Last night, I went to Barnes and Noble for the second time in two days. While I’d gone there to peruse the “books with nothing in them” aisle (as my husband calls the journals), I found myself as always in the Romance section, which is normally shunted to the very back.

I don’t know if the retail planning is like that of grocery stores—place the things people really want, like milk, in the back and set up enticing impulse buys in the front—or if it’s what I perceived: people—women—are ashamed of buying bodice rippers, so you have to find them in a seedy dark corner. I really hope it’s the former—that they sell so many of them Barnes and Noble knows they can place them in a low-traffic area and fill up other space with more esoteric books.

Still, I felt funny looking at cover after cover of Harlequin and other romance novels, which is ironic, since my own books are heavy on the shirtless men. Honestly, I found myself looking around furtively. Like no one is supposed to know that I love romance novels and their covers.

(Oh, that’s right. I LOVE me some shirtless men. I write the damn things after all. And I don’t hide it at all, if you really know me.)

This is my new blog and my new space to state my opinions. So, opinion one. Romance novels are unfairly undervalued, teased, and bullied by those who think they are pulp.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

I acknowledge examples of poor writing in every category. But here, I’m talking about the genre as a whole, which is filled with books that elicit emotions of every kind from readers, who are mostly women.

We want to swoon at the sweet things a character says, swell with pride when a character does the right thing, and throw something when the character does the STUPIDEST THING EVER. We want to be turned on by sex scenes, crying at unfair breakups, and laughing our asses off at the sidekick. At the end, we want our hearts to be mended, to fall in love with the couple, and to experience the happy ever after as if it were our own.

In short, romance novels are about emotions.

Emotions aren’t understood.

And that’s where the guilt comes in.

We’re not supposed to have emotions. We’re shamed into thinking we’re wrong for having feelings, when truthfully, they’re our most important inner guidance system. Yes, our feelings, whether we’re pissed or turned on or geekily fangirling about whatever it is we’re into (new Beck music, for me. When is that album dropping?) are essential for understanding and processing our world. Our emotions are given to us for a reason—to protect us, to direct us, and to experience all we can on this planet.

Being shamed for our emotions is like being ashamed of our own bodies.

Oh, wait, we do that too.

But what could be more essential to our wellbeing? Processing human emotions through art. Allowing escape from feelings in our real lives that are too much to bear—or bringing understanding to those icky sensations we’d shunted off to the side.

Romance novels help us understand our own relationships and intimacy levels. They inspire us to strive for better. Or, on a different level, the schadenfreude of watching the dysfunction of a fictional couple with the safety that it’s not real life.

Through vicariously experiencing emotions through fiction, we learn to name our own emotions. Process. Gain awareness.

This, my friends, is the function of art. To make us feel.

Even if that means reading a book with a cover that shows a couple in a fiery embrace.

Don’t judge that damn book by the cover.

Go read something that makes you cry, laugh, and fall in love.