I'd like to explain why you won't see any classics listed as romance novels on this page. On many other pages, I see polls of "What's your all-time favorite romance novel?" and books like Pride and Prejudice or Jane Eyre pop up. This irritates me to no end, and thus these books are in no danger of appearing on my list of Romantic Reads.
I define romance novels as books produced by a specific industry, having one essential focus and, usually, using unoriginal devices to create a story. The essential focus, of course, is the romance between two main characters, and any character development inevitably contributes to the conflict and resolution between them. As for the unoriginal devices, I don't mean that pejoratively-- the alpha male, the sex scenes, the Big Misunderstanding, etc. are all recycled in different enjoyable ways by romance writers. OTOH, I don't think that any of them are particularly realistic, or convey any deeper truths about society or individuals.
The work of Austen and the Brontes involved much more than creating interesting stories. They were masters of the English language, and of the artistic form we refer to as a novel. They explored different aspects of humanity, created believable situations and characters, and played with the novelistic form to put as much meaning into 300 pages as possible. They also wove fascinating tales. I do not believe that romance novelists do any of this. Moreover, romance novels are, on the whole, not particularly innovative, certainly not ahead of their time, and--please don't be offended by this--largely correlative to the male-targeted pornographic industry.
So now that I've dug myself into deep sh*t, assuming anyone reads this, one might wonder why I bother to read and create a blog devoted to romance novels. Let me say this first: I will be happy to adjust my definition as I learn more about the genre. As you can tell from my reading log for this year, my exposure to the romance industry is fairly limited. I read a lot of the same authors, I haven't branched out into fantasy, sci-fi, gay, whatever branches of romance novels that are out there. I barely even read contemporary stories, and almost everything I've read takes place in Regency England. So let me be the first to admit that my experience is limited, though I'm working on it.
That said, I don't expect to find anything drastically different, based on the few examples of those other sub-genres that I have seen and read.
I haven't answered the question yet, you say? Quite right. Well, I read romance novels because they're fun. Because I like sappy love stories, because I like happily-ever-after, because I like the easy reads. For an avid reader like myself, reading romance novels is akin to watching television. I relax, I am pandered to, and I don't have to think. That's a really nice thing to have. I also enjoy the trashiness of them, even the less-trashy ones. I don't ask a lot from my romance novels, and they don't offer a lot. And that's just fine with me.