5 VERY GOOD Reasons Why I Love Romance Novels and Chick-Literatures

Recently, I found a blog on eHarlequin titled “10 Reasons Why I Love Romance Novels” and felt that that was as good a topic as any to pursue on a blog site dedicated to writing – and, especially, about writing romance novels. I have included “Chick Literatures” in my title because there is, indeed, a difference in my mind between the two, albeit by a very fine line. But that is a topic requiring its own post. For the time being, let’s move on to what this post is about. Where was I? Oh, yes, 5 VERY GOOD reasons (equivalent to 10 satisfactory reasons) why I love romance novels and chick-literatures, henceforth, generally referred to as romance novels:

1.      My parents. My grandparents.

No, my parents did not enter into a love marriage. And yes, despite conventions and the era, my grandparents (here, I speak of my maternal side) did fall in love and convince their parents to let them marry. (I am about to tell their stories and, hereby, claim all proprietorship to any scenes as materials that may be used to propagate any romance novel unless written by me.)

Let me begin with my parents. It was an arranged marriage, where my parents met only a couple of times and always in the presence of minimum three chaperons with never the opportunity to say more than a few sentences to each other until their wedding. And then, once they were married, it took them only a week to fall in love. Much of which was probably nourished by their acceptance of this conventional way of acquiring partners – but also because, to Dad, Mom was beautiful and, to Mom, Dad was absolutely charming. And they must’ve been extremely sweet together because my grandmother (maternal again) often repeats the story about the first time Mom went to her parents’ house after the wedding. Apparently Dad had gone over to collect her after work and wouldn’t listen to the pleadings of her sisters to allow her to stay back the night. When Grandma tried to cajole him into acquiescing, his exact words were, “Ma, if I could, I’d fit her in my pocket and take her to work with me and set her down on my desk and get no work done all day! One day of separation is too much; one night would be the end of me.” Now my mother is what they call the petite waiflike woman, but really! I applaud my father his romantic genius.

My Mom and Dad...

Now my grandparents’ story is not to be out-shined. Theirs was a love at first sight. Yes, you read correctly. But never mind what sceptics you all are – I wager I’ll have you all converted by the end of this tale. Bangladesh, c. 1956 and Grandpa, a tall dark and handsome young gent of all his 17 years of life, is visiting with an out-of-state friend. He and his friend spend the holidays in theaters, parties and race courses. And during one of these days, at the race course, Grandpa notices a beautiful young maiden of cheerful and witty disposition, laughing and making her friends laugh along with her, just a few rows down in the stadium. He has to know who she is. He has to be able to engage her notice. He sees a flower vendor and instantly calls him over. He is going to send her a rose – no! he is going to send her the petal of a rose. With his name on it, literally. The vendor reaches the girl (yes, readers, you’ve guessed right – my then to-be-grandmother) and hands her the petal. She is intrigued as she reads the name penned into its delicate form, “Shahjahan”. She searches the aisles for the sender until her eyes rest on him and he taps the brim of his bowler in greetings. And oh! He is just so handsome! She shouldn’t reply – all decorum forbids it. But she must, she must! She does. And sends back the vendor with the rose petal, now bearing her name on the opposite side. He is ecstatic, he is triumphant. He reads her name, “Mumtaz”, and finds it amusing. He thinks she’s being humorous. [For those of you who aren’t aware of the history, Shahjahan was the emperor who had the shrine Taj Mahal built as an ode to his love for his empress, Mumtaz] He finds her witticism charming but propriety dictated that their correspondence must cease for the time being. They part, accepting the probability that they may never meet again.

It was fate!

But as Grandpa returns to his home at the end of the holidays, he cannot forget her. And another week passes as he grows more and more restless. And he confesses all to his father. Yes he realizes that he is too young and that he has his exams (for crying out loud!) were ahead of him and that she is probably more than too young, but he must marry and he must marry her! And they inform his out-of-state friend about the dismal state of his mind and they search high and low for a nameless maiden until Alas! they learn her identity. She comes from a respectable family of reasonably high rank and her name is, indeed, Mumtaz! It is fate, they were meant to be together. And despite the hesitation among all adults present, marry they did because even Grandma was in love by that time with the handsome stranger who went to so much trouble to propose to her. And though it was a decision made in youth (and would’ve been illegal in this era), Grandpa and Grandma never regretted it. Even today, after Grandpa has long since passed away, Grandma’s eyes shine with joy and pride as she speaks of the man who stole her heart and guarded it with all that he had. Sighs…

2.      I was brought up on an audio-visual diet of Hindi movies.

For those of you who are familiar with Hindi movies, you must already know what I’m talking about. For those of you, who have never had the sometimes-privileged sometimes-dreadful experience, let me explain. These Indian flicks are peppered with romantic stories. No matter what genre (action, horror, social drama, etc.) the main plot claims to be, the underlying plot is always about a boy and a girl, or a man and a woman, finding love, requiting love, trying to overcome the obstacles keeping them apart, trying to make the relationship itself work for them, etc. etc. Really, even if the romantic angle is only a subplot, it is always simmering and then boiling to come to the foreground and claim the film as its own and overwhelm the audience to the point where everyone watching is cheering more for the hero and heroine to achieve a happy ending than the villain or demon receiving their just punishment.

Like I wouldn't take this opportunity to post Salman Khan pictures!

And the producers, directors, scriptwriters, lyricists and musicians (did I forget to mention that all Hindi movies must be musicals?) tend to egg the audience on by releasing the songs in audio cassettes and CDs and also in separate DVDs and Blue-rays or whatever the new medium is, where the album must include minimum three hit romantic songs, of which one must hit the Indian Billboard Charts, so that listeners can replay them and reminisce about how the songs were filmed and sometimes even place themselves in those scenarios to at least be able to participate in such romantic overtures in their imaginations (guilty as charged, where Salman Khan is concerned).

So yes, I declare, I love these movies with their song-and-dance numbers and the colourful clothes and their running around the gardens and coconut trees that so many (even a few hypocritical Indians) mouth off derisively and… and… I love romance novels!

3.      The Heroes and Heroines are essentially that – good people who deserve to find true love and a happy ending. And frankly, when pitted against those characters from other genres…

Let’s get this straight – I hate stories where the main character cheats on someone or another or is a lying scumbag who deserves nothing but a Pandora’s Box without a lock on it handed to them with a note that reads, “Open lid to find your winnings!” Really, there are too many of those dark tales that begin with the character fighting his demon and ending up no better and meeting his downfall. I hated Othello (not the play, the character) for his culpability to believe a third person over the woman he claimed to have loved. Hah! Instead I rooted for Iago (despite finding him a despicable representation of humanity) simply because he was brilliant at his villainy and because to himself, he was always true. I really dislike thrillers with a gory plot because they creep me out. I once was handed a book by a very good friend of mine that, in the opening chapter itself, had a husband and wife nailed face to face by the hands and feet to their living room by this demonic serial killer, who murdered their children before their eyes and then raped the wife in front of the husband before killing them also. Makes me shiver every time I remember it and now you can join the club too. I never got beyond chapter one so I didn’t discover if the main character was a demon or just a serial killer or both. Mysteries I can handle – I found The Da Vinci Code brilliant even before I turned around and saw it being ruined as a movie. I own an illustrated copy of the novel presented to me by the same friend who had introduced me to the demon-serial killer. Same as social dramas, which are relatively good and certainly make me take a philosophical turn from time to time but they are so often without a happy ending. And while all that is good enough to excite my mind, clearly romance novels are the winners.

Clearly a winning topic!

Which brings me to the Rake and the Damsel. Your average hero and heroine of a romance novel obviously have their own dilemmas and inner-demons to fight against. But they are essentially good human beings with a strong sense of moral integrity. Your rake may enter the story as a womanizer and a scoundrel with a devil-may-care attitude, but he has never veered from his moral code (or a male code) that binds his actions and obligations. Your damsel may have to stoop to a level at some point in the story previously unperceived by her but she will do so virtuously to save and lend credibility to what she believes is right. Both are good people who deserve to love each other and unite in a happy ending.

4.      To live off the characters vicariously.

This is really self-explanatory. However, allow me to still put in my two-cents’ worth. There are just so many wonderful ways to fall in love! And romance novels are the only medium through which you can try them all out without being promiscuous or unfaithful to your own true love. You have your cowboys and society butterflies and tycoons and school teachers and firemen and journalists and widowed dads and homeless pregnant ladies all falling in love left and right and finding their happy endings despite all odds against them. What could be more inspirational? What could be more charming? What could be more gratifying? It is the best that mankind has to offer. The essence of what makes mankind more intelligent than other species and encourages all that is good and pure in every other aspect of our lives. It is called love. And romance novels honor and rejoice in it and their characters are consumed by it and so am I. And I want to be Elizabeth Bennet and live happily ever after with Mr. Darcy on the pages of Pride and Prejudice.

5.      The irrevocable happy ending.

Duh! Obviously this is a reason – and how can it not be a VERY GOOD reason? However, despite my romantic notions and ideals of what human beings should be and what should be the driving force in all of us, despite witnessing the success of my ancestors in this vein, despite revelling in romance novels, I am a sceptic when it comes to love in real life. Or perhaps, I should say I am a sceptic when it comes to believing that I will be successful in love. I think I can blame the very ancestors I speak of here and romance novels in general for setting my standards so high for what I believe true love to be. And it seems that in reality, they don’t make heroes like they used to. So I have denounced romance and the hope of finding true love in reality and have decided to occupy my ideas of love essentially in what these novels boast of and delve into the guaranteed happy endings they meet. At least I can count on the pages of a romance novel not to disappoint me.

And they held hands and walked off into the sunset... sigh...

After telling you 5 VERY GOOD reasons why I love romance novels and chick-literatures, I feel it would be very amiss if I didn’t admit 1 ABSOLUTE aspect of such novels that I hate: Book covers depicting men and women entangled in compromising and clandestine positions. I find them annoying not because I’m a prude but because they can create the misrepresentation that romance novels are all about the sex scenes. I mean the steamy scenes are wonderful and all and romance novels need them to a great extent but romance novels, and I quote, are not to be misconstrued as erotica (which may also be very well a good thing depending on the individual). And especially addressing those who sneer at my section of the library, let me tell you, romance novels are not masturbatory mediums for the unfulfilled lives of women who lack a love life or are too timid to read, watch, listen or participate in pornography. They are stories of love that may or may not include sex scenes. In fact, Pride and Prejudice, the mother of all chick-lits, doesn’t have a sex scene at all (though that wasn’t a deciding factor inclining me towards it either). Like I said, romance novels and chick-literatures are essentially about the journey to requited love and that is what should be depicted on their covers. If someone fell in love every time a pant dropped, then our rakes and damsels would have many stories to tell indeed. And therefore, I prefer cartoons and abstract paintings and collages on the cover of my romance novels that provide a clue to the story within the pages rather than an illustration of one hot steamy sex scene that may have only served to propel the plot. However, that is not to say that I am so prejudiced as to proverbially judge a book by its cover and thereby skip it or pick it (a romance novel is a romance novel, after all). I depend on the synopsis instead!

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  1. #1 by Cassie on March 12, 2012 - 10:36 pm

    Thanks for this, I needed a few reminders why romance and chick lit are wonderful genres. Plus the story about your family makes me happy.

    • #2 by lupa08 on March 12, 2012 - 10:49 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it. It is always a pleasure to meet like minded readers…

  2. #3 by Shah Shahid on March 13, 2012 - 11:17 am

    1 ~ Sweet. I’m reminded of Thumbellina with the story about your parents.

    2 ~ It’s funny that you use Bollywood, to differentiate between Romance Novels. I find the maturity level, content and silliness of both Romance Novels + the typical Bollywood love story to be very similar. I also feel that for some (a huge chunk of some) that BS Bollywood Love, is just another modern day medium like Romance Novels, through which young girls get this skewed sense of what “Love” is. And I only mean this, when either medium and genre is indulged in, excessively.

    3 ~ When it comes to real life genres, (not counting, sci-fi, horror, fantasy genres obviously) but the drama that’s based on reality, I’m a hardcore subscriber of realism. Unfortunately, the Romance genre (books or movies) falls under this category. And I find that the realism in such genres are lacking JUST as much as a horror/sci-fi movie. The odds of running into 1 person, coincidentally, multiple times in a span of days in cities that house millions of people, is just as unrealistic as becoming a raging mutant after being bit by a radioactive something, whilst delivering pizza to a mad scientist with agoraphobia causing your wife to have to stop you through the use of a cream applied to her lips, given through a kiss. Oh look! Love again!!

    4 ~ I agree. I think us Nerds/Geeks do that more often than the deprive– I mean, passionate woman stimulating her sense of passion through Chick Lits. Seeing a young man holding a long stick in a sword-like stance, might cause a reader of Chick Lit to imagine a swashbuckling hero, akin to ones from her novels… but I guarantee you that he’s playing Star Wars.

    5 ~ Again. Realism! Life never ends happy. I believe the sooner we can accept that, we are quicker to find the happiness that isn’t conditional on EVERYTHING working out. Some great examples of realistically sweet and amazing ‘happy endings’ can be experienced in movies such as CRAZY STUPID LOVE (once you get over the Ryan Gosling, ‘I have abs’, gimmick) & 500 DAYS OF SUMMER.

  3. #4 by lupa08 on March 13, 2012 - 12:55 pm

    1. I think you just posted a blog on my blog post. Thank you for that, because I’m still new at this and have been going around on some other book-related blogs and have been seriously editing before posting my comments because I felt that maybe I wrote too much! But you win because yours is …. er, (I have to say this, sorry) longer.

    2. Do note that I myself admitted that my parents and grandparents, along with the romance novel genre, have seriously raised the bar on the idea of “Love” for me. But I will also refrain from blaming romance novels alone because I have seen love like that happen in real life so my standard isn’t completely unrealistic. The same goes for Hindi movies. While these movies do have somewhat exaggerated portrayals of reality, I am sure girls (you did protest against the whole lot of us though I am sure people of your gender may also learn to enjoy the genre) have the sensibility to cut out the corners to differentiate the real from the unreal. When someone’s served steak at a restaurant, do they go around with the assumption that that is what a cow looks like?

    3. Unfortunately, here I also have to disagree with you on your take that meeting a person repeatedly … is just as unrealistic as … the mutant scientist pizza boy thing – simply because in romance novels, they create a plot where something puts the hero and heroine together. For example, meeting a girl during a college project that they are working on together or suddenly straying into the same family-friends circle or through your work place or even moving to a neighborhood and visiting the same coffee shop. The relationship arc. All sound pretty realistic, wouldn’t you agree?

    4. “a young man holding a long stick in a sword-like stance”, where do you think Star Wars got it from? And really, women are not the ones obsessed with the stick thing, noticed cricket, baseball, hockey lately? Also, not every hero throws a punch. Hence, reading romance novels to experience – or at least pseudo-witness – the variety of love stories.

    5. Finally, hew! CRAZY STUPID LOVE is a chick-lit with a central male character. A chick-lit concentrates on the journey of a woman’s road – often riddled with quirky faults – to self-realization, whereby there may be a romantic interest but not necessarily, that results in a happy ending through a solution to her problems and a resolution to become a better person. Mr. Cal Weaver, my friend, is the lead of a chick-lit, if I’ve ever read one.

    • #5 by Shah Shahid on March 13, 2012 - 1:59 pm

      1 ~ Welcome to the Blogging world, where the comments section in response to an article will feature more spirited debate than the original topic itself!! 😀 And there’s no such thing as writing ‘too much’ in this medium! And here I thought I was being succinct.

      2 ~ To be clear, my views expressed were in no way an accusation or commentary on womankind in general (those are better left on MY blog: blankpagebeatdown.wordpress.com. Shameless self promotion never hurt anyone) however more of an opinion based on my experiences. Yes, most women have that sensibility. Notice I say ‘women’. As ‘girls’ who grow up on pop culture portrayals of ‘love’ will most definitely have a skewed perspective of it, having never experienced it themselves. Similar to how you’ve had good experiences from parental figures, others may get jaded by their experiences of others. It’s not subjective. And immature fiction (novels or movies) don’t help.

      3 ~ Let’s not get into this. I agree, there are some more realistic portrayals of the ‘cute-meet’. However, as many instances there are of those, there are just as many unrealistically impossible plot points working to bring them together.

      4 ~ I was only agreeing with you that living vicariously isn’t limited to readers of Chick-Lits. I think every genre or form of fiction has it’s share of fans who live through its characters. I have many a time analyzed facial clues during arguments (which further perpetuated said argument) based on the musings of LIE TO ME.

      5 ~ I’m glad you don’t discriminate a Chick-Lit based on the genitalia of the protagonist. Chick-Lits featuring men…?? Progress at its finest!

  4. #6 by lupa08 on March 13, 2012 - 5:46 pm

    1. Well, you opened my eyes!

    2. Girls do become women, eventually. We’ll just have to wait and see how all of them turn out. Of course, some girls just remain girls but we can’t blame a particular genre for that, can we? We’re, after all, responsible for ourselves. Just like we can’t blame men who still chase after cape crusaders who fly like, say, in comic books! And, of course, we call it a hobby when a man is obsessed with collecting dolls (oops… sorry, action figures) at the age of 40, enough to loan out his family home to keep it sponsored.

    3. Oh, I don’t know… You get your weird scenarios in all genres – like falling in love with a journalist-cum-spider-bit-mutant-man (by the way, in the literary world, we have a name for the acceptability of these unrealistic scenarios: Suspension of Disbelief).

    4. Living vicariously to try out all the different ways not accessible to you, not to stop living your own reality. [the comment box desperately needs the Italic function] That’s how libraries and books are promoted; you know, travel the world in a book? Really, Shabab, I shouldn’t have to lecture you on the benefits of an active imagination…

    5. I refuse to be goaded by your sarcasm. I only wish to say thank you on behalf of my gender. We, women, are a generous breed, indeed! But, of course, we are also open to giving credit where it’s due – after all, it was an open mind on the part of men to have accepted Chick-lit to the extent where you all have begun using the genre to portray a male protagonist. Bravo!

    • #7 by Shah Shahid on March 14, 2012 - 9:52 am

      1 ~ You’re welcomes.

      2 ~ I agree that men who are weird enough to fuck up their priorities are just as wrong as women who have a skewed perception of love. But indulgence in any extreme will result in that. Drugs, Alcoholism, etc. It’s not exclusive to Men & Comic Books. However, your comparison is weird. Fictional stories about Superheroes doesn’t skew one’s perception of Superheroes in real life. (FYI: Superheroes don’t exist.) However, being exposed, from a young age, to an immature and horrible portrayal of something that one will have to eventually deal with in their own life (be it love, careers, problem solving, confrontation, etc) is what will eventually lead to the priorities getting fucked. Resulting in other issues.

      3 ~ Suspension of Disbelief in fiction is awesome. But, no matter how hard I try, I can’t make myself believe that Aliens exist. However, be exposed to enough of these ‘love stories’, and a young mind might believe this is how Reality works.

      4 ~I don’t know why you are lecturing me. I’ve agreed to this point with you from the article from the first comment. 😐

      5 ~ How was that Sarcasm? This medium can only convey so much and creates room for misunderstandings more. Unless of course you’re saying that the acceptance of a Male Protagonist in a Female-centric genre of fiction isn’t progress at all… and acknowledging it is Sarcasm?! Sexist! Also, you’re taking everything I say in a ‘male vs female’ angle… where I’m only referring to certain points / scenarios.

  5. #8 by lupa08 on March 14, 2012 - 9:33 pm

    1. N/A

    2. Was it about whether superheroes (or, in case of women’s fictions, pirates) exist? I thought the point was about what people do with what they have read? And I doubt if a girl (even one in her tweens) reads about a female character having a hell of a good time falling in love with a pirate, she would actually spend her time in a dockyard selling parrot feeds. An elementary schoolgirl might, though, so dads with daughters that young should be wary. I mean, if dockyards are a bit inaccessible, swimming pools replicate close enough, don’t you agree??? 😉

    3. What?! Aliens don’t exist? [does anyone hear glass shattering?] Anyways, a young mind might believe in anything – that’s what young minds are for… It is our misfortune that our young minds grow up so fast! I still miss believing in Santa Claus and secretly still hope that he exists 😦

    4. Did you? Huh!

    5. Sounded like sarcasm to me. And YOU’RE A GUY picking on WOMEN’S FICTION! What did you think was gonna happen??? You need to watch more of The Simpsons…

  6. #9 by Beverly on March 16, 2012 - 8:27 am

    Wow, you’ve got a wealth of family lore to help your writing. Best wishes for a long and happy writing career

    • #10 by lupa08 on March 16, 2012 - 2:32 pm

      Indeed, it makes me take the right turn of mind for romance writing and I hope it will help me make my mark in this field at last! Thank you for your wishes…

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