In trying to unravel the mystery of the romance genre’s appeal, the Alibi spoke with Tracie Antonuk, the adult services librarian at the Esther Bone Memorial Library in Rio Rancho. In June, Antonuk organized and moderated a panel discussion among three local romance novelists (see “Romancing the Novel”). Antonuk hosts free panels like this often, encouraging people to visit the library, meet authors or maybe even “slip somebody their card.”
Antonuk chose Doranna Durgin, Alice Duncan and Celeste Bradley because their books have high circulation at the library. “Of all the books that we added to the collection in 2010,” she says, “mysteries was No. 1 as far as circulation went, and then romance was No. 2.” Antonuk says it’s the same as the other libraries she’s worked at.
Romance is often considered unintelligent or not serious, but the genre makes up a large percentage of book sales. Romance Writers of America reports that romance sales in 2009 totaled 1.36 billion, slightly more than 13 percent of total book sales in the United States. Antonuk thinks perhaps people look down on the genre because the authors don’t tackle big social issues. But literature about sad and serious things, although important, doesn’t always interest her. “I always call them Oprah books,” she says. “No insult to Oprah, but to me she picks depressing books. And when I read, I do want to read a lightweight book.”
She says she believes the authors may feel the same. They want to write about a world that’s happier, not one filled with wars, unemployment and recession. We get plenty of that in the news, she says. On a smaller scale, romance novels don’t have what Antonuk calls the “reality factor.” Readers don’t have to deal with characters picking up their laundry, scrubbing bathrooms or other mundane tasks.
As a history major, Antonuk likes para-romance—a subgenre wherein the future, fantasy or paranormal happenings are integral to the plot—especially when it includes mythology. She says she also likes to read a lot of different genres and authors, but she always returns to stories that are generally happy. “You know, I want a warm, fuzzy feeling before I go to sleep.”