My trysts with Romance

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They say, 'If you want romance, read a book!'. But we're all romantics at heart, aren't we?  

There's nothing like starting a post with a little confession.

 

So, yes! That title was clickbait. Well, maybe not. Read on and find out.

 

If memory serves me correctly, I read my first ever 'romance' novel during my pre-teenage years. I stashed them away like a squirrel hiding its prized nuts; burying them under clothes, under the bed, in the guest room cupboards that no-one ever used and many such places. And when I did read them, I hid the covers behind make-shift book jackets, made of newspapers or magazine sheets, or splayed my hands shrewdly across them, just so no one would know what I was reading. To this day, I'm not quite sure why I felt ashamed, embarrassed of the need to hide them. But I did. And looking back, I think it was because I did not know how to react to a lot of the content in these novels. Raging hormones, shyness and a perpetual fear of talking to anyone from the opposite sex, who happened to be in my age group - all of these had already helped reduce me to a bumbling idiot. And I really did not want to give the bullies in my class (and school) more ammunition to tease me.

 

To cut a long story short, eventually I grew out of the romance novels - both hiding them and reading them, in general. I think it had a lot to do with the fact that most of the romantic novels that I'd read, had un-realistic tags and expectations about love - live together die together; entire opposites being attracted; the always Happily Ever Afters. I also disliked a lot of them because most of them were 'almost fairytale-esque'; something that hardly happens in real life. Of course, I now realise that 'this whimsical castles-in-the-air, everybody is happy' ending is what makes us pick them up in the first place; perhaps for the bit of positivity in our lives and to help keep that optimism and hope alive.

 

However, the bitter, or rather huge truth, is that Romance sells. According to a 2012 survey, Romance is still fiction’s biggest selling category - accounting for nearly $1.5billion in sales - more than Mystery and Science Fiction combined. Of course, the survey is now 4 years old, but based on the kind of books that are perpetually on best-seller lists, I doubt it's any different now. Of course, the stories haven't been without their positives. There has been a definite shift in the kind of female-oriented character portrayed in romance novels these days. They have evolved from the ‘heroine being captured against her will’ to female protagonists who are strong, smart, savvy and know what they want. And some of the male protagonists, though they still largely fit the ‘proverbial and stereotypical - tall, dark and broodingly handsome category’, they’re evolving too; from the ‘bodice-ripping supposed alpha-male to the (almost) mature, beta males - in other words, the boy or dad next door.

 

Now, in case you're still wondering what's going on with me - no, it's not Valentines Day. Nor was this meant to be a post for Valentines Day, that fortunately ran by a couple of months ago. It's just that I've been thinking a lot about this topic for the past few months, and thought it would be interesting to do a small interactive sort of feature. Plus, I have a couple of unfinished manuscripts in the pipeline, and who knows, I may well write a romantic novel one day.

 

So, I write this post with the purpose of trying to 'brainstorm' with my readers and get some answers to a few questions. Of course, I could just as easily Google it, but hey, why do secondary research, when I can get some answers from people who 'may' buy a book I write.  And no, I do not concur with the stereotypical notion that these are mostly read by 'single young women', 'middle-aged women in not-so-happy-relationships' and spinsters who 'have-loved-and-lost'. So here goes:

 

  • Do you read books or novels in the 'romance' genre? Whether your answer is an aye or nay, could you tell me why?

  • Why do you think the romantic novels are so popular?

  • I've seen and heard people squirm when they hear that a particular book is in the 'romance' category. Are you one of them? If so, why? Or care to venture a reason?

  • A RWA (Romance Writers of America) survey from back in 2014, says that men only contribute to 16% of readership when it comes to romance novels. Why do you think that is? I do read them - but yes, I have my reservations. For one, I find that a lot of them have the similar run-of-the-mill storylines; now, that I may be able to live with - but the handling of the subject and the narration often leaves me cold, instead of warm and fuzzy. Of course, a much older survey also states that men read far fewer fiction books in general - so maybe that has something to do with it too. I'm not sure. What do you think?

 

I know this post will probably bring out mixed responses from some of my regular readers; more so because I know they do not fancy the 'romantic' genre at all. But play along with me - everyone will get their turn. And this post will only be as good as the interaction it receives from you, my readers.

 

For now, I'd like you to think about your I hear a few sighs and oohs, but I also sense a few excited heart-beats (yes, admit it. If not to me, at least to yourself. We've all liked at least one book where romance played a key role). Fine, I'll go first :)

 

When you say the phrase 'romantic book', probably one book that has literally stood the test of time in this category has to be Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. And I need not say more about Mr. Darcy's and Ms. Bennet's  'literary pas de deux' that makes for quite a page-turner.

 

But no, that isn't my favourite 'book of romance'; for the purposes of this challenge, I'm going to with 'Chocolat' by Joanne Harris. Set in a quaint French town, Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, to me, it talks about the power of the ‘sinful’ chocolate like no other book has. Though some bibliophiles may disagree and state that this book doesn’t quite sit under the category of romance - I say otherwise. For in Chocolat, it is love, which ultimately holds the key to salvation. While some fear love (and the pleasure, that is equated to sin), the other embraces it and encourages its free expression. Of course, the loving and caring description of the each, spectacular chocolate creation helps too. And if you really want a person-loves-person situation for it to be considered as romance, there is always the brief affair between Vianne and Roux. For the rest of us chocoholics, there’s plenty of chocolate to go around. And to me, that’s romantic.

 

So, what’s yours?

 

[PS. I'd love it if you could take a few minutes to answer those questions. Think of it as a virtual group discussion. Oh, and share it if you can? Maybe some of your 'followers' and friends might have an opinion too]