I’ve enjoyed revisiting past 5-star reads this year. I started sifting through my reviews posted on the blog and re-posting the rave reviews in order of when they were originally posted, the first being from October 2015. A couple of weeks ago I was going to do another flashback. I have gotten to February 2017 with my 5-star flashbacks, but after reading my review, and following the link to another old post that I had included in that review, I realized I couldn’t post it without getting into a few things here. So this is going to be a Friday Favorites post about how much I love the romance genre and how I wasn’t always so vocal about that fact.
In hindsight, at the ripe old age of 48, I realize I have always been a fan of romance. My theory is that because of the derision the genre receives it never occurred to me that I was already a romance reader at a young age. Most of my immediate family and extended family on my mom’s side are voracious readers. Most of the novels that that part of my family read were sci-fi and westerns. Those stories were never my cup of tea, but there were always other books around. It’s just that those genres were the majority and I don’t recall there being much romance in the available books that fell outside those genres. My grandpa also always had comic books around. All kinds of comic books, from superheroes to Casper to Richie Rich. There was always reading material around my grandparent’s house and at my house. I don’t recall anyone being into reading romance. Unlike a lot of avid romance readers, I cannot remember what my first romance novel was, in the traditional sense. I don’t have memories of reading my mom’s or grandma’s copy of some age-inappropriate book because they didn’t read romance. Or, if they did, I never saw those books laying around. But there were so many indicators of what my true reading passion was.
I believe the first chapter books I read were the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. (I am well aware of the problematic nature of these books and their history now that I’m an adult. In the 1970s this was not on my radar.) My favorite book in that series was, by far, These Happy Golden Years. The story of Almanzo Wilder courting Laura Ingalls. Those comic books I mentioned? My favorite was always the Archie comics, especially if they dealt with Archie and Betty. Hmmm. Like I said, I see a lot more in hindsight.
The first author I proclaimed to be my “favorite” (who is still a favorite) was Stephen King. Of course I realize King is not a romance writer. But if you’ve ever read his stories you know they are steeped in spirituality and love, familial and romantic. Those are the aspect of his stories I like the most. While I was getting into Stephen King, I would binge any Sweet Valley High book I could get my hands on without actually owning one myself. I had a close friend that read them all the time and I would read them after she was done, always a bit on the down-low as if it was shameful. I was introduced to Dean Koontz when I was in my late teens/early 20s. His stories, while not (IMO) as deep and engaging as King’s stories, almost always had a romance brewing. I loved that! Yet I still didn’t realize that I needed romance books in my life.
I honestly don’t know how I came about having this book, but I had owned and read a Janette Oke book in the late 90s or early 2000s. I quickly went through all of her books available at my library. I am not a religious person and didn’t like many aspects of these stories such as “saving” the native population, but I couldn’t get enough of the romance. Yet again, I didn’t realize this was what I was reading. To me, these were historical fiction books. My thoughts were that I adored historical books, and readily admit now that I would have never picked up a romance with a clinch cover back then. I was so naïve! There is a stigma to historical romance so I definitely didn’t feel as though that was what I was reading. There was a copy of The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon on display at my library and it sounded interesting so I went in search of book one, Outlander. Just as with the Janette Oke books, I ended up reading all of the series at that point. While I wouldn’t categorize these books as strictly romance now, they are heavy on romance and the relationship between the FMC and MMC kept me coming back for more. I continued to borrow historical romance from the library, but it was never Golden Age, Regency, or Victorian. The majority of what I was reading was American Western Expansion. I adored mail-order brides and women making their way west on their own. The Mexican vineyard owners in California before California was part of the United States. The early ranchers and cowboys of the wild west. Again, thinking these weren’t classified as historical romance but just historical fiction. After all, the books I was checking out of the library were in the general fiction area, not on the paperback spinning racks where the bodice rippers were on display.
Boy, I was blind. I was swayed by growing up being told the romance genre was less than and poorly written. I’m ashamed to admit that didn’t change much until I got my first e-reader. Partly because of the covers, partly because I got a lot of free e-books that were contemporary romance. I slowly started reading more and more contemporary romance. Without realizing it, once I started reading mostly romance, I still had a lot of defenses up when discussing the stories. That’s what brought on this post today. Looking back at a post from 2014 in which I try to explain how I’m not a reading snob, but then proceed to denigrate romance while simultaneously lauding a particular romance series, really made me realize how far I have come in my acceptance and pride in my choice of reading over the last 10 years.
I’ll admit, I still have my moments. I almost never recommend a romance book for my book club. I’ve chosen Outlander and Throne of Glass and other books such as those throughout the years, but nothing that would be a blatant romance. My sister recently told me I should pick what I want to pick when it’s my turn since they all pick things I’m not necessarily into. I read all genres, but the last few years my reading is majority romance. I want that guaranteed HEA. I know our country is going to hell in a handbasket so I don’t want to read books that rehash the terrible things happening with non-fiction. I can still get those stories in my fictional romance but know it’ll all end well. Not everyone feels that way, and that’s okay. I just have to be better at being okay with having a differing reading appetite than the others in my book club.
I love that there are multiple sub-genres for romance. If I want action or adventure, I can have that. If I want sci-fi or paranormal, I can have that, too. There are sports romance, military romances, small towns and big cities, mysteries and everyday life. I can read whatever I’m in the mood to read, but also be guaranteed an HEA. And these days, an HEA doesn’t have to mean marriage and a baby. But it does mean the main couple (or throuple, or more!) end up happily in a relationship with each other. I can read about physically strong women, mentally strong women, or women who are both. I can read about people sticking to their morals and demanding respect from those around them. These stories can take place present day, in the past, or in the future. I can get lost in the fantasy of an alpha male and swoon over his domineering ways when in reality I’d probably be annoyed by such posturing. Yet, when I’m reading, I can enjoy so many different things that may not work out for me in real life. That’s what makes reading so much fun. It’s always an adventure. I love reading about an alpha-male finding his soft center for “the one”. I love reading about people who had hard lives finding joy and safety and enjoyment in life and love, in the bedroom and out. I can read about love that doesn’t take the reader into the bedroom and read about love that gives the reader intimate details of what body part goes where, depending on my mood.
Reading romance, and learning to read romance proudly, has made me more aware of my own wants and needs. There are plenty of people in this world that don’t think that’s a good thing. In fact, they go so far as to say romance gives unrealistic expectations. I beg to differ. It can never be a bad thing to give people the tools to find their confidence and speak up for themselves in any aspect of life. In no way has my husband ever felt my expectations of him have been unrealistic. Not for any reason, let alone from reading romance and learning new things about myself.
As I said when I began this post, my next Flashback Friday 5-star read is what brought this all on. So this Friday I’m doing this Friday Favorites post, and doing a second post for that flashback. You can find that particular flashback here.
I’m constantly growing and learning as a reader and as a human being. I’m sure I’ll still make some missteps in the language I use, among other things. I’m always open to constructive criticism and hearing other points of view, but I’ll never go back to being ashamed of loving the books I love and sharing that love with those who care to listen.