Thursday, March 6, 2014

Ship Shape: All I Need Is Love

I've noticed on Twitter that many bloggers really love it when a book is romance-free. A new blurb or synopsis will be revealed, and it'll have no mention of romance, and that will really make a lot of bloggers happy. Bloggers I greatly admire and whose opinions I value and often agree with are sick of plots that get entirely dominated by romances. They find it refreshing to read a book focused solely on sisterhood or friendship or one girl's inner struggle to define herself.

Confession time: I am not one of those bloggers.

I know. You're shocked, right? That someone who started a blog feature called 'Ship Shape is a pretty big fan of bookish romances? Well, truth be told, I start to get a little bored if there aren't at least two characters in a novel whom I hope will smash their faces together at some point. Blame the steady diet of Disney movies on which I was raised.

Everything wrong with me is entirely your fault, Disney.

I don't particularly care if this makes me a "less intellectual" reader, and I don't think badly of those who prefer PNR with a little less R. Or their YAR with no R. Or who just are sick of R in general. I'm not even ashamed of how far into the Google Image Search rabbit hole I fell whilst looking for Disney kiss gifs (I think my fave Disney kiss might be the one above. Or the one from Tangled. Oh, whatever, they're all flawless).

I'm not refreshed when I hear about a book devoid of romanticalness. I am disappointed.

Now, of course I have read and loved books that don't have ships. I love books about sisterhood and friendship and one girl's inner struggle to define herself! More books should have those things! Those are awesome things! But honestly? I like kissing. I like it a lot. Kissing or the possibility of kissing or the promise that someday along the line one of the characters might someday possibly dream of kissing--they're elements I require in my fiction nowadays.

I like rooting for two people to get together. I like for there to be a romance to hang my shipper hat on, to guide me through the story, to make me invest even more. It doesn't even have to be a full blown, I-shall-make-a-vow-of-everlasting-love romance. The MC can have a crush on another character. Another character can have a crush on the MC. There can merely be vague authorial hints, like little breadcrumbs. Perhaps the book is a middle grade, so there's no romance whatsoever, but the female MC just so happens to have a super loyal best friend who you totally know is going to fall in love with her upon puberty. Whatever. I really, really, REALLY prefer the books I read to have at least a whiff of romantic possibility, and guess what? I'm not ashamed of this.

I damn well hope so.
Romance novels and novels with romance get such a bad rep. I used to be embarrassed about how deeply I invest in ships, and how all the books I liked to read had romance. But I've reached the point in my readerly life where I don't even care. I can now admit to myself that I prefer to read books that contain romances. Even as a pretentious teenager interested only in hardcore classic literature (and chick lit: 15-year-old Gillian was all about Bronte, Dostoevsky, and Sophie Kinsella), I preferred the classics that had people gettin' it on. Or, you know, the old timey equivalent of gettin' it on. Batting eyelashes at one another. Brooding in breeches. Repressing sexual tension. Murder. (In the case of Dostoevsky at least.)

I start to get a little punchy when I read a book with no ships in it. I start crackshipping like crazy. I sort of feel like one of those windup toys that walk or roll on wheels, but someone has placed me straight up against a wall, and my little wheels are spinning because I'm trying to walk through it and it's just not happening. I try so hard to sail those oceanliners, but I've been plopped in a bookish desert, to murder a metaphor.

Me reading Lord of the Flies: I ship Piggy with Ralph.

Sanity: Uh... sure. Go with it. Whatever floats your boat.


Sanity: Ship.

Me: No, wait! Piggy and Jack! They just need to undergo a spiritual journey, you know? It's hate to love! There's a trajectory!

Sanity: I'm pretty sure no.

Me: Or maybe I ship Ralph and Jack! Yeah! Or Piggy and the conch! Or Piggy and the boulder! Maybe not that one. Or the conch and the island, because, like, they're both from nature, and--

Sanity: *dissolves*

Take Tamora Pierce, one of my all-time favorite fantasy writers. Why is she one of my all-time favorites? Because ships. (And bad ass feminism, aka my favorite things. Who says they can't be concurrent in literature?) My favorite TP series are the ones that feature Alanna, Daine, and Aly. Why? BECAUSE SHIPS. I can't help it! The romances in those series only serve to enhance the plot for me. They make me care more about the characters. When eleven-year-old Gillian first picked up Alanna: the First Adventure, sure, she was hooked on Alanna's emotional journey and how freaking awesome the sword fights were, but you know what made those even better a read for her? The fact that there was a Prince Jonathan there. It was almost like a prize. A readerly bonus. (Don't worry, little Gillian switched to Team George pretty soon.)

Okay. And yes, I live vicariously through those bad-ass bitches and their sexytimes and swoons. I just love the fact that Alanna takes no prisoners on the battlefield AND in the bedroom. Girl gets around, and it's brilliant. (Also the boys are super hot. Incidentally. Mmmm. Book boyfriends.)


Ummm, yes. I was saying things. Tamora Pierce's Circle of Magic series, however, aka the ones set in Emelan, I was never able to get into as a kid. Because... say it with me... there were no ships. I've tried to get into them again several times since, and my poor little brain sort of spazzes out and starts forcing all the uncooperative little characters onto ships that they just weren't meant to board.

I don't think the inclusion of a romance by definition diminishes the bad-assery of the plot or the heroine. Is it true that some romances in some novels are so horrifically executed that they ruin the entire value of the story? Absolutely. But by no means does that turn me off of romance as a whole. I live vicariously through the books I read, and I want to swoon, dang it! What's so wrong with that? That shouldn't be deemed lesser. It's not lesser. It's what I like.

Some people like sugar-free gum, some people like gum that is basically candy. Some people like romance-free novels, and some people love nothing more than reading about imaginary word-people sticking their word-tongues in each other's word-mouths. To each her own, you know?

Another good post on the necessity of romance is this one from Christina over at A Reader of Fictions.

So what about you? Do you prefer romance in your books? Do you prefer books without it? Or do you pretty much not care either way?


  1. I love romance in my book, as long as it isn't the main point of the book (Frozen is one of my favorite Disney movies for this reason. As long as I can successfully ignore that awful snowman.)

    On a related note: Gilliannnnnn, have you watched My Mad, Fat Diary? It has THE BEST SHIP EVER, I AM SERIOUSLY SHIPPING ALL OVER THIS SHIP, OTP OTP OTP! And I think you would really like it. It is not difficult to find online.

  2. You're really blaming Disney for your weirdness? XD

    I don't think it makes you any less intellectual at all, everyone has their own tastes and disliking romance =/= intellect. I love a good romance if it's hot and steamy, but the cute (cringey-cute, there's a difference) stuff annoys me. At least, in books. On screen it's totally different, which is probably why I end up shipping every single person together on most of the TV shows I watch. And crackshipping is such a fun pastime.

    To answer your questions, I don't mind a romance in a book as long as it meets my criteria. 1) It can't be rushed, I'm so done with people falling in love or kissing before 50% of the novel has passed 2) Stop with the lines such as "You are my life now." 3) ..... Yeah that's pretty much it.

  3. I have to admit that I'm a total sucker for romance in my books too! Sometimes I like it to be a small part of the plot, depending on the book, but I always want it around. I mean who doesn't like to swoon. Also, I like books where the girl doesn't need a guy to feel fulfilled, but still has a guy around! I think those are my favorite. Then again, you can always have some creeper, sparkly vampire watching you sleep as well. I mean that shits always an option...

  4. Unless a book is blatantly about romance from the get-go, I do get annoyed when I'm pushing these stupid characters to RUN FOR THEIR BLOODY LIVES and they're all "Ooooh, let's check out each other's tonsils." Which is not to say that romance can't happen in a fast-paced book. If anything, the adrenaline involved aids a romance, and I couldn't imagine, say, THE HUNGER GAMES or ALL OUR YESTERDAYS without their respective ships. BUT the romance and action need to compliment each other, not fight for space and attention. If that happens, romance will lose.

    Also, I'm like you in that I need SOMEONE to root for in my books. It doesn't have to be much. For instance, Code Name Verity is very strongly friendship-focused, and I love it. But there's also the barest hint of a little something going on in the background, and even that hint was enough to make my heart melt (and nearly cry when it's brought up again in Rose Under Fire.) Even in MGs, there's no obvious ROMANCE, but there's the promise of something more... someday... (Looking at you, Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls. I SHIP IT SO HARD.)

  5. I love romance too! I like it best mixed in with the fun and/or action-packed scenes and on the slightly realistic side. Eg: Harry yelling at Ron and Hermione that maybe now is not the time for kissing haha. But yessss I look for hints of romance everywhere, esp if it's not obvious yet. I love ships and need ships! But again, folded into the story perfectly like chocolate chips in a cookie. It can be the best part but it can't be the whole part.

    YES THAT GIF IS MY FAVORITE DISNEY KISS! It looks so reeeeal and passionate, mmm. Tangled is great too, I love how he hugs her to him! And it's not Disney, but I think Anastasia might have the best animated kiss of all <3

  6. I loving having a ship to cheer for and support and flail over. I too love the kissing. I don't always need it, but it adds a certain element to the story and makes me connect a bit more with the characters when I can get invested in their relationships.

    I honestly pick up every book wondering who is going to be kissing who and when I find that there isn't any ship to get on and there isn't any kissing... sadness and slight disappointment. I can't help it.

    I love everything about this post!!


  7. Even the most serious of serious books has elements of romance. I don't know... maybe I just believe the whole "Make Love Not War" thing, but if a book doesn't have love, then I feel like there's something missing. Which is why I read a crap ton of romance novels. Sure, I could read East of Eden or The Great Gatsby (and I have), but sometimes I want something else. Something softer, with a happy ending. I don't think that makes me lesser as a reader. On the contrary, I think I have a far more varied reading palette than most. :) I read pretty much everything, as long as the story is good.

  8. Noooo! You have to stick through the Circle of Magic series! Because in the newer books they are all grown up! Seriously, there is some swoon worthy romance in The Will of the Empress (Circle Reforged, #1).

    But in general, I love a good romantic element in a book, but it's not the end of the world if there isn't any.

  9. OMG yes about shipping! I love it when books have more elements to them than finding love (unless it's a contemp, in which case, I like them finding kisses and not always love, because insta-love is just a no). And with Tamora Pierce...I was furious after finishing her Beka Cooper series, when Beka didn't end up with someone who shall remain nameless in case you haven't read the series and maybe someday want to.

    But my thoughts are in sync with yours. I like to look forward to kisses, and I like seeing the kisses. I especially hate it when authors obviously lead up to a kiss, but then all we get is the end of a chapter or rambling thoughts from the narrator.

    So whee. Go kisses. =3

  10. I love this post :D You are awesome Gillian. <3 Personally, I really want a good romance in a book. I enjoy it more if the romance is good. But I don't need them. But, I kind of always need at least a boy and a girl, hih. I enjoy books more that way :)

  11. This may sound ridiculous, but I like romance in a book but I don't like it in the blurb. If I can read a blurb and know who the main character's going to fall for and end up with by the time the story's done, it's a huge turn-off for me. And the fact that it's included in the blurb makes me assume that the romance is going to be the main focus, and I don't want that. I'm very fussy.

    One of my favourite books is Shadow and Bone, which also happens to feature my current favourite ship. I just checked the blurbs (back and inside flap) and there's not a whiff of romance about it. But I was obsessed with the characters in this book and just dying for there to be more kissing. Sadly, I probably wouldn't have picked up the book if I'd thought that was going to be such an important part. I want romance in a book, I want to root for characters to fall in love and overcome all obstacles, but I don't want to expect that.

    Which is crazy, I know.

  12. I definitely enjoy some romance in my books. It is an important part of normal life and I expect some FEELS and some EMOTION in books dangit! BUT, I don't want the books to be centered only around the romance with no other plot going on around the characters except their drama drama. Ok so there's my answer :)

  13. Usually, I write super long and meaningful comments on posts like this. But this time, you took the words right out of my mind and I've nothing else to add! I agree with you 100% and I'm like you. I don't need full blown romance, but I do need the possibility of romance, hints, people to ship. Books with no romance whatsoever kind of turn me off. And I am proud of that. As you said, there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to swoon!
    Also, just so you know, you through me into a Disney Kiss gif rampage. Thanks a lot Gillian! LOL (oddly enough my fav is the one you have here and from the often-mistaken-to-be-Disney Anastasia, though I think its because I adore the story more than the kiss's swooness...)

    Great post, thanks for writing it!!

  14. Yes, I honestly don't think I could have said it better. I've had this post open for days and I just keep opening it and smiling and rereading it. I think it is why I am less than motivated in my current book.

  15. Most of the times I prefer my book to have just a small amount of romance, but it really depends on the stories and the characters. Let's say Throne of glass & Shadow and bone: CAN'T GET ENOUGH :D I ship some of them so hard, that I don't mind getting romance - as long as it doesn't overwhelm the plot and the story. Sometimes I hate the romance in Dystopian books, because it takes the whole Dystopian aspect away. The only thing we get are two people drooling all over each other while the world is dying and that doesn't seem to matter.. I guess it depends on the genre too and how the romance is handled.

  16. Okay so, watching Beauty and the Beast at the EXTREMELY impressionable age of two has forever ruined me in terms of romance and bad boys. Disney set the bar so high it took until sophomore year of high school to come down from my high horse.

    As for Tamora Pierce, all the Alanna love for DAYS! It's probably the first and only book series that I read as at a young age where the female protagonist slept with whomever she damn well pleased and WASN'T slut-shamed. I seriously need to reread this series pronto - oh the nostalgia!

  17. Most of the time, I agree with you: romances are interesting. I really love sideline romances. BUT sometimes romance is forced and it doesn't fit into the plot. Those are the romances that make me angry. I think that it really depends on the plot. And sometimes, the romance is amazing and I can't get enough! :D
    Great post! :)

  18. Oh, I definitelyy need romance on my books! I'm definitely not one of those bloggers who gets excited when there isn't a hint of romance on the book - I actually get turned off, not that I didn't read great books without great ships but still...... It turns things so much more fun when you have something so emotional to root for!


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