Life Imitating What You Read?

When I was deciding what to talk about today, I passed by a book on my shelves at home and picked it up. Reading the Romance, Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature, (The University of North Carolina Press) by Janice A. Radway was written in 1991. Radway was a professor of literature at Duke University at the time of the writing. It’s been a while since this book was written based on the author’s questionnaire of hundreds of female romance readers and things have changed.

Romance novels make up an even greater portion of the trade sales in America now compared to when this book was written, and digital sales of romances are surpassing print numbers daily. Radway provided the book as an expression of feminist and popular culture in the 70’s,  and 80’s. The author did audience research in the form of verbal and written questionnaires and presented her educated perspective on a phenomenon. It’s a deep book with a great deal of historical value to social and anthropological arenas, but as far as really comprehending why people, not just women, read romance, this book has effectively overlooked the one reason I think we read romance: hope.

This is not a review of Radway’s book. It is a discussion about why romance novels are so efficient at providing readers with a healthy dose of hope. While Radway isn’t particularly demeaning of the romance novel industry in her book, it appears to me she considers the need to experience “vicarious pleasure” as that supplied by reading romances as a failing of society.

When I say hope, I mean readers of romance need and want to experience hopeful and loving situations in order to cope with their lives. It’s no secret that romance novels are a form of entertainment which has been since Greek theatre days a means of escape. Why are we trying to get away from anything? I don’t believe we are truly wanting to escape our lives as much as we are attempting to remember and be able to recognize love, compassion, and hope when we see it so we are able to participate in those moments more fully when the opportunities arise in our own lives.

People who read romance novels have vicariously experienced good, evil, sadness, elation, honor, heroism, strength, and hope to name a few things and the more of these notions they take in from reading the more likely they are to demonstrate those feelings in everyday situations. Reading is a powerful tool. It implants ideas and images in the brain that are recalled during real life events and the reader makes a choice about how to act many, many times based on what they have imprinted on their brains from repetitive reading of romance novels.

Whether you are a new or seasoned reader of romance novels, you must have noticed that the stories are leaving messages in your brain that are coming to play in your real life. How do you feel about that? And why do you read romance novels?



  1. Why do I read and write romance? Why for the happy ending, of course. (and the sex–shhh! Don’t tell that last part, though. :))


  2. A thought-provoking treatise, Liz. I agree with your point that women “need to experience loving and hopeful situations in order to cope with their lives.” I don’t think romance is so much a form of escape as it is a survival tool/venue/whatever.

  3. Well-written post. Why does one read romance? Quite often because they are the BEST written books out there. Stop and think about it. How many romance writers are trying to make their mark? The competition is beyond fierce, forcing many of us to take online classes, attend seminars and read manuals to improve our craft. We keep abreast of industry trends. We benefit from our CP’s. As writers, each of us is a WIP just like our novels. Many mainstream authors are not doing this; yet they look down on romance writers. To them I say, go ahead, make fun. But our genre is crammed with more talent, more education, more gentle-hearted networking and more creativity than yours will ever be. Why do I write romance? I want to “hang” with the best. That’s why.

  4. Hi Liz,
    Great post.
    I read romance, and write them for the same reason. It is an escape from the every day traumas and disappointments, a couple of hours when we can be transported to exotic times and places, plus I love happy endings.


  5. I was reading your post thinking so true…but it’s about escape. Well what is escape but hope? I love romance because to truly be a romance there has to be a HEA–which is just hope that everything’s gonna turn out just fine. Life isn’t always like that so it’s good to know it can be somewhere. Awesome blog! Viva la romance!

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