First and foremost, I'm sure there are indeed bookclubs out there that are not online only and do read romance novels, and if you're reading this, I applaud you. Like anyone, I can only speak from my personal experience, but in the small city I live in,I can't find any!
Like a lot of people, I love a great book and do read related genres with strong elements of romance, such as Phillipa Gregory and Charlaine Harris or Stephenie Meyer who are some of my all time favourites, but all in all, romance is my thing. And I'm not alone, as "reported by Nielsen BookScan, romance had a 34% share of the US fiction market in 2015." (1.) So considering it's such a large percentage of the fiction reading populace as "Statistica reported romance as the second most popular genre" (ibid.) I wonder why it is that so many book clubs shy away from the genre?
In the bookclubs I've visited, thrillers and crime novels often top the list, followed by memoirs and all manner of other genres, but it's rare indeed that romance makes it on the list at all. Are people embarrassed by admitting that they enjoy a good love story? After all, not all romance is explicit or unsuitable for younger readers, besides, if crime thrillers are openly accepted to go into all manner of gory details, is a little intimacy really so hard to tolerate in today's society that book clubs don't want to openly discuss them?
I can't help but feel that there is still a stigma associated with romance novels that people look down on as either too smutty or lacking in intellect. It's a view shared by Ferguson in The Tempest who writes:
"It's chick lit and romance novels that are seen as the epitome of ‘trashy’. When I browse through romance novels, I always get a few patronizing looks from the book store staff. From MFA students and lecturers to authors, a great number of people seem to look down on the genre." (2.)
Perhaps I'm visiting the wrong sort of bookclubs, in a particularly conservative part of southern England, I'll admit that is a possibility. I do wonder though, if perhaps there are more enthusiasts of the genre sitting silently in book clubs across the country too concerned with how they will be judged to openly request more romance books are read within their book group. This is supported by the Romantic Novelists Association who confirm that "[i]n the UK, in the first half of 2017, a romantic novel was purchased every two seconds. That’s a lot of talented writers and a lot of enthusiastic readers." (3.)
I can't help feel that because of this stigma, some truly talented romance authors sadly often do not receive the exposure they deserve, which in my view is a crying shame. So I'll leave you with a few words of encouragement, if you are a member of a book group and would like to see more romance titles added to the reading lists and actually picked, speak up! You are likely far from alone.
Finally, if you are local to West Sussex, England and interested in a romance orientated book group, please be sure to subscribe to my mailing list to find out more details of a romance literature group (for readers and writers of the genre) which I will be opening from May 2020 in the Chichester region.
2. https://thetempest.co/2018/03/09/entertainment/chick-lit-romance-bias/ accessed 27.01.2020
3. https://romanticnovelistsassociation.org/about-romantic-fiction/ accessed 27.01.2020