To the person who does not read our genre, if asked the question, "what can be learned from reading romance," responses may be crude (how to have sex), obnoxious (how to steal someone's girl/guy), or plain ignorant (there's nothing to learn from those books).
Being a life-long reader of romance, I beg to differ. I started reading romance in the early 1980's, when historicals were big. Do you know, from my love of these tales, I minored in history in college? Reading about people living and loving through different periods in history brought this oft-moaned subject to life. Dates and documents were there in the stories, and I did absorb them, but it was through the interactions and events of the characters involved that had me craving more information.
As fiction writers, we write story lines that are not based on real life, but our stories usually have points of fact in order to bring our stories to life. We create places and events that readers will identify. We work our stories so that the reader will be able to lose themselves in our tales. If they come out the other side in love with our hero/heroine and understanding the difference between a backhoe and a dozer, more power to them. Romance writers are good that way -- hiding the facts in plain sight, so to speak. To me, that's the best kind of learning.
From reading romance-themed stories, I've learned not only about historical places and events, I've also learned a little about cars, I've found household cleaning tips, I've even picked up a few recipes that are to-die-for delicious. No car manuals were involved. I didn't go out and buy all the household books on the store shelves, and I don't think there's a recipe book out there to match some of the goodies I've found in romance books.
Beyond the tid-bits of fact that pepper our stories, we can also learn a little about life. We write about relationships that are deep, intimate, trustworthy and sustainable. Would that real life followed this pattern. Unfortunately, it does not, but from these stories we can learn the importance honesty, communication and standing up for ourselves/our beliefs.
Romance books contain a wealth of information. Come to think of it, perhaps this is why our genre is despised so much (even as it outsells others) -- it's pure jealousy. I mean, after all, we have it all, and no other genre can compare.
What about you? What bits of information have you picked up, just from reading a romance? I'd love to know.