in Romance Publishing Report, a study that, among other things, tracks the percentage of each major romance publisher's annual releases that are written by authors of color. The most recent report, for 2018, begins with this bold call to action: "Every defense of the status quo is so deeply rooted in systemic, institutional racism and inaccuracy. This conversation simply cannot continue as it has. We need significant improvement. We continue to demand it. Join us."
"People should read romance because it's the literature of hope," Koch tells Bustle. "The world is a nightmare right now and these books bring joy to a lot of people. Readers should specifically make it a point to acquire and read queer authors and authors of color because those are the stories that have historically been shut out of traditional publishing and as pushes are made to open up the genre, it's super important for readers to show publishers with their dollars that these are the books we want and need right now."
Readers who participate in the Great Big Romance Read are invited to participate in The Ripped Bodice's Bookstagram contest. "The winner will receive 2 Romance Anthology candle sets from @northavecandles and access to the @onFrolic Know-How Course on Bookstagram from @foldedpagesdistillery," according to the Kochs' Instagram announcement. To enter, simply post an image of The Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics to Instagram, using the hashtag #TheGreatBigRomanceRead, and tag @onFrolic, by Sep. 1.