Book Notes: Dangerous Books for Girls

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Dangerous Books for Girls

The bad reputation of romance novels explained

Author: Maya Rodale

“Oh, romance novels? Aren’t the stories always the same?”

“All she reads are romance novels. She needs to read more deeply.”

We romance novel readers get a lot of flack. There seems to be an assumption that if you read romance you are shallow, not interested in the deeper things of life and well, we can go on but we shall not.

I suppose the fact of the matter is this - people look down on the romance genre. But why? Especially since it’s the one that rakes in the money for publishers?

Maya Rodale explores the issue in this slim but very effective book. Here are my notes from the book:

Quotes from the book:

In defence of “formulaic” romance:

Other things are formulaic: sonnets, haiku, recipes and other genres. Yet none of these are judged poorly for adhering to a repeatable form.

Why do we love reading romance?

When you know that it’s safe to care for the characters and identify with their feelings because no tragedy will befall them, the reading experience becomes more intense, more personal, more real.

For readings, picking up a series is like going to a part where you already know the other guests - it’s a lot less stressful and more relaxing when you know what to wear, who is going to be there, and what everyone will be talking about. For authors and publishers it’s a way to sell a book without selling a book.

The priority for the romance writer is creating a story that will captivate the reader, which her away from her day-to-day life so she can explore important issues. 

Women create an idealised, hopeful vision for the future to inspire other women. Fiction and fantasy are the crucial first steps to changing the world.

Why do people look down on romance novels?

Literary canon is still dominated by men. Culturally, we still devalue things deemed “women’s work” whether they are jobs like teacher, secretary, nurse, homemaker or romance novelist.

There is a sense of shame surrounding the reading of a romance novel. Society says we shouldn’t display them openly on our office desk, read them openly, hide them in our closets.

“This is how we ‘just know’ that reading romance novels is a shameful act.”

The truth is: We’re not surprised by women’s sexual desire. We’re terrified of it.

(Paraphrased) Stories that dared to present an optimistic view of female sexuality like Fanny Hill were banned for obscenity.  But romance heroines don’t lose their status once she has sex but gets a happy ending that consists of personal acceptance, love and respect. The only thing that changed is that she gets more orgasms, a fuller knowledge of herself and a deeper connection with the person she loves.

What is it about those bodice ripper covers?

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One theory about the bodice ripper covers - that the preorders were determined by sales reps who bought by the cover. And most of them are men. They ordered more books when there are covers with busty women.

Why do romance novels sell so well?

A romance reader is a voracious reader and digital made it cheaper, easier and faster to get the books she wanted - without another embarrassing trip to the store. Those cringe-inducing covers, too, weren’t such a problem anymore when no one could see them and make disparaging remarks. the e-reader has served a lot of needs for the romance reader.

Why are romance novels so awesome to its readers?

“This is one reason romance novels are so revolutionary: They break the association between a woman’s value and her level of sexual experience. they take back control and put it in her hands. And these books provide a satisfying alternative to the idea that a woman is either a virgin or a whore. She can just be her own woman.

“When a woman reads a romance novel, she is declaring the her needs and desires are valid and should be satisfied. When she reads a romance, she embarks on a journey in which she can identify with the hero, heroine, or any number of characters, giving her a richer understanding of herself.”

Romance novels end happily. This is what distinguishes the books from other love stories, such as Romeo and Juliet or Gone with the Wind. While often criticised for glorifying marriage (and thus trapping women in a patriarchal system) The romance novel isn’t about wedding bells at all) The happy-ever-after is ultimately about the triumph of hope, acceptance and justice.