Romantic Comedies as Escapist Fantasy Novels

As someone who reads a lot of genre fiction, both in my life as a literary agent and just for the joy of it in general, friends often ask me, what sci-fi or fantasy authors should they be reading?

I spent the first few months of this year insisting everyone read my recent favorites, yelling at them to get into The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty as the final book in the trilogy was publishing this year, Mary Robinette Kowal’s Lady Astronaut series, The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern, the beautifully chonky Wanderers by Chuck Wendig, and YA novels by authors like Adam Silvera (Infinity Son), Emily A. Duncan (Wicked Saints), L.L. McKinney (A Blade So Black), Zoraida Cordova (Incendiary), and Tara Sim (Scavenge the Stars).

And then

the pandemic hit, and something happened.

I’ve always loved a good romantic comedy. They’re my go to when it comes to a comfort movie and comfort read. But in a world of date nights and hitting the town, long walks and travels full of adventure, I never really looked at them as escapism. Because all those plot points and familiar beats that I love so much, I had.

But now those date nights and adventures are slim as my family is tucked away in our home, trying to navigate work, childcare, and the oft overlooked self-care. The restaurants are closed, traveling is off the table. Nearby parks are gated up, our favorite bookstores are doing curbside pickups, coffeeshops are serving cold brew through their windows. And while I’m not searching for a meet cute anymore, the places where those tend to happen the most in fiction, are where I want to be with my wife.

When Emily Henry’s Beach Read arrived in early May, I absolutely devoured that deliciously funny and heartwarming book. In it, we meet a lit-fic writer and a romance novelist battling writer’s block while staying in nearby beach houses, and how their plans to swap their creative styles leads to hijinks and romance. And while I got quickly swept up in all the joy and banter, the setting really grabbed me.

The beach.

The ocean. Two writers wrestling with ideas with one another. I’m not sure when we’ll be able to drive to the shore, in a time when I would have loved to watch my toddler run along the wet sand, or when I’ll get to gather together with writer friends to scream about our ideas and how much we hate (but also love) writing.

I loved Talia Hibbert’s Get a Life, Chloe Brown, in which Chloe is plotting ways to…well, get a life. And part of that includes roping in her attractive, artistic neighbor for all kinds of trouble. I haven’t cracked open the next book in the series, Take a Hint Dani Brown, yet, but it’s next on my list.

This book made me think of my neighbors. I’m lucky, I have some good friends who live just a few blocks away here in Philadelphia. But misadventures (not the making out kind, mind you) with them are going to have to wait.

I was lucky enough to read an early copy of Lauren Morrill’s upcoming YA rom-com, It’s Kind of Cheesy Love Story, which takes you inside a pizza place for what is easily my most anticipated release of 2021, simply because I want to have it on my shelf. A teen born in a pizza place takes a JOB in said pizza place, and falls for the bad (delivery) boy. And just…when am I going to be gathered together with a bunch of my publishing industry friends devouring delicious dollar slices in New York City?

I’ve never wanted to burn the roof of my mouth while talking about books so badly.

And it’s this line of thinking that’s kept hitting me with every romcom I’ve picked up during all of this.

  • Well Met by Jen DeLuca makes me wonder when I’ll be at festivals and conferences again, and I read the Ren Faire romcom with such a sense of longing.
  • The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa…all my relatives and friends canceled their weddings this summer, and I keep wondering when we’ll all be in the same space again.

It’s strange to think of the sweet and hilarious romances I’ve been inhaling as fantasy novels, but it feels like that. I read my lush fantasy stories with epic world building to experience a place I know I’ll never go to, from the mind of someone far more brilliant than me.  

And now I’m leaning on my new favorite romance novelists, from rereading Jasmine Guillory’s books to anxiously awaiting Casey McQuiston’s next book in 2021, to transport me somewhere I’m hoping to be again.

I miss them. And I’m glad these books are here.