[Note: this post discusses only binary, cis-gender, heterosexual romance, as that is the genre I currently consume.]
Buckle up, friends, we are taking a ride!!
Okay so never in a million years would I have guessed or predicted that I would binge romance audiobooks, and yet here I am. I have finished 46 books in 8 weeks–omg that’s almost one a day, holy cow! And that does not count the ones I have repeated!
Every year I have a brief period when I get a little tired of intellectual non-fiction. Here in 2022 it happened about 3/4 of the way through A Republic, If You Can Keep It by Neil Gorsuch. I finished eventually, and highly recommend it–he reads it himself; you can kind of space out during the pedantic parts, and still get to know him (a little) and his jurisprudence (at least a little). I especially recommend it for my progressive friends; but that is for another post.
During these cerebral time-outs, I scroll around on my Audible account for fun books included in my membership. For whatever reason, The Fix-Up by Kendall Ryan caught my interest this time, and it all started there. “Every reader deserves a hot hero and a happy ending,” her website says. Hallelujah, I say!
Around book #4 my book club met. I debated whether I should tell my new friends what I was doing (how fascinating)–I, the fiction shunner. Then, cosmically, one of them started talking about how she skips over the sexy parts in romance novels she reads, clearing the path for me to share–openly–because I most definitely do not skip the sexy parts! That night I learned a few things: 1. All of my book club friends have enjoyed romance novels; 2. A novel cannot be shelved as romance unless the ending is indeed ‘happy’; 3. There are ‘closed door’ romances, wherein sexual activity is implied, and ‘open door’ ones, which describe it all in detail (my books’ doors swing wide open). Since then, sharing with more and more friends, I have also learned: 4. Romance may be the best-selling book genre; 5. Almost all of my women friends have read them, but we don’t talk about it (still fascinating!); 6. Almost none of my friends can name any cis-het romances written by cis-het men; and 7. None of us know any such men who have read or would read romance.
“Brain Candy.” That’s how one of my friends describes it. It’s pure entertainment, total vicarious escapism. I agree! That’s why we seek it, no? How better and farther to get away from the mundane and stressful grind of responsible, daily adult life? That’s definitely what I wanted.
It’s all so predictable and formulaic, which I love, because I can just relax and enjoy. The stories all follow roughly the same arc: Immediate attraction. Some obvious, primary barrier to togetherness (distance, prior relationship wounds, age gap, coworkers, some other made up reason). Supportive friends and family who “knew all along you two were meant for each other, duh.” By about 20-30 minutes left you’re home free, no more conflict, just happy ever after. I had never heard the word kismet before now, and it comes up everywhere in this genre. And there is an entire romance novel language–for body parts, sex acts, desire in all its forms! The best books hook you right away with witty banter, engaging premise, or just hot sex. My favorites have smart, sassy, free-spirited heroines, lots of cheeky dialogue, and fun plot twists.
These books have really refreshed my outlook on life and relationships–that was a total surprise! They remind me what it was like to be in love–that optimistic, impetuous, idealistic promise of a bright future, that whatever comes, we can face it together. It’s us against the world, baby! At book #29 I journaled notes for this post: “…stories that remind us of how we all want/long to love and be loved.” These 8 weeks of romance consumption have, remarkably, cracked the mortar of my cynical emotional turrets, and loosened some heavy armor I did not realize I had accumulated. Yahoooo!
I have shared these epiphanies with two male friends–dear brothers on the thoughtful, relational, self-reflective journey of life. They were so supportive and loving, listening as I marveled and waved my hands. Their eyes widened along with mine when we asked ourselves, what would it take for men to also be able to enjoy these fun, erotic stories that get us women so (energized), and then be able to share about it safely [insert gobsmacked emoji here]?
Because here is what I think makes these novels so important, and why we should all consume them (I highly recommend listening, especially if they are read by Shane East):
Contemporary romance novels celebrate and validate, unequivocally and unapologetically, two things that our culture and society insidiously shame us for:
Women’s libido and erotic sexual desires
Men’s intrinsic need for deep emotional connection
They do this by writing from both partners’ perspectives, describing their honest emotions, inner conflicts, self-delusions, and fears. But since these books are mostly written by women and consumed by women (as far as I know–to my cis-het male readers–do you read [write!?] romance?), I wonder if the male characters I read resonate with men who read them? Hence my query for romance novels written and/or consumed by men…
And they exist, hooooraaaaaaayy!
Turns out, authors Leigh Greenwood, Jessica Blair, Emma Darcy and others are men writing under female pen names (huh–more to unpack there, eh?). Now I have to get my hands on their books–will I relate to their female characters? Many have also pointed me to Nicholas Sparks, so he’s on my list, too. And guys, there’s even an article that lists 7 romance novels to gently set you and your gender on the romance path! “The best thing about romance is that love is for everyone!” it proclaims, and I wholeheartedly agree! What will it take for you to dip (or dive) in? What’s the best thing that could happen?
So there you have it, my unexpected, uncharacteristic (or not?), utterly awesome and ongoing journey into romance audio novels. I’ve never consumed this many books in one year in my life, by a long shot, and I could not possibly be happier about it. Not sure when I’ll get back to the other stuff… (she smirks)