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Read The Rom-Com!

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Kenyon chapter.
re-evaluating the romance literature genre as “real reading”

I’ve noticed a peculiar type of stigma within the academic community concerning the reading and enjoyment of romantic stories — a shift towards the distaste of romance literature among scholars and students alike. It has been invigorating to have conversations with some of the friends and classmates that I have met in a two-semester-long seminar about this particular topic. In one such conversation, I griped about how I feel that there is a shame that comes along with reading romance literature, a feeling that somehow these pieces are frivolous and not “serious” texts.

I believe that this mindset is something to be altered.

While it may be true that the romance literature genre leans towards mass marketing and printing, I feel that the genre is incredibly powerful — especially because it has a strong history of focusing on the desires and emotions of women. Publishers such as Harlequin have built their reputation and audience off of the sharing of these stories, signifying a genuine want from the public to consume these texts. 

While graphic novels have made a statement in recent years, declaring themselves as “real reading,” a feat that is very much deserved, I still feel that romance literature has yet to achieve the same accolades.

When I review my Goodreads list of books read at the end of each calendar year, I notice that the majority of the texts are those I consume to further my philosophical education and English literature knowledge. Yet some of the novels that I look fondly upon are romance books. While telling my friends, both within the English and philosophy communities and outside of them, that I completed all of Ali Hazelwood’s stem-romance novels over the course of the past summer, I am met with a stifled laugh. I believe these chuckles stem from two things:

  1. These stories do not cover some of the more pressing social, economic, and racial concerns of inequality in our society — which I take as valid criticism.
  2. These novels are romance specifically, not general fiction, poetry, or academic-oriented prose.

Yet, when I have grown tired of reading literature that has long since been established as part of the Western world’s literary canon, I find myself looking to read something that has lower stakes, (might be) shorter in length, and more often than not, is written by women for women. 

I don’t believe that writing has to be a challenge of who can write the darkest, most mind-twisting pieces of literature possible, though I do very much enjoy reading those texts when I come across them. Instead, I think that there is much merit to reading romantic comedies and the like. By reading these novels, empathy and feeling come to the forefront. We are forced to reckon with love, care, and value jumping off of the page and into our minds and hearts.

Literature has the goal of affecting the reader, and there are endless possibilities of how to achieve this. Romance literature takes the route of love and affection to reach its audience, a course that is no less valuable than thriller or science fiction.

The division of romance literature and “real literature” seems to be widening more and more with each passing year and we can see this clearer, which might cause an internal struggle over what to read. My advice? Read Glück, read Kant — but read the rom-com too, because reading is reading. Plain and simple.

Carlin Steere is a writer and poet at Kenyon College. When she's not on campus, she can be found on the beaches of Connecticut with a notebook in hand.