Reading Romance: Perception versus Reality

It’s another week, which undoubtedly means another mainstream news outlet using questionable and insulting language to talk about romance books. Why break with tradition, right?

However, as someone who’s been reading romance for quite some time (a little more than a decade if we want to talk numbers), I’m happy to help put some common misconceptions of the reading experience to rest. Prepare to have the curtain ripped away and your mind blown.

 

Perception – In the bedroom

Half-hidden under my silken sheets, I read with one hand. It’s hard to contain myself as I read about voluptuous bosoms and smooth, waxed skin – sometimes in the same scene or on the same person. Every so often, I have to fan myself. My room seems oddly warm tonight. With anticipation, I run my finger along the page. At a hastening pace, I flip the pages faster and faster, and overcome by my book feels, I toss the paperback across the room as I channel Sally Albright.

Reality – In the bedroom

I’m reading in bed. I’m not under any blankets because I live in Boston and it’s the summer. My skin is flushed because central A/C is a foreign concept. Every so often, I change positions. Not sexy positions; positions that give the backs of my knees a break from sweating. My breath quickens. I lapse into a coughing fit as I’ve been too engrossed in my book, and I choke on my own saliva. I’m a class act.

 

Perception – In the bath

Warm water and frothy bubbles fill up my bathtub. I light a few candles because I need a little me time with my book. My hair is delicately piled a top my head, lest I get overheated between the steamy water and the equally steamy content of my book. The shirtless man on the cover is the perfect object of my bath time daydreaming.

Reality – In the bath

I shove another washcloth over the drain. Nope, the tub still isn’t holding water, which is probably for the best given that our bath is nothing more than a ceramic petri dish. Looks like it’s another shower for me, as I play “Beat the Clock” before the hot water runs out or the pressure reduces to a trickle.

 

Perception – In public

It’s rush hour traffic on the subway and I’m sandwiched between a pair of young professionals, their subtle cologne and leather loafers are almost as tempting as their MBAs, though I can’t take my eyes away from my book, imagining the men beside me as the heroes and me as the very enthusiastic heroine. A thrill runs through me, curious if anyone else notices the fact that I’m reading pornography on the train. I feel so scandalous!

Reality – In public

The heat mixed with the cloying smell of someone’s body odor is making me lightheaded. By some stroke of luck, I manage to nab a seat, though I’m now scrunched up like an accordion between a blatant man-spreader and a chattering tourist family of five. I read on my phone because that’s the least invasive way to do so and I’m desperate for anything to make me forget about the current unstoppable assault on my senses. I try not to stare at the mystery liquid slowly winding its way across the subway car’s floor.

 

I’m truly sorry to have to ruin your fantasy of romance readers. But ultimately, we read romance the same reason why other people read literary fiction, or YA fantasy, or memoirs, or literally any other genre you can name. We read to be entertained, to have fun, to enjoy the beauty of language and universal themes like love and growth. It’s not a way to get our rocks off or to achieve some sort of sexual gratification, and to assume that’s why we’re interested is both insulting to readers, authors, and everyone in between who loves a good happy ending.

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