An article in Utah-based KSL.com that claimed “romance novels can be as addictive as pornography” raised a stir in the Twitterverse, and not a complimentary one. Galley Cat, a publishing site, linked to some hilariously sarcastic responses, among others. Romance writers have been very offended and many have blogged about the stupidity of likening reading romance novels to being addicted to pornography.
On first reading the article my response was the usual: “Romances are good-for-you reading and how dare you be so ignorant!” But really, taking this approach is too much like shooting fish in a barrel, too easy. Someone with a degree makes an outrageous claim and suddenly this is a “serious study”? Would you believe everything a psychologist pronounced, especially if you had some in-depth knowledge about the topic and the psychologist did not? Didn’t think so.
Let’s widen this discussion. Disapproving people have always believed that reading fiction is bad for you, any kind of fiction. Some people want you to only read religious tracts or holy books or whatever. Others want you to read nonfiction, as if nonfiction is actually any less fiction than admitted fiction. The continuous recent scandals involving supposed memoirs that have turned out to be fiction should be convincing about how much any of us should trust nonfiction. If that’s not enough, consider any supposedly factual article you have ever read about a topic you know a lot about. Usually, you are horrified to discover that the writer gets it all wrong. Typically, even if the writer includes new, important information, the article wrap-up reiterates commonly held stereotypes that an ignorant public has about the topic. The writer does not make much effort to illuminate a different way of viewing the facts. This is not always the case, but it happens so often we should be suspicious and even cynical when trying to absorb any information presented to us as factual. So-called “facts” do not equal truth.
Serious-minded people believe we should read serious writing that elevates us, teaches us something true about the world, and generally motivates us to be the best we can be. They believe these elements cannot be found in fiction, and especially not in romances. Of course they are very wrong. Fiction is equally elevating and even more motivating than any speech or sermon or essay, no matter how sincerely meant, well thought out, or effectively delivered. Why? Because the reader bonds with the main character and gets inside the story’s conflict in a way that few of us can through the sympathy created by hearing about a real-life situation. That’s the basic reason fiction is so powerful. We become the protagonist, and we struggle, and then we overcome. A great reason to read more fiction, of any kind.
Reading, like any other activity, can be an escape from dealing with our real lives. Whether that is a good or bad thing per se, reading too many romances is no more dangerous than reading too much Newsweek. You can get very depressed if you read too much about middle east wars and terrorists and serial killers. I defy you to get that depressed reading a romance.
Preposterously, the writer claims reading romances endangers our relationships with real people, implying that our husbands are schlemiels we dare not compare to the handsome, stalwart heroes of romance. Most women are perceptive enough to see how the men they love resemble the heroes of romance, how kind they are, how brave, how moral, and more. To suggest that real men can never be the spiritual equivalent of the heroes of romance is to insult all real men.
People who read fiction are not idiots. They know the difference between reality and fantasy.