As readers are aware, I read romance novels. Sometimes I’ll tear through a pile in a week and other times I won’t touch one for a few weeks or even months. Romance novels are very much among my reading tastes, and I have all sorts of opinions on them. Before I came out as asexual, many people thought my romance habit was a little odd since I didn’t seem like ‘the type’ to read romance, and now, people think it’s just plain bizarre that a person who identifies as aromantic would be reading romance.
Asexuals actually make and consume a wide variety of material with sexual content; pornography of all flavours from slash fiction to BDSM films, and consuming sexual content doesn’t mean you’re not asexual any more than consuming romance doesn’t make you aromantic. I don’t really feel the need to defend my interest in romance as a genre, but I thought I’d tease some things out for people who appear deeply puzzled.
Do you read books about doctors and medical topics? You do? Are you a doctor? You’re not[1. Apologies to all the doctors among my readers, feel free to substitute ‘veterinarians’ and ‘veterinarian’ if you like.]? Then why do you read them? Oh, you say, you have an interest in medicine and medical practice. Well, I have an interest in human behavior, and romance is one of the ways it manifests. I am interested in romance both in the academic sense, as a huge genre that enjoys a tremendous following that is often derided for reading it, and in a personal sense, because I like to read about the lives of other people and I like to see the way the characters interact with each other, the thought processes that go on. It’s not that I find the stories personally appealing, but that I find them interesting.
I’m not romantic, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to know what romance is all about, in all the different flavours that it might take. And I’m interested in the genre of romance, the way authors talk about and position romance and the different kinds of relationships it leads to, whether I’m reading about a witch and a vampire falling in love or I’m tearing through another bit of bonnet fiction. I’m interested in what these novels have to say about their characters, their readers, the society around them. I’m interested in the stereotypes, and the ways authors buck those stereotypes.
Just as I like reading about doctors. I don’t want to be a doctor, I have no interest in practicing medicine, but I do want a small taste of what it’s like. I want to learn more about how doctors think, and medical education, and I love hearing about interesting and puzzling and complex and fascinating and frustrating cases. So I have a lot of memoirs by doctors, particularly epidemiologists, because that’s an area of medicine I’m especially interested in, as we know. I read these things precisely because they are not about my life and my experiences. I have almost no books by writers about their lives, because I know what it’s like to be a writer, and reading books by writers isn’t really an escape from my environment. Nor does it provide me with material I can draw upon in my own work; if I want a character to be a writer, well, by gum, I’ve got some handy resources ready to hand. I don’t need to read a book about it.
Reading romance enriches me as a writer; it certainly helps me understand something that is alien and not interesting to me in my daily life so I can incorporate it into my work. When I write romantic work (which I do), I want it to feel believable. I want readers to be pulled in. I want to make sure it conveys the right mood and tone, draws people in instead of jarring them with content that doesn’t belong or that feels stiff. Romance is, on a very basic level, a form of research for me so that I can do my job more effectively, and so that I can understand the people around me on a deeper level.
Romance, as a genre, provides me with all sorts of information to contextualise my experiences and those of people around me. It gives me a glimpse into all the different kinds of romance, and how people interact with each other when romantic interest is involved.
And interacting with romance readers lets me see how people respond to different texts, and how people confront stereotypes about them as groups of readers and creators. The sneers and snobbery about romance dismiss a huge and very diverse genre with nary a thought, when in fact there’s a lot to learn from romance, for those who can get off their high horses. And, sometimes, yes, it really is just simple escapism because I want to lie in a patch of sun and not think about anything in particular, and a romance novel is a great way to let my brain wander a bit. I don’t have to engage with the text on the same level that I do when it’s a book for review, or nonfiction that I am reading to increase my depth of knowledge, I can just relax and enjoy.
And when you’re as busy as I am, that’s sometimes all you really want from a book.