A couple of days ago I went to the bookstore to feed my addiction, and at the checkout counter I received the "look" from the woman working. Any romance reader will know the look to which I'm referring. The glance at the book cover, then the slight quirk of the lips as they take in the title, and suddenly they look at you as though your IQ just dropped 20 points for buying something they consider "smut". Somehow, I'd spontaneously become less intelligent now that I was at the front of the line than when I was in the back and no one knew what book I was buying. I'm sorry bookstore clerk, but a slightly melodramatic title and a sexy shirtless gentlemen on the cover does not a poorly-written novel make.
I find it frustrating when people quite literally judge romance novels by their covers and their genre. The "look" says "I can't believe you read this fluff" and "you must lead a sad, lonely life and have an affinity for feline companionship". Well, I do read this fluff, I'm not lonely, and I can honestly say that I'm much more of a dog person, thank you very much. Are there some romance novels out there that lack substance and favor gratuitous love scenes? Absolutely. But anyone who is a fan of the genre will tell you that those novels are not the ones that appeal to us. Novels boasting men of heightened sexual prowess wearing denim prisons bursting at the seams are nothing without a strong storyline, and love scenes are worthless without character development and interaction.
To those who assume romance novels are poorly written and only indulge in a woman's need to fantasize, I say you are correct that some will never become literary classics like Crime and Punishment or Pride and Prejudice. However, I will argue that there are equally poor mysteries, sci-fi thrillers, fantasies, and general fiction novels. Most romance novels that I'm a fan of are brilliantly thought out, engaging, and create characters that stay with me long after I've put the book down.
I'm also a fan of young adult novels. Does the fact that they're targeted to people 15-20 years my junior make them less applicable to my life? Does it make them less creative, less imaginative, and less powerful because they're aimed at a younger generation that hasn't completed their higher education? Not in the slightest. In the same vein then, just because the subject matter of a romance novel surrounds the physical relationship between two characters, it does not mean the world building, supporting characters, and storytelling are anything other than outstanding. These authors are no less educated or creative than mainstream fiction writers and should be afforded the same respect for their talent.
I'm proud to be a romance reader, how about you?