Column: Romanesque literature seizes best-seller lists
A relative–up to eight tanned from a man–pack framed by a dripping–wet white button–up shirt is not something I would expect to see in the grocery store. And yet, I’ve seen this exact image at the grocery store so many times that I don’t even save it.
If you don’t care about them, chances are you won’t, but romance novels are everywhere and always have been. Check out the little book stands and aisles of Wegmans, CVS, and Walmart, and you’ll see them in all of their paperbacks, police glory buckled up.
Romance novels represent 23% of all fiction sales and generate approximately $1.08 billion per year. They make the same number of annual profits as the detective story and sci-fi / fantasy industries combined. Mystery and sci-fi / fantasy are also romance’s closest competitors in fiction publishing.
Despite its importance, romance is often the laughing stock of the literary world. The novels are stereotyped as being luscious, poorly written, and full of fluffy depictions of hot heroes saving damsels or a bizarre eroticism that is both misogynist and misandrist. So what are romance novels really and why are they so popular?
Last summer, a self-published romantic series titled “Barbarians of the Ice Planet”By Ruby Dixon made Amazon’s bestseller list despite the fact that the first book in the series had released six years ago on the Kindle store with little attention received. The novels, about a group of women abducted by aliens and then rescued by another group of torn and shockingly gentlemanly blue aliens, have gained viral popularity due to their self-fun and surprisingly well-written writing. Through “BookTok” or the delivered rating TikTok, content creators have done both comical and authentic reviews on the books and they took off.
The popularity of “Ice Planet Barbarians” sparked the series receiving a print version from Berkley on November 30. I’ve never read “Ice Planet Barbarians” and probably never will, but I’m glad it exists. Despite the fact that it is fun to poke fun at the show, at its core, these books are an escape game. Blue alien males are kind and gentle to their human companions, the characters are endearing and explore the under-represented theme of male virginity. Yes, the blue alien men are all virgins. Escape and sex sell, that’s just the truth.
When it comes to romance novels, “Ice Planet Barbarians” is an extreme example. Most romance novels are more down to earth, literally. Amazon stream bestsellers include “A Not So Meet Cute” by Meghan Quinn, about a fake relationship between a businesswoman and a businessman looking for wealth, and “It Ends with Us” by Colleen Hoover, about a workaholic trapped in a love triangle. This is the typical Hallmark fare.
“Outlander,” a historic fantasy romance series from Diana Gabaldon, has reigned as one of the most influential series in its genre since the publication of the first book in the 90s. The series follows a combat nurse during World War II which is transported back in time to Scotland in the 1700s. The series spawned a television drama adaptation in 2014 and its popularity has led to an increase in tourism to Scotland from 200%.
With an 83% female readership and predominantly female writing, romance novels are written for women by women. For women who read romance, gender is often accountability. Romance heroines are often clever, shameless–feminine ladies who do not exist for the male gaze. They can fall in love with men, but that’s on their own terms. Gender also creates a rare space for women to explore their own sexuality when they are often the object of sexuality in other genders.
I’m not a fan of romance, and if I’m honest I’ve spent a lot of my life as a reader poking fun at the genre extensively. However, if cynical businessmen, hardy Scots, and buff aliens bring joy to people, who am I to judge? The genre wouldn’t be as popular as it is if it wasn’t close and dear to the hearts of many people. Maybe it’s time to give him some more respect.