Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Readerly Life

I went to a book club meeting last night. It was actually the first book club that I've ever been to, which is kind of strange, considering that I've spent pretty much my entire life reading, studying, and thinking about books.

A book club, it turns out, isn't that different than any of the college classes I've sat through. Everyone sits around trying to say just enough to look intelligent without saying so much that they look (gasp!) too intellectual. They talk about other books they've read--usually ones that are listed under the "Literature" section at the big box bookstores. Rarely things published in mass market sized paperbacks. Never, never romance.

It's okay to have a happy ending, but only if it's in a somewhat serious book. Otherwise, Nicholas Sparks is about as close as one should come to admitting that they read anything as low-brow as a bodice ripper. At least his books usually balance out the love story with an appropriate tragedy, because we all know that tragedy is serious writing.

I can understand that. For a while I was thankful for the self-checkout stations at the local library. No one needed to see that the piles of books I'd check out were all covered with couples in amorous embraces. My husband asked once, "Aren't you embarrassed to be seen reading those?"

And in truth, I was.

I came to romance novels fairly late in life. I pretty much refused to even consider them when I was younger, and then I majored in English and only wanted to read Important Literature. And then. . . I just got tired of all the "isn't it pretty to think so" endings. I read Diana Gabaldon's Outlander and was hooked.

I haven't looked back.

Or, if I have looked back, it's only because I can see now that while Toni Morrison and William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf may have taught me to love literature, Nora Roberts and Julia Quinn and Eloisa James and Karen Marie Moning and about a hundred others taught me to love reading again.

Who taught you?


Casey said...

I'm a little embarrased to admit that it was J.K. Rowling! Hollywood incited an interest in Harry Potter, but the books reminded me of how great a fast read can be.

I'm also going to have to credit Jonathan Franzen. I just read The Corrections and roared right through it.


Amy S said...

I've been out of reading for a bit, but what I do read is sci fi and fantasy, back to what I was reading as a young adult really (I'm actually actively looking for books in the YA section, because I can do that and still keep the kids in sight when I'm with my daughter when she wanders off to play with toys.

But thank heavens for romance novels. I was introduced to them in college...

Callie James said...

My mom is an avid romance reader, so I was introduced to romance books as early as age 10. I didn't know enough back then to know I should be "embarrassed" to read those type of books. Later, when people asked, my response was always, "I don't understand. Romance and sex make the world go around. And who doesn't want a happy ending?" Seriously, if you read the papers or even the headlines, you know reality holds enough tragedy. We need some happy-ending fiction to balance that out. I still feel that's true and it's always my ready answer.

Louisa Cornell said...

Two little old ladies who lived next to us in the village in England where we lived for three years when I was a girl.

They were the first people I ever met who had an actual library in their house! They started me out with Pride and Prejudice - a lovely leatherbound volume. I was nine. And I was hooked. I went through all of Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters and all of Georgette Heyer. I read historical romance before I ever read "real" literature. IF the truth be told historical romance taught me to love the authors I read and loved later - Faulkner, Steinbeck, Truman Capote, Harper Lee, Edgar Allen Poe, Eudora Welty.

And I have always been the sort to flaunt the fact I read romance. Then again, I sang opera while going to high school in Alabama.

Jeanie said...

I have always loved romance. Read Georgette Heyer in junior high and Kathleen Woodiwiss and Rosemary Rogers in high school.

There's a guy I work with who has always taken GREAT delight in picking up my romance novels and reading selections out of them in a dramatic voice. To make fun of me, of course.

One day, he came in my office and picked up the romance novel du jour, as was his wont, and started his usual antics. "Watch out, that's Shannan McKenna," I warned him. "She's quite raw." He scoffed and opened the book and started to read a random passage aloud.

He didn't get very far. Turned the most interesting shade of red, bless his heart. He has left me alone since.

Carla Swafford said...

I love Shannon McKenna too, Jeanie, as you know. I had a similar problem with a guy commenting on my reading material (as it proudly sat on my desk). He said, "So you like dirty books." I promptly said, "Ohhh, I feel sorry for your wife. You think sex is dirty." He doesn't say that anymore.

I was twelve when I read my first romance. I didn't know it was called that at the time, I only knew it had a horse on the front. (Roberta Gellis's BOND OF BLOOD.)

The few times I've tried to read "literary" books, I came away feeling unsatisfied and like I had wasted my time. So I stick to all kinds of romance, e.g. mass market.

In fact, I do believe I've bit a romance snob when it comes to that. Yes. I think people who expect happy endings usually work harder toward that end.

Carla Swafford said...

Oh, it was nice meeting you and Chris yesterday!

Chris Bailey said...

Gotta love self-checkout! And nice to meet you yesterday--