Sunday, January 22, 2012
Reading is Fundamental; Romance is just Fun
When I was about 7 or 8 years old, my oldest sister caught me reading a Harlequin Romance at one of my brothers' Little League games. I'm guessing at the age, but I remember that Donna had already moved out of our house and was married. So I was at least 7.
I was sitting near my mother on the wooden bleachers on the third base side when Donna asked my mother if I wasn't a little young for that particular book. I don't remember what my mother said. I don't remember the score of the game, and I don't remember the name of the book, but I do remember that my favorite Harlequin writers were Ann Mather and Janet Daily, so it was probably one of them.
How did a second or third grader come to have favorite romance authors?
My mother and her mother were romance novel queens, and Harlequin was their publishing house of choice. They’d buy Avon carrier bags full of books at a used book store in Linton, read them and exchange them for more when they were done.
Other than the Bible, there weren’t that many other reading options at my house, so when I was done with whatever I’d scrounged from the school library, I turned to Harlequin and was quickly hooked as deeply as they were. In the summertime (baseball season) there was no school library, so there you have it.
I never saw my other grandmother read anything but the Bible and religious propoganda, but she did let me watch her "stories" with her and I was addicted to all of her CBS afternoon soap operas where the bad guys generally died (at least once) to clean up a story line and the good girls always ended up (for a time) with the man they wanted after an appropriate series of trials and tribulations, of course.
Could the soap operas and Harlequins have contributed to my poor early performance in real-life romance? Maybe. I'm certain they're part of the reason I never subscribed to princess fairy tales as a child? Fairy tales seemed too clean for me.
There were similarities. In both cases, the prince always, eventually, came. (Though admittedly in somewhat different manners.)
In both literary efforts, a central figure usually died and love triumphed over evil. But the fairy tales were all so quick and neat. The villains were pure evil. The princesses were always paragons of virtue. They didn’t curse or doubt. And in the fairy tales of my youth, they didn’t rescue themselves.
I had brothers. Mean brothers. Brothers who would have brought those Grimm pretenders to run home crying to their mommy. Worse, my parents were Pentecostal. That’s hard core, man. You deviate from that path and you burn in hell – literally or so they informed me in living color about 12 million times – for EVER.
So I knew from an early age that any rescue of mine would be up to me.
I fell away from both Pentecosts and the Harlequins. The books went earlier, I think. Probably about the 76th time my mom forgot to pick me up from something. I always blamed it on her getting lost in a Harlequin on the couch. In all fairness, it could have been anything -- from the trivial to the really-couldn't-be-helped. I was the 7th child for goodness sake. I'd have tried to forget about me, too.
After I set about having actual romances of my own, I learned more cruel lessons. Sadly, you can't just kill off a bad boyfriend like they did on As the World Turns. And the villains in my adventures seemed to win an awful lot of the time, unlike those Mr. Disney spun. Perhaps I wasn’t as full of virtue as those blemishless, tiny-waisted ladies. Perhaps…
It was a rocky decade or so while I was buffeted about in the mating maelstrom. After a time, as you all know, my best girlfriends held an intervention and finagled a way for the captain and I to find our way. While it's true he wields a might sword, our story probably isn't Disney worthy.
It might be worthy of the genre I discovered years into our marriage. What I read now would make Misses Mather and Daily blush. I tell myself that I’m nothing like my mother and that my books are more sophisticated than the formulaic bodice rippers of her day. They're more complicated plots, to be sure, and often the women are as heroic as the men. So that’s nice.
Jeff stopped questioning my literary choices a while ago after, I suspect, he discovered that a happy wife full of steamy romance can have side benefits. I am, shall we say, much less friendly when I read books that make me cry than I am when I’m fresh of a vampire-huntress who saves the world and discovers a randy sidekick along the way.
So, don’t pity the husband/mate of the romance novel reader. Envy is more in order. At least at my house.
I think I have the Harlequins as early reading on my mind today because I have a new book that I'm trying to save for a short vacation next week. It's the latest in a series by Marjorie Liu. I stumbled across her when I read a book that includes some scenes in Paoli, Ind. They're silly but the characters are funny and flawed and would be people you'd love to hang out with.
Also, Ali and I went to Disney on Ice Saturday night with Jaime, Rachael, Aleasha, Brittney (Jaime's friend) and Lauren and another Alison. The other Alison was about 6, maybe, and she and my Alison became joined at the hip. My Ali took on the role of big sister and was holding her hand through the mall and the sidewalks as we moved from dinner to the show.
They sat on one end of the row and I on the other as the princesses started gliding out in the show, which took three Disney princess stories, shrank them and put them on ice. My princess issues aside, I have to say the show itself was amazing. I can barely skate, let alone dance and the costumes were just amazing. I glanced over every so often to see if my Alison was enjoying the show. She's not been a huge princess fan. Like me (shocking) she prefers the princesses that have a say in their lives and their rescue.
I was really proud of her one day when I had country music on and Little Big Town was singing about a girl who wanted her boyfriend to take her down to the little white church. Alison, not a country fan, impatiently turned to me and said, “Why doesn’t she just take her own self down to the church?”
At intermission, I glanced over. She was reading a book to the other Alison.
No, it wasn't a Harlequin. It was Franny K. Stein, though, and perhaps not appropriate for a 6-year-old.
Franny is a mad scientist who lives in a pretty pink house with lovely purple shutters at the end of Daffodil Street. A loner, her lab is in the attic and her best friend/lab assistant is her dog, Igor. She creates all kinds of things, gets in trouble and gets herself out. She once discovered the other girls played with dolls so she created one of her own, trying to fit in. Unfortunately, Franny's doll liked to eat the heads off the other, princess-like dolls.
I love Franny. The other Alison seemed entranced by Lunch Walks Among Us. I'm probably going to have to apologize for nightmares.
But hey, it could have been worse. I had my new romance novel in my purse...