There are quite a few members in the online book community who read, review and discuss hundreds of books every year. They must be well-read because of the time, effort and the volume of reading they put into their endeavors. Right?
What does it mean to be well-read?
On the Merriam-Webster site, it states that the definition of well-read is “well-informed or deeply versed through reading.” The example provided is “well-read in history.”
Does reading a lot of books mean you’re well-read? Not necessarily.
According to the Pew Research Center, the average adult in the USA reads 12 books a year, “while the typical American has read 4 books in the last 12 months”.
But reading more than average does not automatically make you well-read. It makes you a prolific reader.
Would reading a variety of romance authors and subgenres make you well-read in romance fiction? Some argue that it does because well-read is about “breadth more than depth”. However, in How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler explains that widely-read is not the same as well-read.
So while the term “well-read” is not definitive, there is a general pattern of a well-read person. She has a critical and purposeful approach when selecting and reading books.
Should you aim to be well-read?
First, a few disclosures before I give my opinion: If there was a competition of how many books a person can read in a year, I wouldn’t even make the leaderboard. I don’t read widely in or out of romance fiction. While I have a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature and I’m a romance author, some of the books on my keeper shelf would be considered problematic and/or have questionable literary merit.
And I recommend books. All the time. I have a messy system of research and discovery that I enjoy but would make a scholar recoil in horror. I’m continually learning about romance fiction.
This is what I know for sure: There’s no finish line in becoming well-read and you’ll always feel like you don’t know enough about the topic.
Yet some readers want to be informed about the genre as a whole and share their opinions with others. They find it worthwhile to be well-read in romance. After all, do you really want just a few people deciding which literary work is important or worth reading?
Start the ongoing pursuit of becoming well-read if you want to:
- explore a growing interest in the books you enjoy
- encourage discussion within the book community
- bring attention to overlooked authors and books
How to become well-read in romance fiction
There is no universally accepted required list of romance novels to read. There have been debates in Romancelandia about whether one should be created. Sure, some librarians strongly suggest reading Pride & Prejudice, Jane Eyre and Gone with the Wind. These aren’t romance novels but the stories influenced the modern romance genre.
Industry professionals also talk a lot about The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss because it was a game-changer in the 1970s. Read it only if you want to understand where the popular romance genre started.
Digital content creators often put together romance canons. A literary canon is a selected bibliography “typically the most popular works of the particular literary movements. In other words, it serves a literary filter, much like a spam filter in email.”
Unfortunately, a canon will always have omissions and exclusions. It’s the nature of the beast.
Readers also have to consider the focus on the list. Were the books chosen because of historical importance, popularity, or literary merit?
For example, I share the Ultimate Guide to Sexy Contemporary Romance Novels with my newsletter subscribers. The books made it into the guide because they won awards from traditional media, online booksellers or publishing trade associations. I read other award-winning books but they didn’t make the list for a variety of reasons. Not all of the books that made this bibliography are influential bestsellers and only time will tell if any of them redefine the genre.
So don’t rely on another person’s top romance novel list. They’re good starting point or the inspiration for your next shopping list, but the selection process of what is essential reading is often vague.
What should you do instead? Make your own canon. Share it, update it, and guide other readers like me into finding a book they will love. We always need more voices when discussing which books represent romance.
How to create a romance fiction canon
The easiest way is to use the sampling collection method. Let’s say you just finished reading a friends-to-lovers romance. You liked the book but where does it stack up in your romance book collection?
Some questions to ask:
- Is it a good representation of a romance book? Why would you recommend it to a romance reader? Why would you recommend it to someone new to romance fiction?
- Is it a good representation of a friends-to-lovers story? Did it have a different approach to the trope or was it a quintessential example? How would you rank it with all the books you’ve read with the friends-to-lovers trope?
- Is it a good representation of the author’s work? Have you read other friends-to-lovers stories by this author? Is this one better or does it offer a fresh take? Is this book one of the author’s top five? Would you remove one of her other books from your keeper shelf to make room for this one?
To become well-read, you don’t need a job in the literary world or the ability to read a book in a day. John Jeremiah Sullivan of the Paris Review says curiosity is really the only requirement. “It’s not the where-you-start so much as the that-you-don’t-stop.”
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