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  • Writer's pictureKristin Brodie

In Defence of Romance

Or, why I will no longer be ashamed of my reading.

I have a confession to make.

I’ve been hiding something. Something that you might think less of me for.

I am generally open about my reading. I have a public-facing StoryGraph account, a bookstagram, and I share my reads on my personal social media. I love chatting books with whoever will listen.

However, there are dozens of books that never make it to my public recommendations. Ones that I keep to myself.

And they all have one thing in common.


After a long week, I like nothing more than climbing into a big bubble bath with a cup of tea (or glass of wine, if it’s been that kind of week) and a romantic novel.

I love romance novels. They’re pacy, character-driven, and full of heart.

But admitting to that makes me feel icky.

Romance novels have a bad rep. The whole genre is dismissed and ridiculed—seen as trashy; formulaic; low brow.

Romance readers are dismissed as airheads, spinsters surrounded by cats, or sexually repressed women indulging their fantasies. No ‘serious’ reader would ever read romance. And no ‘serious’ writer would ever write it.

Except they do. Though many of them—myself included—hide it. Even writers.

New York Times bestselling author Rachel Hawkins writes her romance novels under the pseudonym Erin Sterling. Similarly, Adelaide writer Amy Matthews writes literary fiction under her own name and romance under the pseudonym Tess LeSue.

It’s not that romance is particularly low brow or formulaic: the same criticism could be levelled at sci-fi, fantasy, or action movies.

So why the shame?

It’s not that romance is particularly low brow or formulaic: the same criticism could be levelled at sci-fi, fantasy, or action movies.

It’s a field dominated by women both in readership and authors, and consequently receives the stigma that is attached to any pastime, art form, or hobby that is predominantly enjoyed by women. Perhaps more men would be more empathetic and emotionally intelligent if they tried reading romance novels and explored the interiority of women.

Romance concerns itself with love: one of the most fundamental experiences of being human—it makes sense that it’s fertile ground for writers. Love has consumed, frustrated, devastated, and preoccupied humanity for millennia.

There are happily ever afters in romance novels, which may not always happen in real life—but what’s wrong with escapism? I feel safe in knowing that I’m going to get a happily ever after—something I cherish more now than ever. And I’m not alone. Romance sales have spiked over the last few years as the stress of the pandemic means readers crave the comfort and security of a promised happily ever after.

Philosophical arguments about whether criticism of romance is sexist aside, there are economical and practical reasons for recognising romance as a legitimate genre. Romance is big literary business. Romance comprises almost half of all novels sold. Romance novels generate more than USD $1.4 billion every year, and in 2017 a romance novel was sold every 3 seconds in the UK. Romance readers are among the most voracious of any reader, with a higher proportion of readers getting through a book every week than readers of any other genre. It’s not just women that read romance, though they certainly read more of it.

Women read more of just about everything, aside from military books. Ian McEwan once wrote: “When women stop reading, the novel will be dead,” in reference to the way women drive the most sales of books across the world.

"When women stop reading, the novel will be dead" Ian McEwan

The cultural cringe we have assigned to it is sexist and unfair, and it’s time that romance readers and writers were given the respect they deserve. If you don’t like reading romance, don’t read it. But don’t rain on my warm, fuzzy parade.

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