Romance novels, Dieting, and Unlikely Teachers

I sometimes think that my relationship with books is a lot like the relationship between a drug addict and his substance. I overdose on them and get hang overs; I go without them too long and start feeling antsy; I read a good one and I am on a high. There are different highs for different books.

Like Really Good Books. Really Good Books are like uppers: crack cocaine, methamphetamines. Great, soaring highs that make you think you’ve got it all figured out if only the world would just listen to you. RGBs make me almost manic in my excitement; I feel on top of the world.

Whereas romance novels are a lot more like downers: alcohol, benzodiazepines. A nice romance novel will make me feel like marijuana smokers: mellow, irie, in tune with the harmony of the universe. They are my rose-coloured (smoke-covered) lenses. I feel good.

But romance novels are also the junk food of the literary world. They’re a dime a dozen, they have very little substance and they tend to detract from rather than add to your critical thinking skills. At least that’s what I used to think. So I went on a diet: no romance novels whatsoever for twelve months. A solid year. Considering those books are my go to comfort read (what ice cream and chocolate are for other girls), this was a huge step. But I wanted to cleanse my literary palate, so to speak.

But in the eleven months that I lasted on my second attempt I shifted my thinking (amidst dealing with all my emotional breakdowns without my go-to respite) from “romance novels are bad.” to “maybe romance novels are good in moderation. Like wine. Or live viruses.” And I only lasted eleven months.

Diets are like that. I couldn’t go a year without pizza or popcorn even if I tried (especially not if I tried. Maybe if I did it without realizing it, sure) so why should I expect to go a year without reading a Harlequin?

Because those things aren’t all bad (unlike crack cocaine. Crack is whack, kids). And it’s not just the Really Good Books that can teach you truths about life and people and love. Okay, romance novels are crap at teaching you anything about love except that “it conquers all”. Which it doesn’t. But there are a surprising number of aha moments hidden in the shallows of their unrealism.

Any book can teach you something, if you let it.