Romance novels get a bad rep, I think.
When people think romance novel they still think of the covers where the heroine has impossibly big 80s hair and blue eyeshadow, bodice askew, being held by an equally big haired Fabio with like a swan coming out of his rear (or so it would seem...there's many good critiques of covers over at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books)...
Back then it was all Alpha Male is Alpharific! Here, milady, have a punishing kiss and some sexy times of dubious consent!
The thing is, things have changed as they are wont to do.
Romance novels have in the past decade or so shifted into stories that are witty, fun, clever, dark, poignant, or even in Middle English dialogue. It's historical fiction with romance. They are some of the smartest books I have read, to be honest, and most engaging.
The heroines are more fully fleshed out characters, the heroes less of the 'dominating, rapistish-like' heroes of yore. There's the history of the era present, the deliciously fancy language (I love big words).
And the thing is, for most of fans of the genre- It's not even really about the sex scenes.
Yes, they're nice and all when well-executed, but most every review is based on plot and characters, and the romance itself. Not if the two leads are boffing in a stable.
There seems to still be the lingering notion romance novels are "porn for bored housewives".
This could not be more wrong at all. All sorts of women, even men, read romance. Teachers, professors, lawyers, businesswomen, etc.
Ex- I was a Dean's List student in college that has seen a GPA 3.5 and higher on my transcript. I am applying to graduate school. I have read the Classics, I love Greek tragedies, I love Austen, I love Poe, and Nick Hornby.
I study European history on the side as a hobby. Let's talk Tudor dynasty some time if you dare. I am working on two romance historical fiction manuscripts.
Enough on me.
Even the authors themselves are women who are certainly smart ladies.
Julia Quinn, one Avon's most prolific authors and agreed by consensus of fans Writer of Some of the Best Dialogue Ever, has books in which 80-something% I believe of the SAT/GRE vocab words are contained within. She was studying at Yale Medical School to be a doctor, but found writing to be her calling. I know I thank her for that decision, I love her work!
Eloisa James, another prolific author, is actually in reality Mary Bly- a tenured Shakespearean professor whose academic writing has been published by Oxford Press. She also currently head of the Creative Writing Department at Fordham University. She essentially "came out" in 2005 at a faculty meeting.
Romance is about 60% of the sales of all fiction genres. Basically...it's pretty much the best-selling fiction. It has a very smart and loyal fanbase. Romance Writers of America is one of the largest writing associations in the country with one of the largest conferences anually.
So can the bad reputation for being "bodice rippers" please end already?