How Romance Novels Ruined Me

Romance novels ruined Dune for me.

That sounds weird I know so let me explain. I’ve spent about five years not just reading romance novels but editing them and reviewing them. Really, thinking about them. I spent five years focusing on small towns and Amish heroines. Five years of reunion romances and everyone getting their HEA, Happily Ever After for the uninformed.

So I know how you can think that maybe these stories that all seem to end the same ruined me because Dune’s ending is a little bit of a cliffhanger, sure it stands on it’s own but you want to know more. But you’d be wrong. My want to read Dune Messiah isn’t what we’re talking about.

No romance novel’s ruined me for Dune because of Paul. Maud’Dib, that charismatic little fucker killed it all.

He didn’t do this by being a shitty partner, or not really that good of a love interest. I know you’re thinking that romance novels set me up to expect a prince charming at the end but you’re so wrong. What five years of reading romance novels has done to me is make me want more of women’s stories. You have to understand that as a woman I have been trained to filter the world through men’s eyes. S.E. Hinton the author whose books changed my life said in an interview that she wrote about boys because they did more interesting things than girls. I got raised to think my story was boring.

Now if there’s one thing we can all agree on about romance novels is that they’re all about women. It’s the one place where the female voice shines unapologeticly.

While I was reading all these romance novels I was still reading other things. “Classical Literature”, science fiction, comic books, LITERARY fiction and I kept my romance reading quiet. Because who wants to admit to reading that girly shit?

And I’d always had that concern, that what if editing these books was dulling my literary sense? As I started to like the books more and more, have authors I cared about and followed, what if that was a sign I was losing my edge. That I couldn’t tell good from bad literature anymore?

Worse.

What if I was becoming a worse feminist because of it?

And then I read Dune.

I’d tried to read it the first time when I was 12 and I remember slipping into Paul’s skin, shaking with my hand in the Gom Jabbar. I remember walking around my new home, where my very own bed will try to kill me and feeling excitement and a little bit of dread. At 12 I loved Paul but I also got bored with the talk of war very quickly, went back to my Bruce Coville books because come on I was 12.

So here I am 29 picking it back up, to read over the weekend I turn 30.

At 30 I to stand with my hand in the Gom Jabbar only this time it’s in a memory I tell my son. At 30 I wait in a hallway, feel my heartbreak wondering if this test will kill my child. Knowing his father, my lover is doomed. Seeing a future of personal tragedy I can’t stop laid out before me but still I’ll try to fight it.

At 30 I am Lady Jessica.

Because what romance novels taught me was that I have the right to a story too. 

That my voice is just as important, just as interesting as my male counterparts. Now when I read Dune rather than slip myself completely into this male story line as I’ve done countless times before I read it and I wonder why can’t I hear more about Lady Jessica? I don’t care about the Baron, I want to see her plot some more. I want to see her choose the guest list for that dinner table.

What kind of politics did she play on Caladan?

But instead I have Paul, the savior. The doomed savior I should say, a bit of Cassandra type really. I mean he’s great, he’s everything you’d expect of a man who becomes a messiah but I’ve just gotten so sick of men’s stories. I’m sick of hearing about their greatness and their triumphs because I’ve read it all before. This is in no way Frank Herbet’s failing. He’s written a masterpiece. I do in fact really love Dune. The problem is I’ve read every kind of man you can imagine and now I just want something a little more…me.

I want to imagine myself in the lead.

At this years RT Book Review’s annual awards dinner, Robin York the author of Deeper, a novel about a young woman dealing with the fallout of her ex-boyfriend sharing naked photos of her, said she wrote the book so that women would know they had the right to be sexual, to “take up space”.  That we had the right to exist. 

We don’t have to tell men they have the right to exist.

I’m sure when men hear that, they believe it.

I’m not sure I always do when I hear it about me.

But women have always belonged in romance novels. It was a safe space to get my literary footing. Where a narrative about my experience was not attacked with anything more than “silly” or “unrealistic”. Not worthy of comment which meant it was safe because the boys weren’t looking.

Which was good because there was some raunchy stuff going on behind these covers. Romance novels taught me women want to fuck and that they were good at it. A place where we not only get the guy, we get the orgasms too.

Is there unhealthy stuff here too? Sure there is. But there’s unhealthy stuff in ALL media. We are all infected by the ills of our society but that doesn’t mean it’s all poison.

Romance novels are important because they a literary tool reminding women that they can tell their stories too. After being taught to be silent, to live only through men for so long it’s nice to be able to breath different air. To feel my own lungs inflate and breath words into the world.

The best thing is after years of reading male voices, is in reading women I find  our stories really aren’t all that different.

I just wish men knew it too.

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