Treat yourself to the AAR bookbag!

September 15, 2004 - Issue #187

From the Desk of Laurie Likes Books:

Welcome to At the Back Fence. This time I continue our multi-column segment on beloved romance characters with my discussion on couples to love (last time we talked about heroines; next time we'll do secondary couples or villains you love to hate). Then, in a roundabout fashion I'll tackle the topic of re-reading, which feeds right into the revisiting of our Top 100 Romances poll. We've polled readers for the top 100 romances twice before and today kick off the same poll for the third time to see what's changed.

Couples to Love

Although my criterion for choosing favorite heroes and heroines in the last two issues of this column were that they be featured in Desert Isle Keepers, something I read on our ATBF Message Board last week triggered a personal revolt. Listed as one reader's least favorite heroine was a heroine I read earlier this year whom I absolutely adored...and since I loved her hero and them as a couple, I realized I'd be silly not to include them on my list here even though the book didn't quite achieve all-time keeper status for me. After all, it wasn't their fault.

We all know that heroes, heroines, and the relationship of couples is the key to a terrific romance, but there have been times when I've loved a couple even though something about the book as a whole kept it from being a DIK read. And when it comes to couples I think I look for something different than I look for when considering individual characters. For instance, even though I adore the traditional Regency, only one couple made the final cut.

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Upon further analysis of those couples who did make it to the top of my list, it didn't take long to realize that inventive, fun, and passionate love scenes were something shared by many of my favorite couples, which all but eliminated the trad. It turns out that just about 2/3 of my favorite couples are featured in "hot" romances; another quarter are in "warm" romances and the remaining ten percent are in "subtle" romances. And while, as I mentioned last time, more than half my favorite romances (and thereby more than half my favorite heroes and heroines) are dark, my favorite couples were spread far more evenly among light, dark and those romances that manage to be both.

In a way this makes sense. In a humorous romance the hero and heroine do not spend most of the book at odds with one another. If a couple is happy and not fighting all the time, if they enjoy themselves I think it's easier to enjoy them. And so I could easily have created a top ten list out of Julie Garwood couples; I love them that much.

But that would be kind of boring - and the easy way out. And while a "fun" couple is fun to read, those who have been to hell and back deserve some recognition as well. Indeed, some would argue that a couple that has experienced immense difficulty stands a better chance of achieving a true HEA than a "lightweight" couple. Be that as it may, I love what I love, and while I love many a romance featuring a couple who's endured a lot, it's often, instead, the poignancy of their situation that makes the book a keeper. For instance, as much a I loved Lily and Remmington from Elizabeth Elliott's Scoundrel (and even voted them favorite couple of 1996), his, at times, coldness towards Lily (even when it was clear to me and those who knew him well, like his brother, that he loved her) pushed them off the final list. Sometimes out and out meanness (Bewitching and A Basket of Wishes) is easier to cope with than seeming indifference.

As a result my list is "mixed," and it's not a top ten list at all. I tried to limit myself and failed miserably. My list is a top twenty list instead - and that's the best I could do. It's mixed in terms of tone; there are light romances (35%), dark romances (35%), and romances that are both light and dark (20%). And it's mixed in that it features couples from DIK'd books (75%) as well as couples from books graded in the B range (25%).

Not all of my favorite romance authors made it into this top twenty; no Coulter couples, for instance, or Jillian Hunter or Anne Stuart couples either. Well, instead of sharing who's not included, let me show you who is:

Couple Author Romance Type DIK? Sensuality
Splendor and Jourdian
Paisley
A Basket of Wishes
Light/Dark
DIK
Hot
Joy and Alec
Bewitching
Light/Dark
DIK
Hot
Maggie and Rogan
Born in Fire
Dark
DIK
Warm
Brianna and Grayson
Roberts
Born in Ice
Dark
DIK
Warm
Jamie and Alec
The Bride
Light
DIK
Hot
Alesandra and Colin
Garwood
Castles
Light
DIK
Hot
Jade and Caine
Garwood
Guardian Angel
Light
DIK
Hot
Jennifer and Royce
A Kingdom of Dreams
Dark
DIK
Subtle
Abby and Miles
The Ideal Wife
Light/Dark
DIK
Subtle
Jessica and Dain
Chase
Lord of Scoundrels
Light
DIK
Hot
Lily and Avery
My Dearest Enemy
Light/Dark
DIK
Warm
Samantha and William
My Favorite Bride
Light/Dark
DIK
Hot
Anna and Cam
Roberts
Sea Swept
Dark
DIK
Warm
Judith and Iain
Garwood
The Secret
Light
DIK
Hot
Emma and Alex
Splendid
Light
DIK
Hot
John and Sarah
The Surgeon
Dark
DIK
Warm
Lily and Alex
Then Came You
Dark
DIK
Hot
Sarah and James
The Tiger's Bride
Dark
DIK
Hot
Charlotte and Max
The Vicar's Daughter
Light
DIK
Hot
Mary and Sebastian
Dodd
A Well Pleasured Lady
Light/Dark
DIK
Hot

Before discussing these couples in more detail, let me talk about the age of these books, at least in terms of when I read them. The vast majority (16 of 20) are books I read at least five years ago; half were read prior to 1996. So it's safe to say they've passed the test of time. Of those romances I've read more recently, three were read in the past year; whether they'll be "classic" couples for me in five more years is something I can't be sure about. But it doesn't feel right to keep listing old books every time I talk about my favorites. That said, two of those "new to me" romances are not new at all; The Ideal Wife was published in 1991 and Lord of Scoundrels has a 1995 pub date.

As to why I love these couples as much as I do, let me give you some detail. I read my first romance more than half-way through 1993. It was a wonderful period of discovery, and a great number of my all-time favorites, as you'll see when you read the next segment, came from these halcyon days. As my first romance author was Catherine Coulter, you probably wouldn't be surprised to learn that I read 11 of her romances that year - including all five of my Coulter DIK's. I also read my first medieval in 1993, Judith McNaught's A Kingdom of Dreams, and while it's not my all-time favorite medieval, it's way up on the list.

Neither Royce nor Jennifer are as others say they are. The fierce "wolf" in battle wants to retire and settle down with a wife while Jennifer is reputed (because of her [mostly] nasty step-brothers and the lies they spread) to be plain and vain. Each has a lot to learn about trust, although Royce learns more quickly than Jennifer. Each is able to open up with the other, a novel experience for both, and each is able to prove their undying loyalty and trust to the other by book's end. Not only is the tourney scene I described in my discussion on heroes absolutely brilliant, the ending of the book is magnificent as well. What's not to love about outsiders finding each other and getting the happiness they so richly deserve?

By the time I read Lisa Kleypas' Then Came You at the end of 1993, I'd read a great many virginal "ingenue" heroines (with the exception of at least one rape victim). Here was a book featuring a "fallen woman," a mother, a woman who went to great lengths to thumb her nose at society, and the straight-laced and rigid man who saw the pain beneath her bravado and sought to heal her. And rather than demanding that Lily change to suit society, Alex embraced her and loved her for her true self. If McNaught's book featured a couple of outsiders, Kleypas' features an outsider let in.

In 1994 I discovered the lighter side of romance with Julie Garwood. First was Castles, and by the time I'd read through her backlist, ten of her twelve titles available at that time had earned DIK status. Alesandra and Colin, Jade and Caine, Jamie and Alec, and Judith and Iain exemplify all that I love about Garwood's couples. They are thoughtful and caring of each other, well-matched in terms of intelligence and temperament, fun, funny, and totally turned on by one another. It's impossible to conceive of any of Garwood's characters with anyone other than whom she matches them with, which made it extremely difficult deciding which couples to keep on my list so it wouldn't be an all-Garwood list. In the end these four couples beat out Lyon and Christina (The Lion's Lady) and Johanna and Gabriel (The Secret) by a hair.

Once I learned that romances could be funny as well as two-hanky reads, a vast new world opened up. 1995 brought with it fabulous couples from Splendid, The Vicar's Daughter, Bewitching, and A Basket of Wishes. I adore Julia Quinn's Emma and Alex because they make a wonderful, vibrant, sexy, funny, and loving couple, but I also adore them for their lack of angst. And the couples created by Deborah Simmons, Jill Barnett, and Rebecca Paisley (Charlotte and Max, Joy and Alec, and Splendor and Jourdian), all share something in common - free-spirited heroines who force uptight, stuff-shirted heroes who aren't truly living to lighten up and enjoy the world around them. They succeed, admirably, and each of these three books have terrific epilogues to prove it.

Combining laughter and love (and some mighty fine love scenes) is one thing, and Simmons does it so very beautifully, but Barnett's and Paisley's were the first two "hybrid" romances I'd read. These two authors combined amazing tones of light and dark so that I laughed and cried at nearly the same time. The heroes from these two books had farther to go than Simmons' hero, which made for some incredibly touching moments. Couples that elicit happy, sad, and hot feelings all at once are stand-outs for me.

As an aside, the first as favorites theory came into play when considering which couples to choose. After all, Julia Quinn earned DIK status twice from me. But while her second DIK, How to Marry a Marquis, is actually a better book than Splendid, it's the couple from Splendid that remains my favorite for her. The same can be said for Deborah Simmons. She's written two DIKs for me, but as much as I adore the couple from The Last Rogue, I love Charlotte and Max even more. So it's little surprise that my four favorite Garwood couples come from the Regency-historicals I read first and from my first two Garwood medievals.

Garwood contributes four couples to my list. Nora Roberts adds another three, and Christina Dodd adds two. Five Roberts romances have earned DIK status from me but couples from only two of those five made this list - those from Born in Fire and Sea Swept. The third Roberts on my list is Born in Ice; it "only" earned a B+, but that has more to do with the heroine's doormat qualities than anything else. It's the most emotional Roberts I've ever read and the couple are absolutely fantastic together. Both Born in couples complement each other perfectly; they're like magnetized puzzle pieces just waiting to be put together. As for Anna and Cam, well, I've said it before - "at times I wish I were Anna so I could be married to Cam," although it's their relationship not only as leads in Sea Swept but also as secondaries in Chesapeake Blue that sealed the deal for me.

With Dodd it's more difficult; earlier on I mentioned that the couple from my favorite Elizabeth Elliott romance didn't make the cut here because the hero really puts the heroine through hell before he realizes he loves her (albeit not in the traditional hellish manner of alpha-heel heroes). Sebastian puts Mary through an altogether different type of hell in forcing her to deal with her attraction to him; he forces sex on her. I've never read the bad boy and uptight woman done better than in A Well Pleasured Lady. As for the other couple Dodd contributed to my list, it's all about black, white, shades of gray, trust, chemistry, and humor. I think I love Samantha and William from My Favorite Bride as much as I do because Dodd somehow combines morality, anger, humor, and chemistry - and out of that mix comes enough trust and love to build a lifetime.

Dodd isn't the only author to find a way for a hero who sees things only in black or white to deal with a heroine who has a more gray and muddled background - Kate Bridges did it well in last year's The Surgeon. As the lead characters in my lowest-graded book (a straight B) to make the final cut here, this is not a couple one sees together easily. Rather than complementing the other like two magnetized puzzle pieces just waiting to fit together, John and Sarah are more like two powerful magnets repelling each other away. It's through their innate goodness and decency as people that barriers are broken down - although a good dose of healthy lust certainly helped.

Sea Swept was published in the same year as My Dearest Enemy. Sea Swept was my choice as the year's best romance for 1998 but Lily was my favorite "feisty" heroine and Avery was my favorite hero. They were terrific as a couple partly because they were different from characters I'd ever met before (Avery in particular), but also because Connie Brockway is one hell of an author who wrote an achingly romantic story for them. Through a series of letters the two conduct epistolary foreplay, and if that isn't enough, they soften each other.

So who won my vote that year for favorite couple? It wasn't Cam and Anna or Lily and Avery. Instead it was James and Sarah from Merline Lovelace's The Tiger's Bride. What I love best about Lovelace's characters is that they take responsibility for their actions and make no apologies for their behavior - even if it's misconstrued. Not only that, they don't waste time trying to change other people's opinions of them. It was a combination of their morality, behavior as "adults," and the wonderful and joyous love scenes they engaged in that caused me to fall in love with James and Sarah.

The Tiger's Bride earned "only" a B+ from me, as did the books featuring the last two couples on my list - Mary Balogh's The Ideal Wife and Loretta Chase's Lord of Scoundrels. Abby and Miles, stars of the former, marry for no good reason; Abby is actually the kind of wife Miles didn't think he wanted. Turns out he was wrong. This "subtle" sensuality romance is the only traditional Regency to make my list, but "subtle" for this trad was quite unique; a twist by the author showed Miles that even a woman can enjoy lovemaking out of physical need. His realization that the wife he never wanted is truly his ideal wife, and how he convinces her of that fact, despite her deep, dark secret, lands them on my list.

Aside from the absolutely brilliant dialogue created for them, it's the unabashed joy and fun Dain and Jessica discover in their lovemaking that puts them on my list for Lord of Scoundrels. Had I not been so dogmatic about requiring DIK status when creating my lists for favorite heroes and heroines each would have also been on those lists as well. That he doesn't "get" that she can't keep her hands off him is another plus because his self-talk throughout the book is self-deprecatingly wonderful. Rather than being simply another Beauty and the Beast story we instead get two strong-willed, witty and wonderful oddballs who have finally met their match.

I'm interested in learning who your favorite couples are (and why), the absolute minimum number of couples you can list, and how long ago you read their stories.

Re-Reading (LLB)

Earlier this month I met my reading goal for 2004 and finished my 100th book of the year. I'm actually at 106 right now, and the pressure is most assuredly off. In postings with an online friend about getting over the 100-book mark, she asked whether or not I include re-reads, and my response was, "Of course not; only books read for the first time are included in my list, although I thought about including a re-read for which I changed the grade, then decided against it." Over the course of our correspondence I learned that she had been doing more re-reading than usual this year; so far she'd re-read 25 books when that's the same number of books she re-read through all of 2003.

I find it remarkable that a voracious reader has re-read at least two dozen books in a year, let alone eight months! Not only because at most I probably only re-read half a dozen or so books in a year's time, but mostly because there are so many books out there and so much of the thrill of reading is in the discovery of something new. I was under the mistaken impression that unless a reader was in a true slump, almost every book read would be a new one.

My own number of re-reads for the year is higher than usual so far; I've needed to re-read some books in order to flesh out column segments on favorite characters, and in the past have re-read in order to write DIK reviews. But after hearing from my friend and considering the books I've read this year, I'm beginning to have an inkling that doing more re-reading may not be such an odd thing after all. I'm not precisely in a slump - although it turns out that I've graded nearly as many books C as B (and the majority of B's are B-'s) - but with only one DIK thus far this year, and that all the way back in February, my enthusiasm is on the wane. What better way to rejuvenate myself than to re-read more favorites?

Who among us are re-readers? It's pretty much a given that those who don't keep books they've read likely never re-read, but for those of us who do keep at least some of the books we've read (for me it's all books graded B- and up), re-reading is (at least) an occasional endeavor. We re-read for a variety of reasons: to get us out of a reading slump; to see how an author handled a situation or scene in comparison with another author; we want a refresher before moving on to the latest book in an on-going series; or because we have a hankering to read a certain book at a moment in time.

And what exactly constitutes a re-read? I, for instance, rarely re-read a book in its entirety, but that's likely because most of my re-reading is for "work." Even when it's not, I tend to know precisely what I want to re-read, and it's usually not an entire book. Instead it's an ending or epilogue, a scene of confrontation, a love scene, or a particularly well-written description or conversation.

Oddly enough, while I may not remember meeting you yesterday, I seem to have no trouble recalling in detail just about every romance I've read just by looking at it, so there have been numerous times when I've suddenly remembered something I absolutely needed to re-read at that moment, and where to find it. Oh, I may need a slight refresher in order to describe it to somebody else, but then, that's not really the point of re-reading, is it? For most readers it's not a utilitarian effort; instead it's a trip down memory lane with characters we feel close to, with whom we'd like to share a laugh or a cry. There have been times, though, when I've re-read an entire romance cover to cover simply for the enjoyment of it.

I'm at that point in my life as a romance reader where DIKs are few and far between. In my first year of reading romance (a partial year, remember), I read 11 DIKs. My first complete year of romance reading - 1994 - added another 13 DIKs to my keeper shelves. That number has dwindled down over the years, as you can see from this chart:

Reading Year # of DIKs Special Comments
1993 11 Less than half a year reading romance
1994 12 One originally earned a B+; a re-reading in 1998 bumped it up to a DIK
1995 7 One is for a non-romance; another is for a romance short story
1996 2
1997 5
1998 5 One originally earned a B+; a re-reading in 2003 bumped it up to a DIK
1999 3 One is for a non-romance
2000 3 One is for a non-romance
2001 2
2002 4 One is for a romance short story
2003 2 One is for a non-romance
2004 1 January through current

Whether I'll read another DIK this year is unknown at this point; I can only hope I will. Regardless, my years of reading more than a few all-time keepers seems far in the past at this point, which frankly doesn't seem all that unreasonable considering the sheer number of romances I've read since that very first one back in 1993.

All of which means now is the perfect time to re-read some of my favorites. I'll report back next time on how that's going, but before moving on, I'll share with you some reader comments on the re-reading experience. I posed a series of questions on our Potpourri Message Board last week, beginning with "Do you re-read? If not, why not? If so, why?"

Most of those who responded to this question were re-readers, but not all. Sarah, for instance, has only re-read four in her life as a reader. They were the first four books in Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series, re-read so she wouldn't be lost when she picked up Fiery Cross, the series' fifth installment. She doesn't keep the books she reads; she's already read them she knows what happens, so there's "no interest there for me." She asks, "Why waste time rereading an old book [when] there are so many new books out there?"

Heather is another non-re-reading reader, who mentioned that several years ago she "purged" her keeper shelves because she "wasn't re-reading." That's a tough one for me to hear without shuddering; the idea of not keeping a keeper is something foreign to me. I may not want to re-read a certain all-time keeper for a number of years, but knowing it's there helps me sleep better. The only exception for Heather are the Harry Potter books. And xina wonders what new books she'd be missing if she re-read old favorites.

The group of re-reading readers is far larger. Mary is one of many; she re-reads primarily when a book is a sequel to an earlier read. She also re-reads when she "can't settle for one of the 400+ books in my TBR." That's one of the same reasons Melissa re-reads; she has a "decent sized TBR pile," but if she's not sure what she wants, she'll "pick up an old favorite instead." For Kristie, the attachment she develops to certain characters sometimes calls for a re-read, although the comfort factor is also involved; if she's "going through a bad time or a slump, it's good to go to a book" she knows will either make her feel better or be a guaranteed good read.

Lesa is like Kristie in that re-reading gives her "comfort during stressful times;" at times she "want[s] to read a great story and the only way to be assured of that is to read a book I have already read in the past." Interestingly enough, even for a reader like kur, who doesn't normally re-read, there have been certain romances she's gone back to more than once when she was "seriously worried about something...they acted like a bridge across tough times" when she didn't have the concentration level to read something new but needed an escape for a while. On the other side of the spectrum is Mark, a major re-reader. One of the reasons he re-reads is if he's in an author glom, which makes a whole lot of sense to me and is something I'll likely be doing in the next couple of weeks.

Mark identified another reason for re-reading, and it's a reason others mentioned as well - going back to a book allows the reader to pick up on things they missed the first time around. For Mark, a humorous romance with a mystery sub-plot is often funnier the second time around, without the mystery in the way. Simone stated something similar: "Every time I re-read one of my keepers, I find something new. The first time I read a book, I am really focused on plot and how it all will turn out for the characters. A reread has an entirely different pleasure to it: coming across a scene you forgot about the first time, starting to appreciate the secondary characters, noticing some foreshadowing the author has slipped in, or even catching on to some recurring imagery or themes."

Rosario's philosophy is somewhat different, to her "reading a book is very definitely about the journey, not the destination. Even if I know how it'll finish, if I enjoyed the journey the last time I took it, I see no reason not to take it again." She also returns to specific books if she's stressed, wants "a certain feeling," or to read something she knows will be good, particularly after a string of mediocre books. Which brings us to Candice, who re-reads because "it's a known quantity," she's sure the book will be good. That's particularly important because she thinks she probably loses interest in about half of the new romances she buys these days.

The concept of turning to favorites for comfort and Candice's complaint about newer romances is one that came up several times in the discussion. JoAnne deems 2004 as "the year of the re-read" to "take my mind off my misery" and because she was "bored/disappointed with so many of the new books" she bought this year. And Eve shares that, for her, "re-reading is as important as reading a new book." She's been so disappointed recently with what's available that "there are some weeks when my re-reads are the only satisfying reading I have done." Myretta's take is slightly different, and reminds me of I got dem just got done with a really good book blues. She re-reads if she's "just finished an extraordinarily good new book and think that another new book might be a let down. When that happens, I turn to a book I know is good." On the other hand, Maggie re-reads after reading more than a couple of bad books in a row, to "remind" herself how good romance can be.

My next question was more specific: "Are there certain books you've re-read more than once or twice? What are they, and what draws you back?" I got a kick out of Carolyn's response specifically. Because she has so many books tbr, she's not a re-reader, but when she saw the lists of books other readers go back to time and time again, she began to "frantically to copy the books that have been re-read here because many I've never read. Thus more books to be added to all those yet unread! It's exhausting just thinking about it!"

Readers have different criterion for re-reading. I mentioned earlier that I keep all books graded B- and up, which technically means I could re-read any of them. I do turn most often to my all-time favorite keepers, my DIKs, but sometimes it's a single story element that has me re-reading, if not an entire book, at least a portion of it. It's a similar experience for LauraD, who seeks out specific books to "evoke dependable emotional reactions." That's not the case for others. Emily, for example, must savor "the characters and the story and the setting and the writing" to keep a book for re-reading. And Lesa, who thinks she's re-read something like a hundred books in recent years, is only drawn back to re-reading a book that's compelling in its entirety; for her it's "not just a character or a part of the story, [it's] the combined quality of the stories, the characters, and the settings" that draws her back.

As for which books in particular are re-read, that varies too. The Harry Potter series is one that came up more than once, as are any number of children's and young adult books. And "classics" territory isn't limited to Narnia or Green Gables, or to romance or YA fiction for that matter; even though readers know whodunit by the end of a mystery, many mystery authors, along with SF/F authors were listed.

Susan is one of many who re-reads Jane Austen often; she gets to her complete works pretty much once a year. Peggy has gone back to Gone with the Wind numerous times, "each time hoping this would be the time that Scarlett would get a clue!" As for the most-often re-read romance authors, a quick look at our Did You Know? page can answer that, although, surprisingly, LaVyrle Spencer - whom many readers mentioned - isn't included on the page (she's "only" received two DIKs). For those unfamiliar with our Did You Know? page, it lists each author who's gotten at least three DIKs from AAR (as well as her lowest grade received). It's a diverse list, so if you're not familiar with it, I recommend it.

Many of the specific titles listed - from Woodiwiss to Garwood to Austen to Heyer can be found on our most recent Top 100 Romances list, last voted by you, our readers, in 2000. We thought this would be a perfect time to conduct this poll again as it's been four years since the last time. Details will follow at the end of the column.

The next question I posed was: When you re-read, do you fully read, go to certain chapters, or skim? Did you go back to the book for a specific reason or for overall entertainment? While some readers go back to specific parts of books to compare or to fulfill emotional needs, most seem to go whole-hog and re-read books in their entirety, even if that wasn't their original intention. Melissa, for instance, shared that when re-reading romances, she tends to "skip to scenes I really enjoyed," likely only a scene or two, but ends up re-reading the whole book. Carol finds that books get better with each successive re-reading, and mostly reads them from beginning to end, but occasionally skims. MaryKate, on the other hand, says it depends - with some books it's a scene or two while with others it's the entire story.

Going back to a specific spot in a story can provide a quick pick-me-up while re-reading a book in its entirety may be a more leisurely event to be savored. It can depend what the reader is looking for; we already know that Mark, for instance, discovers more of a book's humor during subsequent readings. Cheryl, on the other hand, may go back for "the romance," in which case she'll skim the suspense sub-plot, something I can definitely relate to. When I re-read, it's rarely a sub-plot I'm interested in - unless it's a relationship sub-plot (like a secondary romance). It's almost always the characters, the humor, the conflict, the romance, or the prose.

But I'm sure all of us can relate to Katherine, who sometimes finds herself re-reading for no reason whatsoever. She shared an experience I expect is nearly universal - in "tidying up" her "eye will be caught by a favorite book on a shelf," and all of a sudden she's no longer tidying up but instead is re-reading perhaps a favorite scene, "and probably then the rest of the book."

My next question elicited some surprising responses, at least to me. I asked "Compared to your new reads, what percentage of your reading is re-reading?" I'm not a major re-reader, but compared to the "non-bookie" world, re-reading at all is a fairly rare phenomenon. And yet I'm surprised how very high the percentage is for some readers. Re-reading, in a sense, is like maintaining a TBR pile. Numbers and percentages may be small or what seems to be staggeringly high, and there's not necessarily a correlation between the two. In other words, while some readers choose not to re-read because they've got so many books to get to the first time, others have both huge TBR piles and are great re-readers. On the other hand, one gets the sense that the longer a person has been reading romance, the more re-reading she/he may do - which goes back to the "books used to be better!" complaint.

At the high end are readers like Emily, who puts her re-reading at close to 80%. Then there are Peg, MaryKate, and Candice, who only spend half their reading time on new books. Lisa and Melissa think they re-read between a third and a half of the time. And just over one-third of the books Mark reads are those he's read before - and some are books he's re-read nearly two dozen times! Rosario, who had been re-reading almost a third of the time, consciously decided to try more new authors, and as a result she's re-reading less, but still above 20%. And then there's Simone, who finds that she re-reads 20 or 30% of the time. Next is Kristie; for every three books she reads, she re-reads a favorite. Cheryl is like Kristie, and it's our exchanges that led to this segment. Cheryl shares that one of four books she reads are those she's read before.

Cheryl's percentage is higher this year than normal, something shared by jmc, whose re-reading rate is 30% this year - it's usually 10%. Another ten percenter is Susan, followed by Myretta, who re-reads 5 to 10% of the time. I've probably been a five percenter for years, which quite frankly is right above those who don't consider themselves re-readers at all. At the rate I'm reading this year perhaps I'll end up in the 10% range, which would be a(nother) personal record.

Romance readers are most assuredly a diverse bunch. Some of us plan re-reads - often around the release of a new book by a beloved author - while others come at it haphazardly. As a result, answers to this question varied widely: "What book/books have you most often re-read? Is it in a sort of planned rotation where you know you want to re-read it yearly (or on some other schedule) or is it something you simply find yourself returning to over and over?"

Fran's read her favorite romance so many times it's falling apart. Trish has read 25 romances at least three times each. Lesa goes back to roughly fifteen books time and time again, and though she doesn't have a planned rotation, she does wait at least two years between re-reading - reading them more often than that cuts down on the overall enjoyment of the re-reading experience, doncha know? We all know not all Janeites aren't female, and Dick is proof of that; each year for a 25-year period he re-read Jane Austen. Dick isn't the only reader who schedules certain re-reads on a yearly basis; LauraD does as well, although many of these planned reads are for YA and children's classics. Keishon makes time once a year to read Gabaldon's Outlander series, among others, while for Morwen it's been a yearly ritual for twenty years to read Tolkein's Lord of the Rings.

When it comes to a single romance read the most often number of times, Lisa comes close. She read Laurie McBain's Tears of Gold "probably twenty times over a ten year period before it disappeared in a move." (Lisa was luckily able to replace this beloved treasure earlier this month.) But Mark seems to have Lisa beat; he's not only read as astonishing 57 books at least ten times each, he's read Cindy Holbrook's A Rake's Reform and Amanda Quick's Ravished 21 times apiece. Holbrook's book isn't even ten years old yet, btw (Quick's was published in 1992).

The final question I asked was, "Do you ever wonder what new books you might be missing by re-reading an old favorite?" I chuckled when I read Katherine's response: "God no. I spend a lot more time wondering why there can't be more books like my old favorites."

Many of us read so fast that even re-reading often doesn't cut all that deeply into "new reading" time. After all, if you're reading well over 100 books a year at a rate of say, 20% re-reads, that means you're still reading at least 80 new books. This is how I'll be justifying it for myself this year, anyway.

While I'm not a tremendous re-reader - as yet - but as one who now spends a lot of time reading old books for the first time, those newer books aren't going anywhere, a sentiment heard time and time again. That is, in response to this question by those who consider themselves re-readers. After all, as Simone wrote, "No, I never worry about missing new books due to rereads, because I have this website to direct me to the very best books out there at the moment."

I like comments by LauraD and Cheryl in response to this question, Laura's because it so resonates with what I constantly hear from readers, and Cheryl's because it deals with the guilt some of us have about re-reading when there are plenty of unread books already on our shelves:

LauraD:
"I don't think my re-reads keep me from reading any new books. More often, they save me because I'm having a dry spell. My keepers/re-reads reaffirm for me what it is I love about romance novels."
Cheryl:
"I used to feel guilty about rereading when I have so many unread books in my TBR pile. But then I had an epiphany: why do I have a Keeper Shelf if I'm not going to read them again? There would be no point in keeping it otherwise. And it's become a good litmus test for me when it's time to winnow down my shelves. Have I reread this? Will I reread it? If not, then it goes to the UBS to make room for a book I will reread."

Top 100 Romances Poll

First in 1998 and then again in 2000 we conducted a poll to create a list of our reader's Top 100 Romances. The first poll was a straight poll that asked readers to submit their favorite romances and allowing each individual to submit up to 100 titles. Our Y2K poll differed in that we asked readers to rank their favorites up to 100 (with their favorite title being #1).

We'd like to conduct our Top 100 Romances poll for 2004 similarly; sometime between now and midnight, October 5th, please send, via email to Shelley Dodge, AAR's pollster (shelley582@yahoo.com), your ballot, which should contain no more than 100 titles, ranked with number one as your favorite romance. Your subject line should read: Top 100 Ballot. We tentatively plan to reveal the results to coincide with the October 15th issue of this column.

Please submit no more than one ballot and be sure to provide your real name and a valid email address to, if necessary, verify your results. The information on your ballot and the ballot itself will remain anonymous other than for stripping its contents for tabulation.

Time to Post to the Message Board

Here are the questions we'd like you to consider this time:

Name your favorite romance novel couples, the books they are featured in, and why you love these characters so much. And, although we didn't discuss this in the column, which couples from what books did you most dislike, and why?

How important are your feelings about a romance's couple as compared to your feelings about its hero and heroine? As important, less important, or more important? Was it more difficult for you to list (or to limit) your favorite couples than heroes and heroines, vice versa, or about the same? Is there something different about a favorite couple than there is about a favorite individual character, something LLB felt was the case?

Some of you may be able to create list using only DIK'd reads. Others might be like LLB and be unable to do so. Talk about creating your list and what went into it. And, talk as well about how long ago you first read the books featuring your favorite couples. Do most come from books read long ago, or are they fairly well spread out over time?

What are some of your favorite romantic couples outside of romance? You can talk about those from other types of books, television, or film...or even "real life." The only caveat is to request that we all respect each other's opinions if a couple is chosen from "real life."

Are you a "first as favorites" reader never, sometimes, often, always? And if any authors show up more than once on your list for having written favorite couples, does this phenomenon play a part?

Are there certain types of couples you gravitate towards? Do you find that, even though you enjoy all kinds of romances your preferences seem to be toward a certain level of sensuality or a certain sub-genre? Or are your choices all over the board?

LLB asked a series of questions about re-reading on the Potpourri MB that she also addressed in the column. If you'd like to answer the questions now, here they are:

  • Do you re-read? If not, why not? If so, why?
  • Are there certain books you've re-read more than once or twice? What are they, and what draws you back?
  • When you re-read, do you fully read, go to certain chapters, or skim? Did you go back to the book for a specific reason or for overall entertainment?
  • Compared to your new reads, what percentage of your reading is re-reading?
  • What book/books have you most often re-read? Is it in a sort of planned rotation where you know you want to re-read it yearly (or on some other schedule) or is it something you simply find yourself returning to over and over?
  • Do you ever wonder what new books you might be missing by re-reading an old favorite?

Were you surprised at any of the responses LLB reported in her segment based on comments to the Potpourri MB? Do you think re-reading is basically a "bookie" phenomenon, and if so, have you ever gotten strange responses when talking to a non-bookie about the re-reading of a favorite romance?

How good is your recall? Some of us can remember the plot and characters to books we read years ago while for others, even if we adored the book, our recall will be quite a bit lower.

What is your strategy for reading after finishing either several suckie books in a row or, on the other hand, a phenomenal, DIK read?

What's the least amount of time between re-reads you've ever had? Have you ever read a book twice in a row and if so, what was the book? - or do you tend to wait?

Have you ever searched high and low for a book you read and loved years before? What made you look for it again? What was the book? If you re-read it (as opposed to simply wanting it to "have it," was it as good as you remembered?

 

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

Post your comments and/or questions to our Potpourri Message Board

 

(AAR uses BYRON for its romance reference needs)

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