The Power of Romance Novels

I had a terrifying couple of minutes this morning as I waited to hear back from a friend who works in the Fifth Third building in Cincinnati — the site of an active shooter situation. She quickly texted back that the building was locked down, but that she was safe. The sense of relief that washed over me was immediate and overwhelming, until it dawned on me that the texts of the family and friends of the victims would go unanswered.

Last week, I listened to my mom recount the horror of active shooter training at the high school where she teaches. It’s now necessary for teachers and students to prepare for gunfire in the hallways, cafeterias, and libraries. In a matter of seconds, a school can become a war zone.

The world is a scary place. Racism. Sexism. Xenophobia. Homophobia. Violence. Injustice. Climate change. The decimation of the environmental protection agency. The changing face of SCOTUS. The economy. Mental illness. Sickness. Death. The list goes on.

That’s why we need romance novels. When we’re overwhelmed by the evil in the world, we can crack open a romance novel and be reminded that love conquers all. Through the twists and turns, the laughter and tears, there’s always a happily ever after at the end. It’s guaranteed.

Romance novels are about overcoming the odds, growing as a person, changing for the better. They’re stories of hope, kindness, and the power of human connection.

So, read. Read romance. Share your favorite books with others. After all, we’re in this together.

We must discover the power of love, the power, the redemptive power of love. And when we discover that we will be able to make of this old world a new world. We will be able to make men better. Love is the only way.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’m Not Ashamed

I attended a workshop recently that was open to writers of all categories and genres. At the start of the day, we were asked to introduce ourselves and say what we’re writing. A man seated near me said, “I write fantasy…but at least I don’t write romance!” When it was my turn, I resisted the urge to glare at Mr. Fantasy as I said, “Hi, I’m Ash. I’m writing a romance novel.”

My annoyance with him quickly turned to pity. He was attempting to make a joke because he was uncomfortable about writing fantasy. That’s sad. No one should be ashamed of what they choose to write. Or read.

Romance writers and readers are frequently looked down upon. We’re told that our books are easy to write (they’ve never written one), that they’re formulaic and predictable (they’ve never read one). They say we shouldn’t waste our talent on genre fiction and think they’re complimenting us when they say this.

Over half of all mass market paperbacks published are romance novels. That’s a lot of books, y’all. A lot of writers. And even more readers. And that’s not even taking into account the huge romance e-book market. Romance novels are awesome, but I’ll write about that another time. It’s not what this blog entry is about.

All I want to say now is this: no one should be ashamed of the books they love. You hear me, Mr. Fantasy? Hold your head high. And knock it off with the romance bashing.

If you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book.  — J.K. Rowling

I’m a Reader

My earliest memories involve books. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t devour one right after the other, as quickly as I could get my hands on them. My parents are readers, so there were always books in the house, and we visited the library often. With its towering shelves and infinite number of books (or so it seemed to my wonder-filled eyes), the library was an enchanted place. It even had a cat, Spike, and every kid knows that cats are magical creatures and gatekeepers to parallel worlds.

Reading was always encouraged at home. We weren’t even forced to put down our books for meals; they were allowed at the dinner table. And you know who doesn’t mind being grounded? A kid who doesn’t need an excuse to stay in her room all day with a book, that’s who. My brother and I have long since moved away, but there’s rarely a conversation between us that doesn’t include a book recommendation. Books are the #1 gift at holidays. We share our beloved and tattered favorites, knowing it may be months (or years) before they’re returned to our shelves.

For a long time, I thought all families were like mine. Readers. It wasn’t until much later that I realized just how lucky I was.

According to Literacy Inc., 80% of families in the United States haven’t purchased a single book this year. EIGHTY percent.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately of how much I have benefited from literacy privilege. I take for granted that it’s a resource I’ve always had. Without basic reading comprehension skills, it’s nearly impossible to pass a driver’s test, find a job that pays a livable wage, read the labels of over-the-counter medications. Illiteracy is a trap and once you’re stuck, it’s nearly impossible to climb out. Always has been. Just look at the slaves who risked their lives to learn to read and write. As Frederick Douglass famously said, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”

And none of that even takes into account a good story’s ability to change lives. Countless stories have shaped who I am. Fiction is a treasure and books have made me rich.

It’s terrifying to think how different my life would be without books. That person would no longer be me. She’d be an impostor, a stranger.

Because I’m a reader.

There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all. — Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis