Issue #40 (December 1, 1997)

Reflections from a Road Trip (or My Point, & I Do Have One):
My husband, daughter, and I took a road trip from Dallas to Houston last week for the Thanksgiving holiday. Besides gorging ourselves on sister-in-law Susie's yummy food, we saw the requisite kiddy movies (Anastasia, the perfect post-feminist romance, and Flubber), bought the requisite Beanie Babies, and, happily for me, discovered a Super Crown bookstore along the way.

Out in Los Angeles, there is a Super Crown about a half-mile from my mother's house, right next door to a Starbucks. Whenever we make the trek out there, my husband and daughter go to Starbucks while I go to Super Crown. For some reason, most likely because there is no Super Crown in Dallas, I love that book chain. Every one I've been to has a wonderful romance section filled with older books I can't seem to find at other chain stores. It's also just a wonderful place for browsing.

If you are a hard-core romance-reading book-buyer like myself, you may only step inside a bookstore to pick up the books you've ordered by phone. The bookstore I frequent most frequently is in a suburb, close to my allergy doctor's office. I shop there because it is small and independent, and very romance friendly. It's not particularly convenient, but, hey, she sells Beanie Babies too! But I digress. Unless I've got extra time, I generally phone in my order at the start of the month, and pick up my completed order around the 20th.

It's quick and easy, but I miss the kind of browsing I used to do before becoming such an efficient book buyer. And going to a Super Crown always seems to hit the spot.

On this particular trip, I lucked out immediately. Once I saw the vampire book starring Lord Byron, I knew I was a goner. My husband simply stared at me and shook his head. A vampire book? Lord Byron?

Then I moved into the romance section and lucked out again. Lisa G. Brown's Billy Bob Walker Just Got Married; a sale version for $3.99. Now, this wouldn't have been a big deal except for two things. Now that I'm reading a few contemporaries, this would give me the chance to read a book I'd been hearing about on-line for nearly 3 years. And, it was $3.99, a bargain to boot.

I like to reserve my browsing-book-buying to books I wouldn't generally buy, and those two certainly qualified. What was next? A few old Jayne Ann Krentz's (my newest glom author), including a Mira re-print of an old category romance. Not wanting to be greedy, and still having the local Beanie Baby store to check out, I took my purchases to the counter, very satisfied with my selections.

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and to those non-Americans, I hope you had a good week. Let's talk some more about browsing, about how it feels to be inside a bookstore, or to discover a treasure trove at a garage sale. If you have a method to your book buying or are a haphazard buyer. If you order by computer or phone for most of your books and just occasionally browse. Please e-mail me with your comments.

Glomming:
A few issues back, I talked about glomming Jayne Ann Krentz and being concerned that I would overdose on her books if I read too many successively. After asking for advice, I heard from many of you, starting with author Casey Claybourne, who wrote:

"Who of us has not glommed? I have, however, learned my lesson. I 'buy' glom, but I don't 'read' glom anymore. A few years back I glommed D.H. Lawrence and afterward felt as if I'd cheated myself. All the books blurred into one and, to this day, I couldn't tell you the difference between Women In Love and The Rainbow.

"I still do glom purchasing, though. I glommed Kinsale and Morsi. But I am careful to space the books apart. In fact, I've been clinging to my last Kinsale, waiting for that crisis moment when I must have a fabulous read or die. She always delivers."

Casey provided generic glomming advice to not "read glom" and Blythe said something similar, that I "glom quickly but read gradually". She also suggested I read Trust Me, which is, in fact, the next JAK I read, albeit after a two week break. I enjoyed it very much. (Currently, I'm reading Hidden Talents, based on another reader recommendation.)

Dee let me know she is like me in that she prefers historicals. She recently discovered Linda Howard, however, and was thrilled with the smoldering sensuality of her writing. However, after about six of these books, she "was dreaming of a story in which the main characters actually liked each other before they had sex. She is very good at what she writes, I just felt she writes pretty much the same story over and over again. . .My saturation point was achieved after five of her books"

Rebecca wrote that she never overdoses on an author unless she goes back to the beginning of an author's backlist. Unlike some readers who believe many authors' first books are their best, she believes most romance authors get better with age. She said JAK is a perfect example of this, "her first romances are really awful. She was very fond of exclamation points back then."

Allison admits she overdosed on Nora Roberts, Linda Adler, and Elizabeth Adler and now will read no more than two books in a row by an author. Gwen, who finds it hard to glom new books because she lives overseas, has developed rather a nice collection of used books because where does one take used romances in Brussels? She cautioned against reading more than four in a row by JAK or else "the books blend together, the heroines lose their voice and all the heros lose their touch."

I think we romance readers are definitely like little kids who have been allowed to run amuck in a candy store. Just as they only stop after getting a tummy-ache, we can't seem to stop ourselves from over-doing it until we've over-done it. Normal people, whom I polled before writing this section, have never read in swift succession books by an author and over-dosed because of it.

You can read more about GWHR by clicking here.

The Love Scene:
Since I first wrote about the possibility that some authors may be toning down their love scenes, I've heard from many of you regarding this possibility, and from many of you on whether or not this is a good idea.

Electronically published author Marilyn Grall (Taming the Lion) wrote in response to Bonnie and Rebecca's posts as published in the last issue of this column. Bonnie had written that she prefers the least explicit love scenes. Rebecca and I are on the same wavelength. We disagree with Bonnie, although we draw the line on explicit and "over-done" love scenes at those as written by Thea Devine, Bertrice Small, and Susan Johnson. My personal problem with authors who push the envelope in this direction is that I can't seem to garner an emotional bond with the characters. For a love scene to work for me, I have to care about the characters. Otherwise, it's just sex. And, for me, just sex is not an effective love scene.

Here's what Marilyn (http://www.eclectics.com/marilyngrall), who will not be toning down her love scenes, had to say:

"First, I have to admit that my hackles rose when I read Laurie's column. Bonnie thinks love scenes are voyeuristic, turning romances into masturbation manuals. I also got the impression that she feels a "real" woman doesn't read romance to become turned on. Ooookaaay. I'm a real woman, a romance reader, and a romance writer as well. And I've got to say here and now that reading and writing romance is excellent for marital relations. Perhaps that makes me shallow, but I can live with it - and dh can happily live with it, too.

"In the next paragraph, Rebecca agrees with me that love scenes are an integral part of romance. Then she goes on to discount the efforts of three of my favorite authors. Hmmm . . . maybe I'm the one in the minority here, but to tell you the truth, I've never read a love scene I would have labeled "gratuitous sex." No matter what level of emotion is displayed, I know the h/h will have an HEA. If their mating is shallow in the beginning, or even a "forceful seduction," that doesn't bother me in the least. I know everything will work out in the end. That's why it's romance.

"To me, sex is not only integral to romance, it's essential. And I hate what I see as a mainstream trend toward neutering books written by beloved romance authors. True, the publishers might sell more hardback copies that way (Bonnie's opinion may in actuality be the majority instead of minority view), but as a romance reader, I feel betrayed. And I have a distinct feeling it's the publishers pushing our wonderful authors to lose the love scenes. Surely women who have earned their reputation through writing those scenes wouldn't suddenly want to stop.

"As for my own writing, I have no intention of cutting out the love scenes - or even reducing their number. My second book for New Concepts will be coming out sometime this winter, and believe me, it has just as many love scenes as Taming the Lion. To me, that's the essence of romance, and I don't intend to change."

I received so many responses on the love scene topic that I created a companion page to go along with this column. If you are a new-ish reader or new-ish to my site, you may be unfamiliar with Reader Rants on Sexuality and Reader Rants on Sexuality - Part II. So you may want to have a glance at these pages before moving on to the newest rant page, Reader Rants on Sexuality - Part III, which is the companion (yet stand-alone) page for this column.

Most of you who wrote in about love scenes enjoy them, although, as Flip wrote, they are the whipped cream to the pumpkin pie. Some of you are unabashed love scene aficianados while others can take 'em or leave 'em. Whether you are as staunch as Marilyn or Bonnie, or somewhere in-between, I want to hear from you. Please e-mail me after you've read Reader Rants on Sexuality - Part III, and let me know where you stand.

Looking Down Our Noses:
Marilyn Grall also wrote in about snobbery and historical accuracy after having read the last issue of my column, and said, "As far as historical details, I'm with you. I want to be entertained when reading a historical romance, not educated. If I'm seeking education, I'll go to research volumes or the encyclopedia. Give me a good, sexy romance with reasonably accurate historical "wallpaper" for flavor any day (emphasis mine). I'll be happy.

"On the subject of humorous books, I really don't read that many of them, but not because they have less value. I simply prefer the darker stories to the light (love those tortured alpha heroes). The humorous books I have read (such as Joy's Rejar or Tonight or Never or anything by Julie Garwood) were delightful.

"As far as subtle snobbery from fellow readers? There are enough people with negative opinions about romance already. I surely hope we won't become snobs ourselves."

Marilyn is not the only reader to respond to the snobbery issue; lovers of explicit love scenes often find themselves snubbed by readers who find their choice of reading material deemed "masturbation manual" material. I hadn't thought about that because of my own "lightweight" tendencies toward humorous romance.

Let me share with you now a smattering of the mail regarding snobbery - from both sides. Please keep in mind that by sharing these posts I am not trying to erect barriers between readers, but to show different opinions. As I have said in the past, all it takes is one great read to tear down an "I'll never read" or "I don't like. . .".

I'll start with Katarina, who was brave enough to admit her own snobbery, "Ouch, that hit a raw nerve! OK, I admit to being an all-out snob when it comes to reading - but I'd like to qualify the description a bit.

"Thinking it through, I'm at my most snobbish when it comes to perceived insult. If I feel the writer (I won't call such a word-pusher author!) is just bringing home the bacon instead of caring for the story and the reader, I lose all respect. I feel snubbed, cheated, almost like my desire for reading has been mocked. Such books are trash in my eyes, and are promptly recycled. This has nothing to do with lightness and humour in a story - I love Patricia Oliver and like Mary Balogh - both write light yet thought-provoking Regencies.

"This snobbishness has grown over the years the more I know of a genre. When I was in my early teens I read anything that was marketed as SF (I even learned to read English fast enough, since they wouldn't translate them fast enough to suit me) Today, I know what I like, what a good SF can be like, and so I'm less disposed to like any SF that comes my way. I went through the same cycle with Fantasy in my late teens-early 20s. . .Sometimes I feel a bit envious of the sheer pleasure some readers derive from books that I remember having read and left in a trash can in a MacDonalds. Maybe I'm jaded, or cynical, or overeducated, or pretentious, or simply snobbish and arrogant!

"I admit preferring the more serious darker, longer romances, with plenty of feel for the setting. But to me serious isn't opposed to humour, as such. My favorite style of humour comes from the glorious understatements, the precise choice of descriptive words, or even the lack of descriptions. Remember the movies based on Jane Austen? (Example: I find the description "good teeth" humorous in a medieval, since it's such a discrete and suitable compliment)"

Reader Teresa, who happens to have an MA in history, used to look down her nose not only on romance, but on fiction in general. Now she loves romance so well she is writing one, but still has a problem with what she deems as "glaring" inaccuracies. Given her education, what's "glaring" to her is probably not even noticeable to me. But, she wrote, "I would never look down on someone else for enjoying these books. If I didn't know the history I would enjoy them, because in general the prose and plotting are very good."

Ellen thought, as I did until recently, that category romances were "little old lady" books. She wrote, "I confess, I was a romance snob until a short time ago. I would not read category romances, I thought they were just books little old ladies read while they sat under the hair dryers. The only way I would have known about them is word of mouth. I live in a non-reading family and none of my co-workers read romance. Several months ago, I joined Aarlist. When I joined the list, there was a discussion of Ruth Wind's books and how good they were. I went to the ubs and found several of them. The listserv members were right, they are excellent. Through reviews on-line and discussions on the list, I have discovered Paula Detmer Riggs, Sharon Sala, Leanne Banks, Jennifer Crusie, and Suzanne Brockmann. Category writers all, and all of them excellent. My book snobbery is gone. Long live the category writers!"

Another reader, who prefers to remain anonymous because she has a friend who writes categories, admits to once being a "big snob about category books." While she reads and enjoys JAK's, Linda Howards, Nora Roberts, Kathleen Eagle's and Anne Stuart's category romances, she still hopes "that no one I know sees me buy them and I don't take them out in public with me. I'm still a snob, I guess."

Christine appreciates and admires "historical accuracy in a book, but not when it becomes pedantic or obscures the romance." (emphasis mine)

Grace, whose daughter Cindy is also a reader at All About Romance, qualifies her feelings about category romances. She wrote:

"I don't know if I'd call myself a snob. My daughter is and admits it. She doesn't think category romance merits the same kind of recognition a single title does. When I think about it, I agree, but I don't look down my nose at them. I never gave a thought to who published a book either, but I'd read a review and mention something sounded good and she'd say 'that's just a Harlequin Historical'. So, I have been a bit tainted by that.

"I don't like to think I look down on people who like the fluffy stuff. Some people think everything I read is fluff. I think some people think reading in general is a waste of time. I don't even like to talk to them about my reading habits, I feel it goes over their heads, so in a way I am a snob to people who don't read....now that I think about it, I may be a bit snobbish to folks who only want their romances sweet. I like mine sensual but it is not the main factor, but I do tsk tsk at readers who want to tell the author, no graphic sex and no cuss words. 'Hey,' I say 'just turn the page.'

"I've laughed where I read a reader refused to read any book by a certain publisher because there was a blatant inaccuracy in a book. I'd blame the author, not the publisher and wouldn't punish the house. I am not a historian so you can put stuff over on me, but when the stories' errors are so blatant, I'll think twice before wasting my time again.

"I know you like some of the light stuff and only pretty much read historicals. I thought you and others who did the same were closed minded, because some of my favorite books are contemporary and thought you cheated yourself by not reading the likes of Nora Roberts. I was glad to read you enjoyed her books and hope others will be willing to do the same. I must admit I may be a bit of a snob on some paranormal books, but I have made a concerted effort to read some. I have loved some and disliked others but have made a effort to see what it was my fellow romance readers liked."

Benita scolded those readers whose boundaries are too rigid. She wrote, "I think that by limiting ourselves to certain genres, we might miss out on new authors, or different types of books that we might discover.

"I think a point to keep in mind with historical romances is that the accurate portrayal of the historical reality is not the point of the book; the romance between the protagonists is. That's not to say that writers should ignore the historical underpinnings of the novel with reckless abandon like the writers of the syndicated shows Hercules the Legendary Journeys and Xena Warrior Princess tend to do quite frequently. Rather, I would suggest that we enjoy the historical backdrop of these novels, and try not to sweat the small stuff if a few details here or there are not perfect. Like you suggest, if I want historical accuracy I will either read a history book, or historical fiction. When I want deep, thought provoking tomes I read Garcia Marquez or Sartre or any other authors who write with such deep focuses in mind."

I felt as though Connie was a kindred spirit because she admitted to reading merely for the fun of it. She wrote, "I too agree with you on the fact of reading romance purely for the pleasure it brings. I read too many "factual" books while still in college and turned to romance purely for escapism."

Cynthia too reads solely to escape. "I can forget my budget, my annoying sister, and the crappy day I had at work."

Cynthia added, "Therefore I love Julie Garwood. Yes, I see the historical inaccuracies, but when I want more realistic history I read Gellis or Jo Beverley. However, a couple of historian friends have trashed Beverley; I think they were being ultra picky because 'it's romance, it couldn't be accurate!'

"I never read Barbara Cartland. My best friend in high school and I borrowed each others romances so that we didn't spend too much $ on the addiction. She loaned me a BC and we were both appalled that the heroine never finished a sentence in the entire book."

Liz wrote that, "Like everything else in this world, romance is subject to snobbery. But while this is true, another possibility presents itself, which is categorizing. This is something that I, and book companies alike, do with almost all books. The exception to this rule, are those books that I have to read as soon as I get them in my hands. I break them down further from their initial company category into short reads, funny reads, and heart-wrenching reads. This does not mean that a "light" read is of less value than a "serious" read.

"To me categorizing has nothing to do with snobbery, because the former does not exclude me from reading certain types of books. I am not a picky reader, but like yourself I need to mix up my books. For example, I just finished Karen Ranney's Promise of Love, which was an intense, emotional book. I was so emotioned-out by this book that I needed something that I considered light (emotionally) and funny to perk me right up. So I picked up Dara Joy's Tonight or Never. Joy's books are an automatic buy for me, and after reading all of her books she is one of those authors that falls into my fast and funny category. I have a lot of authors in this category, like Garwood, Cruise, Barnett, etc... These are the books that I pick up when i feel that I need a perk me up or am going on a vacation."

The names Jayne Ann Krentz and Dara Joy were repeated by readers who love lighter reads, as was, of course, Julie Garwood. While I admit to loving light romances, I need to add that many of the authors who write humorous and light romances, are actually skillfully including quite a bit of depth underneath the surface of their writing. Their books can be enjoyed for the story-telling on one level, and for deeper stuff going on sub-textually. I heard from a couple of readers who believe Dara Joy is doing this. Their posts are long and involved, so I'm creating a special link here and hope you will read what Liana and Beverly had to say. (Beverly actually wrote several lengthy rants, on love scenes, snobbery, and Dara Joy.) And, whether you agree or not, I'd like to hear what you think, so please e-mail me.

Laurie's Picks & Pans:

  • Trust Me by Jayne Ann Krentz, 1995. I gave this a 4.
  • StarCatcher by Patricia Potter, 1997. I gave it a 3.
  • A Promise Given by Samantha James, 1998. I gave it a 3.

To access my Picks & Pans page, click here.

It's a Wrap!
I've got many things in progress, both from past issues, to new topics I'm in the process of developing.

Here's what you can look forward to (and, if you are interested in working on them with me, please e-mail me):
Things you've read in a romance that are supposed to be erotic to you but are anything but
Can a book be bad if you respond to it emotionally?
Hero/heroine separations
Unacceptable behavior in heroines that we accept in heroes

For those of you who don't visit All About Romance in-between columns, I thought you should know that nearly every section of the site has been updated within the past couple of weeks. Please click here to see what's new since then.

TTFN, Laurie Likes Books

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