Reading What You Like

The following rant won’t be groundbreaking. I share the opinion of most thinking people I know on this topic, and many of them are stirred up about this today. But sometimes you have to speak up even when your voice is only one among the hordes.

At the hairdresser this morning, the woman in the chair next to me was reading a bestselling thriller, the sort that usually has a larger-than-life good-guy who will ultimately save the day against incredible odds. It’s the kind of book my dad chooses most often when he reads fiction. She was engrossed, and I was delighted, as I always am, to encounter someone else who carries a book around with her.

It didn’t occur to me for an instant to consider the possibility that by reading such a traditionally masculine book, she was eschewing all things feminine or that, perhaps, her choice of reading material meant she really longed to be involved in foiling a terrorist plot. Her book didn’t, and the ones my dad reads don’t, suggest to me that they don’t understand the line between fantasy and reality or that they don’t know a good read when they see it.

But for reasons best known only to themselves, some people continue to believe that women who read romance are lacking in critical faculties, don’t understand what’s real and what isn’t, or are, at heart, anti-feminists who long to be dominated by men. The latest of these of which I’m aware is Palash Ghosh, whose article in the International Business Times is offensive on a whole bunch of levels. Go read it and come back, if you like. I’ll still be here.

If there’s nothing new in my post here, the same is certainly true of ol’ Palash’s article. The only surprise here is how woefully uninformed he is about the industry, citing surprise at how well these books sell: at one point he says, “I had thought that romance novels accounted for a very small fringe corner of the literary market – so I was quite surprised that this segment has such enormous popularity.”

The rest of the article is dreadful: disdainful, judgmental, snobbish, and filled with ridiculous attempts at armchair pop psychology.

He’s no easier on the writers than he is on the readers, claiming “These ‘romance’ stories are to literature what hot dogs are to cuisine — quickly made, tasty, filling, temporarily satisfying, but with no nutritional value whatsoever.” Strong words coming from a guy who has clearly never actually read a romance novel. There are so many things wrong with this statement I could write pages on it. I’ll refrain. Even if I am tempted to point out, for example, how some of the best writing teachers I know are romance writers, because they have to work their butts off to create good, original, well-told, engaging stories that keep readers wondering how the happy ending they expect can possibly arrive. No mean feat, that.

What I will do is attempt to answer this question Palash posed in the article: “But I must wonder why so many women – forty years after the women’s liberation movement, Roe vs. Wade and the pill have transformed the lives of women in the most dramatic of ways – continue to indulge in the fanciful tales of females so unlike them who live in fantasy worlds light years removed from their reality?”

People read “fanciful tales of [people] so unlike them who live in fantasy worlds light years removed from their own reality” because that is WHAT FICTION IS. Books about people who live in worlds different than our own. Or books about people like us in different circumstances or people whose stories excite us or make us laugh or make us cry or take us to a different place or make us think or touch us or let us ignore the stresses of our own lives for a few hours or remind us of the good in the world or scare the pants off us or let us dream or or or…. As Jim C. Hines says, “stories matter.” It doesn’t matter what kind of story.

For once and for all, could we please agree that reading is good, and that reading romance novels is no different from, no better or worse than, reading thrillers or mystery or science fiction or literary fiction or any other kind of book in the known universe? Read what you like and don’t judge others for doing the same. Seems pretty simple. Why do Palash and people like him find it so difficult, especially when the readers are women? Enough, already.


  1. Linda Grimes
    Dec 18, 2013

    Hear, hear! Amen! You took the words right out of my mouth. :)

    • kathykenzie
      Dec 18, 2013

      Thanks, Linda. :)

  2. Tanya Kyi
    Dec 18, 2013

    I often wonder if people read romances for the same reason grown-ups read young adult novels… because these books most often end on a note of hope. And in the rest of our reading, as we sort through news articles about global warming or political scandal, hope is sorely lacking.

    • kathykenzie
      Dec 18, 2013

      Good point. I know I prefer books that finish on a hopeful note, for sure.

  3. deniz
    Dec 19, 2013

    I agree! I get het up the same way when people make snide remarks about writing or reading MG and YA. As if they don’t involve any craft at all…

    • kathykenzie
      Dec 19, 2013

      Yes! So easy for non-writers to assume writing any type of book is quick and easy…

  4. Lara Lacombe
    Dec 19, 2013

    Well said, Kathy! I couldn’t agree with you more!

    • kathykenzie
      Dec 19, 2013

      Thanks, Lara!

  5. Annee
    Dec 27, 2013

    I have a confession. Not in the, on my knees asking for absolution type confession, but in the, cringe, Palash could’ve been quoting me type confession.
    I wouldn’t have read a romance if it had crawled up in my lap and begged me to open it’s covers. Although, if the fine women’s lit I read had a touch of romance within the pages I sucked it up like a hoover. That, of course, was different.
    I could never understand why my mom and my aunts would waste their time trading, hoarding and consuming brown paper grocery bags full of “romance trash”. While I could not get them to consider my “quality” books recommendations.
    I had a conversation with my aunt that when something like:
    Me: What’s wrong with you people?
    Aunt: Oh Honey, I read to escape. I don’t want to think.
    What a concept. It took me a few years to come to terms with that little bomb as I tucked away pesky memories of me, Harlequin and flashlight under the covers all through my teens.
    What happened to change my stinking thinking? Writers. Writers I have come to care about that have shared their stories. Many of those stories romance. And I took up the keyboard to share my own stories. Did you see this coming? My stories are romance.
    I have no need to read by flashlight under the covers. Instead, today my reality: me, thousands of romance novels and Kindle Paperwhite.

    • kathykenzie
      Dec 27, 2013

      Annee, our own prejudices seem so strange in hindsight once we’ve left them behind, don’t they? Happy writing (and reading)! :)