On Romance and Reading

On Romance and Reading - The Willoughby Book Club

In the blink of an eye, it’s the season of love once again. Whether you choose to celebrate your love of a partner, your family, friends, and/or the cat, there is no denying that most of us just love to love!


At Willoughby, our unconditional, life-long love will always be books and the stories contained within them. Our interests and reading preferences are as varied as we are. While one of us might opt for a crime thriller, another would plump for a cosy fantasy. Some of us love to curl up with a classic when others would flinch at the very thought.


I’ve always been intrigued by the romance genre. Arguably, never has a genre seen such criticisms and snobbery surrounding its existence and popularity. Perhaps it’s this very attitude that has infiltrated the reading world and prevented sceptics from enjoying it.


Routinely dismissed as chick-lit, or cliched sun-lounger fodder, this contentious genre has seen a massive resurgence in recent years, due primarily to a new generation of readers on social media. TikTok as a platform, is shaking the publishing industry up. The impact of the coronavirus, also, on our collective reading habits has been profound. Romance has been the perfect form of escapism for readers, providing warmth and comfort in an intense period of uncertainty and fear. Books that were apparently lost have been re-discovered and are making their way around, boosting author profiles and confounding sales predictions within the sector.


Take an author such as Colleen Hoover, a writer of astronomic success, whose previously self-published romance and thrillers have been reprinted and reintroduced to an enthusiastic and dedicated audience. Her 2016 romantic thriller, It Ends With Us, is currently being adapted for cinema audiences and will undoubtedly cause a frenzy at the box office.


With sales of romance books being at their highest since 2012, there are conversations to be had about who gets to say what makes a good book. The idea of commercial fiction being at odds with the literary elite isn’t a new idea. Everything popular in culture is subject to the criticisms of those who seek to protect literary life as some rare, diamond-encrusted relic, that cannot be exposed to the masses. As with other examples of genre fiction, it is predominantly the use of tried and tested tropes which make a book a romance. But at a time when even ‘literary’ writers are trying their hand at romance, the sheer scope and potential for the genre is exciting. It seems like no coincidence that the primary readership of romance is women (alongside the fact that most romance authors are women) might indicate where some of the bias against it derives from. We are hoping that going forward, the genre expands even further, introducing new readers to a world where love and romance thrive.


Everyone should have access to reading in any capacity. Reading and book ownership doesn’t need to be elite or competitive. Like other genres, romance is a broad church of authors, ideas, and tropes. The recurring themes are soothing and offer readers surety and a guaranteed happy ending, in contrast with the harsh edges of our daily lives.


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