Romance book clubs are the heart of romance community discourse. They can be a place to make friends. They can give you an opportunity to become connected to your neighborhood. Romance book clubs are also a place where romance readers can find conversations that go deeper into the intricacies of the genre and what makes individual books work or not work. Romance readers love love and they love talking about it. I’m not sure if you can tell, but I love romance book clubs.
I have some experience in a romance book club I’ve attended for four years now. In the past, I’ve covered some options for romance book club books when I mentioned the romance book club I’ve been going to, the Really Reading Romance book club at Eastern Market’s East City Books hosted by the incredible Elizabeth Held and Destinee Hodge. My opinions on romance book clubs have been shaped by a group that tries to discuss a diverse range of romance books from the frontlist, backlist, and — in November at least — romances from the ’90s, specifically.
Romance book club meet ups are always a wonderful time where everyone gets into why they liked or didn’t like different aspects of the book from the main couple to the setting, to side characters, and plot points. I had the opportunity to talk to members of the club to get their thoughts on what has been the benefit of being in a romance book club.
1. Stigma-Free Romance Discussions
Kelsey Grimes, a longtime romance book club member, had this to say: “For me it’s really simple — it’s fun to talk about romance novels with people who also love romance novels. I think it’s still a fairly stigmatized genre even though it’s been very profitable for years. There’s no stigma at book club! So for me it’s transforming what was a solo hobby for many years into a community event.”
When it comes to Romance, readers often need other romance readers to talk to if they want to have a productive conversation on the genre. As many have pointed out, even though the genre does serious sales numbers, with 36,092,000 print unit sales in 2022 alone, readers and writers of the genre keep having to defend why they like romance books. Romance book clubs provide a space where no one needs to defend the genre they love, they can just enthusiastically discuss it.
“A lot of the times romance is such a taboo and misunderstood genre. And it is hard to find your people who get what the genre is actually about, but when you find them and are able to have intellectual, diverse, interesting, and engaging conversations, it adds something to the quality of your life. Everyone wants to be understood, and being a part of a romance book club when you are an avid romance reader lets you know that you are understood and accepted, even if the opinion of another book club member differs from yours.” says Erica Holland, a fellow member of my romance book club.
2. In-Depth Breakdown of Romances
“I was a romance reader before joining my romance book club, but being part of this club has allowed me to read romance in a whole new way. I previously read romance as just a fun way to escape daily life. But hearing the different perspectives of each member and what caught their attention has taught me different ways to view each book I’m reading. I think more about the relationships between each of the characters, the difficulties they face, and the external factors that affect their relationship. It might sound like my book club has made reading more work, but it’s really just enriched my experience with each book.” said Dana Weinstein, another member.
There is the incorrect belief that all romance books are the same — formulaic to the point that anyone can write them and reading them takes no effort at all. Because the books center on love and partnership and joy, people do not give them the same authority or complexity as books that are about more “serious” topics. As an easy rebuttal for any romance reader — is there anything more serious than joy?
Because romance book clubs provide spaces where everyone knows just how complex romances can get, I’ve had thrillingly specific discussions like: “For the main character was the pirate job more of a look and less of an actual job?” to, “What are the benefits and drawbacks of ghost partners?” to the age-old question, “Can anyone pull off the secret baby trope?” The full romance book breakdown the meetings provide is endlessly valuable to me.
3. At Romance Book Club, Everyone is Speaking the Same Language
One thing you notice quickly when you join a romance book club is that Romancelandia (the collective term for romance readers and writers) has a lot of insider lingo. All romance books have a HEA/HFN (Happily Ever After/ Happy For Now). I recently broke down what a closed door romance is. And, it is impossible to have extensive conversations in a romance book club without mentioning tropes. Sure, many tropes were co-opted from fan fiction tags, but romance readers will ask you your favorite and least favorite tropes, so be ready.
These book clubs also give romance readers a chance to learn new phrases. “Because romance encompasses a wide range of genres…you get a wide range of tastes and experiences in the group. This, in my experience, leads to lively and engaging discussions where I always learn something new and get to talk about interesting things. I always feel stimulated in that environment which brings me joy,” says book club member Stacy Jones.
I may be giving you the impression that romancelandia all agrees about language. They do not. A lot of these debates on what terms should stick around and what terms to do away with happen in romance book clubs. Because everyone has a shared knowledge base, the thriving debate space of a romance book club is the perfect place to decide how we should be discussing romance in the first place. Romance book clubs just give people the chance to talk deeply about romances.
4. Welcoming to Enthusiastic Newcomers
More people who think romance isn’t for them should try a book or two in the genre, and if they decide they like them, they should also join a romance book club. In my experience, as long as you do not say a variation of the phrases “this is pretty good for a romance,” or “I typically don’t like predictable books but this one was good actually,” romance book clubs are very welcoming to newcomers.
In general, new romance readers can find a wealth of information if they are open to learning more about the genre. It is nice to have someone who can give you individualized recommendations when you are new. Luckily, a romance book club is the perfect place to get that information. Plus, if you pick them up, you can circle back to the recommender at a later meeting and chat about that book too.
Overall, if you are new to the genre, remember romance books are written in a literary community that has its own tropes and references. Over time, you will pick up all the necessary lingo and develop expertise, but one quick way to learn is by joining a romance book club. Book Riot writer Nikki DeMarco recently discussed why men should read romance, and I would like to add to her point. When you go to romance book club meetings, you realize just how diverse the romance reading community is.
5. Romance Book Clubs Help Build Community
Romance book clubs are also an excellent way to find community in neighborhoods. The book club I am in is in one of the many D.C. bookstores that host romance book clubs these days. These clubs let you build relationships with local booksellers and support your neighborhood. When a bookstore has a romance book club, it is an indication to me that the store is taking the genre seriously and has at least one person on staff who loves the genre.
Although it is important to note, not all romance book clubs meet in person or at bookstores. Virtual book clubs are a wonderful, accessible option for people who cannot commute for monthly meetings. Some libraries have excellent romance book clubs as well. However, all romance book clubs help members and organizers build community networks.
Romance Book Clubs: Too Many Cenefits to Count
There are plenty of reasons for romance readers to join romance book clubs. So, if any of this sounds good to you, I would highly recommend looking for an existing club to join, or even, starting your own. You cannot imagine the types of people you will meet or the conversations you will have. It’s honestly really cool to talk to romance nerds who have a love and appreciation for the genre they read. Plus, where else can you get wonderful recommendations from readers in your neighborhood? The benefits of romance book clubs really are endless.