Michille: Who Reads Romance?

novelsThe birth of the modern romance novel is generally considered to be in the early 1970s with the publication of The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, but the first romance novel was actually Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded by Samuel Richardson, published in 1740, followed by Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen published in 1813. Romance novels have been around for a quite a while and they have changed a great deal. So who reads them?

According to Romance Writers of America,64.6 million Americans read at least one romance novel in the past year, up from 51 million readers in 2002 and 41 million in 1998. Of those readers, 78% are women, 50% are married, and 42% have a bachelor’s degree or higher (I found these statistics here).

I found a good article the other day that attempted to answer the question: “Why Don’t Men Read Romance Novels?” The first argument, which is not the author’s opinion, is the tired old one that reading romance is deviant and that romance readers are either pathetic souls or debased fools. Another argument was structural misogyny, or the belief that romance novels are about women so men would have no interest in them. The article then offered a different take on the Why. Men don’t read fiction. The author quotes an NPR article that reported that men make up about 20 percent of fiction readers. According to RWA, they make up 22% of romance readers. Women are the majority readers for just about every genre of fiction. So, maybe men don’t read romance because they don’t read fiction that often. The men I know who have read romance novels have liked them.

Many of the women I know who read romance novels are smart, successful, liberated, modern females who find deep satisfaction in delving into entertaining stories about relationships that just happen to end with a happy ever after. There might be some intrigue, or a werewolf, or a time machine, too, or any one of tons of other elements that slide the romance into subgenres.

I read romance, to borrow the words of Susan Elizabeth Phillips, “because life’s too short to read depressing books.”

9 thoughts on “Michille: Who Reads Romance?

  1. The first woman I knew who read romance and introduced me to the wonders of Harlequin category was my grad school roommate, who was getting a master’s in geology, one of about three women in her class. She was smart and practical, and about every two months a giant box of Harlequins would appear on our doorstep. She’d have to wait until she didn’t have a paper to write or an exam to grade, because she had to read her selection in one sitting. It was quite a lesson for me in who reads romance novels.

    • Another interesting thing I saw when I was googling around for this post, was a writer of M/M romance saying that she wrote for a female audience. She assumed men didn’t read it. I would assume the opposite, but there you go. And since the Pacific Standard article stated that (according to NPR) only 20% of men read fiction in general, it seems one can assume that the bulk of the audience is women for any kind of fiction.

  2. Even among the men I know who read fiction, almost none read romance. I figure the reasons for this are twofold: 1) Men are less interested in relationships than women. 2) Men’s brains have a lot fewer neural connnections between the right and left lobes, so they don’t see the world in as integrated a fashion as women do. There are a lot less connection between their words and their emotions, Because of all these factors, romance just doesn’t speak to them the way it does to us.

    What I find more interesting is how virulent female non-romance readers become on the topic. They seem to loathe and despise romance, especially women who write in other genres. I chalk that up to market envy.

    • I like that. Market envy. I also get distressed when they point to a poorly written book as an example of why they don’t like it. I want to say try this one or that one, or point out that books like The Da Vinci Code have all the elements except the HEA, but I don’t usually bother because if they are that negative about it, it’s not worth the aggravation.

  3. Like Kay’s roomie I have stuff to do right now, so I’m staying off the romance. Instead I’ve been dipping into Antigua, Penny, Puce, by Robery Graves. It’s a wonderfully well-written, hilarious battle of the sexes. I guess it would be called YA now, but it was first published in 1936. The plot revolves around a rare stamp, and Robert Graves’ take on stamp collecting is that ‘all British schoolboys of a certain age collect postage stamps… Schoolgirls usually despise the pursuit, which is not direct and personal enough to satisfy them emotionally…Schoolgirls are not interested in stamps, agreed, but – this is the important point – they are undeniably interested in their brothers’ preoccupation with stamps.’

    I’m loving the book (haven’t re-read it in ages) but last night as I was enjoying it, I was wondering if he was on to something – and that fascination with the direct, personal and emotional is why romance appeals more to women. And if you’re wondering, in the book, our heroine, who’s a smart student of human behavior, runs rings around her brother, who has the know-how 🙂 .

    • Some of my favorite characters are the ones who are smart students of human behavior. I am re-reading Nora Roberts’s Angels Fall (speaking of human behavior, Reece is a bundle of neuroses) – I generally have a romance going all the time and if I’m busy, it’s one I have read before so I don’t have to think about it too much. I am also reading Aeneid right now, to be followed next week by Inferno and The Tempest the week after that.

  4. To Jeanne’s point, I can confirm that my DH gets very fed up when writers start messing up the problem-solving in his favorite mystery books and TV shows by adding in what he once described as Yucky Emotional Crap 🙂 .

  5. In a list I belong to, there are a lot of men who read romance — of course, since they read a woman SFF writer, they are obviously not sticking to gender boundaries too precisely. Those guys tend to appreciate story over genre, or gender for that matter.

    It is extremely interesting that NPR says men are responsible for only 20 percent of the reading. I feel the “narrative” says something else, but if I think back to the book ads I’ve seen over the past five years, yes, they are marketing to women and humans.

    Movies, OTOH, are different. I do see a lot of those marketed to men and humans. Especially SF and adventure.

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