Author Emily Henry calls her bestseller a “romantic comedy,” not a romance.
The 32-year-old author has written three novels — beach reading, you and me vacation and Book lover—— Sold over 2.4 million copies and spent 145 weeks running this New York Times Bestseller list. Her eagerly awaited fourth novel, happy placepublished last month, is already poised to be another hit.
Like the romantic comedy movies of the 1980s and 1990s (You’ve got mail; Sleepless in Seattle; any film starring Meg Ryan) can be sure of one thing: a happy ending.
“I call them romantic comedies because I want romance readers to find them and non-romance readers to open up to them,” Henry said by phone from the US. “It’s also about conveying that there’s a love story, but there’s always a sense of humor as well.”
Things get more intense than anything Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan have ever done on screen, but Henry’s love for screenwriters Nora Efron and Nancy Meyers shows in the snappy banter And classic tropes—friends become lovers, enemies become lovers—are subtly wrapped, contemporary stories; often with a sideplot (friendship, grief, parental relationship) and a variety of characters. Instead of heaving boobs and throbbing euphemisms, the sexiest parts of her books are often whip-smart shenanigans.
Henry lives in Cincinnati with her husband, studied creative writing in Michigan and New York, and began her writing life as a teenage writer, writing adult books before she “falls into” romance.
Unlike many successful writers, she lives not far from where she grew up, and seems as friendly and wholesome as a ’90s rom-com character.
A lifelong romcom fan – she quotes when harry met sally and holiday As a favorite – she didn’t read much romance before writing her breakout novel, beach reading.
The satirically titled novel—about a romance writer and a literary writer who think they have nothing in common except their writer’s block, spending summers as neighbors—was shelved for a few years, with no publication plan.
“Then I noticed a huge romantic revival going on,” Henry said.
Henry told her agent that she “probably wrote something of that type”—she wasn’t sure because she hadn’t read anything herself. “She read the draft and liked it, and gave me some reading suggestions…that’s when I became a romance reader.”
Then beach reading Published just as the pandemic hit, she quickly became a romance writer.
Henry started writing the book to help with her anxiety and depression. “I thought it would be a good choice to spend my time doing something that would bring me joy and make me feel a little…safer in the world,” she said. “It just so happens that this book came out a month after lockdown, when the need was felt around the world.”
pandemic may help beach readingbut like other writers like Colleen Hoover, Henry is part of a revival of the genre largely driven by Gen Z readers and social media.
Over the past few years, TikTok has spawned hundreds of sub-communities, including BookTok, where readers (and sometimes authors) share their thoughts on new books, create literary memes, and even snap photos of themselves after they’ve finished reading them. cry.When Henry’s second book, 2021 you and me vacationExperienced a huge increase in sales not tied to any event or media, which surprised Henry and her team.
Unlike some authors, Henry isn’t on the platform herself—”I’m too old to be intimidated by it!”—but she loves that it has spawned a reader-led revival. Henry is one of the most popular writers on the platform – videos to her name have amassed 344.6 million Opinion.
“I see publishers trying to figure out how to take advantage of it, but they can’t because it’s so organic. It’s never been the same thing for Instagram or Twitter — for some reason, it’s especially This medium. It’s so reader-based, and that’s what makes it really exciting.”
There has always been a market for romance novels, traditionally aimed at women aged 35 to 54 (a demographic that has expanded significantly in recent years), but there has also long been a snobbish attitude towards the genre. Henry thinks it can simply be boiled down to misogyny.
“They’re women-oriented stories, usually written by women, usually about women, and prioritize women’s pleasure, their sexuality, their pleasure, which isn’t necessarily taken seriously,” she said. “I think instead it’s … shame. I don’t know how the culture in Australia is different than ours – but there’s so much shame here.”
She thinks it dates back to the Victorian era. “Women’s sexuality is something to be ashamed of and even fearful of — it’s been around for a long time. Women have been told for centuries, ‘It’s not supposed to make you feel good, you shouldn’t Like it — it’s something men like, you owe them”. That’s the dynamic. It’s a weird, wrong, ingrained power play about how we see men and women.”
A genre committed to prioritizing female desire is something to celebrate, she says, “but instead of embracing the stuff that says your love life, your romantic life, all of that should feel good, [it’s] It shames us that anyone would even want to read something that led to this.”
Henry’s books all feature sex scenes (long, slow builds during which the hero experiences racing hearts, hot limbs and tingling nerves), but her male characters aren’t ripped apart from past romance novels. Cracked alpha males – they’re funny, they’re flawed, they might go to therapy. And, well, sometimes they get torn too.
Fans of Henry seize on this vulnerability, which is an essential part of Romantic writing.
“I think Gen Z’s willingness to embrace romance novels shows a huge improvement in the way women and girls see themselves and their place in the world, [that they] Don’t feel the need to pretend to like something they don’t, or shy away from something other people don’t think is cool. I think it’s progress,” she said.
TAKE 7: Based on EMILY HENRY’s answer
- worst habit? Overcommitment and procrastination. A very bad combination.
- biggest fear? Lose someone I love.
- That line that stays with you? Oddly enough, the line that comes to mind comes from lord of the ringsI would love for Bilbo to say, “I like less than half of you and you deserve it”. It just tickles me.
- Biggest regret? It sounds cheesy, but I really don’t trust them. Even if you make a bad decision, you usually learn something important or something important to you from it.
- favorite room? It could be my own living room, with its large windows overlooking the yard, or the Milstein Family Marine Life Pavilion at the American Museum of Natural History.
- Do you want the artwork/song to be yours? I wish I could come up with Taylor Swift’s last great american dynasty. I also wish I had written Naomi Novik’s Uprooted.
- If you can fix one thing… Well, I live in the US, so it’s hard to choose between ending gun violence and ensuring health care for all. Medical expenses are widely reported to be the number one cause of bankruptcy here.
Growing up, she snubbed anything that was traditionally feminine or marketed to women. “To be cool, you need to like what men and boys like – the stuff that’s cool, the stuff that’s smart, and anything that’s made specifically for girls and women: not cool.”
It took her many years to become the romance purveyor she is now. “I grew up thinking that romance as a genre was embarrassing,” she says.
“If you see women reading it, it’s like: ‘Oh, what a sad, lonely woman, her life must be unhappy’. For some reason, criticism of what’s going on in her life is not what she’s looking for Better yet, the criticism is that she feels sad and alone because she prioritizes that part of her.”
When she studied creative writing, she was taught that the best writing was “without emotion”.
“There has to be a subtext to all of this, and if there’s sex in that kind of story, then the sex is kind of depressing or vulgar or meaningless. Why do we think stories can only be important, or only valuable art if Are they just kind of… detached? I don’t really understand that.”
She’s happy to have the space for romance, even if she feels like a lot of it comes down to marketing. Type, she says, is a “necessary evil.”
“If you look at something like [Sally Rooney’s] ordinary peopleit’s often classified as “literary fiction”, such a fragile genre – all I know [from that] Just good writing. “
Rooney’s novel is of course a romance – just a tragic one?
“Right? It’s just an infuriating love story. I loved that book, so it’s not an insult to that book, but I don’t think… the genre matters – it’s just marketing, if you’re marketing A love story that doesn’t guarantee a happy ending, it won’t be sold as romance.”
However, there has been a major change in the cover design of romance novels. Once easily recognizable by their tacky images or by long-haired Italian model Fabio, who appeared on hundreds of covers in the 1980s and ’90s, his bare oiled pecs highlighted, Henry’s contemporary romance Books now feature bright illustrations and uniform, clean typography. They don’t look like traditional romance novels, but at heart, they still have the same message.
Henry thinks her fans – there are many, many Very The Loyal One – Embrace her love story because the world is so uncertain; The Happily Ever After story is a reminder of hope.
“I think that’s the part that’s missing from a lot of the upcoming movies — that hole. If you look back at things like You’ve got mail, it’s such a tender film, and in a way so… earnest. It’s not cynical, but it’s clearly coming from a realist.
“It’s joyful sadness. Like, life isn’t perfect. Gen Z has embraced that vulnerability and the willingness to go on the emotional journey.”
Die-hard fans already know this, but Henley may have started a new wave of rom-coms — her first three novels have all been turned into feature films. Even before the announcement, her fans (many of whom posted videos showing off their widely read Henry books) were “fanifying” her story: sharing on Instagram and BookTok what they thought might be in the film. The person who played her character in the adaptation.
“I am so Excited,” Henry said of the films. She has “some level of involvement” in each project (no, she doesn’t have a say in the casting), but she’s “one of many voices” that’s very Happy to pass her story on to others.
“I think Gen Z has always been associated with the Nora Ephron style: a realist trying to find hope in a broken world,” she says. “It makes perfect sense for the world they’re inheriting.”
Emily Henry’s happy place (Penguin) is out now.
Booklist is book editor Jason Steger’s weekly newsletter for book lovers. Delivery every Friday.