Looking Back

Romance novels ruined my attention span.

As I child, I grew up spending every possible moment reading. I started young, reading well before I turned five, and I loved it. My elementary school teachers all helped to foster this absolute love of books, and by the time I was in third grade, I was devouring two books a week. Going to the library would be an absolute event. I remember my wonder at opening a new story and transporting my being from my little town to the world. Being able to walk through cities and lands I'd never even dreamed of was the best thing in the world.

Gradually, as I got older and the page numbers increased, my voracious pace calmed down. I began searching for more mature things to read, and felt accomplished when I "graduated" to the young adult section at the library. My tastes began to change, and I stopped focusing on grand adventures in other worlds, with strange creatures and magic. Coming-of-age stories and things that I could relate to dominated my choices for a while. I loved the idea that two people, me and the central character in the book, could share something so fundamental to our identities at the time, namely our age, and still have entirely different experiences in life. This was the time that I started really becoming interested in lives outside of my own. This was also the time I became interested in gender, sexuality, and how complex and fluid they are. Some of my favorites books from this time (Freak Show by James St. James, What Happened to Lani Garver by Carol Plum -Ucci, Tales from the Madman Underground by John Barnes) involve a character with complex sexuality in a place or time when they aren't accepted and the repercussions of it. 

During my time reading these novels, I read my first romance. It was by Amanda Quick, a highly prolific writer with three pen names who had perfected the formula for romantic suspense. I was on vacation in Florida when I read it and I wasn't supposed to read things inappropriate for my age, so to me it felt like a naughty fling, a passionate affair never to be spoken of again. And I didn't speak of it. But I thought about it. All of a sudden I craved another passionate affair with a 'sugar book,' a novel so full of fluff it's practically made of cotton candy. So I went to my library and stalked the 50 cent pocket book cart until I had acquired about ten novel by various authors. I smuggled them home and finished all of them within five days. After that my appetite for quick little romances became, like many "appetites" referenced in the novels themselves, insatiable.

Now, instead of perusing the shelves filled with teenage self-discovery and angst, I ran so quickly to the shelves of my favorite romance officers I barely ever looked at other types of books. I liked the formula written in so many of these books; it didn't matter to me that every story was a carbon copy of the last because the familiarity made it that much more fun for me to see what the authors had changed between each book. I would borrow ten books at a time from the library, read them all in two days and return them so I could buy more from the cart. As of now, my romance novel collection is larger than any other genre that I own. The reading time kept getting quicker and quicker, to the point where I had read each book so often that I began to see their flaws. I loved the fun reads, but my infatuation with the dream of a dark stranger rescuing me began to fade.

One thing that really started to irritate me was a really sexist view toward women, perpetuated through the thoughts of almost every male character in the books. There are obviously authors that create strong women, and men that see their female counterpart as equal, but sometimes it is literally overwhelming the amount of strange misogynistic overtones that seem to pop up. I know that the 'damsel in distress' is a very common archetype, especially in romance novels; the more of the books you read, the more one dimensional the characters seem. 

The rate at which I went through books slowed to an absolute crawl, and then halted entirely. I got so busy with schoolwork and life I no longer had the time to stalk the paperback section, so I stopped reading at all except for forcibly in English class. I wanted to enjoy reading again and I started many fantastic books, but my patience was shot. Without the easy to follow plots and the super predictable characters I was bored. It was frustrating, losing interest in everything so quickly. I wanted to be able to finish The Lord of the Rings series, and read all of the classics that transformed 20th century literature. 

But I wasn't excited about it anymore. And that made me sad. 

I've stopped reading romance novels. A ton of them still sit on my shelf, but they aren't my go to now. 

And after all of that, I'm finally reading a book I am excited about. We're reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey in English and I'm pretty much done. This marks the first book outside of romance that I've read all the way through in, honestly, over a year. The characters are engaging, the symbolism is fascinating, and I feel like I am relating to the emotions of the story, not the fantasy of perfection. I know that I'm still going to have trouble paying attention to in depth plots, but it worth it to focus for a little. 


  1. This blog post was amazing. Like you, I have always loved reading. Romance novels have always irritated me though- I feel like most of them don't exactly have very strong plots. I've always been one for more complex, darker plots although I can't read too many of those books in one go without losing focus. I wish you good luck with paying attention to in depth plots!


  2. This is great! I need to scour through my friend's blog roll more often... I have a similar but different issue where I speed though fantasy fiction just to know what happens next, rather than for the quality of writing. It's translated into me not being able to enjoy a good book without reading it once before to know the storyline.

    I've only watched One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, which was apparently modified a bit from the book, but it was amazing, I have never ever cried so much at a film. However, it was quite misogynistic, is the book less so? Do you recommend it?

    1. I actually think the book is a bit more impact full than the movie, which I also loved. But, yes, the book also had quite a few misogynistic themes. I think that might stem from the characters themselves blaming many of their problems on women and being faithful to their point of view? I would still recommend it, though, because it really is fantastically written and interesting.

      As for modification from book to movie, the only really really major change is that te book is from a completely different perspective.


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