It wouldn’t be a day ending in Y without another hot take on the Romance genre from the literary snobs and lofty intellectuals, would it? I typically ignore the occasional blow-ups that cross my Twitter feed when someone inevitably says something condescending about the genre, because, to be frank, I don’t give a single shit what anyone thinks of my reading choices, and giving articles like THIS the time of day is precious time I’ve lost reading a book. But, alas, I confess I succumbed to the click-baity tweet, and now I’m mad at myself for it because it condescends but then gives the interviewees the chance to grudgingly admit there are some things they don’t find terribly, embarrassingly awful about the genre.
Full confession: I haven’t read the Bridgerton Family series, so I can’t speak to the quality of the writing or any elements that might be deemed problematic the books contain. I think we can all agree, however, that in any genre a book can be “[…]well written, or badly written. That is all,” (thank you, as always, Oscar Wilde) and that there can be content centered as romantic which is, in fact, deeply problematic for some readers. And that yes, the beauty of a book’s cover is in the eye of the beholder. And that what one considers a good or bad book is purely subjective. I can state unequivocally I’ve loved books other readers have hated, and I know, without a single doubt, I’ve hated books other readers have loved. But that’s the individuality of the reading experience, and the singularity of views and wisdom and life experiences and biases each reader brings to the story. There is, quite literally, a romance novel for every reader, and a reader for every romance novel. That’s why, among other factors, it’s a multi-billion dollar collective franchise. The genre is hopeful, it’s escapist, and reading itself, regardless of genre, triggers the brain to release specific chemicals.
…during the rising action people release cortisol (the fight-or-flight hormone), at the climax people release oxytocin (the love hormone) if they feel empathy with the main character, and if there’s a happy ending people release dopamine (the feel-good hormone). ~ Great Stories Release Brain Chemicals
That should be the real story, but never seems to make the circuit when discussing the Romance genre in particular. Reading isn’t altogether mindless, and an entire genre shouldn’t be dismissed wholesale as being without value simply because we go into it knowing how it will end, or for finding joy in the promise of happily-ever-after, or for believing kindness, compassion, empathy, and love is both a journey and a destination worthy of our time. Reading what we love is a comfort, and loving what we read is an alchemy we are able to chase with every book we devour, so who cares what genre allows us to achieve that magic as long as the book delivers it?
When all is said and done, I lay a good bit of blame on the term “guilty pleasure” and whomever coined it, because it’s become an apology for loving what we consume. Abolish it from your vocabulary. It does a disservice to this genre more than any other, and we don’t need to excuse or apologize for our love of a book. Sure the story may be tropey, it may be predictable, it may be shmoopy as fuck, and you may have to suspend some belief in the end, but who cares? That book has just become yours in a way it won’t belong to anyone else, so embrace all those feels and move on to your next beloved read. Your brain will love you for it.