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Just Can't Help Falling In Love...With Romance Novels

A young woman divides her attentions between her amorous suitor and a good book, circa 1799. Engraving by W Finden after Stothard, RA.
A young woman divides her attentions between her amorous suitor and a good book, circa 1799. Engraving by W Finden after Stothard, RA.

The romance novel industry is worth over a billion dollars.

Surprised? You really shouldn’t be.

In 2015, 75 million Americans said they had read a romance novel in the past year. The books fly off the shelves, and readers are constantly asking writers for more stories, even as many authors turn out novels at a rate of two per year.

The industry centers around women — in readership and in authorship — and stigma and shaming of romance fans persists.

From Cailey Hall, a PhD student at UCLA, writing in the The LA Review Of Books:

I have found that almost all of the romance novels I have read achieve something that sounds mundane, but remains quite radical: they model a form of female happiness and fulfillment still lacking in most canonical works of literature. Imagining stories for women (too often, but not always, heterosexual, cis-gendered, and monogamous) that end optimistically, these novels not only depict relationships that involve negotiation and growth, but also allow female protagonists to experience a kind of personal, sexual, and professional fulfillment that does not feel like an unattainable fantasy.

The industry has evolved, but it has a diversity problem. A black author has never won the Romance Writers of America top prize, the RITA, although the industry group has acknowledged the problem and says it’s working toward becoming more inclusive.

Hear more from Brenda Jackson, author of 120 books, about getting published as a woman of color in the episode of This Is Love below.

What’s so compelling about these novels? How are today’s works of romance different than a generation ago? And if so many people love them, why is it so hard for the literary world to take them seriously?

— Mom’Baku Kennedy (@MicaKenBooks) September 7, 2018

Produced by Gabrielle Healy. Text by Gabrielle Healy.

GUESTS

Alisha Rai, Romance novelist; author, “Forbidden Hearts” series; @AlishaRai

Alexandra Alter, Publishing reporter, The New York Times; @xanalter

Sarah Wendell, Co-founder, “Smart Bitches, Trashy Books”

Leah Koch, Co-owner and founder, The Ripped Bodice – the U.S.’s sole romance novel-centric bookstore

For more, visit https://the1a.org.

© 2018 WAMU 88.5 – American University Radio.

Copyright 2020 WAMU 88.5. To see more, visit WAMU 88.5.

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