I read about two dozen of those books before I got bored and moved on. In subsequent years I read "better" books. "Important" books. But lately the pendulum has swung back and I am again selecting novels that flow in predictible patterns and make everything all right at the end. Now firmly ensconced in middle age, I prefer not to be confronted with stark realism when I read a novel. At 49 I know all about the harsher realities of life, and what I want from a novel is a brief respite from all that. I want stories that end happily. So lately I've been reading more and more romance.
I hardly read romance at all until five years ago, when I began writing it. Now I can't get enough. I'm talking about true romance, complete with the happily-ever-after ending. I don't care for stories that contain romantic elements but end ambiguously or unhappily for the couple. I have little patience for stories that seek to manipulate my emotions and then fail to give me a happy ending. Romeo and Juliet? Not remotely romantic. Two dumb kids convince themselves they're in love and then they "prove" it by killing themselves. Message in a Bottle? Unspeakably annoying. Yes, Mr. Sparks, tragedy can hit when we least expect it. I didn't need you to point that out.
Readers of romance novels expect the stories to deliver emotional justice in the end. We revel in seeing the good guys (and girls) finish first for a change. That's because our own lives don't always go as planned. Our best friends get breast cancer and our husbands lose their jobs and we can't fix any of that. Reading a romance novel can be like taking a brief vacation from reality, allowing us to return energized and with a renewed sense of hope and purpose. (Yes, it's possible to overindulge, avoiding reality altogether. But we can say that about many good things, such as sleeping or cruising the internet.)
Do romance novels paint unrealistically sunny portraits of life? Yes, quite often. That's why I read them.
On a related topic, If you enjoy reading inspirational romance novels and would like to receive four autographed books in return for judging a contest, take a look at the e-mail I just received from my pal Lyn Cote:
I'm the judges coordinator for FHL's Inspirational Reader's Choice Contest. If you have a reader's group or website, would you post the link http://www.faithhopelove-rwa.org and tell any of your readers that would like to judge and keep 4 autographed novels in April, to fill out a Judge's agreement and email to me. I need 30 more and the deadline's April 1st.
"FHL" is Romance Writers of America's Faith, Hope & Love chapter, of which I am a member. (Clearly, they'll let just anyone join.)