October 2, 2006 - Issue #240

From the Desk of Laurie Likes Books:

Anatomy of a Glom

Earlier this year I reported my first reading block, a reading slump of such monumental proportions that I read basically nothing for the first five months of the year. I've since read a reasonable number of books so that in the end 2006 will likely not be my worst reading year ever. Several books stand out from the rest. Three books earned B+'s from me thus far in 2006; Garlic and Sapphires, a memoir from former NYT restaurant critic Ruth Reichl; Lisa Kleypas' Devil in Winter; and Anne Stuart's upcoming Cold as Ice. And until last weekend, two books earned DIK status from me: Sweetgrass by Mary Alice Monroe and Lydia Joyce's The Music of the Night.

But the giddy feeling that accompanies stupendous reading was fleeting in each of these instances, likely because these were stand-alone reads. And then...Nora Roberts to the rescue.

When I first read romance, I wouldn't read contemporaries because I didn't think the romance fantasy would work in the here and now. It was a Nora Roberts contemporary that changed my mind. After I started reading contemporaries, I still wouldn't read series romances, though, because I thought they were ridiculous. It was a Nora Roberts series title that changed my mind. The one basic sub-genre of romance that I've never really gotten into more than a single book here or there is romantic suspense. It is Nora Roberts, as J.D. Robb, who is changing that as well, although I may never move beyond her In Death series. There are enough books in the series, though, that it's almost a sub-genre unto itself. <g>

At the end of 2005 I almost fell out of my desk chair when I read Cheryl Sneed's review of Memory In Death, which begins: "2005 will forever be the Year of the J.D. Robb Glom for me. I read Naked in Death in March and have since read all of the 23 books and two anthology contributions which comprise the series - and loved, to varying degrees, them all." I consider Cheryl, who helps run pemberley.com, the Queen of the Historical Romance. How was it possible that she read and loved a romantic suspense series set in the mid-21st century?

That thought stayed in my mind during a subsequent UBS visit, when I bought Naked in Death. It sat in my study for several months, and then last weekend, strongly in need of a kick-ass heroine, I dug it out and began reading. By the time I finished, I not only had my third DIK of the year, I was already on the phone to a bookstore asking them to pull copies of books two through five for me to pick up immediately.

After year after year after year of watching Eve, Roarke, and Eve and Roarke as a couple win or earn honorable mention in our annual reader polls, I finally "got it". I fell totally in love with these people, this couple, and yesterday bought most of the rest of the series. It's been less than a week and I'm half-way through book five.

Eve is a hard-driven cop who chops away at her own hair, and though it is described as gamine at best, she is long and lean. She was found at age eight with no memories of her early life beyond abuse, grew up in the foster care system, and is a coffee-loving cop through and through. How she fell in love with the "fallen angel" Roarke is ironic. Though they shared an abusive childhood, the gorgeous Roarke didn't exactly work through the law as he made his bazillions, and he is a prime suspect in the first of the series...and always somehow connected, in some tenuous way, in subsequent books. Eve is surrounded by Mavis, the screechy "singer" she once arrested on the grift, Feeney, the prototypical Irish cop who taught her everything and is a computer whiz, Dr. Mira, the department psychiatrist who becomes a mother figure to Eve, and Peabody, the cop who idolizes Eve while cracking wise. In Roarke's immediate life there is Sommerset the butler, who outwardly glares at Eve with haughty disdain while being terrified for her safety on the inside.

The relationship between Eve and Roarke is complex, caring, and filled with chemistry. There's humor for sure, but Roarke seems to know Eve almost better than she knows herself, and will do just about anything to keep her safe, although he loves her enough as the cop she is to know that she also lives for danger. Like many of Roberts' heroes, Roarke is too good to be true, but who cares? He's pretty much at the top of my fictional "I'd do him" list at this point. And what makes him all the more fascinating, as the series progresses, is that the rough edges we initially see glimpses of, are rougher than expected, that the darkness in him is carefully banked most of the time. That he is as tender as he is with Eve given that darkness makes him all the more desirable.

While I want to wait until I've read more of the In Death titles to do an ATBF focusing on Robb's incredible series, what better time to talk about the anatomy of a glom than when I'm in the midst of one?
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All genre fiction readers have gone on gloms because authors we fall in love with, whether they be mystery or action adventure or romance authors, tend to have extensive backlists. Sometimes - as with this J.D. Robb glom, and thank goodness! - readers can experience an "immediate gratification" glom by readily finding either all books in a series or all books by an author. But most of us have also experienced frustrating gloms that required either lots of leg work or lots of time. With the Internet and so many online venues for finding out of print books, it's certainly easier than it used to be, and I must admit that there is a bit of a thrill in a hard-fought glom.

I generally seem to go through no more than one or perhaps two gloms in a year, although when I first became a romance reader, I went on glom after glom after glom...I imagine that's the case for most of you as well. Sometimes my gloms are for a particular series, a particular author, a particular sub-genre, and in one instance a line of books - my Harlequin Presents glom from a couple of years ago. On the other hand, AAR's Anne asks "When am I not glomming?" This year, she has glommed everything from paranormals to thrillers to historicals and back to paranormals again. Even poetry! Anne tends to glom by theme rather than by author, although she did glom Maggie Shayne's Wings in the Night series just last month.

At times a glom comes when I'm in a slump, but other gloms have come simply as a part of regular, enjoyable reading. Those are "icing on the cake" gloms. The sorts of gloms I experience when in a slump are what pulls me out of those slumps. They re-energize and give me that giddy feeling I first experienced when I discovered romance to begin with. And that's what the In Death series has done.

When involved with either a buying or reading glom, I experience a euphoria similar to the throes, I imagine of a manic phase. By the time I'd finished the third book in the series, I couldn't wait to buy the rest of it, and had a babbling discussion with the owner of the bookstore as she extolled the virtues of Roarke and I described why Eve was so cool. When I came home with two bags of books, my husband and I both laughed at it. I mean, unless you are a bookie, a purchase of more than twenty books is probably an entire year's worth of book buying in one fell swoop. But in the midst of a glom, it's SOP.

Anne also finds herself coming home from a bookstore with two bags of books, or at least one really big bag that looks like it's ready to burst. But actually getting the books is only part of the fun. Like many of the those who also contributed to this column, for Anne, looking for books in a glom can be the high point. Finding them means that she suddenly finds herself with all these books to store, let alone (sigh) pay for. And of course, she knows she'll never find the time to read them all. Not that it matters as Anne understands that to every glom, there is a cloud - the certainty that some of those books will turn out to be very disappointing.

Currently I've finished the fifth book in the series, and given the pace of my reading, I'm reminded of my Anita Blake glom several years ago. Interestingly enough, I was in need of a kick-ass heroine at that time too, and apparently I stopped reading - after seven books - at just the right time in the series before many thought it began to tank. Luckily, with the In Death series, most of the readers I know are still loving it, even if it dipped in quality ever-so-slightly for a while.

Rather than reading an ARC for review of a book I'd actually looked forward to more than almost any other book this year, I'm fighting the urge to pick up book six, particularly since books four and five, when all the dust settles, are probably going to earn DIK status from me as well (why we have no reviews of Rapture in Death or Ceremony in Death when I think we've reviewed every other book in the series is beyond me!). Yes, I'm at that point in my glom where I can't seem to stop thinking about the books, and I'm fighting the craving to read when confronted with every day chores such as laundry as well as fun things like going to a movie...or a walk on an absolutely lovely day. That I've managed to pull myself away from them long enough to write this article has been a struggle in itself, but since I'm writing about the reading of them, I've been able to, though barely.

AAR reader Genie also recently glommed the In Death series, even though she's not a huge fan of Nora Roberts' heroines - or Eve Dallas for that matter. Earlier this year she read through the entire series - bought half new, half used - and plans to buy the next release in hardcover. There's something about this series that simply "pulls" her in...I can totally relate to that sentiment! Jennie too just went through a J.D. Robb glom. It took her nearly a year because to read all the books in a row would have been too intense, but she had a "marvelous time" interspersing them with other books. Jennie was able to indulge in this glom because a friend loaned her the series. She uses that nifty trick whenever she can, but when she can't, she does as we all do and goes on a "merry chase" to find an entire backlist, including the very hard to find early titles. Though she believes many of those hardest to find books rarely live up to her expectations, she can't seem to stop herself. She writes that the hunt itself is part of the thrill of the glom. First she checks the local libraries, then library sales, her local UBS, and when she travels, she always stops at local bookstores. She writes that it's like "hitting the jackpot when I look on the store shelf and lo and behold there's a new title that I don't have sitting there.  I still like poking around physical stores, but when I get down to the last few titles, I've been known to turn to [online] resources. Once I'm down to the last book, if it's still in print I'll frequently treat myself to a new copy."

Another reader, Becky, talks about glomming as an emotional craving. After reading Lisa Kleypas' Bow Street Runner series, for instance, she craved the "historical romance-emotional mood" created by Kleypas' writing. A Mary Balogh glom was brought on by a craving for intense emotion, as was a Patricia Gaffney glom. Using an analogy most women would recognize, glomming for Becky is like craving chocolate.

Kristie, a reader who also writes one of my favorite blogs, talks about the obsessive nature of glomming. She recalls visiting AAR and reading the word "glom", and knowing immediately what it meant. Her most extensive glom was into the works of Patricia Veryan. She became more and more obsessed with each successive library visit and eventually drove to other cities - some as far as an hour's drive - in search of titles not available in her Canadian city. Though she was rarely successful, she compensated through other "finds". Later she discovered the interlibrary loan, and impressed the librarian after a Veryan title from a province hundreds of miles away came in; the librarian had never gotten one from so far away. Kristie appreciated being able to read all these delightful books, but like many of us who not only read but collect, she "wanted copies" of her own "to hug and squeeze and never, ever have to return". This was long before the Internet and email. Eventually she sent a seven-page appeal to the author via her publisher, and six months later received a "wonderful letter" from the author, who was "startled, amused, and flattered" by Kristie's plea. Veryan wrote that while she usually answered her letters in the order received, hers was so "intriguingly odd" that she shuffled it to the top, telling Kristie how to find some of the books, and later sent her some signed copies of others. These are Kristie's "most treasured books of all", and while it took a very long time, she now owns the entire Veryan backlist.

Among my own most treasured books - and Blythe Barnhill's too - are the boxful that arrived in the mail after Blythe wrote a DIK review of a Jill Barnett medieval. Though I already owned most, if not all, of her backlist, Barnett sent both of us signed copies of her entire backlist. It was one of the nicest things that have happened to me as a result of publishing AAR. As to how I already owned most of her backlist, I got it after reading Bewitching and going on a glom. I read that terrific book in 1995, and bought all of her other published books through that date by sending in a "buy these other books!" page at the back of Bewitching. And since I'd had to rip that page out, I also had to buy another copy of Bewitching...had to keep it undefiled, you know. <g> And Anne is particularly proud of her signed copies of Mary Balogh's Dark Angel and Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes. Though she has books that are worth more monetarily, she cares more about these signed books than others that are worth more in a monetary sense.

Many of us relish the glom process as we would a trip to Filene's basement and buying a Vera Wang wedding dress for next to nothing. Jeanne, one of AAR's newer reviewers, prefers to look for books at library sales and UBS's rather than the more immediate gratification of eBay, although there are some books she's sought for more than three years and she's ready to give up the fight and take the easy way out. Ellen Micheletti, who's been with AAR since the start, also loves the hunt, and has successfully glommed the backlists of several authors. She is proudest of her on-going Jennifer Greene glom, however, and delights in discovering books "hidden in boxes in dusty corners" at yard sales, Goodwill, and library sales. Like Jeanne, she prefers chasing books in this manner to the "point and click" method many of us now use instead.

Reader Nikki also believes that part of the fun is the chase, and when she was on her Mary Balogh glom and went out of town, she made her husband stop at every UBS they came across. That said, however, it is the "joy and anticipation of having a TBR stack of a newly discovered author is one of the most satisfying feelings of a devoted romance reader." AAR's Linda concurs with that thought, and in fact, sometimes it is simply owning the books that satisfies her. She writes that the "pride of ownership" can be enough. Just knowing that she owns the books and can read one if she wants to is nearly as important as actually reading it. And on that point Blythe Barnhill agrees. Her biggest gloms have been for Mary Balogh and Elisabeth Fairchild, and while she's read substantially throughout their backlists, she accedes that "often just knowing" she has their books "is enough".

Over the years Blythe has glommed many a trad Regency (as have I!), and she, like many of us, doesn't know when she'll actually read all of the accumulated books. I've often said that if I stopped buying books now, I'd still not run out of reading material by the time I died, but perhaps Blythe says it best when she writes, "If my house is ever under siege, I guess I'll be prepared."

There is no magic number of books that constitutes a glom, but for Ellie a glom is equal or greater than twelve books, and in the past three years she's glommed fourteen authors, including Christine Feehan - at thirty books and Susan Johnson, at 21. Of the fourteen authors she glommed during this period, 11 remain on her auto-buy list, which I think is pretty amazing.

Also, sometimes what seems a mere glom at the time can lead us into a whole new world of reading. LinnieGayl, one of our pollsters, first started to read romance a decade ago...but by mistake. She read a review in the Chicago Tribune of Jayne Ann Krentz's Grand Passion. Had she realized it was a romance, she would have dismissed it. Instead she diligently sought it out, looking for it in the literature section of the bookstore, only to be told by a scornful clerk that "JAK writes romance novels". LinnieGayl was so desperate for something new that she bought it "anyway" and finished it in one sitting. She loved the characters, romance, and setting so much that she went back to the romance section the next day and started to buy JAK's backlist. In a month she'd read through it entirely, eventually discovering that Krentz also wrote as Amanda Quick. And another romance reader was "born".

Genie had a similar experience; before she started to read romance novels, she picked up a Jayne Ann Krentz book not realizing it was a romance. She liked it and eventually bought all her contemporaries. Genie loves Krentz's characters and that the author "rarely uses love/hate plots". Later she began to read Krentz's Amanda Quick books and now owns nearly all of the author's tremendously large backlist with the exception of some of her series titles.

For years Krentz/Quick books were my go-to glom comfort reads; when my daughter was hospitalized several years ago, I grabbed a few unread Quick titles and read them during the long hours while we waited for her to improve. But reading Quick should not be done as a glom...too many of her books in a row and they all start to run together, something I've not heard about Robb's In Death series. AAR's Cheryl didn't find her Amanda Quick glom all that successful. She remembers reading all the books fairly quickly and "to this day have no idea which book is which". Though she liked them all well enough as she read them, the titles and stories were too similar for her get their full effect. Occasionally Cheryl will re-read one of the books and be "surprised by how good it is". But she now knows better than to re-read more than one at a time. Anne has had similar experiences recently. For example, when she learned that Zebra was dropping their Regency line and that the Signet line was threatened, she bought as many new Regencies as she could because she knew that soon, she wouldn't be able to do that. However, she soon found herself with a huge bag full of Regencies, most of them by authors she'd never read before. She has yet to read most of those and is afraid they might start "blending together" if she read them all at once.

On the other hand, while there are some books that start to run together after glom reading, there are some that retain their unique quality throughout the glom. The In Death series is one of those. Cheryl was stunned - as I was - by her J.D. Robb glom last year, given her historical romance proclivities. She loved the In Death series so much she read all the books and short stories in four months. She's currently re-reading them for the second time, in preparation for the next book's release. Katie also glommed Robb's series, beginning with 2003's Remember When. After she read it she glommed the earlier sixteen or so books in the series, and though she's never experienced a similar glom, she still, only three years later, re-reads titles from the series. I don't foresee myself reading through Robb's entire series at once, though. Over the years I've learned that even books from favorite authors aren't showcased to their best advantage unless spread out over time. Sometimes, though, that's better said than done because of the ants-in-the-pants excitement to continue reading. I've heard it said that patience is a virtue, but it's one I've rarely displayed. <g>

As for actually reading the books, sometimes it's a glom read but generally it's not. Jennie's found herself reading nearly an entire backlist at once, only to stop with the last one or two books. Why? She writes: "It's almost like I'm afraid to read them because then I'll have to wait for a new book by the author to come out, and in the case of authors who have switched genres, the books are that much sweeter." Jennie's not the only one to glom through most of a backlist but hold back the last title. Author Myretta Robens held on to Jo Beverley's The Shattered Rose for more than five years, knowing that once she read it, she'd have no more Jo Beverley left to read. She gave in a few months ago and finally read it, and was melancholy about it afterwards, though she thoroughly enjoyed the book.

Most of those who wrote in on this topic may glom buy, yet they don't glom read. But when Liz Zink, an AAR reviewer since the start of 1999, goes on a glom read, she sticks with it. She writes, "When I'm on a glom, I generally try and read all the books by that author without a break in between. It's kind of the same process when I re-read series. I read them all in a row. I don't want a break, because it's like I need to read them and get them all in."

On the other hand, CindyS, one of AAR's pollsters, gloms Anne Stuart - among others - and hordes the unread so that when she "hits a dry spell" she can turn to the tried and true. Author Megan Frampton, who once reviewed for AAR, also gloms Anne Stuart; she bought nearly three dozen of Stuart's series titles for less than a dollar apiece when she saw them for sale on a Yahoo book-selling list. And like Cindy, she too "parses them out" when in need of a "solid, quick read". And years before, when she started reading romance, she glommed Amanda Quick. It was a "glorious" thing for her to know that she had "all of them in my possession".

Lorraine has been glomming since childhood and the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, and Anne of Green Gables. Her first romance glom was Georgette Heyer, and Lorraine searched for quite some time to find and buy all the titles she wanted. Her glom behavior continued with Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, and many years of Harlequin Presents. More recently she's glommed Balogh and Jo Beverley as well as Julia Quinn and, because of my raves over The Real Deal, Lucy Monroe. She's extended her Monroe glom even farther than I have in that she's actually read each and every Monroe release. I've bought them all, but haven't yet read her historicals...and based on our reviews, may never do so. But like many of us, Lorraine has learned to space out her reading of a particular author. She knows that "no matter how good the books are", reading too many in a row will cause, the author's voice to "go stale". At times she must "force herself to interrupt" a glom read with a book or books that are entirely different in order to refresh her reading palate. I'm going to keep that in mind so as not to ruin In Death.

Lynn's biggest glom came with her discovery of Suzanne Brockmann. After picking up one of her single titles with no particular expectations a couple of years ago, but knowing how well she was liked by most of AAR's reviewers, she was "in love" and within two weeks had tracked down just about every title from her backlist. To this day she considers her "butt-ugly cover copy of Get Lucky" such a treasured possession that she'd "grab it after all the kids were safely out of the house if ever there was a fire". Brockmann's books are now among Lynn's comfort reads and if she reads one, she generally ends up in a "mini-glom of at least three or four others".

Two readers wrote about extensive Dorothy Garlock gloms, and for KathyB, the glom is on-going. Genie is able to look back fondly on her Garlock glom; she loves the author because she creates such likable characters and describes the eras of her books so vividly. Genie writes, "[Garlock] actually makes you feel as if you are there with this group of people trying to overcome whatever obstacles they are up against.  I have yet to read an author that can bring you into the life of her characters as well as she can.  Whenever I'm sick I pull out her books and they always make me feel better." With both Krentz and Garlock, her gloms were extended over a period of time, and though she bought most of their backlists at the UBS, she now buys their new books - in hardcover or paperback - as soon as they are released.

KathyB is currently in the midst of her own fifty book Dorothy Garlock glom. Lately she's been haunting the ubs's and buying five or six Garlock titles a week. Which one to read first? It puts her in a tizzy. She describes life in a glom as tunnel vision, and she obsesses over reading so much so that "everything becomes almost secondary", including a "normal daily life". She remembers her cat looking at her toes like they were chicken fingers because she'd forgotten fill the cat bowl. It's at this point in the glom that she takes a step back and regains her equilibrium. She writes: "Gloms exhaust me and excite me. Gloms have been know to take over my whole life, so at this age and stage of my life, I try to limit them to only one or two a year... but during that time I am at my happiest. I have found an author that clicks for me and when that happens all is right with the world."

What better way to end things than with that quote? I received so much fabulous input on this topic that had I included all of it, the column would have been three times the length. My plans instead are to retain those added comments and combine them with those you post to the ATBF Message Board for an adjunct page. Though we've talked many times before about glomming, I hope that this column, with its focus on the feelings behind the glom, made it fresh for you. And in further thinking about the feelings behind the glom, it occurs to me that this column is also a sheer celebration of the joys of reading, and I'd like to expand the focus to that as well on the message board. (Adjunct page added Oct 11)

 

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

 

Adjunct page on glomming based on email and message board posts
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