Sunday, July 24, 2011

Romance Novels and Emotional Intelligence

"Anyone can become angry--that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way--that is not easy." Aristotle, The Nichomachean Ethics

Ever been on a bender where nothing else but the moment mattered? Where you wake up dehydrated, eyes glued together, and feeling older than dirt? I think we’ve all been there a time or two in our lives.

I’ve been on a bender. The best kind of bender possible--a reading bender. I’ve used every moment of my spare time over the last two weeks to read. Even working full-time, I can read a novel a day. Yes, so I’ve blown through a lot of contemporary romance titles over the past fourteen days. And it’s been pure bliss. I highly recommend it.

I’ve visited my favorite authors with new titles on the shelves, a few old faithful books I had to read again, and authors new to me suggested by friends. And out of fourteen choices, fourteen books--I only had one novel I put down and wouldn’t finish. Life is short. And when you’re on a purpose-driven bender to reconnect with the reason for writing the genre you’ve chosen, you can’t afford to “tolerate” a book or a character who just isn’t doing it for you, who doesn’t ring true.

I discovered three things during this reading binge. One: I love to read. I’ve always known this--since I was a teenager. But I remembered. Remembering what you love is important, at any age. Two: I love to read romance novels. Three: The best romance novels take hold of me and keep me in a vice grip until that final page because the author possesses emotional intelligence.

She gets the emotions right between her characters and she opens up a whole world where I, as the reader, can understand this fictional world, and, by extension, my own world and experience, because of what I learn through the emotional journey she’s taken me on. For an hour or a day, I’m a stranger in a new land learning a whole myriad of truths about what it means to be human.

It doesn’t matter how quirky the plot. Or if the community is composed of a small harbor town in Washington (Shilvas), a hockey team in Seattle (Gibson), a bar in Vegas (Stevens), a hero and heroine on a road trip from Montana to New York (Higgins), or a tornado-ravaged reclaimed village in the mountains of Georgia (Bond). If the author gets the emotions right, I’ll follow.

Why? It’s all about the emotional journey for me. The best romance authors nail the emotional ups and downs of their characters and take me along for the ride. Daniel Goleman in his book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, says that the goal of his book is to “serve as a guide in a journey through scientific insights into the emotions, a voyage aimed at bringing greater understanding to some of the most perplexing moments in our own lives and in the world around us. The journey’s end is to understand what it means--and how--to bring intelligence to emotion.”

This is exactly what romance writers do for their readers. So why is Goleman heralded as a pioneer in his field and romance novels are relegated to the status of “trash”? It’s the genre with the highest sales. Readers of romance buy the books by the armfuls--yes, I was just in Borders yesterday, I can attest to it. Romance is a genre of empowerment written by women for women. Is it emotional? You betcha. The best ones are. Because we’re not robots, we’re human. We possess hearts and out of our heart comes life and meaning. Romance is a genre that helps women take conflict and adversity and turn it into something beautiful, meaningful, and lasting. It helps them find a happy ending or a happy for now ending. And that’s not bad.

So what does a good romance novelist do? The author makes me believe in love, causes me to worry about a happy ending, reminds me what it’s like to fall in love, and how passion and lust can make you weak in the knees and a little crazy. But what she also teaches me is that men and women who are adrift in life can find their soul mate and their purpose. They’re not alone. They can make old wrongs right. They can make choices and decisions that lead them toward their destiny and make them a better person or they can turn away and stay where they are--mired in whatever emotional quicksand that has sucked them to a standstill in their own lives.

Romance novels give us the human condition--men who want to be better men for their women and women who will face whatever obstacle in their lives they must to win the man they love. These men and women sacrifice. Care about fulfilling their partner’s needs. Do the hard work of building relationships despite the influences and conflicts found in a sometimes ugly, mixed up world.

And who knows? If men and more women read romance novels, maybe the world would be a little better place. Who couldn’t love that? The best romance writers are masters of their craft who understand the human condition and the need for community and love and hope. They write about emotion with intelligence and truth. I’ll take that any day over the alternative.

Why do you love romance novels? And tell us about your latest reading bender. I'm always looking for another good book to read.

Here’s my bender reading list:
Baby, Come Home - Stephanie Bond
Baby, Drive South - Stephanie Bond
Man Hunting - Jennifer Crusie (a re-read)
True Love and Other Disasters - Rachel Gibson
Nothing But Trouble - Rachel Gibson
Any Man of Mine - Rachel Gibson
My One and Only - Kristan Higgins (a re-read)
Match Me If You Can - Susan Elizabeth Phillips (a re-read)
Simply Irrestible - Jill Shalvis
The Sweetest Thing - Jill Shalvis
Yours to Keep - Stacey Shannon
Ever Night - Gena Showalter (novella in On The Hunt)
Negligee Behavior - Shelli Stevens
The First Love Cookie Club - Lori Wilde


  1. Such a fantastic post Candy! I read for so many different learn and grow as a person, for inspiration or to be swept away to another time and place. I love to find a new author that speaks to me romantic heart. I haven't been on a bender for awhile. You have inspired me to sit down and pick up a good romance. No better way to spend a lazy summer Sunday afternoon! Happy Reading!

  2. Candy - What a great post! I love to read because it gives me a window into someone else's world. I get to see their perspective, their problems and how they come to terms with all aspects of their life. The last romance that carried me away was Ain't She Sweet? By Susan Elizabeth Phillips. I just had to know what happened next. I'm planning to take a stack of books when I go to the beach in a couple of weeks. Can't wait!

  3. Good for you, Mary. Yes a good book always does the body, mind, and soul good. ;0) A vacay for only $7.99. LOL.

  4. Yes, Lisa, I found the same thing on my bender. I learned so much about hockey from Rachel Gibson's books. Wow. I think I'll be watching hockey on TV this season. Same goes for many of the other books that give you an insider's view into a certain profession or service area, etc. I love it. I loved Ain't She Sweet, too. It's one of my favorite books. Keep us posted on the stack of books you read at the beach.

  5. Candy – I’ve been on a bender too! Not quite a 1 book a day rate, but still. It’s been immensely satisfying. I’ve mostly been reading Urban Fantasy, which has its own emotional intelligence quotient to get right. Regardless of genre, though, I think the best authors create characters that feel human to us. The chick in leather saving the world is still going to be worried about her dog with the thorn in his paw…even if the dog has three heads. That's something we can relate to in our everyday lives. So, yeah, emotional intelligence is huge.

    And thanks for the reminder that life’s too short to read cruddy books. I forget that sometimes!!

  6. LOL. You're right, Keely. Romance writers don't have the corner on the emotional intelligence quotient. Any good writer taps into the human condition and manipulates her readers--no matter the genre. And yet I think of romance and horror as the two most gut-evoking genres because they demand visceral reactions from readers. But yes . . . saving the cat . . . as Blake Snyder promoted always helps. ;0)

  7. I went on a reading binge last month and it was glorious. Remembering what I love about reading helps when I'm sitting down to write.

  8. I DESPERATELY need a reading binge. A reading binge is often my carrot as well as my stick. I've promised myself I'll read Steve Hamilton's Edgar-winner, THE LOCK ARTIST, as soon as I type "the end" on a project later this month. Can't wait!