Sometimes, a good romance novel is an indulgence. There’s a reason many non-romance readers conjure the image of a romance reader, almost always female, luxuriating in a bubble bath, usually in a claw foot tub, reading her romance novel while sipping champagne and nibbling on chocolate covered strawberries, scented candles arranged on the rim of the tub, possibly soft music playing. There’s some truth to this image. The bath can be a wonderful place to read, a mini-spa, with all the accoutrements, but we can also imagine the same reader, female or otherwise, holed up in that very same bathroom, reading by light of the overhead fluorescent bulb, or the backlight of their phone, because this is the one room nobody is going to bust into, and somebody needs a break. Does this sound familiar to anyone?
If it does, it’s no surprise. Reading romance can be not only indulgence, but respite, therapy, or even a life saver. With romance, we know we’re going to get a happy ending. No matter what else life (or, in the case of some paranormals, afterlife) throws at our lovers, when they -and we- reach the last page, they are going to be together, happy about it, and ready to take on whatever comes next. Depending on the subgenre, that may mean setting up housekeeping, with white picket fence, 2.5 kids, and a dog, a future of demon-slaying, side by side, or raising a brood of adorable children in the bucolic countryside, or maybe the splendor of a royal Court. Where or whenever the HEA takes place, we know it’s coming, and that means that, whatever obstacles stand in our lovers’ way, they are nothing in the face of true love.
That’s encouraging when our own lives are less than stable. Besides the respite of a great story, we also get time spent away from the source of our stress, our minds focused on the story, characters, and author voice instead of the demands of everyday life, or a current crisis. Even when we have to put the book down or shut off the e-reader, the characters still live in our heads. Will the captive character escape the big bad? Will the girl/guy next door ever get up the nerve to cross paths with their attractive/annoying new neighbor? When will two bickering characters realize that they’re only fighting because they actually want to be doing the exact opposite of fighting, wink wink, nudge nudge?
Stress can affect every reader differently. For some, times of high stress aren’t conducive to reading at all. When a true emergency hits, there are things we need to attend to in the moment, but knowing that favorite books are there for a re-read, or a new book will be there when we are ready, can often be a comfort or goal in itself. Get through this, and then read that book. Who among us hasn’t, whether in a library, bookstore, or our own home, petted the spines of books, and promised them it would be reading time soon? Stroked a cover and dreamed about what might be inside those covers, waiting for us when we have the time, quiet or brainpower to take a break and recharge?
The types of books we read when stressed can vary, as well. Maybe we generally like one kind of story, but stress reading requires something else altogether. It may be sweet Regencies all day, every day, but when the pressure is on, it is time to put on the thigh-high boots, pick up a weapon of choice and bust some Urban Fantasy heads for catharsis. On the other hand, a reader who normally likes their contemporary romances slick, erotic, and full of billionaires, may find a switch to Amish inspirationals a calm retreat from the norm.
Other readers may dig in deeper for more of the same when the pressure is on; plow through the backlist of their top tier favorite authors, for example, even searching through dusty stacks and boutique e-retailers to get those hard to find titles. Sometimes, the hunt for a rare gem, written under the pen name a big name author used but the one time, gives something to look forward to, somewhere to put all that nervous energy the stressful situation caused. Maybe a reader has always passed over mermaid books, but now will not rest until they have found every mermaid romance they possibly can, and maybe even noodle around with ideas for the sort of mermaid romance they would like to read, if they actually have found all that already exist.
Whether the stress is transient, or here to stay, romance readers know that a romance novel will provide respite, comfort, catharsis, inspiration, fun, and companionship. Book talk with a good reader friend, whether in person or online, can go a long way to making many situations better. That’s part of the promise of romance fiction; life may not always go the way we want, but love will always see us through.
So, dear readers, I turn it now over to you. How does your reading change during times of stress? Do you reach for time-tested favorites, hunger for anything new, or put reading on hold until things calm down and you can savor the love? Conversely, do you plow through one certain kind of book with voracious speed any chance you get? Pull up a chair in the comments section and tell us all about it. If stress doesn’t affect your reading at all,, or you think this is the silliest topic you’ve ever heard, we want to hear about that, too. There’s room for everybody at this table.