From a young age I was captivated by love and romance- I was the girl who was enraptured with films like The Princess Bride and Beauty and the Beast, and later- Pride and Prejudice and Titanic (though the ending on this last one made me realize how much I prefer HEAs). Eventually, I got swept into reading, but those were more along the lines of fantasy/adventure and mystery series like Nancy Drew, as those were the books my parents purchased for me. What I noticed is that I tended to latch onto the romance aspect of the story, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant it was (such as the subtle hint of feelings between Nancy Drew and Ned). Eventually, I needed something a little more.

Thankfully, my Mom was an avid romance reader and her bookshelves were brimming with stories from a few different subgenres- primarily regency, western, and a few contemporary romances. I’m not sure what made me grab this particular book off her shelf, maybe it was because my thirteen year-old self was going through a “cowboy” phase (I was addicted to the movie Young Guns and listened to country music on repeat on my Walkman) – but the second my gaze fell upon Diamond Spur by Diana Palmer, I just knew it was “the one”. I had snatched it off the shelf,  tiptoed to my room, locked myself inside, and dove into the story…and then didn’t come out of it for HOURS.

I had been well, and truly, hooked.

And have been ever since.

Nowadays, there is hardly a subgenre within the world of romance I wouldn’t read. It doesn’t matter if the story takes place on the stormy seas aboard a pirate vessel, the glittering ball rooms of the regency-era, the primitive tundra of the 19th century Western United States, the boardroom of a CEO’s enterprise, a white-washed spaceship 20 light years away, or in the isolated town of a shifter colony- if the story has believable characters, a compelling plot, chemistry that feels natural and not forced, then I’m going to read it…

Because if you strip the scenery away and focus on those two (sometimes multiple people if I’m reading a well-written reverse harem) people, it leaves behind just pure and raw emotion. Love is something beautiful, something to be cherished and revered- because it literally is one of the most remarkable feelings.

Maybe that’s why, initially, I would get so upset when people accused me of reading “smut” books, trashy novels, and “garbage”. I was told I needed to read “real” literary works of art. I needed to read “real” books as opposed to “fake” books that provide me with “unrealistic” expectation of love, romance, and relationships. I didn’t understand why anyone would depict something so beautiful in such an ugly, twisted way.

Of course, I didn’t listen to them. I continued to read romance.

And I began to realize a few things:

1. The people that were putting me down for reading romance novels probably were in more need of reading romance than I was.

2. Love isn’t just about passion- it’s about acceptance and growth as well. The heroines I read about did not need a man to complete them. Nor did the hero need a woman to complete them. It was more of a mutual self-discovery. Take for instance- a magnifying glass. Sometimes you need this glass in order to see the words more clearly on a page, that way you can better understand what it is you are reading. This is basically what the characters were doing. They were each other’s magnifying glass- they helped each other discover parts of themselves they may have inadvertently been skimming over- and through that discovery they grew as individuals.

3. Romance novels are filled with strong female protagonists. I can’t even tell you how many female role models I encountered in my sojourn through these literary portals. I never encountered a heroine who “fainted in fright” every other page and was in constant need of saving by some perfectly kempt hero with an overly-inflated ego. There is always an equal balance of “saving”-whether physically, mentally, or emotionally- between both the hero and heroine.

4. Romance novels make me appreciate the world a little more. I have heard people say they escape the awfulness of the world by diving into a book. I lose myself in the pages for the pure wonderment of experiencing a little magic every day- and when I come out; I notice all the truly beautiful things about life. For example, the older couple sitting by the river together watching the sturgeon in all their creepiness leap out of the water, or the two women holding hands as they walk down the street- oblivious as to how enchanting they look while shooting loving looks each other’s way, or the couple tossing discreet glances at one another as they pass a couple with an infant.

5. Romance novels are about human connection. Love, friendship, kindness, understanding, compassion, and empathy- the stories have it all. These are feelings and emotions that make people truly remarkable. I like to think that maybe, just maybe, if more people read romance novels rather than spinning them into something shallow and ugly, that the world would be a more tolerant and beautiful place.

6. Passion is OKAY to enjoy and not feel ashamed about. Maybe “okay” is too blah of a word to toss in here- feel free to LOVE the passion occurring in the novels. My toes tingle every time the heroine and hero kiss. And when that hero whips his shirt off and the metaphorical gloves are thrown down and you know they’re rearing to go…well, let’s just say I’m cranking the air conditioner, grinning like I just snuck a cake into my room without the kids seeing, and mentally fist bumping the heroine for getting some mind-blowing some-some. La petite mort is proof that there are some “deaths” we humans can recover pleasurably from *wink*.

One of the best decisions I ever made was to sneak into my Mom’s room and pick that book up off the shelf and read it. Romance novels have literally changed my life for the better. So, to all the romance authors out there who are weaving such remarkable tales and sending them out into the world, so that people like me could read them- THANK YOU! You truly are amazing.

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