Who reads romance?
We all know the stereotype of the bored (and frustrated) housewife with nothing better to do than fantasize about how her husband could shower her with gifts and romantic gestures, but that's far from the reality of the demographics.
Huffpost, The Bustle, and Nielsen have all crunched the numbers to analyze who's buying and reading romance novels. Huffpost reports that 18 percent of romance readers are men. All number-crunching analyses show that romance commands an enormous chunk of book sales, print and digital. No other genre commands the market as strongly as romance.
Numbers don't lie. There must be something good about romance, even though the stigma of it being unworthy of the title "literature" persists. What the numbers don't reveal is why people read romance.
Romantically Inclined Reviews is running a multi-article series spotlighting men who read romance, including a few who write it. Thus far two installments have been posted and the interviewed men offer some interesting insights as to how they became romance readers, why they like the genre, and the obstacles facing them as men who read what is universally considered a "woman's" genre.
Men, believe it or not, like romance. Most just don't acknowledge it or don't recognize it. Case in point: Romantically Inclined Reviews quotes Greg Herron: Greg Herren: "The great irony is men already read books with romance in them — they just aren’t called romance novels. If you take Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity, flip it and tell it from the woman’s point of view, it would have been published as a romantic suspense novel and would have had a completely different cover, a different marketing plan... but really, Jason Bourne meets a woman, she goes along on his big spy adventure, and they wind up together, with a happily ever after on a Caribbean beach at the end.... "
Look at Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood in The Raiders of the Lost Ark. James Bond actually gets married in In Her Majesty's Secret Service. Aragorn's love for Arwen endures throughout the whole The Lord of the Rings trilogy, as does William Turner's love for Elizabeth Swan in the Pirates of the Caribbean series. Nathaniel Poe and Uncas suffer for their tragic loves for Cora and Alice, respectively, in The Last of the Mohicans. No man feels silly watching those movies. They don't feel silly reading the books upon which such stories are built.
Threading through each of these adventures in all their violent glory is the special, romantic relationship between two people.
In a comment following the first installment of Romantically Inclined Reviews' "The Secret Lives of Male Romance Readers," Reviewer Greg Meeks writes: "[H]ere is the thing you learn when you read enough romance at my age group 55-65 ... you owe a lot of women an apology for your lack of skill, knowledge and emotional involvement."
Meeks also goes on to say, "Younger guys are missing out a LOT on knowing how to act in a relationship if you actually care about your partner that you can learn through these books while being wondrously entertained." That advice about young men learning a lot gives me chills when I think about the dark and abusive relationships romanticized in many romance novels. (See last week's blog, "I Just Don't Get It.") I've harped on that subject before and won't repeat myself for the time being.
Like Kate LeBeau, the blogger of Romantically Inclined Reviews, I don't know any men who read romance. I've read particularly amusing passages from romance books I've read to my husband, usually with the result of him giggling with me. However, no man of my acquaintance has ever admitted to me that he reads romance.
A man I knew once admitted to me that he once picked up his wife's Harlequin romance when he was desperate for something to read. He also said he didn't like it. Fair enough. At least he gave it a try, which I doubt most men would do. Is it because they'd face ridicule from their peers? Or some other reason?
Granted, books within the romance genre--regardless of sub-genre--are marketed toward women. After all, pictures of muscular, bare-chested men don't usually appear to other men, except on the covers of magazines such as men's health and fitness magazines with bold headlines proclaiming that they, too, can look like that by following that issue's diet and exercise regimens. I find it ironic that the covers of Gentleman's Quarterly, that iconic lifestyle and fashion magazine for men, often have that romance novel cover feel. Maxim magazine's covers usually feature barely clad, buxom beauties in provocative poses: another common staple on romance novel covers.
Perhaps it's the flowing script and curling fonts and the words used in book titles that dissuades men from picking up a romance and reading it. Instead of "To Tame a Wild Duke" or some such title, would "The Duke Untamed" in block letters make a difference? Look at westerns: they often use stereotypical "Old West" fonts for the titles. Many of the Zane Grey and Louis L'Amour books incorporate strongly romantic themes, but neither men nor women shrink from picking up those books.
I really haven't any answers. Only speculation. However, maybe you will chime in with your reasons for reading (or not reading) romance. Inquiring minds want to know.