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How to Read a Romance Novel

By Nicki Salcedo

CREveryone likes to criticize romance novels. They are the bullied kids on the literary playground. Mostly because romance novels are happy. Nobody likes happy people. Recently Vulture.com posted an article “Eloisa James on Feminism, Sexuality, and Why Romance Novels Are More Than Worthy of Respect.” It was in response to some mean guy hating romance novels. Then some other guy on Slate.com said adults shouldn’t read books for Young Adults. Why on earth do people care what other people are reading? Those “shouldn’ts” make sure that all people, young and old, feel discouraged from reading anything. Read. Read lots. Read all the time.

If you ever meet me, you’ll find out quickly that I love romance novels. If you’ve ever met me, I’ve likely given you a romance novel to read. Some days, I consider going door to door. I don’t want to convert you from your favorite reading pleasure, but I do want to add romance novels to your to-be-read pile. Once you have a romance novel on your nightstand, I will teach you how to read it. Better yet, how to enjoy it.

Tip #1: Willing suspension of disbelief. I love science fiction. A lot. I was in the movie theater watching a giant insect/alien demolish New York City and kill of each of the main characters. Near the end of the movie, the hero decides to climb a 54-story high-rise building on a hunch that his ex-girlfriend was still there. I was done. My husband looked at me and said, “Now this movie is ridiculous? Isn’t the Godzilla-like space insect unbelievable?” The alien I could believe, but apparently my willing suspension of disbelief only went so far.

Hint: Sit down to read a romance novel with one thing in mind, escape. Modern, historical, sci-fi, or paranormal. Go into this new world and go on an adventure. If you feel the need to critique, complain about the 54 flights of stairs and not the giant space alien.

Tip #2: Accept the beautiful people and fancy places. I’ve heard some readers complain that beautiful, tall, rich people are romance novel clichés. Ever read a spy novel about a guy who talks too much or a murder mystery where the killer confesses on page 2? How about a Western where the cowboy doesn’t like horses? Not all romance novels are about rich people or beautiful faces. So what if a lot of them are? I don’t want to read a romance novel about that creepy guy sitting next to me in the coffee shop. Of course, I would read a murder mystery about him. It is all about perspective. If I’m going to fall in love, it will really speed things along if he is rich, smart, and handsome.

Hint: Even if the main characters are beautiful, romance novels are about flawed people who find a way to overcome obstacles. Romance novels are never about falling in love. Never. The story is always about something else. Read a few and take notes. The romance and happily ever after are just happy accidents in story.

Tip #3: It’s not the same story over and over again. Ever heard of a story called Romeo and Juliet? Everyone likes this story because it is simple to understand. Star-crossed lovers. Not surprisingly we read versions of that story over and over again. The premise is just the jumping off point. Are Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story, and Lady and the Tramp the exact same story? No. Maybe they have the similar premise of star-crossed lovers, but the stories aren’t the same.

Hint: Do you ever eat the same food twice? Why would you do that? You’ve already tasted it before. Reading within a genre is like eating your favorite dessert. You do it again and again, because you like it. If you read a romance novel and don’t like it, that’s fine. You can read other books. I get it. You hate love.

Tip #4: Don’t hate love. We are in a strange society where we often debate love and marriage. We strive to create a world with caring thoughtful people, but we admonish books that promote the idea of love and caring and compromise.

Hint: Think about why you hate or refuse to read romance novels. Do you hate love? Is it because you think are better than romance novels? Do you use the words trashy, silly, or guilty pleasure to describe romance novels you’ve read? Some people don’t like books that have a neat and tidy ending. I get that. I suggest that you read different kinds of books to fill different kinds of reading needs.

Tip #5: You love love, but you are embarrassed. Don’t be. You like romance novels. You secretly love romance novels, but you don’t want anyone to know.

Hint: Here are some things I don’t want to know about you. You burned ants with a magnifying glass when you were a kid. You double dip in the salsa. You went to the bathroom and didn’t wash your hands. You cook naked. Here’s what I do want to know about you. You read books. You enjoy being happy. You are proud of your choices.

Tip #6: Accept love, sex, and f-cking! You know how most people arrived on this planet? It’s not that giant space alien. We are here, alive, because of love, sex, and f-cking.

Hint: Find romance novels with the right level of heat for you. Just want to hold hands? Read about the Amish. Want some billionaire to spank you? Ok, read that book, but don’t sign the guy’s sex contract. There are so many choices. You read books about serial killers, but think that sex is disgusting? Who really has a problem here, me or you? I read books. Some of these books have love stories. Some of them have sex. I’m generally a happy person. There must be a correlation.

Tip #7: You think you are too smart for romance. But you aren’t.

Hint: I’m sorry. It is unlikely that you are smarter than me. It is also unlikely that you are smarter than the thousands of romance writers in the world who are professors, doctors, lawyers, and caregivers. Read a variety of books. Like a variety of books. Love romance and literary fiction and horror and westerns. Feminist or not, I’m tired of fighting for your approval of what I read. Love reading. You aren’t too smart to read.

Tip #8. Treat reading a romance novel like getting a massage. Gosh, you work hard. Give yourself a gift.

Hint: Sit down and read a romance novel like it is a gift you are giving yourself. Let yourself get immersed in the setting, feel what the characters feels, and bookmark your favorite parts. Allow yourself not just the guilty pleasure, but proud pleasure of quiet time and escape. It’s not every day that a handsome billionaire falls in love with you. Enjoy it.

Do you hate romance novels? Tell us why. Do you love them? What about books for teens? Do you read on the train going to work? At night before bed? Do you hide your sexy books on your e-reader or do you proudly convert other readers to romance. Tell us in the comments.

Nicki Salcedo is a graduate of Stanford University with a degree in English and Creative Writing. She is a two-time recipient of the Maggie Award of Excellence and a Golden Heart Finalist. She lives in Atlanta with her four children, husband, and a cat. She has a job by day and writes at night. Nicki loves connecting with readers and thinks everyone should write. Her debut novel is ALL BEAUTIFUL THINGS. Feel free to hate it. You can friend, follow, or find her online.

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Pam Mantovani - June 9, 2014 - 9:30 am

Once again Nicki, you make such strong, valid points – without criticisizing anyone
Bravo!

Chudney Thomas - June 9, 2014 - 2:35 pm

I love romance novels. They take you to another place and give you a respite from the everyday. You often learn something new or inspired to try something new. Even inspired to visit someplace you’ve never been before. I’m not ashamed of loving or reading romance novels and I read every chance I get. I don’t read much YA but I’m of the opinion if it gets someone to read then it’s a good thing.

Maureen Hardegree - June 9, 2014 - 6:23 pm

I love your wholehearted endorsement of a genre that never fails to provide escape from whatever my current woes are. Happy endings make me happy, too!

Nicki Salcedo - June 9, 2014 - 9:22 pm

Hi Pam, I love all kinds of books. Why genre bash? Critical people reveal a lot about themselves when the say “Don’t”. How about this? Don’t censor my reading habits! :)

Nicki Salcedo - June 9, 2014 - 9:27 pm

Chudney, I don’t read much YA either, but Romily Bernard has converted me to YA suspense. Good stuff. We are still in the picture book phase in my house. And let me tell you, there are some stellar picture books out right now. (The Curious Garden by Peter Brown. Great book. Pictures and words and happiness. Everyone should read it even if you don’t have kids or if your kids are 40 years old.)

Nicki Salcedo - June 9, 2014 - 9:30 pm

Maureen, life is tough. Sometimes I just need to read a book about a cute man in a castle. Is that so wrong? Thanks for stopping by.

Laura Drake - June 10, 2014 - 5:23 am

Love them, Nicki! I’d better, I write them!

Cinthia Hamer - June 10, 2014 - 8:53 pm

Brava, Nicki!! I’ve never understood why so many denigrate a perfectly wonderful genre and if people roll their eyes, make a sarcastic comment or patronize me when I tell them what I write, I just shake my head in sorrow and move on.

Nicki Salcedo - June 10, 2014 - 11:05 pm

Laura, I agree. Me too!

Nicki Salcedo - June 10, 2014 - 11:09 pm

Cinthia, I like to read everything, and I’m curious about people who feel the need to denigrate. It’s their loss. #teamhappyreader

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