The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker {review}
Most Memorable Books of 2018

How I Became A Romance Reader

How I Became A Romance Reader

I've always been drawn to love stories but romance novels occupied a complicated corner of my reading history until about two and a half years ago.

Before we go any further, let's make sure we're on the same page. Pun intended. A romance novel is focused on individuals falling in love and it must have a happy ending. A novel can have a love story but if the plot is not primarily concerned about the love story or if it does not have a Happily Ever After (HEA) or Happy For Now (HFN), then it's not a romance. Nicholas Sparks and Me Before You? No happy endings and therefore not romance. My own novel has a love story but it's not the central relationship—that honor goes to Olivia and her grandmother. Therefore, mine isn't a romance either.

Now back to my origin story...

Freshman year of high school, my friend Jane and I were talking about books before math class started and she promised to lend me a couple of her favorite romance novels. I hid them under my dresser and only read with my door closed. One book in particular proved to be very educational. I still remember a scene that took place in a truck during a storm and another one involving the dryer. I wish I could remember the title! (I submitted it to HaBo but so far no one has solved this mystery. I would love to know what it is!)

I don't know if Jane got in trouble for lending her mom's books or if I was hampered by conservative evangelical youth group/parental guilt but the book borrowing only lasted a few months. From there, I primarily read Christian romance. I was all about Robin Jones Gunn's Glenbrooke series (Amazon | Barnes & Noble) and anything else in Multnomah's Palisades line. Beyond that, I'd read anything with a love story but I didn't read any general market romance novels, no matter how much they appealed to me. See: aforementioned youth group guilt.

Around my mid-20s I read my first Nora Roberts book Midnight Bayou (Amazon | Barnes & Noble), thanks to one of those mail-order book catalogs. By that point, I'd read plenty of novels with sex scenes but Nora was my entry point back into the land of romance novels. I didn't read a ton by her but it was nice to have the option in my back pocket. Who wouldn't inhale the Bride Quartet (Amazon | Barnes & Noble) or the Inn BoonsBoro trilogy (Amazon | Barnes & Noble)?

While Gabaldon doesn't categorize them as romance, I also read the Outlander series (Amazon | Barnes & Noble) around this time and holy hell Jamie Fraser. 

Then I came across a description of Susan Elizabeth Phillips' Match Me If You Can (Amazon | Barnes & Noble) in that same book catalog that introduced me to Nora Roberts. It was perfectly up my alley (a matchmaker and a sports agent!) and I dutifully added it to my lengthy To Read list.

I hadn't realized it was a romance novel from the description but Match Me If You Can was fun, just what I didn't realize I'd been looking for. (Let the record reflect these books are super problematic and definitely don't age well but I'm grateful for the role MMIYC played in getting me to become a romance reader.) Every so often, I'd read something from SEP's backlist and this, along with the occasional Nora Roberts, took me through the next several years. 

Two and a half years ago, I started to wonder what other contemporary romance was out there. I figured I had to be missing out and I had no idea how right I was about that. I decided I was long overdue for a deep dive in the romance genre and a new readerly obsession was born. In many ways, reading romance has saved my life, as well as taught me so much. 

It took some time to figure out how to find the right recommendations. I first asked people in a Facebook group; none of those initial recommendations were what I was looking for but it was a start. I had just started listening to Smart Podcast Trashy Books thanks to a friend and the recommendations on the podcast and the Smart Bitches Trashy Books website were crucial in those early days. From there, I looked at Goodreads reviewers for contemporaries that I enjoyed, like Lana at Dirty Girl Romance, Alex at Alleskelle, Astrid at The Bookish Sweet Tooth, Gretchen at About That Story, Bex at Totally Bex, and Sarah at Musings of the Modern Belle, and looked to see what else they were reading. 

I also started following romance authors like Alisha Rai on Twitter and that opened up my world even further—and introduced me to some of my favorite books and authors. Romancelandia has become one of my favorite things on Twitter, although it's not without its faults. I owe so much to reviewers like Ana Coqui who started #RomBkLove (this will explode your TBR sorry not sorry), The Book Queen, Sil, Dahlia Adler, Kini, Corey Alexander, and many, many more.

This past year Heaving Bosoms Podcast and The Wicked Wallflowers Club Podcast came into my life and that's led to many more great books. The joy never ends!

This has by no means been a perfect process. Much of what I read those first several months was largely by and about straight white people. Once I realized this, I was intentional about finding more POC authors and reviewers, as well as LGBTQ+ authors and reviewers. (Now there are databases like WOC In Romance, LGBTQ Reads, and POC Queer Romance Authors that make it even easier.) My next focus is to find more books about characters who have disabilities, especially #ownvoices. To that end, I'm grateful for Sense & Disability, which hasn't been updated in a while but the archives are worthwhile.

Romance readers are always willing to trade recommendations and I've never met a more passionate group of readers. I owe this community so much!

These days romance is the genre I read the most and I love it. In fact, you can't shut me about it and I only wish I hadn't been shamed out of reading romance when I was a teenager. I have so much catching up to do!

Becoming a dedicated romance reader has opened up a whole new world and I have truly learned so much about myself, the genre, and the romance community. It's given me hope during a difficult season and I'll be forever grateful for its impact on my life.

 

Disclosure: affiliate links are included in this post.

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