It’s Only Love

ObsessionNora Roberts has had 191 New York Times bestsellers (and counting) among her 214+ published titles. Her books have spent a combined total of more than 200 weeks at the number one slot on the list (nearly four years), and 58 of her books debuted at No. 1. Her April 12 release, The Obsession, had, at last count, more than 1000 five star reviews.

How many of her books have been reviewed by The New York Times book reviews?

That would be…. two. .

Some of this is because book reviews are largely men reviewing the works of men, even though most readers, authors, and publishing industry professionals are women. There’s a glass wall in publishing, albeit things are slowly changing. I don’t think the primary barrier between romance and the rest of the (publishing?) world is about gender, though. Eighteen percent of romance readers are male, and increasingly, men are represented among romance authors, too.

cowardly-lion-ozI think the issue is courage. Romance novels are about courage, and about how love gives us the courage to be the best people we can be. Not the richest, not the handsomest, not the smartest, not the most popular, but the most highly evolved–morally and spiritually–that we can be, given our circumstances.

You can have a romance novel without sex, but you can’t bring that story to a satisfying happily ever after, unless somebody has dug down deep for the courage to grow, change, and take risks. Very often, those risks involve rejecting the values society embraces–being nice, playing it safe, remaining loyal to the company, clocking that overtime, maintaining appearances.

OfficeXmemeThe need to put romance down, and ignore its enormous commercial success (half of all paperback sold are romance), is because romance sends a scary message: You, little old you, are worth fighting for. Your happiness and your wholeness matter. You are worth sticking with. You are beautiful in the ways that count. You make a difference, taking the grandkids to the park, dragging your spouse to counseling, organizing the bake sale, changing your sister’s tire. That stuff matters, a lot.

Not your IQ, your bank account, your six-pack abs, but your heart.

eve_450If you derive your sense of self-worth from inside, from being comfortable in your own skin, and living by your own ethical standards, you can’t be bought. You can’t be controlled by criticism or shaming, you can’t be intimidated into putting in a sixty-hour work week. You might work those hours, but you’re doing it for love, not wealth or a corner office.

If you derive your sense of power from money, might, or great looks, then the romance novel’s subtext should threaten you. All the money, outward beauty, and power in the world doesn’t stand indefinitely against love.

That’s what I believe, and that’s why I write romance. Why do you read romance? To one commenter, I’ll send a copy of Lady Eve’s Indiscretion, a story about a woman who tried to hide from love behind a cloak of propriety–and found herself any way.

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22 comments on “It’s Only Love

  1. When I was younger, my reading was much more diverse. A lot of best sellers and classics or really anything that caught my attention. Romance was not unknown to me. I remember CELIA GARTH by Gwen Bristow was one of my favorite teenage reads.

    But I really discovered the joy of reading romance during my late thirties when I was going through a very rough depressed period. I didn’t want to waste my time on anything that didn’t have a happy or hopeful ending. I happened upon a Kathleen Woodiwiss book and fell in love with the genre.

    I got over my depression and as I got busy with life, my reading habits became practically nil. Didn’t read much at all until I retired and renewed by love affair with the library and found myself drawn to romance again – not because I’m depressed but because I just love a love story. I still love mysteries and biographies, but I read more romance than anything else.

    • I think it’s Susan Elizabeth Phillips whose tagline is, “Because life is too short to read to read depressing books.” I once came across a book that was packaged and marketed as a romance, but the heroine died of a stroke in the end. Yes, I threw that poor book across the room, hard.

  2. My lovely grandmother used to tell me that everyone deserves at least one person in their life that thinks they are the best. Someone who loves them, cherishes them, and even spoils them. That idea resonated with me and is now one of my favorite themes in romance novels–the (sometimes tricky) process of finding that person who loves you above all else.

    Shortly before my grandma died, she sent me 2 big boxes of Barbara Cartland books and a note that said “You have so much love in your heart.” With that, she cemented my love for romance. I still have those books and the note.

    • Go, Grandma! The interesting thing to me is that in a romance, the idea isn’t that the protags are all dewey-eyed about each other for 350 pages. It’s more a matter of, when nobody else in the whole book–not friends, family, coworkers, enemies, bosses–sees you clearly, the other protagonist does. There’s no real intimacy without that knowledge, and to be truly, truly known is such a relief. From that experience, much trust and self-reflection can arise, and healing.

  3. I read Nora Roberts The MacGregors and the Dream series when my daughter was younger and had Chronic ear infections. The stories kept me going through a very long New England winter with a sick child. The heroes, heroines and their difficulties helped me escape my every day problems. I read The Obession which I think is a romantic suspense and adored it.
    Read Barbara Delinky, Debbie MacComber and Susan Wiggs’ books because I love the settings, the characters and their real life dilemmas.
    I read historicals and historical suspense because of the rules; society was structured and I love how the author has to write a story within these parameters.
    I read. I don’t care what people think of the type of books that I read. I read for my enjoyment, not theirs.

    • Plenty of studies show that reading fiction makes us sleep better, more tolerant, heal faster, have lower blood pressure… good stories are good medicine, and now there’s even such a thing as bibliotherapy. Books prescribed for your life situation… Why not? We had stories long before we had germ theory.

  4. It transports me…away. Away from my problems, away from my *ordinary* life (or makes my ordinary life more romantic!),away from my geographic region (until I recently discovered someone who is writing romance novels about my hometown and my HIGH SCHOOL was featured prominently in one of her series–she lives not too far from me–Barbara Valentin!), away from my time and transports me to another place and time. I need a *mental vacation* regularly so I can do what I need to do. If I can relate to the H or h (or…..not)but still want them to get their HEA, then mission accomplished,

    I need to have my romances well written….or I start mentally editing …..there are a few of my *go to* authors and you, Grace, are my #1 Go-To!

  5. I love romances and I will always read them. It is easy for me now because I have a Nook and a Kindle and people can’t see what I’m reading. So the bottom line is I don’t have to explain to people why like them best.

  6. My sister always put romance writing down. She thought that as soon as a couple were introduced, you knew that, in spite of all, the would be together in the end.
    My reply was, the destination was important, but the journey was everything. It’s about seeing characters grow, change attitudes, develop and become better people. Seeing how they react, not only to the situations they find themselves in, but how they react to each other. Happy endings are a satisfying bonus.
    I have every Nora Roberts book written, just as I have all the Grace Burrowes regency books! I can’t get enough of them. I’ve never been disappointed in a Grace Burrowes story so I am struggling to wait until June for the release of Jack. Keep up the great work! Love it!

  7. The misconception that if an author admits to writing romance, they do not write quality novels also contributes to the lack of reviews and respect. I know several people who read all the time who look down on romances because they “aren’t real literature”. *Deep, deep sigh*

    Why do I read romance? Because of the growth of the characters and the fact that no matter how bad life is, they endure and have their happy ending. Romances now also include pretty much ever genre out there (historical, contemporary, paranormal, suspense, mystery, sci-fi, etc) so I can find a quality romance in most genres.

    More importantly, I need that HEA – the reminder that there is a great deal of good in this world. On my own, I tend to be pretty cynical (not that the real world doesn’t give me reason at times). I was willing to settle in a relationship because I didn’t believe that it was possible to find a HEA – that there were too many things wrong in the world for there to be a chance for me to find a perfect-for-me man. Luckily I found out I was wrong about that before I married the one I was going to settle for.

  8. I read romance because as a genre it offers me themes that touch my heart—the search for an emotional/spiritual connection with another person, the joy of overcoming obstacles to happiness, the acceptance of the individual as he/she is, and the idea that there is always a “happy” ending although that definition may not be as simple as that sounds. Thanks for asking.

  9. Hi Grace,
    I read romance mostly because I am in love with love stories. I read historicals, contemporaries, romantic suspense, romantic comedy and some paranormal romances. The good romance authors of the world always weave tales that keep us spellbound and asking for more. I read romance because I believe in love and would like to think that it still trumps all in this sadly superficial world we live in. I read romance because I love a happy ending. Romance always adds a bright spot to my day. Romance makes me feel good and it makes me happy.

  10. Life is challenging, do I have enough gas to make it to work? My girlfriend is upset with me, but I don’t know why. My other girlfriend calls me but doesn’t leave her phone number. Job review coming up. A good romance novel is relaxing, like a good bath, or a massage. I can relax and know everything is going to be okay. I also learn stuff as well. Beauty and love really is in the eye of the beholder.

  11. I read romance because I find it deeply satisfying. I love the character development. I love the diversity of genres within romance that you can find these days. In a world that still often de-values the female perspective, I love that the focus is most often on the female protagonist’s experience. And yes, I love the happy endings.
    It always puzzles me when people put the romance genre down. I have read such an abundance of skillfully written stories in the romance genre that it boggles the mind.
    As an English Lit major I had my fill of what were considered “literary” novels that were often filled with unpleasant people doing unpleasant things. Don’t even get me started on plot, or lack thereof! I do not need/or want to slog through a deliberately obtuse and cynical read to reach an unsatisfying ending or no real ending at all.
    I read romance because I love a good, well-written story no matter what the genre. And finally, and maybe most importantly, I read romance because, after all, love is the common denominator of all human experience. We all want to be seen, heard, acknowledged, and loved.

  12. I read romance because I need to know that somewhere the is a HEA for some one. I need an uplifting story. In my formative years I read all the literature that was supposed to improve my life. At one point I finished a book and found myself sobbing. Why is a super sad ending able to improve your life and a story about the courage to fight through bad stuff and still make something of your life fluff? I figured that there were too many people that had been told by teachers and reviewers what literature is supposed to be and have never sat down and thought it through. I do know that anyone who looks down on people because of what they read have real problems. I say just read.