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7 Ways to Read Romance Without Getting Cooties

Jessica Plummer

Contributing Editor

Jessica Plummer has lived her whole life in New York City, but she prefers to think of it as Metropolis. Her day job is in books, her side hustle is in books, and she writes books on the side (including a short story in Sword Stone Table from Vintage). She loves running, knitting, and thinking about superheroes, and knows an unnecessary amount of things about Donald Duck. Follow her on Twitter at @jess_plummer.

Here at Book Riot, we’re all about expanding your reading horizons, and that sometimes that means trying genres we’ve never read before. For some readers, that might mean picking up a romance novel for the first time. After all, romance is a publishing behemoth. It’s by far the most profitable genre, raking in over a billion dollars a year (which is saying something when you consider how low the price point per novel is), and various surveys conclude that a quarter to a third of the population reads at least one romance novel a year. There’s gotta be something there, right?

On the other hand, they are largely written for and by women. So how good could they be, right? I mean, you remember seeing them at the grocery store when you were a kid and you’re pretty sure they all still have Fabio dressed as a pirate on the cover.


Well, never fear! I’m here to help you get the credit for being open-minded enough to read romance without, you know. Having to actually read romance.

1. Try to avoid books by women. It’ll be tough, because women make up 50% of the population, but luckily the publishing industry is still stacked against them! More importantly, women are really hung up on female characters getting happy endings, which I think we can all agree is highly unrealistic and anathema to Important Literature. Nicholas Sparks is a safe bet here for that soothing “someone dies of a wasting illness at the end” formula, although any male writer who puts a woman in his books is fair game. I mean, what else would be be there for if not romance? (Pro tip re: Sparks: do try to avoid calling his books “romance” if you meet him at a cocktail party. Heaven forfend! He writes love stories.)


(Above, Nick Sparks pens his autobiography.)

2. Happy endings? I don’t know her. Again, finding true support and partnership in another human being is a real mug’s game. The best romances are tragic ones, especially if a woman is brought low by her own hubris. Why not pick up Wuthering Heights, Gone with the Wind, or The Scarlet Letter? (Yes, those first two were written by women. But you can watch a movie adaptation directed by a man to balance things out!)


3. Consent is optional.* Sure, a lot of literary fiction can be iffy about consent, but after all, if women really knew what they wanted, they wouldn’t be reading and writing so much romance, now would they?

4. Avoid books with a female point of view. Just because you’re consuming art doesn’t mean sacrificing your precious objectivity, and we all know how irrational women can be. It’s much safer to stick to books that place women squarely under the male gaze instead of as active subjects in their own right. (Note: if you must read a book with scenes from women’s points of view, try to find ones where they’re thinking about their breasts the whole time. You need something to keep you engaged, right?)


5. Romance with a capital R is basically exactly the same as category romance. Pick up some Byron and take a load off!


6. If the sex doesn’t have dire consequences for the woman, was it even really sex? As we all known, romance is just Porn for Women. (Yes, there is romance without sex, actual porn for women, and also 16% of romance readers are men**, but obviously none of those facts count.) The sad truth is that romance is full of women enjoying richly fulfilling sex lives, with nothing bad happening in consequence. Disturbing, right? If women think they can have and enjoy sex without being cosmically punished for it, who knows what chaos might ensue! I’d suggest sticking with Dickens here. He’ll never let a sexually active woman catch a break.


(Yes, I know Dickens didn’t write Les Mis. Hugo’s a little too sympathetic to Fantine, though; best to avoid.)

7. If all else fails, just lie. Romance novels are pretty much all the same, right? You can definitely fake it.


If you choose to ignore my sage advice, I suppose you can peruse some of the options here. Just be warned that you’ll find a smart, diverse, thriving genre that centers women’s stories and human connection if you do. On your head be it!


*This whole article is obviously sarcastic but please know that this sentence is especially sarcastic. Consent is both mandatory and the absolute bare minimum.
**Unfortunately, there is a dearth of statistical research on romance demographics that acknowledges the existence of nonbinary readers.