This is a guest post from Carolina Ciucci. Carolina is a book-hoarding, coffee-drinking, wine-loving professional bustler. Lit student, English/Spanish teacher, European Lit TA, @PixelProjectvolunteer. She never saw a project she didn’t like. Follow her on Twitter @wutheringreads.
“Wait, you mean you actually read this?” I get this question every once in a while, when I happen to mention that I’m reading a romance novel. So far, nobody has added the word “trash” before the question mark, but the condescending tones and the raised eyebrows make sure that I hear it anyway, loud and clear.
Every time somebody dismisses romance novels to me – or, worse, assumes that as a Serious Student of Serious Literature I do too – a fluffy little angel loses its wings. Here’s the deal: I love romance novels. It’s largely a genuine appreciation of it as a genre, and it’s partly gratitude for one simple fact: romance novels helped carry me through depression.
I was diagnosed with clinical depression at 19, shortly after starting university. Given that I could barely pull myself out of bed at the time, let alone care about Russian formalism or how to read between the lines, I dropped out in my second semester. I was privileged enough to have a wonderful, loving family that didn’t hesitate to continue to support me, both emotionally and financially, while I was doing quite literally nothing. A few years, a lot of antidepressants, and hundreds of hours of therapy later, I’m finishing my degree and work two jobs that I love.
But what does that have to do with romance, you ask? Well, you see, the only classics or literary fiction I could deal with at the time were those with happy endings. Now, this is shocking information, I know, but most classics are not prone to ending happily. I’m all for Dostoyevsky and Plath, but I think we can all agree that they’re not what one would call comfort reading. So, instead, I turned to romance novels.
Romance novels were hopeful. Romance novels were about women who wanted a lot of things and made no excuses for going after them. They told me that there is real love and friendship in the world, sweetness that could be found if only I looked close enough. They told me that if I hung in there, if I kept fighting and didn’t give up, I, too, might end up with a life I loved. It told me that maybe, in time, I could even grow to like myself.
Every time I finished a novel, I felt energized. If the heroine could beat murderers, scheming co-workers or wrathful Celtic gods, then I could damn well face my own misbehaving neurons. If she could own up to her mistakes, launch a successful career or pull through PTSD, then I could go back to school, even if one or two courses per semester were all I could handle at the time. I was inspired by romance novels every bit as much as I’d once been by A Christmas Carol or Little Women.
In truth, I have enjoyed romance as a genre ever since I was a kid (and maybe younger than I should’ve been). But what I felt for them during those years was more than simple enjoyment – they gave me faith that I could carry on and, if not completely beat my depression, sneaky chronic bastard that it is, I could at least learn to live with it. Build a satisfying life, maybe even find my own happily ever after. Because here’s another thing romance novels did – they let me know that happily ever after doesn’t mean hardship-free. It doesn’t mean not facing pain, or death, or loneliness. Happily ever after means accepting yourself and your circumstances, and making the best of them.
While I typically answer the aforementioned question with a simple ‘yes’ (and perhaps a death look for good measure), this is what I really mean by that one word answer: Yes, I actually read this. Yes, I enjoy it. No, I don’t consider it a guilty pleasure. And I can tell you that a) I’m not even a little bit embarrassed, and b) I’m better off for it.