Thursday, January 11, 2024

“In Defense of Romance” by Aldona Barysas

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As I stood in line at my local library with an armful of books to purchase from the “old books for sale” table, the woman waiting beside me decided to comment on my reading choices. The conversation was brief because there was a moment when I wanted to tell her, in a loud voice that is not to be used in a library, to mind her own business.

“Wow! You’re still reading romance books?” she said with a lift of one brow, and a side smirk.

“Yep, I am,” I responded, while slowly counting to ten in my head.

“Don’t you think that’s, well, sort of out of step with the times?”


“Do you enjoy reading them?” she continued.

Duh. Wasn’t it obvious?

At this point, I turned to face her, and said, “Yes, I do.”

As I placed my books on the desk for the librarian to calculate payment, I turned to the nosy busybody who is prejudiced against stories that contain the concept of love, and bid her a warm and safe winter.

As is often the case, it was only when I was making the drive homewards that I thought of a better response to Mrs. I’m Too Good To Read Romance Novels.

What I should have said is: “Have a wonderful Christmas. Oh, if your fortunate enough to be sitting at the same dinner table as your parents – or grandparents – just think – they had sex which is the reason that you’re able to be condescending to me at this moment.”

My witty responses often emerge when I’m the only person in the room, unfortunately.

As I mulled over the interaction, I thought of other moments when someone, a friend or stranger, has commented on the validity of romance as literature. Only this past year, I met a woman who proudly proclaimed that she had never read Pride and Prejudice or watched a movie based on the book.

How is that possible? The book was originally published in 1813 and is still selling – over 20 million copies to date. It’s often considered the original romantic comedy, a contemporary story of what it was like to be a woman in England during the reign of King George III (the Mad King) and Queen Charlotte upon whom is based the most recent addition to the Bridgerton Netflix series.  

As for the Bridgerton series, it’s been viewed by more than 80 million people, making a lot of money for the author Julia Quinn, Netflix and Shonda Rhimes, a powerhouse and formidable writer, director and producer. 

Ms. Rhimes is a woman of colour and introduced the concept of colour blind casting.

In the world she’s created for viewers, it doesn’t matter what the colour of your skin is. It does matter what your heart yearns for.

What did men and woman want 200 years ago?


What do they want now?


What has the romance genre given the world? An enormous number of gay stories, books about people falling in love and facing the difficulties that society imposes because they are of the same sex.

“What’s that got to do with me?”  you might be thinking.

When we purchased our home, we had a neighbour named Jim, a generation or so older than me, a bachelor by all appearances. He was the type of person that you could call at 3 a.m. to pick you up from the police station or drive you to a doctor’s appointment. He knew how to fix a leak under the kitchen sink, how to remove those awful sticky labels attached to nice glass jars, and 101 other things. He never complained – about anything. He was perpetually cheerful. He became my closest friend. He was my boyfriend “without benefits” and when my husband was working or wasn’t interested, it was Jim and I who went to the Tuesday movies (it cost less and he was very frugal), to concerts, and to the garden centre.

He was gay.

And lonely.

I loved him.

I read a couple of gay romance novels and worked up the courage – while we were drinking Margaritas at our favourite bar – to ask Jim why he didn’t have a boyfriend. 

His response: “I was the only child of five siblings who couldn’t marry because marriage wasn’t legal. So, I was left to look after my mom and dad until they died.”

With a shrug of his shoulders, he continued, “I never told them I was gay.”

Imagine not being able to tell your parents that you want to love and be loved, to tell them your truth. Gay romance novels have made a group of people that until recently were not treated like you and I, find a place to read stories about themselves, and for readers like me to better understand their journey. At the end of the day, Jim and I wanted the same thing: to be loved just as we are.

Let’s get the sex talk out the way.

Are there super-duper sexy steamy romance novels? Yes, there are.

Do I read those type of romance books? Yes, I do.

If the entirety of my sex education had remained what I was taught in Catholic School, I would be incredibly naïve about pleasure, about boundaries and about men.

Did my parents have the sex talk with me? Not really, unless you consider waking up my father during the night to ask why my cat Ophelia was meowing loudly and there were a couple of kittens on my bed.  My dad explained it as “Your cat went for a walk and came home with babies. Go sleep somewhere else.”

If you’re in a long-term relationship, you’ve probably hit that moment when things feel stale. Try reading a page or two out loud to your partner of a sex scene that is detail oriented and see if that helps shake things up. Or download an audiobook and both of you listen on a long road trip.

If reading about sex doesn’t suit your personal preferences, that’s perfectly fine. There are plenty of romance novels where all the action takes place off the page. There are inferences of how the couple look at each other across a fence while chickens aggressively peck the dirt around their feet and a couple of cows are mooing in the distance, but at the end of the story, the couple gets to live Happily Ever After.

The Happily Ever After (HEA) is the only rule that applies to the romance genre. You can read – or write – about monsters and shapeshifters, blue skinned aliens from an ice planet or Amish farmers, lawyers and firefighters, dukes and nannies, age gap or mobster stories.

In other words, there is something for everyone.

Most romance novels are written with the concept of the “female gaze.” For centuries, books have been written by men, for men and from a male perspective. Romance novels have a woman’s interests and desires – which differ from a man’s perspective – front and centre. 

In the last several years, there’s been a surge in books written about women who are engineers, scientists, quantum physicists and mathematicians, careers that in the last century were male dominated, but in this century, women have made substantial inroads and have not been sidelined simply because they are women whose monthly cycle and hormones might influence their decision-making capabilities.

Depending on your generation, you might not think that this matters, but it does. It means that you can be called the “nerdy girl” behind your back – or sometimes to your face - and find your life’s partner, someone who values your heart and mind. Women in romance novels can have it all – love and a career and financial independence and make their own decisions.

Do I read other genres? Yes. I have a copy of every book written by Agatha Christie, some of which I’ve managed to purchase in used bookstores in England or elsewhere. I’m a huge fan of Patricia Cornwell’s coroner, Dr. Kay Scarpetta, but don’t read the gruesome parts if it’s dark outside and I’m home alone. My imagination runs wild, and I find I’m peering out the window in the middle of the night.

My recommendation is simply this: follow Book Tok or any other social media platform if you’re interested in finding out what’s currently hot in the marketplace. This summer’s surprising hit was “Butcher & Blackbird” by B. Weaver, an author from Nova Scotia. I was hesitant to read it because the main characters are different (you can read the blurb) but am hugely impressed with the imagination and talent of the author and eagerly await her next book.

There are many books that hold an “icon” status, and although written years, or decades, ago carry the same importance today as they did when originally published. Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels published in 2000 is a historical romance re-telling of Beauty and The Beast.

It Had to be You by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, published in 2002, is still a book that I would happily take to a deserted island. It features a football coach who assumes that the busty blonde who inherited a football team is dumb because of how she looks, and then falls in love with the person behind the blonde hair and big boobs.

The hero in the The Takeover published in 2020, written by T. L. Swan, is one of those uber rich, uber handsome, uber wealthy men that I may have secretly {in my younger years} yearned to meet, who falls in love with a woman who is older, and a widow with three children.

So, whether your kink is vanilla ice cream, or something more outrageous like the everything bagel flavoured ice cream some maniac created, if you need comfort during the cold winter months, or something funny and happy to read while sitting on a beach, there is a romance book for you.



Aldona Barysas resides in Ontario by a lake surrounded by woods and wild animals, with her husband and her dog, Gigi. Her favourite things include books and writing (obviously), Agatha Christie novels and movies, any foreign accent, hamburgers and tequila, beach life and cold-water swimming. Life is an adventure.

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