I checked off another item on my 2016 Reading Challenge list: a book in a genre you don’t usually read. For me, this genre is romance. (I also don’t read much sci-fi but I only had to pick one for the challenge!)
I don’t know why I don’t often read romance. I enjoy a love storyline in a book. With a few exceptions, like non-fiction and mystery, I tend to be disappointed if a book I’m reading doesn’t have at least a small romantic thread. All of my own novels have some romance – some more than others. I think I just went through a phase a long time ago of trying to read ‘more serious’ books, and I got mired down in it. Maybe I was being a bit of a literary snob.
Anyway, I didn’t read one romance. I read four. I read the whole series. Co-written by two authors under the pen name Christina Lauren, the Wild Seasons series (I haven’t really figured out why it’s called that though) is about two groups of best friends, three guys and three girls, who meet in Vegas and drunkenly get married. In spite of the fact that only one of the couples stays married, the group remains close friends, all having ties to the home setting of San Diego. Since these are romantic stories, it’s no surprise that some of the friendships take a decidedly couple-y turn. Sparks definitely fly.
I accidentally started with the second book (which turned out not to matter too much, as each book can stand on its own), and then, because I was having so much fun, I read the rest of them. Each book focuses on a different couple, and with the exception of the first one, they are written in alternating POVs for that couple. Astute readers of this post may have noticed there are three couples in the original Vegas debacle but four books, and that’s because the last one centres on other characters present throughout the series.
Of course, as an author of historical fiction, I read a lot of it, and I love it, but it was so relaxing for a change to read a story where no one died brutally or had to obey a king’s whim or wore twelve layers of petticoats every day. I enjoyed switching it up by reading a story about people from my own time, who are approximately my own age. I related to their slang, to their worries, their career paths. I cared about them and I wanted them to be happy. Creating believable, sympathetic characters is the backbone of any good story, and I think it’s possibly even more important in romance, when the relationships between the characters are the basis of the plot.
When I first started my 2016 Reading Challenge, one of the things I wanted to explore was the literary or cultural context of some of the books, and I think this particular one is relevant for some context discussion, because romance novels carry a bit of a stigma. If I’m being perfectly honest, that’s one of the reasons I don’t read them often. They have flashy, sometimes sexy, covers (although I quite like the bright colours of the ones for the Wild Seasons series) and provocative titles, which often makes the genre instantly recognized upon seeing the cover.
If you’re carrying a romance book, anyone seeing it knows it’s a romance book. They know you’re likely going to be reading sex scenes. And that’s part of the strange stigma. Taken from a NY Times article, “romance authors are presumed to be highly sexual beings who write autobiographical stories or stories of their own fantasies.” I wonder if that’s part of the self-consciousness of reading a romance – the fear that someone might assume the reader is also a highly sexual being just looking to read about their fantasy. But who cares? It’s no one’s business what you read, and this is a ridiculous assumption. I doubt anyone has ever noticed someone reading a mystery on the train and assumed they only picked it in order to fantasize about committing a murder.
I’m glad I challenged my reading habits and immersed myself in a new genre, and I’m also glad that I wrote about it. Honestly, I was a bit hesitant to be like, “Hey, everyone, I read a book called Wicked Sexy Liar and now I’m going to write a serious blog post about it!” I shouldn’t have been, though. Reading fiction is supposed to be an enjoyable activity, and that means no genre of it should ever be devalued simply because its subject matter might be deemed less serious. It doesn’t have to be serious if you’re reading for fun.
I would also suggest that literature which is lighthearted on the surface can still carry great value. A long time ago, when this blog was brand new (and looked completely different!) I compiled a list of Advice for Writers, From the Famous of Them. One of the quotes, by Albert Camus, states that “the purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.” The quote popped into my head while I was writing this post. At first, I thought it conveyed a contradictory idea to my statement here that reading fiction doesn’t have to be serious, and it can just be fun and enjoyable. Then it occurred to me that perhaps a story focused on relationships between people is really getting to the heart of what civilization is.
Or maybe I’m just advocating lighthearted stories so much right now because I’m craving a good P.G. Wodehouse binge! Summer’s here, and so is lazy afternoon reading!