Where can we turn when the world feels too painful to bear? I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. For me, the answer is usually words: poetry, novels, interviews, quotations—all of language seems to have a healing power. Regarding Brexit, and its attendant xenophobia and racism, Joanna Walsh, fiction editor at 3:am Magazine, invited “publishers, writers, translators—people fighting, in their work, to keep our cultural borders open—to contribute a single sentence in reaction to what’s happening right now,” resulting in a powerful litany of “[a]nger, despair, protest, sorrow, love.” Bibliotherapy, the act of therapeutic reading, has a long history; Ceridwen Dovey’s New Yorker piece from 2015 titled “Can Reading Make You Happier?” finds that “Ancient Greeks […] inscribed above the entrance to a library in Thebes that this was a ‘healing place for the soul.’”
I’m traveling for the summer in South America. (Does travel make us feel better? Experiencing the world? Being in nature, looking at wild life through travel binoculars? yes. But still: books.) I took one book with me—Elena Ferrante’s The Lost Daughter—and it was stolen in LAX before my first flight. So I’ve switched to Kindle and Emily Books. As an experiment, I decided to open myself up to the highs and lows of the romance genre: If love heals, then I thought I’d try out, as they say, “trashy” romance novels, or “beach reads.” I suppose the only difference I’ve discovered between the “high art” of literary novels and the “lower art” of romance novels is twofold: 1) the self-publishing writers of the world need editors, badly, and 2) saccharine hope and happiness of “light” literature may be easy to generate and fluffy—but, as sentiments, they are still important, and even necessary.
I’m left wondering why we literary or intellectually-minded readers put down the whole genre of the romance novel when all it is, really, is another attempt to feel okay in the world.
I’ve read four romance-focused books in about as many days. It’s a way of hiding, of healing. Sometimes, I think it may be working. Here they are: