Author: Maya Rodale
Links: Indiebound |Goodreads
Summary: A really thoughtful collection of essays, conversational in tone but addressing substantial questions raised by the romance genre.
Even among some romance readers, who may describe reading romance as their ‘guilty pleasure’, romance has something of a bad reputation. Formulaic. Unrealistic. Fluff. These are just some of the charges commonly leveled against romance. In this collection of short essays, romance author and reader Maya Rodale explores the origins of the stigma surrounding romance novels. She explores the history of the romance and discusses how the treatment of romance novels tracks with the way society treats women. She also shares survey results and interview quotes to support claims about how romance novels are perceived.
Initially, I was nervous this book was going to be too light. The first essay or two are a nice, easy introduction to the history of romance novels and how romance novels are commonly perceived. Fortunately, the author uses this foundation to dig more deeply into many of the fascinating questions raised by the romance genre. She discusses how romances are sold; how they’re marketed; and how they’re reviewed. She also critically considers many romance tropes, from the happily ever after (HEA) to the alpha hero. I found these essays thoughtful and well reasoned, while simultaneously maintaining an approachable and conversational tone. There is about 1 typo every 20 pages in my (finished) version – not enough to diminish my enjoyment of a book, but I know it might bother some people.
One of my favorite points that the author made was about the affect being able to rely on the HEA has on the reader. She talks about how this allows the reader to relax and become fully emotionally engaged in the story. As someone who loves the sort of books that you just know will have a HEA, romance and otherwise, I agree with this completely. She also talks about how romance enables readers to explore their own feelings about topics related to romance. This reminded me of my experiment reading romance last February. I found that there was a lot to unpack in every novel. Romance novels can raise questions of what constitutes consent; how power balances should look in a relationship; and where the line is between protective and domineering, take-charge confidence and abuse. Reader’s opinions on these issues are sure to be at lease as diverse as their taste in sex scenes, but whatever their opinions, reading a romance novel can be a great way to clarify those opinions for yourself.
So, in short, I not only enjoyed this essay collection, I was also reminded of what I think are the strongest points of the romance novel – for me, the HEA and the way they make me think about relationships. Recommended to anyone who reads romance, to anyone who thinks romance isn’t worth reading, and to anyone interested in feminism.