Dear Reader #11: Scottish Romance Novels–But WHY?

Dear Reader,

If you hang out in public libraries as much as I do, then A) you are a statistical anomaly and B) you’ve probably noticed that Trashy Romance Novels are a thing.

Scottish Romance Pic 1The Trashy Paper-Backed Romance Novel is an intriguing species, adapted to a habitat that most books find inhospitable and unable to support life. Apart from comic books in the sixties and seventies, it had no competition in its ecological niche until the rise of the internet in recent decades.

Where most books will consume erotic material only as part of a more varied diet, or only as a last resort in the case of a narrative approaching starvation, the Trashy Romance Novel subsists almost entirely on eroticism. As the cold winter months approach, it nests in the back of the library, in the bookstall at the airport, in the basket under the magazines at the nail salon; there it hibernates, hoping to escape the notice of its fiercest predator, the dreaded Lonely Soccer Mom.

(And they’re closely-related enough to comic books that I can justify writing about them…)

We’ve tracked the Trashy Romance Novel to its native habitat in order to investigate a great mystery. The Trashy Romance Novel section bears a dazzling array of coloration. To attract a reader, it will employ such display strategies as the Brooding Vampire, the Muscular Cowboy, and the Fancy Aristocratic Dress, all well understood by the scientific community.

But there is one display whose purpose remains a mystery. We’re here in the desolate wastes of the paperback shelf in the Fiction section of your local library to discover the reason behind all these Scottish Romance Novels.

Scottish Romance Pic 2The Riddle of the Shirtless Scotsman (which makes for a pretty good title in its own right) is this: To What or Whom is it meant to appeal, exactly?

With most trashy romance novels, the appeal of any individual ‘theme’ is fairly clear. Old-timey dresses and balls? That’s meant to appeal to princess/prince fantasies. International Spies? Meant to appeal to a desire for thrills and intrigue. Vampires play to a desire for something tragic and forbidden. Cowboys and lumberjacks, that’s meant to appeal to the yearning for a rugged, tough, metaphorical animal of a man. Sexy werewolves are meant to appeal to the same desire but maybe in a less metaphorical, more way. That’s the whole point of the romance genre—indulging fantasies.

So what exactly are all these Scotsmen doing here? What are they giving that anyone wants? The cuisine is hardly romantic—nobody swoons for haggis. The music is pretty evocative, I’ll grant you, but of military funerals and sailing to Valinor, nothing exactly sensual. And I can’t imagine there’s an enormous demand for Scotsmen in real life—because, speaking as a person of Scottish descent, we’re just flat-out not that attractive.

Scottish Romance Pic 3

No offense, The Proclaimers.

I mean, some of us are nice once you get to know us, but the Scottishness isn’t exactly a guarantee of charisma, is the point.

Sure, there’s an appetite for everything, I’m sure there’s at least one person out there whose tastes are for just 100% unadulterated Scot; but I can’t imagine that that one person is enough to drive the oversaturated Scottish Romance market.

Just look at this:


The Highlander’s Bride.

Call of the Clan.

The Captive Scot

Saved by the Highlander (which, I should note, is not part of the same series as the previous ‘Highlander’ titles).

.Highland Wolves (in case you want sexy werewolves AND Scotsmen in the same package).

Something called The Scottish Werebear Series (because what if you want your shirtless Scotsman to turn into an animal other than a wolf? Also, why is “Scotsmen who turn into animals but in a sexy way” a subject that needs more than one series of novels? What the actual crap?)

I should note that that all those examples are from the first few pages of results on Amazon for ‘Romance Scottish.’ There are 100 PAGES OF RESULTS.

Note also that every title or subtitle is fully explicit that “This book is about Scotsmen specifically.” Amazon treats Historical Scottish Romance as a pre-defined category. This is much more than coincidence, Reader. There is something about a man in a plaid skirt that speaks to a large demographic. So what itch is the Scottishness scratching, then?

You see men wearing kilts on cover after cover. That’s not just about assuring you that this torso is definitely a Scottish torso, no; it’s because the kilt, the plaid, the bagpipes, the landscape—they’re all there to make the guy in question not just handsome, but exotic. The exotic can be powerfully attractive.

And there, Dear Reader, lies the key to this mystery. Scotsmen may be exotic, but not too exotic. They still speak English. They’re still white. While they have the touches that make them clearly different, they’re not too different. They’re unfamiliar and therefore exciting, but still familiar and therefore safe to an audience that eats at McDonalds, and buys cans of Campbell’s soup, and learned about General MacArthur and read MacBeth in school.

History shows us that very few things are more powerfully attractive than a combination of the familiar and the exotic. Cleopatra dressed very Egyptian, but was ethnically Greek, which made her seem the most beautiful woman in the world to the Romans, familiar with the Greeks but not the Egyptians. Elvis became a nationwide sex symbol by singing and dancing like the African American musicians of his day while being white.

That’s the appeal of Scottish Romance Novels. It’s not because Scotsmen are hot in and of themselves (we’re really not, you guys); it’s because they’re on that cultural borderland.

So it is to be hoped that this oft-maligned subspecies, the Shirtless Scotsman, and indeed all varieties of the Trashy Romance Novel, may roam the wild reaches of Your Aunt’s Coffee Table for generations to come.

I Guess Twilight Would Count As An Invasive Species In This Premise,

-The Guy Who Wrote This

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