I’m sure I’m not the only one who has noticed the revival of Romance in the last few years. I know Romance books have always been popular, but it feels like they are having a moment and the genre is experiencing a comeback particularly amongst younger and BIPOC readers.
The great thing about Romance books is that you know exactly what your getting. After a few years of unpredictability, it isn’t surprising that many of us just want to read about happy endings. Pride and Prejudice is routinely voted as a Readers Favourite across genres, and at its core it is a romance: two people meet, fall in love, something prevents them from getting together, they overcome the hardship and live happily ever after. Classic feel good formula. I wasn’t surprised to learn that over 33% of books sold in mass-market paperback format are romance novels, and that it is the highest-earning genre of fiction with over $1.44 billion in revenue. In 2021, according to Penguin Random House (highest-earning publishing house in the world) romance book sales had increased by more than 50% in 2021. Romance novel sales grew by 49% in 2021 compared to 2020 in the UK. The Pandemic made many of us shift our priorities and apparently our reading habits too.
I started reading romance from a young age. The Mills and Boom collection in my childhood library was discreetly tucked away at the back and I remember sneaking there, casually picking a slim pink book and hiding it inside the covers of an A4 folder. I could pretend I was studying while leafing through the smut that was my real interest. Unfortunately it was to PG/U to maintain my interest for long so I moved on to Regency Romances and then to Vampires and then back to historical romances when I discovered Joanna Lindsay. Some of those covers still make me blush! I gave up on Romance for a number of reasons, but primarily because they just didn’t resonate with my life.
It’s interesting to see the resurgence of Romance, particularly because it seems to be driven by a younger audience. The TikTok generation know what they like and aren’t afraid to show the world. The trend is moving away from ebooks with nearly two thirds of younger readers(13-24y/o) opting for print format compared with under 40% for all other age groups. Authors such as Coleen Hoover, Beth O’Leary and Emily Henry have certainly been the big winners, but its interesting to see that this trend is also reciprocated with BIPOC authors.
Unfortunately, as is the trend in Publishing as a whole, Romance is dominated by White authors. 92.2% of romance novels published in 2021 were written by white authors. While I find this figure staggering, there is some good news: books by BIPOC authors are also on the increase. Again, no doubt driven by the influence of social media, we are beginning to see more representation in Romance, and what’s more, smaller publishing houses and niche publishers, are benefitting from this shift.
I’m currently enjoying Muslim Romances. I started with Love from A to Z by S.K. Ali and more recently read As Long As The Lemon Trees Grow and All My Rage. Although I enjoyed all of these they are written for a young adult audience. What I wanted to read was a romance that spoke to me, as an older Muslim reader. So I was pleased when I was offered an opportunity to review a series of short Muslim Romances for a collection called Ramadan Nights. As a Muslim woman, I know that Romance and Muslim are not incompatible or contradictory, but I was curious how the authors would deliver on a more 15 rated version of a romance whilst also making it halal.
The first short story I read was The Codex by Papatia Feauxzar. Instantly I fell in love with our heroine, Hajaratu, a 39 year old, wealthy business woman who we first meet at a paper and pulp symposium. (Tell me that isn’t the ideal location for a blossoming romance?) She is also a widow and single mum. Tariq is 25, a sales rep, and seeking a soulmate. They meet at a gala, and instantly we can see the sparks. After the symposium they fly back to their respective states in the US, until Hajaratu offers Tariq a job, and the two are reunited. I don’t want to give away much more of this titillating tale, but I was pleasantly surprised at how the author managed to make this a classic romance whilst also making it appropriate for a Muslim audience. My favourite love story of all time is that of the Prophet (SAW) and his first wife Khadija (RA), and there are elements of that here: the age difference, the successful business woman, her employing him. Mixed into the story are also hadiths, Arabic text and duas, but not in an over whelming or preachy way, just the way any practising Muslim might consider them in their mind when approaching a potentially conflicting scenario.
The next short story I read was The Arrangement by B.F. Queen. As you know, my cultural highlight of the past few years has been the Qatar World Cup, which B.F. Queen very cleverly uses as the backdrop of this romance. Yassine is a handsome footballer playing for L.A Galaxy, but dreaming about playing for his home team, Morocco, in the upcoming World Cup. Unfortunately, he has been denied his green card and unless he finds another way to get one, he will have to go back to Canada and miss out. Nouha, also works for L.A Galaxy and is the Coaches secretary. With her head in a romance book, she is known to be kind and caring, if not a bit of a recluse. Nouha is also an orphan living with her sister, uncle and aunt after the tragic death of her parents in a car accident, a memory she lives with every day as she has a scar on her facing reminding her of it. When the coach suggests Yassine thinks about getting married to get his green card, and recommends Nouha, we have the makings of a friends to lovers romance, with a moral tale about our obsession with beauty.
I thought both these stories delivered on their assignments. They gave me romance without any compromise. I had beautiful protagonists, a complicated scenario and most importantly a happy ever after. There was great representation and no problematic fetishization or exoticization of the other. I was grateful that neither book dealt with any heavy topics or made me feel any emotions other than joy. These were regular women and men, doing well in their lives looking for love with scenes that made me laugh rather than think. I’m looking forward to reading more of these short stories. As someone who likes Romance, it was a pleasure to be able to see myself in one for the first time.
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