What do you think the term paperback romance refers to? Here's the picture (just click on it to make it larger):

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  • This is a really good ELL question, in my opinion, The meaning of the phrase in question requires some cultural context to fully understand the employed metaphor.
    – J.R.
    Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 17:27

2 Answers 2


Romance novels have a reputation for following an almost rigid formula: boy meets girl; they fall in love; some misunderstanding causes them to have a fight; in the end they get back to together, and usually get married. (As Stephie notes in her comment to Michael's answer.)

That is, these stories tend to be predictable. If you read in the first chapter that a man and a woman are suddenly thrown together by circumstances, you KNOW that they are going to fall in love by the end of the book. Anyone who reaches the end of a romance novel and says, "Zounds! The hero and the heroine ended up solving their problems and getting married? What a shocking surprise ending!" ... well, such a person no doubt finds the world a place full of wonder and amazement.


A "paperback novel" is one printed without hard covers and usually on cheap paper; meaning it has reached a large enough audience that an inexpensive version was published. A paperback romance would be a romance novel, that is, one dealing with love, desire, and loss, printed in a paperback.

The writer of "With the inevitability of a paperback romance" -- means "extremely predictably." The idea is that a novel that reaches a large audience would do so because it would be easy to read, badly written, and have many predictable characters and scenes.

(I dislike this usage. For one, it carries the connotation that anything appreciated by many people [or people too poor to buy hardcover] would be dumb and that they would not notice that they are being fed intellectual trash. Secondly, given that it is not just any paperback novel but a romance novel, suggests that this group of non-intellectual people is largely comprised of women. Given the persistent gender gaps in science, a writer on science topics should know better than to use language that can be read as implying that most women wouldn't understand the concepts here.)

  • 6
    While I agree with most of your points, "Paperback novel" refers not to a book previously published as hardcover (and hence deemed by the publishers "worthy") but to those mass-produced quickly written, very predictable books that are published as cheap paperback version right from the start. They are usually not written as "great literature" but for light entertainment and yes, often follow a very common pattern: Hero meets heroine, some mixup and story telling ensues and in the end it's "happily ever after" - the "inevitability" the diagaram in the question refers to.
    – Stephie
    Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 10:41
  • @Stephie -- agreed. thanks for the clarification. Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 10:42
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    Also related is "pulp fiction". I don't think it's necessarily a commentary on the readership, but the genre. I love bad monster movies. I don't think someone saying they're cheesy is condemning me as dumb because I watch them. Paperback romances are very formulaic. That doesn't say anything about the people who read them as a guilty pleasure.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 16:24
  • Frankly I doubt that the formulaic nature of romance novels is particularly because the target audience is mostly women. Sports stories are about equally predictable: a team is doing poorly, the team members are all discouraged, they work hard, and in the end they win the Big Game. And sports stories are primarily targeted at men. Besides, I think it's sexist to say that romance novels are written for women. Just like it would be sexist to say that computer manuals written for men. Right?
    – Jay
    Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 16:30
  • 1
    @Jay - The difference between sports stories and romance novels, though, is the sheer volume of publishing. (Before anyone accuses me of being sexist, find a friend and visit any second-hand bookstore of your choosing. You count all the formulaic sports stories targeted toward men, have your friend count all the paperback romance stories. If your number is even half of your friend's total, I'll gladly delete this comment.) My point is that the ubiquitousness of romance novels is an integral part of why this metaphor works, and you don't need to have read one to understand the metaphor.
    – J.R.
    Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 17:25

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