Change of Heart
Seven souls gave romance novels a try as a result of the Bridgerton adaptation and bravely came to speak with me about what they thought of romance readers before, what it took for them to pick up a romance, and how or if they've had a change of heart about the genre and what it means to be a romance reader.
Seven souls gave romance novels a try as a result of the Bridgerton adaptation and bravely came to speak with me about what they thought of romance readers before, what it took for them to pick up a romance, and how or if they've had a change of heart about the genre and what it means to be a romance reader.
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Podcast version: Episode 096 about the Romance Reader Stereotype
Thank you so much to Ellie, Emma, Lucy, Jake, Emily, Amanda and Sujey for taking the time to speak with me.
Emily: [00:00:00] Ug, romance.
Emma: There's definitely a stereotype of people that read romance novels.
Ellie: kind of like trashy
Sujey: I went with pity.
Lucy: just a load of very fairy bodice ripper nonsense
Jake: Fabio on the cover
Andrea Martucci: Hello, and welcome to Shelf Love a podcast and community that explores romantic love stories in fiction across media time and cultures. Shelf Love is for the curious and open-minded who joyfully question as they consume pop culture.
I'm your host, Andrea Martucci. And on this episode, you'll be hearing from seven readers who are completely new to the romance genre and are sharing what they thought of romance and romance readers before they ever read one, plus does their opinion change now that they have personal experience with at least some romance novel texts?
When Bridgerton debuted on Netflix on Christmas day in 2020, it set off a wave of speculation that there would be droves of new romance readers who would flock to the genre as a result of the spicy and sumptuous TV adaptation of a long running historical romance novel series. Julia Quinn's Bridgerton.
The media sphere and Twitter sphere was abuzz with hope that the Netflix series wouldn't just prove romance novels as in demand source content for screen adaptations but that the mainstream success would also change hearts and minds when it came to respect for the romance genre.
And that's where my interest was piqued because while my issues with the Bridgerton adaptation itself have been noted elsewhere on this podcast feed, I was intrigued by the opportunity to study quote unquote, new romance novel readers. If it was in fact true that a legion of genre newbies were about to descend on the genre, they could help us learn more about not only the negative stereotype about romance readers that is assumed in the thesis that mainstream success would change public opinion about the genre for the better, but also about the extent to which exposure to the content itself impacts attitudes about the genre.
I'll drop in occasionally throughout this episode to provide context, but will mostly let my seven guests errr, research subjects speak for themselves in this episode. I'm going to skip over a lot of the background context so feel free to reach out if you have any questions, especially about my methodology. What I will say is that every interview included the same prompts guided by questions on slides. And the session was not a conversation. I gave a debrief at the end, but was otherwise not engaging with their responses during the session other than to ask follow up questions that referred to those things specifically.
So throughout the interviews, I remained as neutral as possible. So for example,
Emily: I would just instinctively say like a four or five. Is that a good answer?
Andrea Martucci (During Interview): They're all good answers.
Andrea Martucci: in addition to the qualitative interviews you'll hear today. I also conducted quantitative research and compiled some of my findings and the related theoretical frameworks in a paper that I presented at the Pop Culture Association Conference this summer. I [00:03:00] created a podcast and YouTube version of that presentation with the transcript and you can find the links to that in the show notes.
This research is about perceptions, which means that the attitudes and experiences that my guests are sharing are true. This research is not interested in debunking misconceptions. It's about identifying and measuring stereotypical beliefs and trying to understand how they work or can be changed.
I appreciate that a lot of my questions required vulnerability. And I believe that every single one of my guests today provided thoughtful answers that will help us all improve our understanding of the romance novel reader stereotype. So here's one of the first framing questions that I asked.
Andrea Martucci (During Interview): This first section is about society's understanding of romance readers. In this section, I'm going to ask you about romance readers as a group and how they're viewed by society.
And later I will ask about your personal beliefs, but in this section, try to answer based on how you think romance readers are viewed by American society.
Andrea Martucci: Each subject responded to a series of questions on a one to five Likert scale, and then they responded to a series of open-ended questions that asks for more detail about their original scores. One question I'm very interested in is the source of the romance reader stereotype. So we'll start there.
Emma: My name is Emma and I'm 24. I'm a white woman, cisgender heterosexual, and I live in the U S
Andrea Martucci (During Interview): so where do you think you learned society's view of romance readers?
Emma: probably from TV shows and movies, they'll always like make jokes about people like romance. or you didn't have like the covers of the romance novels with the guy with the no shirt and the blowing hair. They kind of like make that like parody, like SNL kind of thing.
Jake: My name is Jake Anderson. I am 30 white cis-gender. I'm a male and I live in the U S
Probably the earliest memory I have of romance novels and kind of learning about it, I was probably like 12 years old and it was Christmas getting my grandma a couple novels, like Fabio on the cover and everything. And I always kind of like scoffed and laughed about it a little bit. And it was kind of a family joke. So I think I learned at that point, both what they were, and I think maybe a few years after like 15, 16, you know, middle school to high school, everyone kind of makes fun of romance novels in a way.
And at the time I had long hair, so people called me Fabio, which is kind of funny. But I think at that point I learned that it was kind of a joke, even though it's a totally valid thing, and I think since I studied English in college, everyone kind of thought it was like a toss to the side. Like you're not a quote [00:06:00] unquote real reader, which is very unfortunate.
Lucy: So my name is Lucy Bowyer and I am 56 white cis-gender lesbian who lives in Sydney, Australia.
Andrea Martucci: where do you think you learned society's view of romance readers?
Lucy: Yeah. So I think I learned it in my childhood being a voracious reader. My mother was very dismissive of the romance section in the library. There were libraries then, she thought it was just a load of very fairy bodice ripper nonsense.
So I didn't read that section of the library. I read all the classics and because it was very frowned upon to read pap. I think she called it.
Emily: my name is Emily and I'm a 31 year old, white cisgender straight woman who lives in Germany.
my family, we're all big readers. But I would say romance has always been a little bit looked down on. I mean, my mom was never one to read romance novels. And then my dad was also not one to read romance novels. And so we never had them around the house.
And, other like influential people in my life were also kind of like, Ug, romance, and they would kind of scoff at it as if there were more intellectual books you could be reading or, these other books were more admirable to be reading. And so the books I had around me and then the opinions I had around me were just always generally negative towards romance novels as if like it was fluffy or like maybe something dumb to fill your head with.
It's kind of crazy because the books that we had around our house were not just like scholarly books, they were fantasy, mystery. Like they were all sorts of genres except for romance. That's kind of the attitude I grew up in, except for, we were very evangelical. So we had some Christian romance. And so then that was kind of my interpretation of romance in general, was these evangelical romance novels. So not really a good representation of what romance is in general, a very small little niche of romance. And I was never interested in those books.
The women tended to be too subservient in my opinion. And so then I think because the only books I was exposed to had like weird romance themes to it, and then everyone else around me was kind of like, Ugh, romance, there's so many better things you could be thinking about or dreaming about.
From those influences naturally, always stayed away from romance. I never really was interested in it or even tried it before.
Ellie: My name is Ellie. I am a 29 year old, mixed race, cisgender, straight, female who lives in the [00:09:00] United States.
I think it was kind of implied to me, not necessarily from people, but like the way that it's marketed to women is kind of like trashy. Like I remember looking at like romance novel covers in the book shop and like, thinking that it was like really over the top and like not appreciating it. That's kind of the view, even though my, my grandma, my mom, like read romance novels, that's kind of how they viewed it too. It's was just like, this is like a trashy thing that we read. Like it's not, it's not like good things. You should be reading classics.
Like don't, don't read romance novels (laughing)
Andrea Martucci: Ellie shared in another answer that her mother had recently come to revisit her own beliefs about romance novels as a romance novel reader and writer.
Ellie: So I knew that she read romance and she took a year off a long time ago to write some like small romance novels.
Sujey: My name is Sujey. Hey, I'm a 29 year old, Hispanic cisgender heterosexual woman who lives in the U S.
I think the biggest influence was definitely like when 50 Shades came out, it was mocked a lot in society -actually, let me take that back.
I think Twilight was probably the first time. I know that's not like true, true romance novel, but just like, it was always depicted in in late night comedy shows or in movies where they kind of spoofed that kind of stuff. And it was always like the older moms who were reading those kinds of books and like hiding that they're reading that like on the beach and they don't want people to know and stuff like that.
So I had definitely seen that society kind of shame people who read those kinds of books, who, kind of wanted to poke fun at people who read those kinds of books. When 50 Shades came out as well, We had gone to see the movies. I hadn't read any of the books first. And I remember watching the movies and just being like, Oh, these plots are so terrible.
This is how all romance novels must be. I just wasn't interested in that, based on the depiction of the movie.
Amanda: My name is Amanda and I am a 28 year old Vietnamese, cisgender heterosexual woman who lives in Germany.
Society and media and like these stereotypes that are promoted by what you see on TV and what you hear from culture. I mean, one of the typical ones that comes up when I was a teenager is like Twilight and that was kind of I guess an extreme example of it, but it was like the people in school always made fun of anyone who's reading Twilight or anyone who had really any interest at all in this love story.
And so I think that kind of culture permeated through the school culture, which continued to permeate throughout my life. And I think also continues into adulthood where you stereotype romance readers as a certain way of seeing the world or a certain kind of unrealistic, overly romantic person.
Andrea Martucci: In the previous section, you heard a range of responses about how the media, social situations, family dynamics, and religious or education settings all work together to reinforce certain messages about the content [00:12:00] of romance novels, and who reads them.
In this next section i'm sharing responses that discuss the subjects' own thoughts and feelings about the stereotype about romance readers as a group as shaped by those forces.
Emma responded that before she read a romance novel herself, she thought the stereotype about romance readers was very accurate. Here's why she thought that.
Emma: I feel like, when you hear about romance novels, it just comes with certain connotations of like, they're not full of good content, there's not much plot it's just sex and that's it. Or, you know, it's not about the characters and there's so many of them as well.
There's so many like romance novels. It's like, I mean, sometimes the series of books are like 15 in a series and it's like, that's just insane. How can anyone read that many books on just one kind of topic? There's definitely a stereotype of people that read romance novels.
It's like they have a lot of time on their hands and, they're just reading them because they're quick reads. They're not actually reading them cause they're any good. That's what I used to think.
Andrea Martucci (During Interview): What do you think defines a romance reader?
Emma: I think someone who honestly just wants to read a book about people falling in love and finding happily ever after, because sometimes it is kind of a, a way to escape, you know, the mess of the rest of the world. And it's nice to know like what you're getting into. And so, yeah, I would say somebody who wants a happy ending.
Andrea Martucci: Now you'll hear from Amanda and then Lucy who were a little bit more ambivalent about how accurate they thought the stereotype was prior to reading a romance.
Amanda: I know other people who have read romance novels and stuff, friends of mine. And I don't think that they fit into the stereotype of somebody who's just only enjoys indulgent fiction or doesn't want to just process like serious I guess intellectual literature. Um, but I don't say number one, because I think there is a part of truth in terms of romance readers, you know, having a certain level of romanticism or attachment to romanticism or attachment to some kind of dreamlike world where you can a little bit get lost in it.
I don't think that's the only thing that people desire and reading romance, I think there's more depth to it than meets the eye.
Andrea Martucci: So now that you have read a romance novel, how accurate do you believe that stereotype about romance readers is now?
Lucy: two, still two.
Andrea Martucci: So can you explain why your answer hasn't changed? I can guess probably based on your previous response, but
Lucy: yeah, that, I think I already knew that women who - well, I suppose men also read romance novels. So shouldn't confine it to one gender. And the people who read romance novels are not all the same, not homogenous, and are probably as diverse as general society.
I think that romance readers are probably a very diverse [00:15:00] group of people. And I thought that before I read a romance novel. And so I think that the stereotype that probably belongs to in my mind, the stereotype comes from romance readers of the 1960s and 1970s as being ditzy women in search of sort of solace and fantasy. I think it's probably a not so correct stereotype.
Andrea Martucci: One key question. And the larger research project was about the perceived emotional response quote unquote American society felt about romance readers as a group. The four options were admiration, pity, contempt, and envy. These correspond to the stereotype content model framework, which tests a comprehensive causal theory, linking perceived social structure to a predictable stereotype and emotional prejudice. And those emotional prejudices are admiration, pity, contempt, or envy.
In my quantitative research with 360 responses, 80 to 90% of people who don't identify as heavy romance readers, select pity, which correlates to the stereotype I predicted, the paternalistic stereotype.
Here's Ellie and then Sujey explaining why they chose pity on that question.
Ellie: I think that it's viewed as like a lesser genre and the assumption is that if you read romance, that you're stupid.
I felt like it was like the same as a reality TV show kind of. Like just in general kind of held the belief that like most people who read romance novels were just kind of wasting their time.
Sujey: I had the thought in my mind that romance books aren't very, well-written they just churn them out to get lots of them sold, the people who read them aren't looking for quality material, or are just moms. Not really looking for a lot of plot or substance within it. So people who read those books, I figure just must be bored or, you know, don't really know there's better things out there to read.
So I think that's why I I went with pity.
Andrea Martucci: How would you define somebody who is a romance reader?
Sujey: Hmm, probably somebody who might enjoy lighter reading, who isn't necessarily looking for big, complex thoughts, which I realized I'm not looking for that all the time, either. Sometimes I just want a book that I can pick up and breeze through in a day and enjoy it for the sake of enjoying it. So I think just in general, somebody who's looking for a lighter book is how I would describe someone now as a romance reader.
Andrea Martucci: If we assume that the romance reader stereotype is either ambivalent as the Stereotype Content Model suggests and at worst, a fully negative stereotype, then what does it take to get people who believe that stereotype, at least in part, to take the plunge and actually pick up a romance [00:18:00] novel? Here's Emma.
Emma: I have one friend. She mainly reads like more modern romance novels reads like ones about hockey. But she always told me, like, you would love these books, and she would always send me recommendations. She sent me the recommendation for the Wallflower series, she was always like, you should read these. And I'm like, Okay. Maybe one day. I just never like never got into it.
And then after Bridgerton and I was like, and I read those books and I was like, there's more of these books. I need to read them all.
Andrea Martucci: Here's Jake followed by Ellie, then Emily on their motivation to start reading a romance novel.
Jake: When I was in school, I read like Pride and Prejudice and Moll Flanders, and I absolutely was bored to tears by those. And I think Bridgerton as a show, like with the costume design and the film design, it all just kind of refocused what I think a romance novel could be. And I don't know exactly how much romance is for me as a reader, but it at least piqued my interest and it kind of let me know that the genre is as valid as any other.
Ellie: My mom had watched Bridgerton over Christmas and like came over and told me, Oh, you should try watching that. I bet you would like it. And I, I watched it on a whim after she had told me and then I was like, Oh my gosh, there's so much more.
I can just like, eat this world. It's like so much fun to read all these books.
Emily: I was glad I could find like something where people were talking about it and I could decide like, Oh, this actually does sound interesting to me because I don't know if reading a Bridgerton book on its own would have been enough.
I think it was enough to get me interested, to try to find a couple other books to try. But if the first couple of books I had tried were all flops, I probably would have never tried again. And so it was kind of luck that the next book I tried that I really liked. And then I've had a few flops since then, but I was willing to give it another go because I've already had two decent experiences with it.
Andrea Martucci: I'm almost entirely uninterested in discussing the content of the romance novels that my interviewees read, given that this is not a critical engagement with those texts, the texts vary. Even if these readers did start with Bridgerton novels, Bridgerton doesn't define the genre, et cetera, et cetera.
However, I did dip into asking what these subjects enjoyed or did not enjoy in the romance as they read, and if they attributed those things to the genre itself, and if those things impacted their attitudes about the genre, if only to better understand why others may like it.
Sujey: Reading my first romance novel, I will say it's not like the highest quality of literature I've ever read and the only ones I've ever read are the Bridgerton series, but there's definitely more to them than I thought.
I [00:21:00] just started reading. I think the first one was romancing Mr. Bridgerton, and I was just hooked and it had nothing necessarily to do with, with all the romantic scenes. It was all the behind the scenes stuff that was going on within the plot. So I realized there's more to offer there than I originally thought.
And there's probably a lot more people that would be open to reading similar books like that. And I probably just judged too harshly when I was thinking about the type of person who might read those kinds of books.
Andrea Martucci: Here's Emily.
Emily: Like one time I had somebody trying to pressure me into reading, it was all Christian romance. Like for a long time when I was younger, people would try to pressure me into reading Christian romance.
And then they would say like, how are you ever going to find a husband if you've never read romance novels? And I was like, well, that's not my only purpose in life is to find a husband. Like I have other things I want to do. And so for a while, it felt like people who liked romance, their only objective in life would be to have a partner.
And that, that was the only way they could feel fulfillment. That was probably what I thought for a long time. And then after I read Bridgerton, I was like, I think I like romance in novels, but I just wasn't ever able to admit that to myself or I wasn't able to see it for myself.
And so then, that was like, kind of like the moment where I thought, like, I love romance in movies. I like, you know, the romance in other books that I've read. And while I was pregnant, I read the series and it had a lot of other stuff going on, but there was this romance that was woven into the story and it was so beautiful and I loved that romance. Uh, relationship and reading it in the book.
It was just when I was on bed rest and just having like those crazy time to read this beautiful romance, it was just so nice. And I was like, why have I always been so against this? Just because you have romance in your life doesn't mean you have to like give up other pursuits.
And I think it took me a while to like, figure that out. I would say I'm not an only romance reader, but I will read romance. And I don't know how I would define a romance reader. I'm still figuring that out to try to like, get over my old ideas and figure out how I feel about them now or like how I would define them now.
Andrea Martucci: Here's Emma.
Andrea Martucci (During Interview): And so can you explain, what has changed in terms of how you think about that stereotype?
Emma: Since I've started reading romance novels, I've read, I don't know. I just started reading them in January. And so maybe I've read like 20, but I definitely, there's been like romance novels that by the end of it, I'm crying. Like I'm emotional about them. I'm invested in the characters and, it's not even about like, Oh, this, you know, made my heart race.
It's like, it was so well-written. I mean, it definitely compares with some of the other like series that I've read that are by like [00:24:00] well-known authors. The romance authors they put just as much work into their books as anyone else. They develop the story and especially with like series I had no idea, how a lot of romance novels are kind of in groups of like little series. And so you follow like this character and then you meet others and then you follow those throughout the series. And that's kind of a really, really cool concept. They just build this whole world. I've read specifically more historical romance novels, and so it's just kind of cool kind of like Bridgerton, just that world building. And they do it so well. I had no idea that any of that even went on before I had read any of the books.
Andrea Martucci: Here are Lucy's thoughts.
Lucy: So I did enjoy reading it. It's very diverting. So if you want to be absorbed in a fantasy tale or be taken out of your life, you can do that. What I didn't enjoy about the ones I was reading is that they were so formulaic. So, it was always going to be a massive thing around loss of virginity, very heterosexual, and you can read a few of those and then it just becomes boring. You just want, well I wanted more diversity in the plot.
I can see this two ways. We've had a global pandemic and don't we all want to be cheered up and therefore isn't being able to have in some ways a formulaic plot, which ends in a happy way, what a lot of people want. So I can see that was the same reason that I read quite a lot of crime because it's going to be tidied up. Well, at least you can have some of your answers at the end of the novel. So it's a puzzle.
A romance might be a journey and you know, that those characters are likely to end up at the end or else you're going to have had a good exploration of their relationship. And there'll be a kind of a tidy answer at the end.
And I think that probably is common to all romance novels.
Andrea Martucci: Here's what Amanda had to say.
Amanda: What did I enjoy? I think, I think what I enjoy the most is the large variety of ways that people can meet and fall in love and the complexity that, that involves. So, that there are so many endless possibilities of how you might fall for someone. I guess one aspect that I'm trying to describe is like the surprise of love, like how you might be surprised by somebody that you fall for, because often people have these ideas of who's the perfect person in their life.
And oftentimes, when you read romance novels, you see that these main characters are surprised by how they have fallen for someone or surprised by what they find attractive in someone. So I really enjoy kind of reading all the different ways in which people fall in love and I really enjoy this variety of like, there's no one size fits all for love and for romance.
What I did not enjoy. I would say any parts I don't enjoy are basically parts that are extremely cliche. So I think I find it difficult with romance novels when it's really unrealistic. Like for example, when men are acting in ways that just would not happen in real life.
And this is going to sound stereotypical, whatever, but I guess, [00:27:00] one of the things about some of the, the Bridgerton novels that, that kind of irks me, even though I love reading them, I've read now seven out of eight of them, is that it puts this image of men as like, these very deep people who like, what they prioritize the most in looking for a woman is like her character and her personality.
And that looks don't like really matter that much. And just from my experience in real life, I know that looks matter to men and I know that it's not so common that you find a man who's like, Oh, she's not beautiful, but all of a sudden, now she's beautiful. Because I, in my experience, it's the other way around. They find you attractive and then they go and explore your character.
So I think that's a little escape, a little unrealistic about Bridgerton novels, because it does play on that like maybe that female desire to be seen by someone who is externally, like superior to you. And that's something that these images and ideas of things that I think just wouldn't happen in real life, tend to bother me a little bit.
Andrea Martucci: And finally here's Sujey followed by Jake.
Sujey: Something that I enjoyed, I think it opened my own eyes as to wanting to be more vocal about things that I liked in my sexual life. Cause I'm like, Oh, it can be, you know, really fun or it can do this or just kind of open my eyes to new things. And just that there definitely kept me more romance in all of that.
Some parts I did not enjoy was it seemed like some of the thoughts got a little bit repetitive. There wasn't much like creative difference in all of them. A little bit of the language is like a little corny sometimes, but overall enjoyable if I can get past those small points.
Not all of them, of course, but a lot of them got married because of like something went wrong and they needed to help fix the situation. I also noticed that a lot of the times the men weren't very vocal about their feelings. I think before they got married, it was usually after that, they kind of realized, and I was just like, how could you go into marriage and not tell somebody you love them? Even if you don't a hundred percent mean it, I feel like it's the right thing to do in that era.
Jake: So I did actually enjoy the novel, but I do find some of it a little bit tedious as far as like the social cues go and and I kind of have always liked the, will they won't they sort of relationship even in film or, you know, other genres of books.
I'm a total sap, so I kind of fall for that. I do like that tension and kind of figuring out exactly how it's going to be resolved.
Andrea Martucci: This research is grounded in social psychology frameworks. Social psychology is the study of how thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by social context. And so it was important to learn about the social interactions and reactions that subjects experienced after they started reading romance and learn how that influenced their own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
Here's Emily articulating what I found to be a common theme, the desire to find someone else to [00:30:00] talk to about the romance novels that she's reading. First she'll share an experience where she felt the stereotype about romance readers was applied to her in a way that has made her shy away from sharing with them.
Andrea Martucci (During Interview): Okay. So this section is about your social experience reading a romance novel, and you've already sort of started talking about this, which is great.
Emily: but I do have some bad experiences.
Andrea Martucci (During Interview): Great. I can't wait to hear them.
Emily: So the first person that I talked to about it was one of my best friends and I said, Hey, would you want to read these books with me? Because I really want to talk to somebody about them. She was looking for a job. I knew she had all this free time so I thought, Oh, okay. Like she could read these books and we could talk about them. And she was like, Hmm. Are these like smut books? And I said, well, yeah, there is sex in it. But I would say it's very, it's very relationship oriented and it's a very character development oriented.
And I think you'd really like them. And, uh, she was like, yeah, I don't know. I'll think about it. And I could just tell, she was like, Oh gosh, I can't believe that Emily is recommending a romance novel to me. I didn't know she was one of those people so that I like have not made it again because I already kind of know how she's going to react.
Andrea Martucci: So this experience wasn't enough to put Emily off completely and she kept putting out feelers and was eventually able to find someone to share her experience with.
Emily: I watched Bridgerton and I talked to a friend about Bridgerton, and then I read the book and then my first instinct was to just kind of start in a romance genre that I was already accustomed to. So I looked up a romance fantasy book. So then I read A Court of Thorns and Roses and that whole series. And I was like, these are so good. And then I just casually asked my friend like, Hey, would you want to read these books so I could talk about them with somebody? And so then she read the series and then from there we've both been reading more and more romance novels together.
Andrea Martucci: Here's how Jake's family responded.
Jake: Shared with my sister. She was surprised that I even liked the show despite how good it is.
And I kind of just told her, I was kind of curious about this, even if you know, Pride and Prejudice turned me off to it. I thought it was worth a shot. So they were definitely surprised, but also kind of like, Oh, cool. You're branching out. So I think it was mostly supportive.
Andrea Martucci: Amanda described how her boyfriend's reaction to her reading romance novels was different from his usual pattern of engaging in her interests.
Amanda: So my boyfriend, like as a typical man, he just rolled his eyes and he just thought it was a little ridiculous that I was reading all these novels. And typically he does have an interest in the things that I read and digest. But I think in this particular instance, he really had no interest in learning more.
So that was [00:33:00] kind of unfortunate because I would have liked to share, you know, some thoughts about what I was reading to him. My female girlfriends, like one of my friends she's German, but she lived in America and many other countries. She was like, Oh, that's really great.
Like maybe I should start reading them. And she kind of said that she would put on her reading list.
Andrea Martucci: Ellie sought out online communities of romance novel readers to find support and build her confidence in re-examining her own beliefs about romance readers and her mother has also been changing her own attitudes and emotional prejudices about reading romance.
Ellie: I actually have changed my opinion after kind of talking about those things and being in spaces where people are having conversations about romance in like a nuanced way and actually a conversation with my mom where she kind of reminded me that she's been like writing and reading romance novels for a really long time and just because it's something from a woman, or a media for women that it's not trash. And that I should think about that, but just like in that context before I like start getting down on myself about like reading romance.
Andrea Martucci: There's no real definition of a romance reader. However, my research does suggest that there is a shared understanding of who romance readers are as a group. I was curious if the new readers I was speaking with would identify as joining the group. And what impact the experience had in changing their perceptions of who romance readers are. Here's Emma.
Andrea Martucci (During Interview): Do you think of yourself as a romance reader?
Emma: I would say now. Yes, I do.
Andrea Martucci: Now here's Sujey.
Andrea Martucci (During Interview): So do you think of yourself now as a romance reader?
Sujey: I would say I'm open to it. Before, I would say definitely not.
I don't know that that would be like the first book I would pick off the shelf if I went to like Barnes and Noble, for instance. But I definitely think now I wouldn't just gloss over it and kind of roll my eyes. I think I would actually read the back of it. See what it's about. So I would say definitely a lot more open to it than I used to be.
Andrea Martucci: Amanda talked about how not personally identifying with the characterization of the stereotype helped her realize that the stereotype could not possibly be accurate
Amanda: The stereotype kind of typecast the romance reader into a very certain type of person that like, the stereotype previously didn't allow for a lot of variety in the types of people who might enjoy a romance novel.
And so I, I kind of had this narrow view that romance readers are just really escapist readers that are not really concerned about serious literature. And, yeah, basically just want to kind of. Indulge in something that may not be super quality writing. But then after reading it, I realized I am not like I don't fit that stereotype.
I'm not one of those people. And that there's a lot more complexity in variety as to people who might enjoy romance or rather than what society might believe.
Andrea Martucci: And here's jake
Jake: So I think that stereotype is, one unfortunate, but two untrue because you know, you can be a real [00:36:00] music person and still listen to the radio and love lady Gaga.
And you don't have to love like weird time signatures and everything. So I think a lot of it just has to do with people being kind of elitist, but I think, if you're reading then you're a reader and that's perfectly fine, so it doesn't matter what you read just as long as you enjoy it, have fun.
Andrea Martucci: I want to share one last thought from Jake who articulated the social pressures that shape, what is considered an acceptable leisure activity.
Andrea Martucci (During Interview): So you selected envy, right? Could you actually explain that, why you chose that word?
Jake: So I think a lot of people just want to enjoy what they enjoy, but they're kind of pressured to go along with whatever's popular. And if what you enjoy might be made a joke, by other people that's kind of a hard situation to be put in. So if you feel like someone is enjoying what they enjoy and you might be interested in it, and like someone is shamelessly happy to read that, that you might kind of envy that freedom and be jealous that, you know, they can just have fun with whatever they want to have fun with while people are often very caught up in you know, how is this going to look or what are people gonna say? I think they might envy romance readers because they don't care about a stigma or anything of that nature.
Andrea Martucci: Thank you so much to Ellie, Emma, Lucy, Jake, Emily, Amanda and Sujey for taking the time to speak with me. These interviews were conducted in April 2021 via Zoom.
I'd also like to take a moment to thank everybody who shared the link to participate in this research on Twitter, the Reddit admins and Facebook admins who allowed me to post links to the research on subreddits and Facebook groups about Bridgerton. As well as the podcasters who ran the ad that I created. Jhen on Monogamish, Diana ran it on Happily Ever Aftermath, Kelly from Boobies and Newbies. And I know at least two people came directly via What Would Danbury Do, a podcast about Bridgerton. I really appreciate your help because I think it enabled me to reach out to people who are outside of my network. Thank you so much to every single person who followed that link and participated in this research in one way or another.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's show and if you're interested in learning more about the larger research project, I encourage you to listen to episode 96 of Shelf Love or look for the video version of that episode on Shelf Love's YouTube channel.
Thank you so much for spending time with me today. If you enjoyed today's episode, please subscribe, rate, or review on your favorite podcast app or tell a friend. Check out ShelfLovePodcast.Com for transcripts and other [00:39:00] resources.
If you want to join the conversation about the topics that we discuss on Shelf Love, I'd encourage you to check out Shelf Love's Patreon at Patreon.com/ShelfLove. Thank you to Shelf Love's $20 a month supporters: Gail, Copper Dog Books, Frederick Smith, and John Jacobson.
See your name listed as a Patreon supporter on the Shelf Love website if you join at any level. That's That's all for today. Thanks so much. Bye.
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