Since working at Booka, twice I’ve been asked for recommendations for erotic fiction, or as it’s known nowadays: ‘spicy reads’. Romance seems to come with certain connotations: covers featuring scantily clad women embracing men with bulging muscles, lots of ‘held breaths’, stable boys, Mills & Boon. This particular genre of fiction was something to be looked down upon, purely for the enjoyment of middle-aged women who didn’t read ‘proper literature’.
In 2022, romance sales were the highest they’d been in a decade, since 50 Shades of Gray was released in 2012[i]. And instead of covers being disguised and hidden away, romance is promoted widely and proudly, especially amongst young people. In many ways, social media is responsible, with people sharing their book reviews and thoughts on TikTok. But this is definitely bleeding into mainstream audiences. Through reviews and ratings, Goodreads has revealed Reminders of Him by Colleen Hoover as the number one romance novel of the year, with Tessa Bailey, Emily Henry and Lucy Score rounding out the top five[ii]. It’s unsurprising then, to discover that Colleen Hoover is leading the revolution, having sold 20 million copies of her novels. In 2022, she outsold the Bible, selling 8.6 million, compared to 5 million for the Bible[iii]. But what is it that is making romance so popular?
For me, reading romance allows me to fall in love all over again. The characters are ‘normal’ people, that are relatable, that we can identify with. I recently discovered Julie Murphy, known mostly for her YA novels such as Dumplin’ and Pumpkin. She writes novels with plus-size main characters, something I could only dream about as a young person. Her adult novels, If The Shoe Fits, and A Merry Little Meet Cute, both feature romantic leads who are ‘larger than life’ in many senses of the word, with the prior showcasing a cute, sweet romance whilst the latter is a steamier affair. Getting to live vicariously through these characters, sharing their experiences and emotions is a big draw for me.
Reading romance is also about escapism. There’s something reassuring, knowing that the main characters are going to fall in love and ride off into the sunset. One of my favourite books from 2022 is Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston, where the son of the US President and the Prince of England fall head over heels in love and into each other’s beds. As well as discussing the repercussions that a queer romance could have, on both of their lives in the public forum, it also showcases the joy of falling in love, sharing the in-jokes, building a relationship.
Ultimately, I believe readers are looking for books that lift their hearts. The last few years have been challenging (the understatement of the century) and after all the misery and isolation, a little bit of love is just what the doctor ordered.