Modern Romance Novels Are Ruining Literature

Before I start this, I would like to preface- I hate Colleen Hoover.

I say this because I’m about to say something very pro-Hoover, but I need you to understand my extreme distaste for her. 

I was in a six-year reading slump from going into the sixth grade to ending my junior year of high school. Summer reading felt like such a chore and I was so busy with my different classes that reading was just never on my radar. 

I discovered “BookTok” in 2021, and as a victim of social media culture, I wanted to purchase what everyone else was purchasing. In this case, it was Colleen Hoover’s infamous novel, “It Ends With Us.”

colleen hoover

I credit this book for getting me back into reading. At the time, I really had no moral issues with it. I thought the plot was interesting and it was different than most romance novels. After reading “It Ends With Us,” I read some of Hoover’s others, which were fine, but I ended up switching over to other authors. 

Almost three years later, and a massive public shift against Colleen Hoover, I took a class called Literary Theory. I’m not going to try and explain what Literary Theory is because I too barely understand it (it was a hard class okay), but a large portion of the second half of the course was dedicated to reading popular novels in society through a feminist lens. One of which was “It Ends With Us.”

Rereading the novel with a deeper understanding of the science behind romance novels was fascinating. We used Jan Radway’s “Reading the Romance” as our foundation for understanding romance novels because Radway dedicated her life to studying romance and the chokehold it has on people. 

What I learned is that while Colleen Hoover can claim all she wants that “It Ends With Us” isn’t meant to glorify abuse and that it isn’t a romance novel, she certainly wrote it in a way that glorifies abuse. For starters the book is on every romance shelf at your local bookstore. If she really didn’t want the book to be considered a romance, she could have said to her marketing team that she didn’t want that. Instead, she took the money move by putting it in a popular genre to gain traction and making money moves off of it such as trying to make a coloring book. Off of a book about abuse. She didn’t try to make it “not a romance.”

Even beyond that, there’s little details I noticed in Radway’s descriptions of the characters in a romance novel. Ideal characters in a romance novel will match most if not all of these traits according to Radway. I’m going to quote my own paper here because I think I explained it well.

“Ryle’s character dances the line between love interest and villain. While he does align with Radway’s definition of villains, he also has many traits that could make readers think he is the ideal love interest. “The hero of the romantic fantasy is always characterized by spectacular masculinity” (Radway 128). From the novel’s start, Lily describes Ryle as having hyper-masculine traits. “Almost everything about him is hard, angular, and dark” (Radway 128). Ryle’s anger is the first trait readers learn about him, and Lily is attracted to this darkness. “The two times I’ve spent with Ryle were on days I’d probably rather forget. My fathers funeral and spraining my ankle. But somehow, him being present made them feel like less of the disaster they were” (Hoover 58). Radway also describes the love interest as having an affectionate interior despite the harsh exterior. Ryle matches this description, as there are several points in the story where he lets his guard down and talks about how much he craves Lily and is affectionate toward her. “All I can think about is how crazy it feels when I’m near you, and I need you to make it stop Lily” (Hoover 69). This makes the intent behind Ryle’s character confusing, as some readers may take his character as the villain while others may take him as the love interest. This creates confusion over Ryle’s character and encourages the notion that men must be overly masculine if they want to be attractive” (Morin).

See the issue? And you could say, “Well I don’t see how anyone can see Ryle as the love interest,” I suggest looking up Ryle Kincaid on twitter. “confession otd: i find ryle kincaid attractive at the very moment. I am sorry” is one of the first twitter responses to the search. 

I mention Hoover in particular because her books have apparently sold more copies than the Bible. So many people are consuming books like this that romantize abuse and hyper-sexual relationships that it’s becoming concerning for the younger people who will read these growing up and think a guy knocking on 20+ doors to find yours just to have sex with you will be their future. 

Hoover has her issues with romanticizing toxic behaviors, but authors like Tessa Bailey and Hannah Grace have an issue with not writing stories, but rather literary pornography. Which I think is ruining literature.

There’s a difference between including a sex scene in a book and writing at least one per chapter. And making them graphic. I struggled to read Hannah Grace’s “Icebreaker” because there was really no definitive plot. It was also just uncomfortable; when I read a book I want to see how the characters change and grow. Not to hear about how they rip each other’s clothes off every minute.

Besides my personal preferences however, the sheer amount of books like this have altered people’s perceptions of what books are supposed to be about. I saw one twitter user say one of their eighth-grade students asked how much spice was in “The Fault in our Stars,” a book about teenagers with cancers. When I was in middle school reading the same book, I was more distraught that two teenagers would ever have to go through something like that, not when they are going to start having sex and suddenly are cured of their cancer.

The point of books is to learn different stories and be engaged with the different worlds created by the author. To learn more about ourselves and what we enjoy, and to learn about people we may not have learned about. Going back to “The Fault in Our Stars” I never would have learned the experience of a teenager going through cancer, but that book exposed me to the topic. 

The excessive smut used to be kept on Wattpad and Tumblr, where young and impressionable kids didn’t necessarily have easy access to it. Because a parent will be more likely to take their kid to the bookstore rather than creating them an Ao3 account. 

A common argument for these books and the exposure to youth is that it’s “teaching” them about sexuality. One, no? A book should not teach your kid what sex is. The Harvard Crimson put it perfectly. “Younger readers might gain unrealistic expectations for their own sexual experiences without sufficient explanation of how fictionalized sexual trysts differ from real sex. This issue is not completely dissimilar from the misconceptions of regular consumers of other forms of pornography.”

Unfortunately, a lot of adults won’t address this issue because they enjoy these books too much. It’s actually really difficult to find a lot of articles on the excessive use of sex and the romanticization of abuse in romance novels because it seems like people are enjoying them too much to want to change them. However, I think it’s more important to focus on the more impressionable readers and how they’ll view relationships in the future.

Overall, the new trend in romance novels can be extremely harmful to young readers for how they will eventually look for relationships, but it doesn’t seem like there will be a change any time soon. 

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