Laurie's News & Views

September 20, 1996 - Issue #12

NEWS FLASH:
Denise Little, whose imprint Denise Little Presents has been published by Kensington Publishing for the past few years, has been let go by the company. Kensington plans to finish publishing all the titles bought for the imprint. Questions about this should be directed to the publisher, whose web site is at the following URL: http://www.zebrabooks.com

I'M A GLOMMER, YOU'RE A GLOMMER, HE'S A GLOMMER, SHE'S A GLOMMER, YOU HAVE NO CHOICE BUT TO BE A GLOMMER TOO:
Let's have a bit of fun now, about a topic which many of you felt close to - glomming. You know, that manic and obsessive need we have to buy up the backlists of authors we discover. Once romance becomes important in your life, you can't just dabble. You can't read just one. . . .

Apparently, no romance reader can read just one. Here is a sampling of the comments sent in by readers on the topic of glomming:

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  • From Kathy: "I admit to being a first-class glommer! When I read a really good book by an author, I will immediately check out the bookstore for back titles. I usually buy them after reading the synopsis."
  • From M: ". . . I am a glommer and it's funny what we glommers do to get backlists! For example, I had Mary Jo Putney's Silk trilogy in my collection about three times and kept trading them in, because I couldn't quite read the first book. Finally, on business travel, I packed them in my suitcase, read all three, and proceeded to collect almost everything she has written since."
  • From Mona: "Yes I definitely glom!!!! I had not read a Linda Howard till I read ???? (I'm awful at names but it was Zane MacKenzie's story) and suddenly I had to buy everything I could lay my hands on, I would go thru the library computer like crazy to see what I could put on hold, and I was getting totally frantic. The same happened for me for Lynne Graham."
  • From Deborah: " Yes, I, too am a glommer and these days, it seems so many are recommending such good books, I too am starting to go out and pick up books from authors I have never read before and am making it a habit to try and get them all at once. . . It's become an obsession and it's getting worse by the day!"
  • From Catherine: "Do I glom, you bet your life."
  • From Jill: "Glomming - (I hope I spelled it correctly!) - what a wonderful term - yes, I must admit, I glom. I do it with all genres I read, in fact. Whenever I stumble upon a new author (to me) and like what I have read, I then spend the next week, month, year searching for everything else she (or he) has written. I haunt new bookstores, used bookstores, libraries, library databases and the internet (either the Web or newsgroups/digests) hunting for all the titles I can."
  • From Andrea: "I am definitely a glommer. . . I know I've found a winner when I am grabbing up my car keys to head for the bookstores after reading only a few chapters by a previously unread author."
  • From Joycelyn: "Glomming! Works 4 me. Well, I'm so glad that this particular affliction has a name at last - glomming! you say - well, it works for me. Some of the authors I have had to "glommed" for are: Deborah Simmons, Megan McKinney, Marlene Suson, Nicole Jordan, Kat Martin, Robyn Carr and others that I will not mention because I quickly de-glommed them after reading some of their other works. In retrospect, reading a romance novel and finding your favorite author(s) is like getting hooked on an actor or director. You follow their bodies of work because you have certain expectations that you know will be met and once in a while they may have a "flop" in the box office but the next one could be right on track and your world is right once again."
  • From Tina: "Yes, I glom. I love the excitement behind discovering a new favorite author. But it is secondary to the thrill of tracking down and anticipating all the books to come. Be it from a backlist or new releases. I re-discovered romance via Amanda Quick's Scandal. This book made me read every JAK I could find. I still haven't read them all, and I doubt I'll stop my JAK glomming for a long, long time. Right now I'm glomming Jennifer Crusie. I'm busy buying every book of hers I can find. . . Be still my heart. . . the anticipation is the best part. Certain authors speak to our hearts. I think it's human nature to drift over to those people who you feel can touch you in some way."
  • So Tina actually enjoys the tracking down process. How about you? I'm afraid Tina and I disagree on this - I find the tracking down process frustrating. Are you thrilled by the hunt? Or do you wish you could just go down to your favorite bookstore and buy the whole backlist now? Please e - mail me here with your answers.

I'm a Whatchamacallit: Part I
From Penny: "Boy do I glom!!! I have entire collections of Sharon and Tom Curtis, Iris Johansen, Jennifer Greene, Justine Davis, Elizabeth Lowell, Linda Howard, Laura Kinsale, Katherine Kingsley, Marilyn Pappano, Kat Martin, Kimberly Cates, Lindsay McKenna, Katherine Sutcliffe, BJ James, and I paid $30 for a copy of McKenzie's Mountain. Oh, and Kay Hooper, the list goes on. I am an extremely loyal reader, and if I like an author, I want to read every single thing they've ever written, under every name. Oh, Julie Garwood, Judith McNaught, Nora Roberts. For someone who has only been reading a few years, I have a heckuva collection. Thanks for a name for this obsessive habit. I love it."

Penny had a question about the results of her glomming. She asked, "Is there a name for buying books when you have 200 sitting around you haven't read?"

So, how big is your TBR pile. Is it a bedside pile, a mountain, a shelf, a bookcase, or a room? BTW, Penny, I'd say you are a bookaholic. Not that there's anything wrong with that - after all, I am too. But I'm not divulging the number of books I have TBR just yet. I want to hear what you have to say. Please e - mail me here with your book counts and suggested names.

I'm a Whatchamacallit: Part II
Reader Cathy, who has just glommed Julie Garwood and is about to glom Loretta Chase, had a question about the results of her glomming, on a topic we briefly broached in the first issues of Laurie's News & Views.

"If buying several books in an obsessive fashion is called glomming, then what is read three books at one time called? . . .Do you know of others who do this, if so, can we make up a neologism for it?

"I do it by reading through half of one book, but wanting to savor a good one, I refuse to rush through it, so instead of just putting it down and resting my mind, I pick-up another book, and read it for awhile. It's not complicated, but I can't do it with more than one book in the same genre."

Cathy, there are many of us who read more than one book at a time, and for many reasons. I can certainly relate to putting a book down for awhile, although my reasons for doing this vary. Sometimes I want to savor a book as you do. Other times it's because the book has gotten dull. And, still other times it is because I know something big is coming up or has just happened and I need to wait awhile until I'm ready to handle it.

Here's what author Patricia Rice shared with me on taking a break from a book:

"Since I'm also a highly impatient person, I think I understand where you're coming from. Generally, though, it's when the suspense part of the plot kicks in that I throw the book down and stalk off for a while. I don't like suspense (let's face it, I was weaned on Agatha Christie and Jane Austen. I never got injected with the right hormones or something.) Some writers redeem themselves by diving wholeheartedly back into the romance after the villain appears, or whatever. Others dive into the car chase. I'm always afraid it's going to be the car chase, so I set the book aside so I won't be horribly disappointed if I go on reading right then. I'll pick up another book and get attached to another set of characters first. I'm wondering if your process isn't something similar."

So, can any of you come up with a name for multiple-reading-personality? What are your reasons for doing this? Please e - mail me here with your answers.

RATINGS:
A Little Comparison-
Here's a little something from the Dallas Morning News about a concert last week by John Tesh:

"The dominant memory of the two-hour-plus show is noise -- big, major chords pounded incessantly, interrupted only by cloyingly adorable noodling over suspended fourths and melodramatic 11ths. . . But oh, how the crowd loved it. Four thousand strong, they would have followed him into battle just to hear another tuneless ditty played with workmanlike chops."

Here are some tasty little morsels from Entertainment Weekly, August 9 and September 13 1996 issues:

  • Of the movie Kingpin,"You must, of course, be a fan of blithely moronic comedy to step up to the box office for this thing. . . ." This movie earned a "D" rating.
  • Of the book Dark Debts,"Even Jesus can't redeem the sinfully bad 'Dark Debts. . . [it] is nothing but blasphemous twaddle from beginning to end." This book earned a "C-" rating.
  • Of the movie Feeling Minnesota,". . . Feeling Minnesota suggests the excruciating spectacle of Sam Shepard trying to be Quentin Tarantino." This movie earned a "D" rating.
  • Of the movie Tin Cup,"Ron Shelton's romantic comedy gives Kevin Costner the kind of role that reminds you what a charismatic sly-dog actor he is. . . The climactic golf match is the most rousing sequence of the year. . . ." This movie earned an "A-" rating.

Here are some excerpts from reviews in Romantic Times, February 1996 issue:

  • Of the book This is my Child,"A talented storyteller, Ms. Gordon really makes us feel for the heroine's dilemma as she tries to find a happy ending for the three of them." This book earned a "2" rating.
  • Of the book Savage Passions,"[it] is another good Indian romance that brings us all an appreciation for Native America culture." This book earned a "2" rating.
  • Of the book Aim for the Heart,"Sue Rich creates a well-written, sexually charged love story garbed in the best traditions of the west." This book earned a "3" rating.
  • Of the book Honeysuckle Devine,"Touching and warm, (it) has a charm as fresh as its heroine. This is a perfect heart-warmer for a cold evening." This book earned a "4" rating.

Did any of you see the oh-so-subtle difference in the reviews offered above? Funny, but when I read the reviews from the Dallas Morning News and Entertainment Weekly, I don't have to read between the lines to tell the difference between what's good and what's not.

But in reading the reviews from Romantic Times, while there is certainly a difference in the gush factor, a reader who has not been initiated into the subtleties of this publication might have a hard time discerning why This is my Child earned a "2" and Honeysuckle Devine earned a "4".

An Initiation-
The first month I discovered Romantic Times, there were 40 books rated and reviewed in the historical section. Twenty six of those books received a 4 or 4+ rating. Fully 65% of the books rated that month received an "Exceptional" or "Excellent" rating. Naturally I went out and bought the 11 "Exceptional" books. Imagine my surprise when the first one I read was something less than "Exceptional". It was more like "Acceptable", which in Romantic Times parlance is "1" star - the lowest rating they give.

Right away I realized that I would have to adapt their ratings and their rating scale to approximate a normal 5-point scale, with an "average" rating in the middle.

  • 4+ became 5 and could be defined as "Great"
  • 4 became defined as "Good"
  • 3 became defined as "Average"
  • 2 became defined as "Boring"
  • 1 became defined as "Really, really bad"

After I had re-configured the rating scale, I began to learn how to read between the lines of the reviews. It was starting to get complicated. Then I had to track their ratings of various lead and mid-list authors to see which authors always got good or poor ratings. Even more complicated.

Taking all this into consideration, I could often match or come pretty darn close to the ratings/reviews in Romantic Times. But at this point I realized how rather absurd it was to have to do all of these things to get a true rating of a book. We won't even discuss those many, many times my ratings didn't even come close.

I never had such problems reading reviews in most newspapers or magazines, or even on television. Siskel & Ebert tell you a movie is good or bad and tell you why; there is no need to try to figure the subtext of what they say or don't say. Same for the reviews in Newsweek, Premiere, MovieLine (and they say we at The Romance Reader are tough!), even TV Guide, for goodness sake.

So why are the rules different for romance reviews? I think when Kathryn Falk started Romantic Times, the genre needed a cheerleader. The question is, do we still need cheerleaders? Could cheer leading now a detriment?

What Say You?
From the feedback I've received from readers so far, I would say the machinations I used to go through are similar to those of many of you. Many of you do the same sort of conversion I do to transform the ratings from Romantic Times into real ratings. Many of you wondered how unbiased those ratings can be when, often, there is a advertisement for a book on the same page as its review. Some of you believe the reviews in Romantic Times are written to be cover blurbs.

On the other hand, a very few readers (and obviously many reviewers) fervently believe that if a book is good enough to be published, that's good enough for them. (To which I say, ever heard of the movie Ishtar?) And, a few readers believe that those who criticize romances must be failed romance novelists.

Mostly, though, I have heard from readers who want honest and unbiased reviews. Readers who don't just want the sort of synopsis information that can be found on the back of the book. Those of you who want the kind of reviews written by mainstream publications .

  • From Sue, "My biggest pet peeve in reviews is the one-star that doesn't say why. RT consistently prints reviews that say something like 'You can't get any better than Alice Author's tilt-a-whirl of a book' then rate it a 2. Huh? This makes no sense to me."
  • From Judy, "I find it incredible that so many books receive high ratings from Romantic Times. I no longer believe their rating system. If their reviewers are to be believed, no one ever writes a bad book. I'll pay almost any cost of a good book, but I resent paying today's prices for a bad one. I may use their magazine to get a short synopsis of the plot, but I don't trust them to know what's good anymore."
  • From author Rebecca Steffof aka Suzanne Sanders, "One way to put it: If a review sounds like it could be jacket copy (which is sell copy, after all), then it's probably not very useful as a review".

Okay, follow me now. . .
All of us complain that romance is not taken seriously by the world at large. That clinch covers can make good writing look trashy. Well, fawning reviews do nothing to improve the standing of romance among literary genres.

I've said before that romance lovers are often locked in cheerleader mode. We have a circle the wagon mentality because of the ridicule we have faced by family members, friends, and even strangers about what we love to read.

I write about topics such as

  • Authors others love that you don't
  • The Gilligan's Island syndrome/how come . . .
  • Silly sex
  • Plot lines - the good, the bad, and the silly

because, not only are they often funny and just plain old fun to read, but they help pop a few bubbles that need to be popped. I've said before that this isn't brain surgery and that, just as your mother advised you when the little boy next door teased you, "Don't let him get your goat." A little bit of humor goes a long way towards lessening the defensiveness we feel about our beloved romances.

What does this have to do with ratings? Popping those bubbles is akin to real ratings. A little bit of true criticism can also go a long way toward improving the standing of romance in the real world.

I concur with reader Jenni, who had this to say:

"RT has betrayed its audience by pandering to authors and becoming a promotion horse. No issue is complete without pages and pages on the Convention, or the endless drooling over cover models who have nothing to offer readers but their looks. I think it risks demeaning a genre that already has to fight hard enough for respect from mainstream media."

So does Elisabeth, who wrote:

"The romance field needs to develop some more critical discussion of themes as well as honest, professional reviews. Mystery and science fiction both broke out of the trash literature stereotype a long time ago, and I think it might be partly because the reviews were liberated from uncritical fandom. . . I strongly agree that romance needs independent sources of reviews, not just those in publications that depend on romance publisher advertising."

Much of this ties into the discussion of the mid-list and how there are just too many romances out there, that quantity has in some cases been deemed more important than quality. Top authors such as Catherine Coulter, while agreeing that, overall, the quality of romance is greater than when she began to write in the 1970's, are honest in saying there is too much borderline material out there.

But you'd never know it from reading most romance reviews, which rarely, if ever, call a stinker a stinker. And, if those of us who love romance have to go through such complicated schematics to translate what a review really means, what do you suppose someone used to reading mainstream reviews is going to think?

If romance is going to earn the respect it deserves as a literary genre, the cricitism of romance has to be valid. Why should anyone take us seriously when we handicap ourselves up front with all this gushing?

I realize there is a lot to this argument, and you may agree or not with some or all of it. Either way, please e-mail me here with your comments.

I hope you've enjoyed this column. It was a fun one to put together, what with the glomming comments and saving all those reviews. I'll see you again shortly with the next issue of Laurie's News & Views.

TTFN, as Tigger said to Winnie the Pooh,
Laurie Likes Books

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