Sunday, April 18, 2010
I'm a reader, and yes, I am a voracious reader of romance novels. I still read good women's fiction from time to time, biography, history and I devour YA simply because of my job as a high school librarian, but romances make me happy. I like that people can fall in love, work their way past the obstacles and find happiness. This doesn't mean I don't like good writing. I love good writing, as well as rich characters, well-crafted settings and stories that keep me interested. I like to laugh and cry and I want to like the characters I read about. To find all those things, I read romance. So imagine my dismay when recently a colleague of mine laughed out loud when I told her I was an aspiring romance writer. "Seriously?" she asked me. "How do you write that stuff? Do you have pirates in your books?" I kept my cool and explained what I wrote (no pirates, no bodice ripping), but I was so taken aback by her lit snobbery, that this post started floating around in my head.
The definition of a romance novel as determined by the Romance Writers of America is as follows: a romance novel must focus on the developing love story between the two main characters and there must be an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. That doesn't mean there is always a happily ever after, for me it means that I walk away from the book feeling like the characters are going to be okay and are better for whatever the plot has thrown at them.
It's generally believed that romance does not get the respect it deserves because it is literature for women, primarily by women. I can buy that. But chew on these stats for a bit: romance generates over 1.3 billion dollars in book sales every year with about 75 million readers. Romance novels regularly occupy spots on all the major bestseller lists. In short, it is a force to be reckoned with in the publishing industry, and if the genre died, the economic repercussions in bookselling would be huge. (Check out the stats: RWA) Yet the stereotype of the genre and its readers still lives regardless of sales figures…so what is a genre to do? Enter Yale University.
Yale is offering a course on the romance genre. They are not offering this course as a sociology or psychology elective to examine the reader of this type of book, but instead it focuses on the genre as literature. The course had eighteen spaces. Eighty students applied for the spots. The publicity from this course is giving the genre some academic cred and pushing forward the growing movement that romance is, indeed, literature. See this article in the Yale Herald for details.
So what's a writer to do when the lit snob puts you down? Be armed with facts. Talk about the empowerment of women, economic impact, but also talk about the power of love. That's what it's all about and honestly, it's what we all want to believe in. The question to ask yourself isn't why you're reading romance, but instead to find out why the lit snob isn't?
People who know of my addiction are always asking me what I read. So in the interest of being a helpful librarian, here are my top ten romance novels:
10. The Notebook, by Nicholas Sparks. A tearjerker of a story that focuses on Ally and Noah, teen lovers who are separated by class, meddling parents and circumstance. This is a book about the power of soul mates who find a way to be together. If you haven't read it I ask, "Where have you been?"
9. Summer by the Sea, by Susan Wiggs. I can read this book over and over again. Rosa and Alex are childhood friends who became lovers. Their romance ended, but now they are back together and trying to make it work in spite of family objections. He is delicious and she is a force to be reckoned with. Rosa's very successful restaurant is a central part of the book, but their love story is the real treat.
8. Born in Ice, by Nora Roberts. Brianna Concannon may seem like a mild mannered innkeeper, but this book, set in Ireland, tells the story of a woman who will not settle for less than a total commitment from the man she loves. Beautiful setting and glorious characters. This book is the second of Robert's "Irish" or "Born in" Trilogy. All three are excellent, but this one is my favorite.
7. Virgin River, by Robyn Carr. This is the first book in a series that focuses on the fictional, small, Northern California town of Virgin River. This is a town populated by former Marines, so the testosterone level is at Defcon 5. In the first book we meet Jack, a retired sergeant and now bar owner, who has his lightning strike when he meets Melinda. Mel is a nurse midwife, who has moved to town to escape the tragedies she suffered in Los Angeles. He falls for her almost immediately and even though she resists, Jack is so damned perfect and honorable, it's impossible for Mel not to love him.
6. Fools Rush In, by Kristan Higgins. Millie Barnes returns home to Cape Cod to practice medicine and make the unrequited love of her life fall in love with her. Joe Carpenter is a perfect physical specimen and Millie has been obsessed with him since she was a teenager. What Millie begins to realize is that Joe is not the man of her dreams, but a certain cop, who has always been an important part of Millie's life, is exactly what her heart needs. One of Kristan's other books was almost sitting in this spot. Just One of the Guys has an amazing romantic ending, but I was really rooting for Millie to win this one.
5. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. Mr. Darcy is the original wealthy, brooding hero. Elizabeth Bennett is headstrong, beautiful and from a less than desirable family. They meet, sparks fly, there are arguments and accusations and all is well at the end. I love this book and whenever I have girls looking for a "different" kind of romance (meaning no vampires, drug addicts or gang members), I give them Pride and Prejudice. They love me for it.
4. Three Wishes, by Barbara Delinsky. Tom Gates is a famous author who has lost his way. Bree Miller is a small town woman who offers him redemption. The two of them combine in a story that has me bawling every time I read it. The ending is unexpected, and heart wrenching, but it's all about the power of love to heal even the most broken hearts and lives.
3. This Heart of Mine, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. This book combines two of my favorite things, football and children's literature. SEP does this by having a romance develop between playboy quarterback Kevin Tucker and penniless heiress and children's author, Molly Somerville. Molly has had a crush on Kevin forever, so when circumstances throw them together at a camp Kevin has inherited, the crush flares and real feelings develop between the two. I like this book because Kevin has a vulnerable side and it's not just about him saving Molly from herself, Molly saves him, as well.
2. Bet Me, by Jennifer Crusie. I love this book. I read it and decided I want to be Jennifer Crusie when I become a grown-up author. This is the story of Cal and Min. He is gorgeous, successful and has no trouble getting the women to fall all over him. Min is successful, but she's chubby, lacks confidence and has no luck with men. They meet, the stars align and the chubby girl gets to have her love story with the gorgeous guy who can't resist her. The characters have depth, the dialog is rapid fire and there are tears to go along with the laughs. If you have never read romance before, read this one. You'll be hooked.
1. Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon. Claire is a WWII nurse, a Brit, who after leaving active duty takes a holiday with her husband to the Scottish Highlands. One morning, when out for a walk, she touches a standing stone and finds herself hurled back in time to 1743. There she meets a tall, broad Scots warrior named Jamie Fraser. 'Nuf said. This book is full of passion, adventure, humor and tenderness. It's also a long book, to the point of being intimidating, but not a page is wasted. I have friends who are die-hard literary fiction fans who list this book as their favorite. The story is epic and unforgettable.