GPL column: Real men read romance

When I was growing up, my dad taught me how to fish, catch, chaw, saw, spit, whittle, shine shoes, shake hands, build a fire, mow the yard, check the oil, tie a knot — and a tie — and other manly things.

One thing he didn’t teach me: the joy of reading romance novels; that was a “girly” thing to do at the time.

Times change.

In the 1960s, men like my dad were as likely to get a mani-pedi as read a romance novel.

Nowadays, though, you’re apt to see a brutish bro browsing bawdy offerings from Robyn Carr or Lana Ferguson while the nail technician scrapes the bottom of his manly feet.

Things started to change some 15 years ago. In 2009, according to Romance Writers of America, 10% of romance readers were men. By 2017, the percentage had jumped to 18 and the trade group believes the number has continued to rise.

An independent study supports the notion. It suggests that 64.6 million people read at least one romance novel in the past year, 22% of whom were men.

Surveys, however, also show women are more likely to respond to surveys than men, so the percentages could be higher or lower. I wanted more definitive statistics, so I conducted my own survey. The results were startling.

According to my survey, three out of five men have read a romance novel. What was startling, though, was only five men actually responded, so the results might not be statistically valid.

In my survey, conducted on Facebook to assure accuracy, I asked my male friends if they had ever read a romance novel. Two of the respondents, who I will identify as Tony and Mick, because that’s their names, said, “Nope!”

Karl, which might be his middle name, wondered if “Peyton Place” counts. I considered this to be the same as replying “Yes” because the book does contain romance, among other things.

Michael, a poet, admitted to reading “Pride and Prejudice,” “Emma” and “How Stella Got Her Groove Back.” He will read “The Thorn Birds” after he finishes “Les Misérables” sometime this summer.

The fifth respondent, Tom, a journalist colleague from back in the day, noted he read “Love Story” — “when the movie came out because I wanted to see what it was all about,” he said. He said he hasn’t read other romance novels “per se.”

“But I read and collected a great many Edgar Rice Burroughs novels when I was younger,” he added. “Years later, I realized that the male/female interactions in these stories made them basically Harlequin Romances for men.”

Inspired by the willingness of my male friends to own up to having some romance on their bookshelves, I’ve joined their ranks. I recently started reading “The Seven Year Slip,” a “gorgeous love story” (not my words) by New York Times bestselling author Ashley Poston.

It’s the story of an overworked book publicist who falls in love with her temporary roommate, only to discover he is living seven years in the past. I’m not deep enough into it to proclaim that I am a romance reader, so for the time being I tell people who catch me leafing through it that it is about time travel.

To be honest, I don’t believe I would have picked this book up had it not been the one chosen for the staff book club at the Greenwood Public Library. We’re reading it as a prelude to the upcoming GPL Reader’s Weekend: Meet Cute, Oct. 12-13.

The weekend will provide an opportunity to meet fellow readers of romance novels and participate in a variety of bookish activities, including two author events featuring Poston and Abby Jimenez, another New York Times bestselling romance author.

Unfortunately, tickets for the entire weekend sold out quickly. There are still single author event tickets available. Check the GPL website for more details.

More than 250 guests will be attending events during the weekend. Only a handful are men, most of them husbands of women signed up. There could’ve been more, but I’m guessing when their wives asked, they replied: “Nope!”

It’s one thing for a man to read romance; quite another to talk about it in public.

Dick Isenhour works in the adult services department at Greenwood Public Library. GPL staff members share in writing this twice monthly column for the Daily Journal. Send comments to [email protected].