Sunday, June 26, 2011

Reader's Romance

Since I've started the blog, I have thought of writing on this topic several times. I have heard a great number of romance readers share how they discovered romance, or how they rediscovered it. Every time I hear the stories, I reflect on my own reading past. The most recent one I've read is by Megan Mulry. Megan writes at length about the intellectual shame attached to reading genre literature and romances in particular. If you haven't read her post yet, go and read. I'll wait. It's that good.

I don't know why romance novels are so particularly despised. Perhaps because they primarily are connected to women's concerns. Perhaps because happiness is so suspect among the intelligentsia. Perhaps because of a puritanical disdain for all things sexual.

I was very young when I first started reading romance novels. I wasn't a very early reader, but once I could read on my own, I read incessantly. By fifth grade I had read everything in our local library's children's section. Then I discovered Barbara Cartland. I loved everything about those novels. They were short enough that I could read a couple on a summer's afternoon, but filled with people in a past so distant and foreign to me. From there, I moved on to other category romances and then the bodice rippers of that era. I devoured them all. Straight on into Judith Krantz.

It drove my father crazy. That wasn't why I chose to read romances, but I think in the end it was at least some of the reason why I stopped reading them. He didn't disapprove of romance in particular. He didn't really read any popular literature, except for a few notable exceptions (John Lecarre being the one he loved most). He was the son of immigrants, the first in his family to graduate from college. Our house was filled with books when I was growing up. I once counted them when we were taking them all off the shelves of the book cases that lined the walls. I stopped after two thousand.  People who don't love books always think that it must have been awful growing up in such a stuffy house. It didn't feel that way at all. Books surrounded our family and were a place to escape. They were loved and discussed, but revered. My father was still miffed about a copy of  a Cheever novel that I crayoned as a toddler.

When my friends and I were caught reading an especially filthy Harold Robbins book, in disgust my father gave me a copy of Pride and Prejudice. Of course I loved it. I then went on to read all of Austen. There were others after her. It wasn't a hard end to it. I slid into the world of 'adult' books. I read some science fiction for a bit longer, but even then there was Lewis and Wells to entice me away. Perhaps it was because of my father's books, but I didn't usually dislike the books we were required to read. With very few exceptions, I loved them all. The Red Badge of Courage. The Raisin in the Sun. Whitman. Shakespeare. Orwell.  I left the books of my youth behind to embrace a more formidable intellectual life. There are so many books that I opened thinking I would have to endure them only to fall in love with them. Most of them were sitting there on the shelves I walked past every day. Then in college there were still more books, some I'd never even heard of before, waiting for me to fall in love with them.

I don't love those books any less today than I did then. I still have many of them on my shelves. But they are sitting there next to some much more modern writers. Those other  books have covers that are bright and cheery. And inside those covers is a sweet and open embrace of happiness and love.

And, yes, sex, too.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

June TBR Challenge 2011: Lead Me On

June is the month of contemporaries. I have quite a few contemporaries in my TBR pile. I wasn't really sure when I started the TBR Challenge which one I would pick there are so many I've been hoarding, even more on my list of books to buy. As the months went by my choice became a lot easier.

I hang out on twitter. A whole lot. I follow some of the smartest and funniest people in the romance community. Some of them are actually twitter friends; others are just people whose twitter conversation is full of useful information or timely links. Or in the case of Victoria Dahl, fun. Dirty, smutty fun. If you haven't seen her around twitter you really should check her out. She's hilarious.

So when June rolled around I picked up her 2010 release, Lead Me On. It's the final book in a trilogy. I didn't realize it when I bought it and it undoubtedly is part of the reason I was so slow to get around to reading it. I tend to be pretty uptight about reading a series in order. Based on how fun it is to read her tweets, I wanted to give Victoria's book a try. I'm so glad I did. I'll even go back and read the earlier books.

Here's the lowdown: Jane Morgan is trying her damnedest to repress her past, her family, even a part of herself and live her perfect life. She isn't perfectly happy, but it isn't for lack of trying. Then her younger brother gets arrested and her carefully constructed lies begin to unravel.

Adding to her family problems, is the hot, hard, tattooed Chase. In a great twist, it's Chase who falls for Jane, despite her desperate attempts to remain uninvolved. They have amazing, raw and passionate sex and Jane does her best to make sure it stays nothing but sex. Chase is the one pursuing a more real emotional attachment.

This is a book that deals with some very serious issues. Family issues are hard to escape. Hard to make peace with even years later. Jane is a mess. Watching her futilely flee her past should be painful. Jane certainly faces some harsh problems. But layered over that, the book is sensual and playful. When Jane is near tears, Chase always manages to make her laugh. In the end that is the my favorite part of the book. Even when things seemed grim, I never doubted that Jane and Chase would somehow find a way to be together.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Books for Precocious Readers

This began as a reply to Morton Gray's comment. But then there were too many links to include in a comment. And once I get started talking about kids' books, I do get a bit long winded. I had the same troubles for many years. Patience was a precocious reader, but at eight years old found even Nancy Drew books too intense. In her defense, we had a Nancy Drew computer game. Prudence was bad at it and I was worse. Poor Nancy routinely died from our bad choices. Patience had good reason to worry over Nancy.

I found some of the most satisfying books for the kids at that age were some of the older titles. They have a complexity of language and story that is satisfying, while skirting some of the darker bits. Swallows and Amazons never caught with my kids, but is often recommended.  The Eager books however were much loved at our house. There are Mr Pooper's Penguins which is a new movie and other award winning books. Andrew Clements books are amusing and fun but still hold a place in my kids' bookshelves.

As he gets a bit older, there are some more modern books as well that appeal because of the interesting content, even after the reading level is a bit unchallenging, but still have that reassuring feeling that nothing bad would happen.

Anyone have anything else to recommend to a young reader who doesn't want to read anything too dark?

Friday, June 10, 2011


This week, there has been a lot of talk online about an article in the Wall Street Journal. The article claimed that the dark themes in the current popular YA books are bad for kids. There was a huge outcry. I won't repeat all of the arguments here. The #YAsaves on Twitter and a subsequent article in WSJ answer these questions better than I can as an author who doesn't write YA.

I don't have anything much more to add as an author, but I do have thoughts as a parent. I think the article approaches the question in completely the wrong way. My teenaged daughters have read  scads of the more sober themed YA books.

Some they  didn't like the difficult themes. Some they didn't finish because they felt uncomfortable. Some they loved despite the darkness. Some changed their lives.

But those are my kids reactions. Even my kids, who are fairly similar in tastes, don't agree. Prudence loved I am the Messenger. But it broke her heart so she won't touch The Book Thief, Patience's most favorite book ever. Not every kid is the same. The Goosebumps series was wildly popular when I volunteered in the school library. My girls never read Goosebumps and aren't going to see any of the latest horror movies. They are easily spooked. That isn't an indictment of RL Stine. That is just my children.

As parents, it's our job to know our children's limits. And YA literature covers a broad age range. Not many 17 year olds are reading what their 13 year old siblings enjoy. And it's supposed to be like that. I have sent books back to the library or book store unread. It wasn't a popular choice, but after a couple that slipped past me lead to nightmares, they understood.

Now that they are older, my kids censor their own reading. There are a few  books that went back unfinished to the library. It's very hard to find Urban Fantasy or Paranormal Romance with relatively light sexual content.

There has been rape and eating disorders, murder and casual sex, violence and mental illness. But I don't think my kids were harmed by all of the things that they have read.

The book that cause the most tears to be shed in our house is an autobiography. I think the real tragedies of someone's life are worth my daughter's tears. I know she is a better person for having a literary relationship with that author.