JOLIET (AP) – Marie Larsen of Plainfield reads a lot of romance books.
They’ve ranged from “Redeeming Love” by Francine Rivers to “Fifty Shades of Grey” by E.L. James, along with historical, modern, paranormal and “romance tied to emergency services, which I used to be in,” Larsen said.
She’s only skipped one category.
“I don’t read things with the tall handsome rich guy whom 99 percent of us is never going to meet,” Larsen said. “Or the perfect Barbie blonde at 5-foot 8-inches and 115 pounds. If it’s not realistic and true-to-life, it doesn’t appeal to me.”
Sally O’Neill of Joliet, who recently finished “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens echoed that sentiment.
“I like realistic fiction,” O’Neill said. “I’m not a fantasy person.”
Janet Staley, owner of The Book Market in Crest Hill, said romance sells well at her store, but interest is waning in the Harlequin-type romance books. Paranormal and romances that also combine mysteries are more popular, she said.
Much of Staley’s stock comes from used books. Staley said people have brought in romance books with a LGBTQ theme, but they are not selling as well.
“We try to be available to all races and genders but we’re limited by what’s published by the publishers,” Staley said. “But there are more things being published than there used to be.”
Romance as a genre is a billion-dollar industry and one that’s experienced some upheavals in the past few months after one novelist publicly called out another for racism.
Since then, other authors accused the Romance Writers of America board of racism and homophobia. This led to RWA postponing its RITA awards and 10 board members resigning.
Tennille Allen, chair of the sociology department at Lewis University in Romeoville, who also reads romance, hopes the uproar continues “because they have not dealt effectively with their issues around racism and their lack of true inclusivity,” she said.
“More than being an uproar, there needs to be change,” Allen said. “A lot of times once the uproar dies down, it goes back to ‘business as usual’ or it goes back to practices before the uproar; they try to wait it out until the uproar dies down. There needs to be some institutional change and some dismantling of the racism that led to the uproar.”
For instance, major publishers need to expand their romance titles to include books with “a broader sense of people’s realities,” Allen said.
Small and independent presses have led the way in the regard, starting back in the 1990s when authors began self-publishing their books and selling them “out of the trunks of their cars,” Allen said.
“They’re pushing the larger presses to go beyond what they typically offer,” Allen said.
Former Joliet resident Trinette Faint of California is working on her third romance novel. Her other are “Collette’s Caleb” and “Midcoast Star,” which she self-published.
Faint said she started writing because, as a black professional woman who liked romance novels, she was dismayed at the lack of diverse stories available to readers. She’s seeing more these days and is hopeful the genre will continue to evolve.
“Romance is definitely something that’s common to almost everybody.” Faint said. “We all have love and at the end of the day, we can all relate to what makes them so popular and gives them staying power.”
Faith Healy, teen librarian at the Crest Hill branch of the White Oak Library District, helps people discover new romance novels by including diversity in her displays.
Romances by Helen Hoang (some of her characters are on the autism spectrum) are doing well and “Red, White & Royal Blue” by Casey McQuiston and queer romances are very popular, Healy said.
“People are just so bored with the regular romances,” Healy said. “They like to see some twists.”
Colette Shelby, who works in the reference department of the Plainfield Public Library District, said romance is the library’s most popular genre. Readers will veer toward their favorite authors – except when they’ve just finished a series.
“Then they’ll ask us what else we have,” Shelby said, who’s happy to help by having a wide array of diverse titles ready for them. “We’re continually looking for ways to add to our collection.”
Dawn Ritter, adult services manager at the Ottawa Street Branch of the Joliet Public Library, said romance has “broad popularity” among the library’s patrons.
“Every library I think I’ve worked at, there was a hardcore group of patrons that wanted every single Harlequin novel,” Ritter said.
But Ritter said readers are also “looking for something different” and that different “is a little bit harder to find.” She understands the challenge.
“After you’ve read a lot of romance, it just seems very standard,” Ritter said. “I don’t want to say it’s boring. But there’s just not a lot of deviation from the standard. There’s a lot of the same men and the same women…there’s only so many novels (like that) you can read.”
Ritter said “Fifty Shades of Grey” helped make readers feel comfortable in asking for different romance sub-genres. And thanks to technology, readers can locate books in library’s collection simply by searching keywords, Ritter said.
She feels unless readers speak up, publishers will keep publishing books they know will sell and readers will keep reading them “because they’re easy.”
“We have waiting lists for the top authors, the James Pattersons and the Danielle Steels,” Ritter said. “So we work hard to promote the lesser known authors, the staff picks and the local authors.”
Source: The (Joliet) Herald-News, https://bit.ly/3bGVEYw