This is a real thing that happened to me this week:
Monday night, I was in SoHo for Lady Jane’s Salon, NYC’s monthly romance novel reading series. I got there early because things are slow at the day job, so I decided to stop at this coffee shop for a snack and a latte. I sat at the window and read The Windflower—a bonkers old-skool romance recently reissued that I seriously loved to bits—and so I was reading about pirate-y adventures and sipping my latte. This guy came over and dumped his laptop on the counter next to me and asked me to move over to make space for him, so I did. Before he even turned his laptop on, he said, “Is that a good book you’re reading?”
“Yes,” I said, because this book, I can’t even.
I will interrupt this story to say: 1) Ihis is maybe the third or fourth time some guy has hit on me by asking about what I’m reading, and it’s not a bad tactic as far as it goes, but usually this happens to me on the subway after a long day when all I want to do is go home. The guy who got the closest to picking me up this way was really cute, but then he told me he was a reporter for a right-wing newspaper, so he was disqualified.
2) This guy at the coffee shop was 20 years older than me at least and had the word “fuck” tattooed on both hands. On his hands. One letter per finger. So: not my type.
But he seemed nice enough and was not hard on the eyes. Not a creeper, from what I could tell. He said, “Oh, what are you reading?” and, because this guy did not look like the sort of man who would know about the magic that is The Windflower, I said, “A romance novel.” “Oh, darn,” he replied.
He got up to get coffee then, and I thought that was the end of it, but when he got back, he said, “Oh, I’ve got it. The most romantic movie I’ve ever seen.” He then proceeded to tell me, in excruciating detail, the plot of some movie from the 1930s that I’ve forgotten the name of, and it was charming of him to try, but his story ended with him saying, “Well, I guess it’s not really a romance, but I thought it was the most romantic thing I’d ever seen,” so that happened.
I walked out of the coffee shop not long after that, but actually, the interesting thing about this encounter is that he never once derided my choice in reading material (perhaps because he wanted to get in my pants?) and instead went a little out of his way to find common ground, which is admirable, but I couldn’t get past the hand tattoos.
I think this incident is kind of an interesting contrast to the myriad mansplaining articles that have come out recently in which dudes try to explain about romance and its readers and they are often baffled that women can be so successful while writing fiction they find beneath them.
It’s not really worth it to get outraged anymore. I mean, these are the facts: romance is the biggest genre on the planet. Its authors have achieved significant financial success. The books make people happy. Full stop. What more do you need?
I started reading romance again in my late twenties after a post-college, “I only read Literature” phase, and the first thing that struck me was just how much fun I had reading those books. And many, many romance novels are well-written, emotionally resonant, superbly-constructed novels. Some make you laugh, some make you ugly-cry, some are just thoroughly enjoyable.
So that’s it. The books are good. The authors are successful. That’s the bottom line.
And, hey, maybe some of these male authors writing trend pieces on romance will do the mental acrobatics the hand-tattooed guy did for me, trying to understand why I, a not-unattractive woman reading in a coffee shop, would find the genre so appealing. (This guy also asked me what a good romance novel was, and I suggested Flowers from the Storm, one of my favorite books of all time and my go-to, “So you are a lit fic reader who wants to try romance,” suggestion. I lend my copy out all the time to convert people. He said he’d check it out, but I don’t know if I believe him.)