Why should romance novels, erotica, historical romances with smutty undertones be deemed as guilty pleasures? As if it is something to be ashamed of. As if there weren’t any well written novels out there. As if E.L. James succeeded in blinding literary snobs that there aren’t anything worth finding in erotica. As if Anne Rice didn’t go there first. As if we should be allergic to happy endings. And as if sex is still something so dirty and best discussed in hushed tones. We’re in 2015, and I refuse to apologize for my reading choices.
I’ve long since admitted my obsession with romance novels. Nora Roberts initiated me into the world of adult (hello, may Francine Pascal pa, Sweet Valley High) romance novels . Well, English is my second language, but in the strictest sense, I have been secretly reading Tagalog pocketbooks when my mother wasn’t looking, at the age of 12– Yung Precious Hearts Romances. Wag kayong ano, magaling si Martha Cecilia. At huwag kayong maniwala sa adaptation nun ng Kristine Series, ambabaw.
Nora Roberts came later, when I was 16 and my mum has borrowed several copies at a time from her friend. The first non academic book I may have bought with my allowance was Roberts’ Inner Harbor which was part of the Quinn Brothers Saga. But by that time, I have read close to a hundred Nora Roberts books and when I started working, I felt that the most amazing part of it is being able to buy whatever book I fancy. That freedom translated into discovering other romance writers, even when I always go back to Nora like she’s my lodestone. Maybe she is.
In truth, aside from the steamy sex scenes, Nora’s prose were well written: the world building superb and the character building stellar. If she chooses to write about ballet dancers, you’d wonder if the author was once a prima ballerina, if the protagonist was an archeologist, you start suspecting she regularly participated in digs– that’s how well researched her stories are. At the time though, I barely have anything to compare it by so I took those things for granted. I incorrectly thought that all writers are excellent world builders.
It wasn’t until 2009 that a friend introduced me to historical romances. It was Julie Garwood and The Secret was set in the 12th century. Imagine the delight of a history fan when romance could actually be found in the midst of a seemingly long-standing Scots- English alienation. Prior to that, I did not have any idea that there were highlanders or lowlanders and that most Scottish clans were warrior-farmers. These things haven’t even scratched the surface of the knowledge and opportunities to learn that historical fiction offers. I have since discovered Judith McNaught, Julia Quinn, Philippa Gregory (not so much a romance writer but a historical fiction author), Lisa Kleypas, Stephanie Laurens, Sylvia Day and my all time favorite– Eloisa James. I know more about English aristocracy than I have any use for. And that is okay. I like knowing things. Even when they have no actual application in my life.
I could say I am equal parts pragmatic and romantic. Give me a book and I will zero in on a potential match or any apparent tension between characters. But I am less susceptible to any kind of romantic involvement anywhere else you place me. For years, I felt that reading romance novels isn’t the same as reading classical fiction, Pulitzer Prize winners and business books. I am not alone in imagining that there is a slight bias where people see that HEAs (happily ever afters) were considered inferior to tragedies. (Haha. LIES.)
If you spend an inordinate amount of time, consuming women’s fiction, you’ll soon realize that no matter how hot the scenes were, it shouldn’t in any way debase the prose. Please don’t cite Fifty Shades nor Twilight as an example. Because if you’ve read Anne Rice, or tried RITA winners, you would know that there are writers and then there are excellent ones. In this light, I dare not include Nicholas Sparks books whose formula fiction is something even non readers are familiar with, because of his high handedness that ‘no one can do what he does’ and his love scenes so muted, it gives you the wrong expectations about sex. Sex that can be awkward and messy doesn’t exist in Nick Sparks books; as if perfect, mind-blowing lovemaking is made possible due to a love that great. What bullshit.
So I won’t apologize if my weekends are filled with romance novels. What I read doesn’t define me as person. Do not peg me as some diddly-eyed romantic just because bulk of what I consume in fiction are happy endings. I do not see the world in rose-colored lenses– George R.R. Martin disabused me of that notion years ago. I do not want to come off as indignant because I am not mad if we aren’t on the same page. I just won’t apologize for my preference. But only for the times that I thought that I won’t learn anything new from it or that Romance as a genre is any less promising than any other branch of fiction. In all honesty, only fiction can render such a wide range of emotion from me more than reality does. So much so that my prerequisite for rating a book 5 stars is only when it moved me. Making me cry is easy. But moving me to actually do something or influence a decision must be something worth sharing to friends. Like the world is forever changed when you read the story and you cannot live in it when the people around you do not know of your discovery.
Ask me what I did over the weekend and I might just give you titles I’ve finished. Or you can also ask me what the difference is between a viscount and a marquess; how a cavalry and infantry aren’t the same thing; compare between a battle and a war. Either way, there isn’t enough discouragement in the world to stop me from reading romances. Except of course–walang forever, pakshet.