Romance has a bad rep…
By Bessie Sullivan, County Librarian
Genre fiction is tricky. Just because you like murder mysteries, does that mean you will like them all? If genre fiction is produced by a literary author, does it fall into the genre?
Clearly Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam series is science fiction, but even she won’t admit to that. Who doesn’t view books by Jane Austen as literature classics? However, they are also the best romance novels I have ever read.
I attended a workshop in the fall that completely concentrated on the romance novel, probably the most mocked kind of book there is. The presenters made some strong points about why this might be. From the feminist perspective often things favoured by women are criticized.
Initially, the romance novel was mass produced for a lower socio-economic bracket. That’s two strikes against the romance novel; it is liked by women and the poor. I am certainly not arguing that all romance novels are created equally, they are not.
But in the library world there is no such thing as a bad book. Books are either to our taste or they are not. We want people to read, we don’t care what.
Our job is to figure out what people like and why and guide them in that direction. Our job is definitely not to dictate what people read or put any conditions on what they should like.
Reader’s Digest compiled a list of their choice for the top 10 romance novels of all time.
Although there are some romance genre superstars like Nora Roberts and Nicholas Sparks on the list, there are also authors that are not usually thought of as “romance writers.” The list is as follows:
The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough (1977)
Wuthering Heights by Charlotte Bronte (1847)
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje (1992)
True Believers by Nicholas Sparks (2005)
The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles (1969)
Chesapeake Blue by Nora Roberts (2002)
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (1989)
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877)
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (1991)
Follow the Stars Home by Luanne Rice (2000)
One must take all top 10 lists with a grain of salt; this is just one organization’s opinion and the validity of it depends on how much stock you put in Reader’s Digest.
For me, omitting Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is a huge oversight, but barring that, this list represents what I am talking about. It spans centuries, many countries of origin, classic literature, and what we would consider contemporary romance novels.
I have read almost every book on this list and really the only thing that ties them together is the thread of a romantic relationship as a main plot line.
There are many misconceptions about the genre of romance. However, based on this list alone the genre clearly offers readers a wide variety of choices hopefully resulting in something there for everyone.