Why I Don’t Like Romance Books

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 0.603% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

There are a lot of good reasons why I don’t read romance novels. For one thing, if there’s not a spaceship or magic spells in there somewhere, I usually get bored. For another, the tension of “will they or won’t they?” reads like a horror film to me – whereas some people are shrieking “DON’T GO IN THE BASEMENT ALONE WITH THE LIGHTS OFF!”, I’m screaming “DON’T LIE TO HER, BE EMOTIONALLY VULNERABLE AND TELL HER YOU LOVE HER!”

So I don’t read romance. That’s an entirely valid choice.

But there’s a lot of not-so-good reasons why I don’t read romance novels.

I don’t read romance novels because my Uncle Tommy had a basement full of science fiction books that he let me read at will, and he didn’t like romance. So when I was in my most formative stages, I wasn’t introduced to romance books at all, so I never got familiar with them – and a lot of my like for books is familiarity.

Then, when I was a teenager, the romance books in stores back then were coded for women – they were frilly and girly pink in the case of the Harlequins, or in the case of larger authors like Danielle Steele they were pastel colors. And when I was young and dumb I wasn’t particularly inclined to read overtly-girly books, so I skipped right past them because I knew I wouldn’t like them.

And even if I did want to read them when I was in college, my male friends gave me subtle signals about what I was or wasn’t supposed to like – their girlfriends would knit and mow through a billion interchangeable romance books, which was viewed as a little silly but a forgivable sin, whereas we mowed through endless science fiction series, which were equally as formulaic but we were somehow reading real books.

And because I didn’t read romance novels, I remained utterly unaware of how in-depth the field of romance had gotten – you hear that scream? Yes, indeed, that’s another romance reader howling at my opening paragraph, cracking their knuckles as they prepare to write a blistering comment telling me “THERE ARE HUNDREDS OF ROMANCES WITH SPACESHIPS AND MAGIC SPELLS YOU DOLT, YOU JUST DON’T SEE THEM BECAUSE YOU NEVER BOTHERED TO LOOK.”

(They are, for the record, entirely correct.)

So I don’t read romance books in part because my tastes had been shaped by outside forces that quietly redirected me, a dude, away from reading them – and those quiet redirections not only got me used to what stories “should” look like for me (i.e., “spaceships and big climactic battles”), but also made me ignorant to whole swathes of romance books that I might actually enjoy if I only tried them.

So there’s two aspects here that are slightly in conflict:

I genuinely do not like reading a lot of romance books. When friends have recommended specific romance books to me, the “will they or won’t they?” aspect actually does stress me out to the point where I can’t enjoy a lot of stories. So if I’m going to choose one of the fifty or so books I read for fun in a given year, I’ll have better odds in choosing a nonromance book.

Yet at the same time, me going out of my way to tell people “Oh, I don’t like romance books” without a greater context often is not only a staggeringly ignorant statement – because what I often mean is “I don’t like this specific brand of romance books, and I’m not sufficiently vested in the field to know that there are other kinds” – but my public statement of what I don’t like often serves as a pressure for other dudes to STAY AWAY FROM ROMANCE, FELLAS, HERE’S ANOTHER MAN INDICATING THAT ROMANCE IS NOT WHAT US BROS DO.

So there’s a careful balance to be had here:

  • It’s perfectly okay for me not to want to explore a genre that I haven’t gotten much satisfaction from in the past.
  • But openly STATING my distaste of a given genre often winds up passing on a bunch of unconscious biases as though they were somehow unassailable as an argument – “Hey, I like this, you can’t debate me on that one.”
  • And my distaste of a genre could come just because my refusal to experiment IN that genre means that I’m ignorant of things I MIGHT like.

I say this because a lot people think that their preferences are unarguable – and that’s not just for reading! For every person who says “I don’t like YA books” or “I don’t like science fiction,” there’s someone out there saying “Fat people are unattractive” or “I could never date a trans person.”

And they get very upset when you point out that their personal taste may, in fact, be founded on some fairly ugly societal shit that they’ve quaffed down without thinking about it.

I mean, it’s okay to not like romance books! Sometimes you don’t like a thing. You’re never obliged to hold your nose and read books you hate and date people you’re not attracted to.

But if you’re going to go around sneering at romance books, then you should take a moment to ponder how much of your personal taste has been shaped by society before you go around unthinkingly propagating more of that distaste into society.

Because you might have been fed a lot of biases that lead to this dislike. And you might continue to have this dislike because you’re ignorant of how romance books actually work, and your refusal to experiment may be walling you off from new experiences.

I mean, at the end of the day, I still don’t like most romance books. But I’m willing to admit that maybe there’s a romance book or two out there that I might adore, and I keep my eyes open in case it comes along.

That’s the best any of us can do, I think.

13 Comments

  1. Hel M.
    Oct 12, 2018

    I mean, the ‘will they or won’t they’ resolves to ‘they will’, tho? It’s about how they overcome the obstacles.

    And yeah, there’s tons of fantasy and sci-fi romances. Really, ‘romance’ is a meta-genre, because within it is *every* other genre. Fantasy, sci-fi, western, etc.

    • Anonymous Alex
      Oct 12, 2018

      Does that mean that, by definition, a story that resolves to “they won’t” isn’t a romance?

      -Alex

      • Hel M.
        Oct 12, 2018

        I’ve never read one that did…

        • Anonymous Alex
          Oct 12, 2018

          Huh. I can’t think of a counterexample, of course, so you’re probably right, but the idea kind of irks me for some reason. It seems like one ought to be able to write such a thing, even if it’s not the popular choice.

          -Alex

          • Hel M.
            Oct 12, 2018

            I can think of ones where they aren’t together long, but that’s about it. Which I think means you’re right, and it’s the defining characteristic of the genre.

          • Peter C. Hayward
            Oct 16, 2018

            I read it years ago, so: VAGUE DESCRIPTION INCOMING

            The first book in the series about the BDSM priest and the journalist who’s writing about him and his primary sub (who is a dom for everyone except the priest, I think?) ends in a “they won’t” while definitely still being erotic romance.

        • Doug S.
          Oct 16, 2018

          I’ve seen several *movies* like that… Casablanca is one of the most famous ones.

          • Anonymous Alex
            Oct 16, 2018

            But would you classify Casablanca as a “Romance”?

            -Alex

    • raemon777
      Oct 13, 2018

      This actually is my problem with Romance Novels (as contrasted with, say, TV shows, or long running serial fiction). In a Romance Novel, it’s so overwhelmingly ordained that “they will, tho”, that I find it not very interesting.

      Whereas a TV show which is _mostly_ (or at least “officially”) about a non-romance plot leaves more room to be unsure about who will end up together. It’s more like a whodunit, leaving you guessing.

      Another blogpost argued that Romance Novels are simulated New Relationship Energy (contrasted with porn, which is simulated arousal). This seems approximately right to me, but for me a lot of the potency of NRE is uncertainty.

      https://thingofthings.wordpress.com/2017/02/13/on-romance-novels/

      • The Ferrett
        Oct 13, 2018

        I mean, considering that I found Twilight to be the purest essence of NRE, that shouldn’t surprise me that it rings true as a romance for many people.

    • The Ferrett
      Oct 13, 2018

      I mean, yeah, but the tension matters. The answer to “Will she or won’t she survive?” when the teenager goes into the basement alone in the first half of a slasher film is a given, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t get people upset.

      And “meta-genre” is a good way of looking at it. Not thought of that.

  2. Gayle
    Oct 13, 2018

    I have a deep, abiding and probably unreasonable distaste for the romance genre. It comes from too much exposure in my formative years. My mother read them, then mailed them to my grandmother, who would pass them along to the ladies in her condo complex. Sometimes they went the other direction, so each woman would sign her name on the fly leaf to indicate she had already gotten her eye tracks all over the pages. When I had foot surgery at 16 yo, I quickly ran out of reading material. I started working through my mom’s pile of Bertrice Small novels. Now, I can’t even walk through the romance aisle at B&N without a mostly unconscious moue of distaste on my face. It isn’t just the will-they-or-won’t-they; it’s also the similarities in the setup of how the woman gets to meet/fight/fuck her One True Love Who Is A Douche to Everyone, But She Can Transform Him. Are there romance novels out there that I might enjoy? Yeah, probably. But I’ll also probably never read them.

  3. Peter C. Hayward
    Oct 16, 2018

    Some of my favourite romance novels are not “will they or won’t they”, but “they will, obviously, but can they navigate their differences and become a stronger couple?”

All Comments Will Be Moderated. Comments From Fake Or Throwaway Accounts Will Never Be approved.