Sunday, January 10, 2010

Romance novels: a personal history

When I was little, my grandma's house was full of teenagers. My mother was the oldest of 5 and had me when she was 20, so there were lots of young aunts and uncles to entertain me when I was a kid. As they left home one by one, their cast-off belongings were slowly moved into a closet in one of the upstairs bedrooms. As I grew up, this closet became magical--it seemed like there was a neverending supply of books inside. Here was where I discovered the Sweet Valley twins (Jessica and Elizabeth), Nancy Drew, and the tragic and predictable novels by Lurlene McDaniels. And then, one summer when I was 12 and spending a couple of months with my grandparents, in the bottom of the closet I found a small paperback with a shirtless Scottish man on the cover.

And thus began my love affair with romance novels.

Now, let me pause here and say that this closet was ACTUALLY MAGICAL. I will explain. When I began finding the books, my mom and her next-youngest sibling had already moved out of the house. As far as I know, of the five children in that generation, these two are the only readers. The books probably didn't belong to my uncle, and they definitely didn't belong to my aunt Jennifer. My aunt Carolyn isn't much of a fiction reader. And yet books kept appearing in a steady supply. So who did the books belong to? And, even more curious, why was there a lurid bodice-ripper in the closet years after the last child had moved out?

In any case, I devoured that first romance novel and continued to read them avidly for years. I especially loved Scottish history--in fact, after reading Diana Gabaldon's series about Jamie and Claire, I decided to spend my year abroad in Scotland. I loved every kind of romance, though, and my grandpa fed my addiction with those horrible 4-packs that Costco sells.

I don't really read romances any more, unless Jude Deveraux comes out with a new one. But those early obsessions contributed to a lifelong love of historical fiction, and a great appreciation for genre fiction.

This post was inspired by THE SIXTH SURRENDER by Hana Samek Norton, which exists somewhere between romance and historical fiction. Pub date July 2010.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Joy often comes after sorrow, like morning after night...................................................