The Novels We Need Right Now

Why romance novels are the perfect stories for our times.

I expected a lot of things to change after the last election, but one thing I didn’t expect to change was my reading habit. I had been a mystery and science fiction reader my whole adult life, and I thought I’d continue to escape into the genres I loved.

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Instead, I found myself picking through my TBR pile, unhappy with the books I’d chosen. Even the “big idea” science fiction books seemed outdated, out of touch, and not what my heart needed.

So I switched to reading romance novels. It’s been almost two years and I haven’t looked back. My favorite romances are the light ones, filled with laughter and fun. When I open my kindle, this is what greets me.

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At first, I assumed I was simply seeking comfort reads. When the real world is full of bad news and it seems to be getting worse by the day, who wouldn’t want a guaranteed happy ever after? Romance novels offer stories of humans changing for the better, becoming their best selves for the sake of another person. Love always wins.

The other day, I tiptoed back to my old pile of books in genres I stopped reading, and I thumbed through a few of them, wondering if it was time to give them another chance.

It wasn’t.

It soooo wasn’t. But not for the reason I assumed. It had nothing to do with the dystopian settings or dire predictions of the future or crimes and evil in everyday life. It had to do with violence. Specifically, violence against women and minorities and queer folks. Over and over, if there was violence in the book, a marginalized person would be the victim of it.

I realize that this is true to life. It’s so realistic that it’s not shocking to most of us. But it took me over a year—a year of reading something else—to realize how lovingly that violence is portrayed on the page, especially when it’s violence against women.

I always assumed I’d go back to my old reading habits someday. Later. When I could handle it. But now I’m realizing I may never be able to handle it. And why should I have to?

Am I saying that that books with violence against women and minorities shouldn’t exist? Absolutely not. I’ve read those books. I’ve written those books. I’m saying that right now, my money won’t be spent on those books. I’m reading for fun, and therefore, I’m reading other things.

Today, I want to read books where good things happen to women. Lots and lots of good things. Modern romance heroines don’t just find love. If they’re having career troubles, those get fixed too. Family issues? Done. Problems with friends? Solved.

It’s powerful. We have an entire genre where a woman’s concerns are front and center. Where her voice matters. Where what she wants is the important thing, and her happiness is literally the only way the book can end.

This is not news to women who have been reading romance novels for years, but it’s new to me. Until now, I thought romance novels were about women’s desires and women’s pleasure. Now I know they are about women’s triumph.

Those are the novels I need in my life.

About the author: Alex Kourvo writes science fiction short stories and novels. Today, her TBR pile is overflowing with love stories.

2 responses

  1. Two years ago I stopped reading novels written by white men. I did it for two reasons: 1, my TBR list was so long, and white men have so much shelf space in the world already, that I decided to limit my shelf space to women and people of color. 2, there’s just a lot less gratuitous violence in novels written by women.

    A friend of mine just lent me The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss, and I read it in a week. It’s really a marvelous book. But it was startling to me, after my self-imposed exile from books by white men, just how MALE-FOCUSED the entire book it. The assumption of a patriarchal society in a fantasy novel… why? It just seems kind of lazy to me.

    The flip side of this was reading the RUINED series by Amy Tintera. I was halfway through before I realized what was missing from the book: Misogyny and Racism and Homophobia. Her male and female characters are free to be warriors or scholars or lovers or heroes or villains, without regard to race or gender. It disturbs me that I was shocked by this.

    And yes, I’ve found myself picking up a lot of romance novels again.

    1. Oh I love this! I had a similar experience when I read LOTUS BLUE by Cat Sparks. It was a post-apocalypse story, with people wandering the wasteland, and yet…. and yet…. there was no sexual violence or even the threat of it! And sadly, I kept holding my breath, waiting for it to happen. That’s how warped our western sense of story is.

      I just can’t live in that world anymore, and I’m glad to know I’m not the only one.

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