Romance Novels Aren't Guilty Pleasures

Last night, I opened up a new book on my Kindle app. There was a letter to the reader, and though I normally don't read those, I started to read this one. In the very first sentence, the novel was described as a "perfect guilty pleasure." As an avid romance reader, I've come across the term "guilty pleasure" countless times to describe a romance novel. They're almost like synonyms. Guilty pleasure? Romance. I despise when romance books are described as guilty pleasures, and here's why.

When I think "guilty pleasure" I tend to think of something fun that doesn't have that much substance. Guilty pleasures take your mind off reality, but they also don't make you think about this alternate world in the process. Essentially, they're the Gossip Girl of books. And for some reason, the whole romance genre is piled into this descriptor, and that's not fair. Romance novels are much more than just two protagonists making out for 300 pages. Romance novels, at least good ones, have real issues. To prove my point, let's take a look at two of my recent romance reads. 

First up is I've Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella. In this book, Poppy Wyatt loses her cell phone and her engagement ring right before her soon to be in-laws visit her and her fiance, Magnus. She's freaking out, and when she finds a cell phone in a nearby trashcan, she picks it up and tells everyone that it is her new number. With this new phone, people can actually contact her if they find her ring. The twist is that the phone belongs to a company, and as she desperately searches for her ring and navigates in-laws, she strikes up a conversation with a boss in the company. The book sounds silly but focuses on anxiety, cheating, not feeling good enough and sticking up for yourself throughout the novel. Therefore, while the book was a good respite from the real world, it had substance as well.

In The Deal by Elle Kennedy, Hannah, a college student, makes a deal with the captain of the hockey team, Garrett, to enter a fake relationship in hopes of garnering the attention of someone else. Right from the get-go, this book has some tropes. We have a shirtless male on the cover, abs in glory. Hate to love romance? You got it. Fake relationship? Heck yes. And though all these check points give off the vibe that The Deal is pure fluff, there is substance in this one as well. There's focus on sexual assault, it's mental and emotional repercussions years after the fact and controlling parents. The male protagonist shows his emotions and is vulnerable, flipping the standard narrative of the closed-off male protagonist and the fragile female.

What these two books show (and trust me, I have plenty more examples) is that romance novels aren't just some throw-away fluff. Almost all the romance novels that I read have themes of standing up for yourself, owning your sexuality and not being ashamed of what you want. And even if a romance novel isn't that hard-hitting, the term "guilty pleasure" adds shame to the genre. What's so shameful about reading a romance novel? Why are some genres deemed better than romance? Maybe it has to do with the fact that women are the audience for romance novels, so of course they are inferior to other genres, like mysteries which require "real thinking." UGH. 

In the coming years, I really hope the term "guilty pleasure" is used less and less when referring to romance  novels. Just because they are targeted to women and have some cringe-y covers doesn't mean they don't have substance. When we use the term "guilty pleasure" for romance, we're immediately adding some sense of shame to the genre. I actually used to feel bad about reading romance novels instead of more "high-brow" literature, and it was all because of this idea that romance is insignificant. Reading romance novels brings me joy. I shouldn't be ashamed of that simply because other people have decided I should be.