Last year I traveled a lot for conferences. I found myself reading lots of books on the many planes on which I flew and in the multiple hotel rooms in which I stayed. I’m not even sure how it happened that I stumbled upon romance novels. I had never even considered reading them despite the fact that I’ve been reading loads and loads of books since I was five years old. My reading habits did change slightly in graduate school as reading for my life’s work made me less likely to read for pleasure.
But discovering romance novels three decades into my life and nine years into graduate school was a revelation.
There are many things I find problematic about romance novels. Most are hetero, though there is a robust amount of gay romance novels but apparently not many lesbian romance novels. The vast majority feature white people, many of means. I particularly love regency romance novels (19th-century English, Jane-Austen time period novels) that are mostly about the gentry and people with titles. There are also many, many moments in these novels where consent is fuzzy and in some cases the sex should be called rape. So many, “No I don’t want to but he kisses so well that I can’t resist and am now glad that he started kissing me even though I didn’t initially want him to” scenes. Almost all of these books are about finding love and they end with marriage, a huge amount with babies. And women in the books often WANT marriage and babies (of course part of this is that I read from a time period and a class of women who have little else going for them). My response to a recent book I read, “TOO MUCH TALK OF BABIES!”
But there is plenty I do love about these books. Let me list some:
- You know (relatively) how it is going to end
- The stories are generally easy to follow so you can put them down and pick them back up
- The hot sex
- The emphasis on women’s pleasure, how necessary that is for the male protagonists
- Many of the women in these stories are strong, willful, and heroic
But also this:
I was embarrassed for a long time to admit how much I loved romance novels. Then, one day, I saw Maureen Johnson on Twitter railing against the term “trashy books” and talking about how only a certain type of book, those (mainly) written and consumed by women, get this derogatory title. And that the truth is, most literature is crap. Among “trashy books” there is total shit, but there are also amazing gems written as well as the best literature I have ever read. Johnson’s tweets were timely for me because I had just read Lisa Kleypas’ Love in the Afternoon, which is one of my most favorite books ever and I didn’t want to put it on Goodreads at the time because it was a romance novel. But I also felt compelled to tell everyone about this amazing, emotional, and beautiful book I had read.
So I decided: fuck it.
I started to proclaim loudly how much I loved romance novels and, wouldn’t you know, lots of people in my life have admitted to me how much they love them, including not a few academics.
And multiple people have asked me to write about my favorite romance novels. So, I’m going to do that. First up will be the works of the amazing Cecilia Grant.