The Comforting Nature of Poorly Reviewed Romance Novels

I don’t think there’s such a thing as genuinely superior literature. 

Some works have garnered more popularity, elicited more feeling, provoked more opinions, and yes, some books are generally loved better. Still, I don’t subscribe to the idea that just because someone’s story follows all the rules means they are more valuable to readers across the board. 

No two pieces of written work share identical purposes, nor do they yield identical results; therefore, it’s pretty much impossible to objectively rank literature based on significance, personal impact, or enjoyment (unless you’re a snob, in which case there are plenty of ~objective~ rankings for anything and everything). Millions of people, including myself, read for entertainment, escapism, and relief. We read to fuel our daydreams, to find an easy distraction, or maybe to spark inspiration, and sometimes, we read poorly reviewed romance novels because we want to, and that’s perfectly fine. 

Personally, I adore cheesy romances. Nothing warms my heart like a tired trope, a cliche plot, a witty heroine, and a brooding love interest. I’ve read tons of books that will never, ever be Pulitzer prize nominations or New York Times Best-Sellers, and I’ve enjoyed them a hell of a lot more than some of the classics I’ve trudged through.

That brings me to my subsequent controversial opinion: literature doesn’t have to be technically or grammatically perfect to be enjoyable.

Sure, mistakes in a book or published piece can be distracting–I’m on the tenth chapter of a very niche Pride and Prejudice sequel, and I’ve already come across two blatant typos. I won’t say I didn’t throw my hands up and grumble about how those mistakes shouldn’t have made it past a paid editor, but guess what? I’m still reading the friggin book. I’m still enjoying the story. I didn’t chuck the paperback against the wall and swear never to pick it up again because they misspelled “Hertfordshire.” Ultimately, it’s still an engaging read that gives an interesting twist to one of my favorite stories.

I don’t always feel like whipping out a tiresomely intellectual, brain-twisting piece of literature; most of the time, I want to kick back with something that doesn’t take too much concentration to enjoy. Honestly, I’d even be cool with losing a couple brain cells along the way if what I’m reading makes me smile. So what if it’s a corny plot that’s been redone a million times? Who cares if you don’t learn a new word each time you pick up one of your favorite novels? If you enjoy it, read it. Not every single book you pick up needs to be this profoundly moving, earth-shattering, technically immaculate stroke of human genius.

Art is subjective. 

Think of it this way, you can enjoy Rembrandt just as much as somebody’s sickest Twitter meme, and you can have both and love them simultaneously for drastically different reasons. 

As someone who went through an *insufferable* phase of reading only classical literature instead of the fun stuff that my friends were reading (because I was a self-important, superiority complex-ridden prick), I feel like I have the authority to say that reading is way more fun when you get the stick out of your ass, lower the stakes, and read some material that was created with the sole purpose of making you happy. Those romance tropes are redone so many times for a reason; we love to see them tweaked with new characters and settings, and we like knowing how they’re going to end. Just like you go back for your favorite dessert over and over again, we go back to the plotlines we know we’re going to love, and just because the premise is the same doesn’t mean that the content and style of the story can’t hit you differently.

I use the word ‘comforting’ very deliberately in this post’s title because it plays a fundamental role in what material we choose to absorb. There is an unimaginable quantity of information we are forced to take in simply by proxy, and to be frank, most of it is terribly depressing. We’re constantly taking in hours and hours of bad news, questionable hot takes, and negativity from others, so it’s crucial to allow yourself little pleasures when the time comes for you to choose how to fill your free time. So put down War and Peace, and go read that slutty billionaire series your friends have been raving about. Grab the Regency-era drama where the Duke falls in love with the spunky governess off the bookshelf. Read the same novel you’ve already finished seven times because you love it. Who cares if people slammed it in the Amazon reviews? 

A lesson I’m keeping in mind these days is that you can enjoy things just because they are pleasant. Not everything has to teach you something; you don’t have to spend every waking moment of your life pursuing some invisible intellectual goal–you can like things simply because they make you happy. That’s not an invitation to never strive to intellectually improve. Remember that taking anything to the extreme is never a good idea, and all things are good in moderation. I advise balancing the discomfort of growth and learning with the pleasures of spending time with what is familiar and enjoyable. 

That said, give credit to those cheesy books that make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. Yeah, they might have a few typos, and the style might not be the most sophisticated, but that’s really nothing to fret over if reading it brings you peace. Don’t apologize for giving time to books that aren’t going to raise your IQ, and stop hiding from people who pass by you in the spicy section at Barnes and Noble. There is a benefit in reading poorly-reviewed romance novels; you just have to allow yourself to see that your happiness is valuable enough to be catered to without the pretense of having to do everything in the spirit of intellectualism.