Issue #84 (December 1, 1999)

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Recollections of a Bookie:
I've really enjoyed watching my daughter fall in love with reading over the past several months. Laying on the bed reading (she with her book, me with mine) in the evening has been great for the two of us (and our new cat, Bob) to spend some time relaxing together. Watching her discover the joy of where a book can take you has led me to reflect on when I fell in love with reading myself. I have a very strong memory of just when it happened. When I was nine and in the fifth grade, I was engrossed in Gone with the Wind. I can remember concentrating intently during one of the hospital scenes, unaware that my teacher was fuming silently behind me. Apparently, "silent reading" had ended and he was trying to teach again, but I was so wrapped up in Atlanta during the Civil War that I hadn't heard, not even when he came up behind me. That was my first "grown-up" book, and after that, my mom's bookshelves were never safe. To this day, my mother gloats about my reading GWTW in three days when I was nine.

Many of us who love to read fell in love with the written word at an early age. For others, love came later, but regardless of when it occurred, when we fell in love, our love affair continued. People who fall in love with reading don't fall out of love with reading. It's a life-long affair.

Tania also has a memory involving Gone with the Wind. She remembers doing an oral book report at the age of ten at an assembly. She says, "My teacher was just beaming at me and other teachers were asking me specific questions about the plot, because they didn't believe I had understood what I had read." She adds, "Growing up in NYC with a library within walking distance from our apartment, I had an unlimited supply of books available. My older brothers could get out of the house to spend time with their friends by volunteering to take me to the library, then leave me on my own for a few hours, then walk me home."

For Paulina, who didn't have a library within walking distance of her house, the bookmobile was one of her favorite treats each week. She recalls that, "One of my fondest memories as a kid was waiting at the sidewalk corner for that big white bus with rainbow stripes to come around the corner so that I could get my weekly reading fix."

Kitty knew that she was a "bookie" in the second grade after her teacher took the class to the school's library. After checking out three picture-type books appropriate for her age, she took them back to class and read them all immediately. After having to wait for a whole week to get new books, she talked with the librarian, who then allowed her to visit the area with chapter books. After checking out three of those, she happily spent the next week reading and "never really stopped after that." She recalls that when her mom wanted to punish her, she forbade Kitty to read.

Carol, like Kitty, has been checking out the maximum number of books allowed at the library since she was a child. And while most of us didn't have tbr piles until we were adults, she swears she's had one since her early teens. And, Alexis, like Kitty, recalls being sent to her room by her mother and told not to read as her punishment.

Mary Kay remembers her frustration in school during when other kids would struggle with pronunciation while reading aloud. She even got into a fight with her best friend on the school bus over a book once, commenting tongue-in-cheek that, "It's pretty pathetic that, even then, books meant more to me than friends."

For Debbie, her love of books and reading grew out of a ritual involving a family friend. She says:

"My earliest memories of Christmas (probably from age 4 on) include the visit each Christmas day of an elderly friend of my grandmother. She was a "spinster" schoolteacher with whom my Gran had taught, before Gran got married and retired. She would ride the trolley car from downtown to share the holiday with us, coming in smelling, as old ladies do, of violets and crepey skin. Her gift to me would always be a storybook. I can remember loving those books, almost-almost, ridiculously, to the point of not wanting to read them because they might get messed up! Loved the feel and weight of them in my hands, the smell of them, the crisp new pages, the oh-so-beautiful illustrations, but most of all the wonderfully exhilarating thought that there were people out there smart enough to put words together in such amazing ways for my pleasure. I have those books to this day, 40 and more years later, every one she ever gave me, inscribed in her spidery hand, "Merry Christmas, Debbie, from Miss Holt." They've had a hard life, been packed and moved countless times, the covers are falling off, but I wouldn't throw them out for the world. And if she'd ever given me anything other than a book, I would have been crushed."

While reading is a solitary event, what stands out among the comments of many readers is the ritual aspect of it. My own mother loved to read, and she passed that love of reading to me, which, in turn, I've managed to pass along to my daughter. Reader Falcon remembers reading on the veranda with her family as she was growing up. She continued that tradition with her own children, and now has a son who loves to read. What each of us who loves to read realizes, and what we've passed on to others is that if you have a book to turn to, you can never be bored. And even what sounds lackluster may turn out to be quite entertaining.

Because my daughter is at an age when love is "gooey" and most boys are "icky," she thinks reading romance is equally as icky - she prefers to read about witches and Beverly Cleary. But when I told her about the romance I'd just finished, with its female pilot, time travel, and pirates, her eyes lit up. (Look for my review of Once a Pirate by debuting romance writer Susan Grant as soon as publication date nears - the book was lots of fun.)

Buried Treasures:
Reading that time travel romance by new author Susan Grant reminded me how fun it is to pick up a book and be surprised. Time travel romances are not my usual cup of tea, but this one was so darn fun it reminded me that a new face can sometimes breath life into a sub-genre that seems to have gotten stale.

I've been hearing from a lot of you about books and/or authors that surprised you by how good they were. I like to call these Buried Treasures and would like to share with you some buried treasures sent in by other readers. For our purposes, an author is a buried treasure if she is not well known. This might include debuting authors or authors who have been writing for some time now, but haven't caught on, for some reason, in a big way.

Angie wrote in about Anne De Lisle, who has written (at least) two Scottish historicals she loved. According to Angie, both featured great research and great characters.

Phillip writes that Leigh Riker and Jeane Renick are two authors whose lights should shine brightly. He's read their entire backlists and finds each to have a unique style of writing. Neither has been recently published (Riker's last book came out in 1998. According to BYRON, Jeane Renick's last book was in 1996, although, under a pseudonym - Jean DeWitt - she had a book published in 1998). According to Phillip, these author write "true romance stories, not suspense and mystery, with a little touch of romance like some other romance writers. Their books are among the greatest love stories that I have ever read."

Kay writes that Dianne Highbridge's A Much Younger Man is a buried treasure. She knows of no one else online who has read it, and thinks that the age difference between the hero and heroine simply put people off it, which she finds a true shame. Mary Lynne would recommend the Regency Romance author Judith Lansdowne. And Dolly hopes that more readers discover these authors whose first books were published in 1999 - Claire King and Tina St. John.

For Falcon, Tina St. John and Isolde Martyn were true finds. Martyn's The Maiden & the Unicorn also dazzled AAR Reviewer Colleen McMahon, who granted it Desert Isle Keeper Status. As a matter of fact, the debut novels of Claire King, Isolde Martyn, and Tina St. John were among many debut novels that AAR Reviewers loved. Those novels, along with the debut novels of Sherri Cobb South and Ronda Thompson, were granted DIK status by our reviewers.

Some readers get a little protective of authors when discussing buried treasures. A couple have mentioned being afraid to share their secret finds because they fear those authors will get famous and leave their romance roots behind. Does this fear lurk in your heart as well?

My own list of buried treasures got a little longer this year. In addition to Deborah Simmons, Jane Ashford, and Catherine Archer, I think Patricia Oliver, while well-known to Regency Romance readers, could appeal to any reader who enjoys historicals set in the regency period. Haywood Smith is another author I've enjoyed who isn't terribly well known. Authors I'd consider adding to my list of buried treasures in the future include Cheryl St. John, Elizabeth Graham, Sandra Lee, and Malia Martin. None have made it so far, but given another book or two, and they might.

The Torture/Torment Quotient:
Each of the authors I consider buried treasures, or which might become buried treasures for me have something in common - they write interesting characters. Some of them write on the lighter side while others write on the darker side. Some do both with equal aplomb. Some of them even write tortured heroes. I have come to love some tortured heroes, but others I have found to be whiny or brutish. As I've said before, a tortured hero for me is one who is more apt than not to torture others, good reason or not. I realize some readers and authors use a similar definition. I also realize many others do not.

Earlier this year, AAR Reviewer Robin Nixon Uncapher riffed on tortured heroes. While nearly all historicals, she said, feature a hero with a "terrible hurt in his past," her differentiation between tortured heroes and heroes who are not tortured lies in how they treat themselves. For her, a tortured hero tortures himself. A hero who is not tortured, by contrast, is mentally healthy in spite of his past.

In a subsequent column, author Danelle Harmon riffed on her description of a tortured hero. Her take was much like Robin's, and definitely different than mine because, for her, a tortured hero is a man tortured by himself. Although we don't all agree on what constitutes a tortured hero, there is agreement on how gratifying it is to read a romance where the hero is redeemed by the love of a good woman.

Nancy Beth loves a tortured hero, as long as he doesn't torture the woman who comes to love him. She points to Houston from Lorraine Heath's Texas Destiny, Wolf MacKenzie from Linda Howard's Mackenzie's Mountain, and Dillon from Sandra Brown's Breath of Scandal. Each of these men, she writes, internalized a crucial event, where it festered inside him, but didn't become abusive to the woman in his life, or on women in general. While she can occasionally enjoy a romance with a hero who tortures the heroine as long as a "lovely grovel" is included, she "has little sympathy for that all-too-common tortured hero who hates and mistrusts all women."

Robin remembers reading Mary Jo Putney's comment that heroes could either torture themselves or torture the heroine and that she preferred them to torture themselves. Robin also has a short list of ways in which heroes torture themselves:

  • Beating oneself up for past mistakes including: betraying an old lover, cowardice in war, adultery (w/another man's wife) falling out of love, having been abused, betraying a friend, not being in love with a past wife/lover, ruthlessness (in war, business etc), cruelty, being responsible for a death, and fear of being rejected by the heroine for these things

  • Beating oneself up for personal appearance/attractiveness. It takes a very good writer to make this not appear as self-pity. Judith Ivory and Loretta Chase did this wonderfully in Beast and Lord of Scoundrels. Joan Johnston failed in After the Kiss

  • Still in love with an old love (The Famous Heroine by Mary Balogh and MJP's Angel Rogue)

  • Feeling guilty about a dead spouse (Mrs. Drew Plays her Hand)

(We'd love to add and/or adjust this list when it's time to post to the message board.)

Robin's attraction to tortured heroes may be traced to the fantasies she had as a little girl when she would lie in bed, unable to sleep, and make up stories to entertain herself. Personally, I had channels - If my head was facing to the left, that meant I had to create a certain type of story, if it was facing to the right, an entirely different type of story was called for. When I was on my back, the man of my dreams was a prince.

But I digress. Robin's daydreams about saving a handsome, powerful man who had been hurt and was often unconscious, she admits, were not very creative, but were incredibly romantic and seemed to be based on the TV westerns she watched as a child. She recalls a stock plot in which the hero is brought in unconscious and nursed by a pretty woman with whom he falls in love. She now wonders whether this fascination with having a strong man in a weak position, and with her doing the saving, explains some of her fascination today with psychologically wounded heroes.

Robin asks, "Is it a classic female trait to be attracted to men who need nurturing? I think yes. In real life 'wounded' men are often fascinating, wonderful and heartbreaking. Before I was married I dated a lot. The most dangerous kind of man (for me) was the one who would say 'Don't fall for me. I'll hurt you.' Took me a while but I finally found out that these guys were telling the truth. I remember hearing it for the last time before I met my husband. To the young man's surprise, I nodded, walked out the door and never went out with him again. That was smart and I was smart to find a loving man who wanted commitment. Nevertheless, it is a wonderful fantasy to think of having a guy who says that repeatedly to finally declare undying love and change his ways."

AAR Reviewer Anne Marble, upon hearing Robin's "savior" fantasy, mentioned that there is a type of fan fiction called "hurt/comfort" stories, also known as "torture the cute hero" stories. According to Anne, fans of TV shows create stories in which the handsome star goes through terrible torture and is nursed back to health by a beautiful young woman.

Wendy enjoys reading about tortured heroes as well because these men aren't self-sufficient. She writes, "He needs the heroine and can be saved only by the heroine. Also, I think it tends to make the hero more sympathetic. Do you think that this is a backlash to all those fairy tales we were fed growing up where the princess was saved by the prince?"

For Alison, the attraction of the tortured hero is that we can sympathize with him. She adds, "At one point or another, we've all been rejected, hurt, and lonely, and it's more interesting seeing someone so hurt and scarred learn what love is really like. I've always liked stories where there were big obstacles between the characters, because the more they have to struggle and fight, the sweeter their triumph in the end. A story about two happy, well-adjusted people falling easily in love has no tension. We need that tension; we need that uncertainty - will she forgive him? Will he realize his mistake and return to her? At some point in the book the HEA must be in some doubt or it becomes a wash. Tolstoy was onto something, after all."

In Sheryl's version of the "savior" fantasy, the handsome, powerful man was "about to get creamed and I was the one who saved the guy - often to end up suffering in his place, and then I was the one to be nursed by him. Messiah complex, I suppose - except one of my most humble friends once confessed her fantasies were of the same thing - being tended by a strong man. She didn't beat up the bad guys the way I did, though! It may be a classic female trait to be attracted to a man who needs nurturing, but my version of nurturing is more like that described by Danelle Harmon, where the heroine acts more as a catalyst to the hero's self-repair. My favorite heroines are more likely to get the hero to see himself in a new light than to sponge his fevered brow."

Sheryl adds:

"I can cheer a heroine who's trying to show a guy a different aspect of himself, to see if he'll change, but I usually feel like the heroines going after the 'I'll hurt you' kind of guy were in this weird power play, that they were hoping to force the guy to change for his own good instead of giving him the opportunity to change if that's what he wanted to do. Ironically, most romance readers see the heroine as the weak one in the 'I'll hurt you' sort of romances, while I see her as the one in charge! I think it's that she's strong enough to risk loving him, so from my point of view she's in a position of strength from the git go. He hasn't got the guts to love, so even though he bullies her through the whole book I see him as a wimp (most bullies are wimps, after all). She's got enough moral fiber to make him toe the line, and by the end of the book he learns that. . ."The 'I'll hurt you' romances that work for me are the ones where the hero changes because he recognizes the woman's strength, and wants to join that strength to his own."

What I'd like to do now is to not only continue this talk of torment, but to perhaps take it into a different direction. There are those of us who prefer the dark side of romance, with lots of angst and torment. There are those of us who prefer the light side of romance, with lots of humor. There are those of us who enjoy both types, but who invariably choose "one side" over the other. Let's have a debate, folks, on the message board, about the dark side versus the light side.

This issue of Laurie's News & Views is somewhat shorter than most issues. There are a couple of reasons for that, the first of which is that, at time of writing, I was unable to access the Internet for some of the material I needed - my Internet Service Provider was down. The second reason involves the recent Thanksgiving holiday and the work we've been doing on remodeling our house. We're trying to reduce clutter in a big way after eight months of work on the house. All that clean-up, in addition to readying ourselves for four houseguests, plus cooking a huge feast, then taking our out-of-towners about the town (Medieval Times was terrific, but Laser Tag didn't do much for me), really threw me off my schedule.

My next column, in mid-December, is one I always enjoy, because it's my overview of that year in romance reading. I get to talk about my favorite (and least favorite) books of the year, and then I get to turn it over to you for yours.

Still, I hope the few topics I did manage to discuss here were of interest. I've noticed somewhat of a decline in hits to LN&V in recent weeks, and will track them more thoroughly in the near future. Perhaps the column is running out of steam. After all, it is more than 3 1/2 years old, and I never expected it to run forever. Since I expect fewer hits at this time of year (they generally decline after Thanksgiving and pick up after New Years), I won't make any rash decisions. You'll have to let me know in your posting to the message board.

Time to Post to the Message Board:

Here are the topics I'd like you to consider posting about:

    Recollections of a bookie When did you catch the "reading bug?" What were your symptoms? When did you catch the romance reading but? What were your symptoms? How do you feel the non-reading world treats "bookies?"

    Buried Treasures: Have you read any of the authors others have said are buried treasures for them? Which authors are your own buried treasures? Are you afraid if they become too well known they will leave their romance roots behind?

    The Torture/Torment Quotient: How do you describe a tortured hero? Or for that matter, a tortured heroine? Did you have "savior fantasies" growing up? Do you still have them, either in your fantasy life or in your real life? Can you add to Robin's list of ways in which heroes torture themselves? Which do you like? Which don't you like?

    A Debate About Dark & Light: There are those of us who prefer the dark side of romance, with lots of angst and torment. There are those of us who prefer the light side of romance, with lots of humor. There are those of us who enjoy both types, but who invariably choose "one side" over the other. Let's have a debate, folks, about the dark side versus the light side.

    Reality Check on LN&V: Does my column continue to entertain and inform? Are there other features now at AAR which you prefer more than LN&V? Do you enjoy it when I bring in guests? If it's getting old, should I transform it into a monthly feature rather than a bi-weekly one?

Until next time, TTFN, Laurie Likes Books

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