Feb 15 2011 9:00am

Coming Clean: Why I Read Romance

Pink Telephone

When it comes to reading, if we're honest with ourselves, it's all about the emotion. Culturally (almost across the board), it's “weak” to show emotions. For males, such behavior is often criticized as being “feminine,” and females often say “I'm so not girly or touchy-feely.” In fiction—all fiction—actions are almost always driven by emotion—the basis is simply not examined. Many readers are unwilling to admit this.

I started reading romances after I burned out on classics. Once I hit high school, I only read classics. Not many of them are very happy, and it takes a stronger person than I to read four Thomas Hardy novels in a row, especially when concluding with Jude the Obscure. I lay curled up on the floor for 40 minutes after reading it. I haven't tried rereading it since, but likely some of my reaction had to do with teenage angst and melodrama. Regardless, it's definitely a tragic story.

Jude The Obscure by Thomas Hardy

After that experience I went back to my childhood favorites for a bit: Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madeline L'Engle, L. M. Montgomery, Lloyd Alexander, Susan Cooper, etc. But there are only so many times you can reread a book. (Although I haven't hit my limit with The Witch of Blackbird Pond and I'm at 40+. Granted, Elizabeth George Speare was something of a writing genius. She won two Newberry awards!)

Anyway, I went to the library and browsed the fiction stacks. I wanted something like a classic—at least in setting—so I stuck to the historical romances. My first few choices were based solely on the covers. As in, Which ones aren't too goofy or cliché? What book cover would least embarrass me if I ran into a friend, or a friend's parent? Never mind the giant orange-and-red-heart sticker on the spine of the book. That I could hide by strategically holding the book.

The Devil’s Love by Julia London

One of the first romances I remember reading is The Devil's Love by Julia London. Also, Black Silk by Judith Ivory. I still love both. I also read a number of Mary Jo Putney novels, and many romances released in hardcover. I found those covers to be more restrained—and they didn't have the telling sticker on the spine! Traitorous sticker! I quickly discovered Lisa Kleypas, Christina Dodd, and Julia Quinn. Teresa Medeiros is another author I enjoyed very much, and she opened the door to paranormals with her Regency vampire novels. (That, and I'd read some of the YA books as a kid; they existed before Twilight. Think L.J. Smith. Yes, she of The Vampire Diaries fame.)

I exhausted the historical romance (with a reasonable cover) collection at my library and branched out to contemporaries. I found the Brava books, which are released in trade-sized paperbacks. And there was no going back. These days, I read every Romance sub-genre, but Romance is basically the entirety of my pleasure reading. For the past few years it worked out nicely to balance the essays and texts in college, and the casebooks in law school. But in a way, that's just how I explain my reading choices to those who don't read Romance. I love Romance, plain and simple.

I love stories full of emotion, interpersonal relationships, exploration of what motivates people, watching them change or develop, and I go with Romance novels because I love the happy endings. If I wanted something that has “only” emotion, I could read the news, or contemplate my own life. Not always tragic, but definitely without a guaranteed happy ending.

I love the payout or reward of knowing the book will end on a positive note, and that it is the start of two people's lives together, committed and in love. This is why I get so annoyed at lukewarm or vague endings in books. I can't stand the “Hey, so let's see if this works out” closing. Or the “Well, I guess I'll call you.” I suppose some think that's edgy, but to me that's skating the edge of being outside the genre. I want closure. That's the point of reading Romance, after all. The assured happy ending.

What about you? How'd you get your start in reading Romance? What draws you back time and again? Because we all have to admit that yes, many of the plots are similar, but the emotions and characters—ah, that's where the beauty lies.

Limecello is a reader, reviewer, lawyer, foodie, and discusser of all things random. You can also visit her at her blog or Twitter .

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Kati Dancy
1. KatiD
Hi Limecello! Oh, I loves "my first romance" stories.

When I was 12 while on vacation at the beach, I'd exhausted my reading options. So I kept bugging my mom to take me to the book store to buy something new. She finally said no, she'd not be taking me to the bookstore, to go to the share shelf in the beach house's living room and find something to read. I found Nora Roberts' "Irish Thoroughbred" and was completely captivated. Fiesty Irish heroine, asshat, overbearing, business tycoon hero? Yes please! And they totally DID IT in Chapter 7! Scandalous!

But in the end, what I loved about that romance, and the thousands of subsequent romances I've read is the focus on the relationship. The slow or quick build of love and the assurance that in the end, no matter what, there will be a happily ever after (or at least a happy for now). It's a ride that I take over and over, and enjoy every single time!
2. cjewel
Limecello, dude (ette), Jude the Obscure is tragic in more than genre. That book is fatally flawed. Hardy had an epic failure in his heroine. For me, she read like a man's ideas about such a situation. Argh!!!

My parents didn't put any restrictions on my reading, probably beccause there was no way for them to keep up, but I think I got my first romance from a peer rather than the library. Romance was a genre where the woman wasn't going to disappear from the exciting parts, her life and choices mattered to the story, and she didn't die so the hero could continue being single. I love that about Romance! And now I love knowing there are books where the end is triumphant and affirms the decency of men and women alike.
Cheryl Sneed
3. CherylSneed
I didn't start reading romance until well into my 30's and I got to it through the Jane Austen to Traditioanl Regencies route. One of my first romances was The Notorious Rake by Mary Balogh, and I remember being shocked - shocked, I tell you! - that the h/h were having sex in the middle of Vauxhall in the middle of a thunderstorm in the middle of the first chapter. Well, of course, I was hooked and haven't looked back.

And, just to be clear, Tess of the d'Urbervilles is an abomination.
Charli Mac
4. CharliMac
My first romance novel was, "Not Even For Love" by Sandra Brown. It's an old school romance and it was a light easy read. I really enjoyed it.

I never really caught the "romance bug" persay. I've read all but two of Nicholas Sparks' novels. I read a handful of Nora Roberts, James Patterson's romances, The Outlander, a Regency, and Romantic Suspense, but nothing I keep having to come back to besides Sparks. If the story piques my interest, I read. I am branching out though. Reading come classics I missed and so on. H&H has tons of great recommendations here.

I love thrillers, mysteries, and lots of commercial reads. At the end of the day I love a good LOVE story. Swoon. What grabs me more than anything is seeing how two people come together. Double swoon.
Megan Frampton
5. MFrampton
I have to say, I really liked a few of the Thomas Hardys I read, back when I read literary fiction-y stuff. My favorite fact about Hardy is that he wrote the stuff we're talking about as a means to support his poetry writing. In other words, this is his pop culture mass market material. Can you imagine what his poetry is like?
6. shilohwalker
heh. A drive to florida with my grandmother, aunt and cousin. Had no books... was bored. They had books. Romance. Was Rosemary Rogers. O.o I was like 11 or 12...an interesting introduction. A year or two later, I discovered Nora Roberts, though, and SHE hooked me. Like whoa...
7. buriedbybooks
Jude the Obscure is scarier than Stephen King to me. Creepy and tragic in ways that I can't list.

And I pretty much came to Romance in the same way you did. I read so many classics in college that I wanted something happy. So many "classics" are depressing. And I wanted something with emotion. Something that tugged at my heartstrings. Something I could connect with on more than just an intellectual level. I found that in Romance.

My first post-college romance was a Nora Roberts book, Daring to Dream.
Liz Maverick
8. Liz Maverick
I discovered The Wolf and the Dove by Kathleen Woodiwiss in a ski lodge my parents had rented. They were quite puzzled as to why I was so reluctant to leave the house.
Manda Collins
9. mandacollins
Lime, I think you've really touched on the thing that we don't really admit about our love of romance: the fact that they give us a safe place to feel and revel in emotions. Not to say that we're all robots with no feelings in real life, but unless you live on a reality show, strong bursts of emotion are not really encouraged by the real world. It's cathartic to fall in love and fight and struggle through someone else's eyes. Plus the happy ending leaves you feeling better than you did before you started reading!

I LOVED The Witch of Blackbird Pond! One of my all time favorite books!

I got started reading romance through the Sunfire books from Scholastic. They were from different periods in American history. Merrilee was an indentured servant in colonial times. Kathleen came over during the Irish Potato famine. And they always had to choose between two suitors at the end. Loved those! Around the same time I read Jane Austen's Emma and was looking for another Regency period book and I stumbled upon Marion Chesney's Arabella. From there, I was hooked. Graduated from trad regencies to "long books" as I called single titles, and the rest is history!

Great blog!
10. Kris Kennedy
Are you me?? That's is exactly how I came to romance. Or, well, *amost*. The important stuff is the same: I avoided romances at my library b/c of the covers. (And anyhow, they were all so formulaic, right? So beneath me...) Finally I succumbed. And wow.

For about a year prior to that, I'd been trying to get back into the writing as I'd done as kid, and been bumping up against...apathy.

The night I set that book down, I started writing, and was up until 3am. And I haven't stopped. :-) (Welll, the 3 a.m.'s are less frequent now, with kids...)

It's a powerful thought, that romances gives is space to 'revel in emotions' as you said, Manda. That is surely true for me.

Also, reading & writing romance for me is about reveling in sensuality, being able to be fun and free with it, without it being all icky and pornographic, like it so often is when it's designed for men.

It's romance, it's about love & affection & respect, and it's fabulous! :-)
E.A. West
11. E.A. West
I fell into reading romances without even realizing it at first. Since everyone around me viewed romance novels as substanceless fluff, I saw them the same way. I've always had an addiction to happy endings, however, and eventually I realized the books I was reading had heart-warming romance woven throughout. Finally, in my mid-twenties, I admitted a love for romance novels.

When people ask why I love to read and write romance, I tell them it's because of the emotion and the happy endings. From the first hint of attraction , through the give and take of developing a relationship, to the happily ever after moment...I love it all. The warm fuzzy feeling from reading a good romance can make the even worst of days seem brighter. :)
Victoria Janssen
12. VictoriaJanssen
My sister read a few categories when I was in middle school, but I just couldn't get the appeal. Then, after grad school, I stumbled on Mary Jo Putney's ONE PERFECT ROSE, which led to more Putney and then to Judith Ivory/Judy Cuevas, Laura Kinsale, and Carla Kelly. I never looked back.
Nell Dixon
13. Nell Dixon
I like stories about people, why they do what they do and I have to have me a happy ending. Life is to short to read depressing, dreary books and I like something that makes me laugh and cry and takes me to a happy place for a while.
14. MK Ethridge
My first romance was Nora Roberts' Irish Thoroughbred. I still have my copy from 1981. It has survived high school, college, 5 post grad apartments, and two post-wedding moves. Last summer, Ms. Roberts was kind enough to sign my battered and tattered copy, and now it sits on a special shelf in my computer armoire for inspiration.

I will read most any type of romance, but prefer contemporaries, and enjoy everything from the sweet to the sublimely smutty. The beauty of romance is there's always a story to suit your mood.
Lime Cello
15. Limecello
KatiD - hee! Nora Roberts at 12? Well done! ;) I agree wholeheartedly with you about the relationship. It's the *why* we read romance! The emotional ties and all those lovely things.

Carolyn - I just remember Jude the Obscure broke me. I think everything else I was determined to forget. I can't even watch movie adaptations of it - and I've tried. My parent's did really put reading restrictions on me either, they just... figured I was reading "age appropriate" stuff? My parents are and were scary. :P I did as I was told. Without being told O_o And that's a wonderful way to put it about the genre- definitely wish others who don't/haven't read it yet would be willing to see that!

Cheryl - You know, I don't think I've read The Notorious Rake, but I'm definitely intrigued ;)
Also, hee - I didn't expect T. Hardy to elicit such reactions! I think Tess is one of his "better" ish books? Well, Far From the Madding Crowd is his happiest by far, to me - of the ones I read.

CharliMac- It *sounds* like you'd really go for romances or at least subgenres... have you looked into some of the Romantic Suspense series/authors? Leslie Kelly, Roxanne St. Clair, JD Robb, Shiloh Walker, etc?

Megan - I... think you just broke my brain. Again. Although, of course since I'm an idiot, I'm now tempted to go hunt down Hardy's poetry. Obviously because I hate myself :P

Shiloh - How fun! The only time I had to suffer a drive to Forida I was only like 2, so I didn't know how to read. Probably would've been easier on the parents if I could've since there were four kids... (but hey - there were four parents too, so that's fair, right?) I have a confession to make - I've only read a few of Nora Robert's books. Like... 4. I know, I've got to hide my romance reader card before someone comes to take it away!

buriedbybooks - I can't read Stephen King. Just... no on horror to me. I'd read SOME romance before high school, like the odd HP but 99.98% of my reading was classics only, until like... junior/senior year of high school. And then it was ... no. After Thomas Hardy and some of the Russian authors... other than assigned reading I read the happy books. And I'm glad :)

Liz- *makes mental note to avoid that book forever* - thanks ;) I'm a total wuss. Dude, and since I'm stupidly curious, I just found a summary of the book. O_O

Manda- Yes! It's about the emotions, and of course real life is flush with emotions, but the ones in romance novels are HAPPY. It's huge. Positivity is a rare and precious thing. And yay! So glad you love WoBP - knew I liked you for a reason ;)

Kris - ARE YOU MY SISTER?! Heh - I'd claim I had too much sugar, but... nope. Anyway. So glad you started writing! Yay you! :D Romance is so many great things - people need to see that. ... Ok I was going to try to tie in your phrase of "beneath me" but I'm just not clever enough. Alas.

E.A. - I still don't run around IRL saying "I read and love romance novels!" I once said I liked reading when my professor pretending he was vetting me for a jury in ACJ as part of a voir dire lesson, and I realized "Oh shit - there's no way I can say I read romance - or even fiction and really go on..." Sigh. There's so much variety in romance! Love it.

Victoria - I love the novels, but I have to admit... I have this major soft spot for category romances as well ;) Some are horrid, but some are amazing - and actually, a few are some of my favorite stories ever. One that comes to mind is Shocking the Senator by Leanne Banks. I've enjoyed almost all of her books. (I realize StS just also has a lot of things I love. And it's part of the fun not every book is for every person.)

Nell - Yes! If I want depressing or dreary, I can just read the news. World news. Or chat with people. There's always enough reality to go around. And more. That's why I love romances, because of the great endings.

MK - another Irish Thoroughbred as first romance! Wow. I didn't know it was from 1981. Usually my... actually, I'll stop now before I dig myself into a bigger hole ;)
That is *so awesome* that you kept the copy and that Nora Roberts signed it! That's like almost better than a 100 year old edition of Pride and Prejudice - you know?!
Definitely agree about the variety :) Sometimes you want sweet, and sometimes you just want to revel in the delicious smutty goodness. ;)
Laura K. Curtis
16. LauraKCurtis
My first romances were Mary Stewart books. Still love 'em! I had read a children's book she wrote (long out of print now), and I picked up one of her lovely Gothic romances figuring it would be suitable for me. It wasn't, but I didn't care. I was hooked.
17. Jen B
Human interaction and happy endings. I like seeing how people relate to each other, and I like knowing things will end well. I stick to the happier romances and avoid angst, for the most part.

And...er...a few love scenes won't hurt either.
donna kenney
18. donna ann
When I was in my early teens my mom would get some of the series books that didn't sell the month before at the store she worked at & I'd read those. They were ok, but nothing memerable, just something quick & easy to read to help pass the summer day. While visiting my sister one wknd, I wanted to something to read (had finished what I brought) & she lent me Shanna by Woodiwiss and I became hooked for life on the historical romance. I loved the dashing hero who despite his best efforts falls madly in love with the herione, the adventure, the passion & romance, the epic true love and HEA. I loved escaping to another time & place with a guarenteed HEA and that's part of what I still love about it these many years later
Jenny Schwartz
19. Jenny Schwartz
I'm not sure which book made me a romance reader -- was it right back with Nancy Drew and Ned? Don't know. But I'm fairly sure it was with Georgette Heyer that I dug my heels in and decided I'd defend to the death my right to read and enjoy romances.
Lauri Robinson
20. Lauri
The first romance book I read was The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss. I borrowed it from my mother's bookshelf for something to read on the 'family' trip from KS to MN. I think I was about 15, and I've been stuck on once upon a time and happily ever after from the moment I read the first page.
21. Kim in Hawaii
Best part of your blog, "I love the payout or reward of knowing the book will end on a positive note, and that it is the start of two people's lives together, committed and in love. This is why I get so annoyed at lukewarm or vague endings in books. "

Short version of long story: We cleaned out the Thrift Shop at an Army base in the Netherlands and sent most of the contents to an Afghan orphanage adopted by the NATO troops deployed from our home station. Leftover was the books with English text - one book with a red tartan sash called to me, Cathy Maxwell's THE MARRIAGE CONTRACT. It overcame my preconceived ideas of romance books. It provided escapism from some of the military's hardships (like soldiers coming home damaged and even dead). It demonstrated to me that women can write what they want, read what they want, and talk about what they want - the very essence of free speech and why soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and Coasties serve around the world.
22. Cathy Yardley
Love this! I worked at a library in high school where one of the librarians wanted to take all the "smut" paperbacks out and toss them -- until the head librarian pointed out they were the ones that circulated the most. :)

I was crashing at my best friend's house in college, and she had an entire closet full of single titles. I remember picking up The Lion's Lady by Julie Garwood. Stayed up till 3 a.m. reading it! :) From then on, I read a romance every night before going to bed -- kept me sane during finals. I still love the genre.
Lime Cello
23. Limecello
Laura- I want to say I've read Mary Stewart, but nothing is sticking out :X It's lovely to be a lifelong reader, but sometimes sad because you start forgetting books. (You plural) - or, at least I do >. happier ones. Someone once told me "ah you're a fluff romance reader." O_o Good to know?

Donna - I love the guaranteed happily ever after as well. It's the whole point, after all, right? :) And yes - I LOVE the groveling hero - the one who doesn't want to fall in love but does but was a jerk and has to make up for it... but then I guess I'm kinda mean like that. :X

Jenny - Hm... we might have to talk more. I tried a Heyer for the first time last year and it was a DNF for me. I've since learned it's one many people didn't really care for, but as a first experience it kinda... colored everything for me, sadly.

Lauri - I've noticed a lot of people were introduced to romance by friends and family - especially the latter, which just makes me smile. Hee. I got stuck on the "once upon a time" and "happily ever after" from the Evil Disney Machine ;) I'm a total sucker for the "golden age" disney princess movies.
Megan Frampton
24. MFrampton
I second the rec for Notorious Rake. Likely in my top 3 fave romances (Lord of Scoundrels, Notorious Rake, Reforming Lord Ragsdale).
Lime Cello
25. Limecello
Kim - Thanks for stopping by - and I agree, romance can be very empowering for women, even/especially the ones that aren't "in your face" about it.

Cathy - Oh noes! We must save the chill-rens from teh smuts! Heh. Actually O_O I have no idea what my HS library had :X We like... never went to it. I dunno. Nobody really ever did. But I went to the local one constantly... I have another confession to make. Don't know that I've read Julie Garwood, but I mean to! Also - don't you love the 3 AM reading bursts? I've powered through til 7 AM before... but that was kinda stupidity on my part.

Megan - Eek! Bad you are bad for adding to my list! I hope I remember. :P
26. Punny21
I'm a sucker for happy endings myself!
Keira Gillett
27. Keira
My start in romances was covertly sneaking one of my mother's LaVyrle Spencer's into my bedroom to read after she went to bed, but just in case she got up (as she sometimes did) because she couldn't sleep or whatever, I read under the covers with a flashlight. Then I got a little bolder and didn't do the under the covers bit and read during normal before lights out hours. Finally I just told her I was taking all the Spencers and reading them all whether she liked it or not. That there was the beginning lol. HEAs and finding the right guy are why I love and still read romances like there's no other kind of fiction out there even though I used to love mysteries like The Cat Who Series, Mrs. Murphy Series, Bernie Rhodenbarr Mysteries, and more.
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