“For years, I could think of nothing more humiliating than being a woman with a $75,000 education who got caught reading a book cleverly titled “The Throbbing Pirate”, for which the cover art is just a close up of an improbably bulging codpiece.”

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Post title extracted from this post, which robustly praises romance novels. Here’s another excerpt:

Then when I was sixteen, after a few years of not reading any romance novels, I picked up Judith McNaught’s Something Wonderful on a complete whim.

It was a revelation.

For the first time, I found myself fully engaged by a romance novel. I couldn’t put it down. The heroine was adorable, and any urge to shake her stemmed from fond exasperation, not a desire to dislocate her brainstem. The hero was yet another aristocratic asshole, but he was also vulnerable and sweet. And the conflict was fun and compelling, despite the eye-rolling misunderstandings. (I say this with love, but almost all of McNaught’s conflicts go something like this: Hero: “You’re a whore and out to use me! See this circumstantial evidence here? Proof you’re a whore. Also, my parents never loved me. Wah.” Heroine: “I’m not a whore, I’m just a painful combination of beautiful, spunky and naïve. Also, I have horrible, manipulative relatives, and I’m willfully blind to this fact because non-clueless heroines won’t come into fashion until about ten years after this book is published. Wah.”)

I read that book in one glorious sleep-deprived rush, then ran back to the store and grabbed all the other McNaught novels I could find. Once I’d ploughed my way through all of them, I looked for even more romances I liked. I was no longer daunted by the crap I encountered along the way because I had learned something valuable: there was indeed such a thing as a romance novel worth reading.

For a scholarly take on romance novels, see “Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy and Popular Literature,” by Janice A. Radway (reviewed here).

–Ann Bartow

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