Re-Reading Old Favorites

I first started reading romances around age 11, when I discovered my mother’s huge stash of category romances. I read gazillions of these books—seriously, I couldn’t get enough—reading roughly 6 per week for years. Because I never had to look further than the upstairs cupboards for my next fix, for years I didn’t even know that single-title romances existed.

Out of the hundreds of category romances I read, I have no recollection of 99% of them. Occasionally when I’m in the local UBS, I’ll recognize a cover, but when I read the blurb my memory isn’t stimulated in the slightest. They just didn’t stick with me over the long term. But there is that 1% that I not only remember, I adored. I may not have remembered the titles or authors, but I remembered bits and pieces of the stories themselves, and most importantly, I remembered how I felt when reading them.

So late last year I endeavored to find these books—roughly half a dozen—and re-read them. After spending hours (literally) on Amazon and Paperback Swap, I managed to locate
all but one of the books. I was so excited when I received them in the mail. How fun to discover them all over again!

Before I cracked open that first book, though, I started to wonder if I was setting myself up for huge disappointment. I had such fond memories of these books, but what if my pre-teen reading taste was terrible? What if I opened these beloved books and destroyed all my happy memories? Ultimately, the possibility of rediscovering a great read outweighed my fears.

I decided to re-read the books and conduct an experiment of sorts. Instead of going into the stories assuming I would still love them, I tried to read them objectively. What would I think about this book if I were reading it for the first time? I have to admit that the feminist in me was secretly afraid that in my younger years I liked books with doormat heroines and domineering heroes. Part of that fear was based on the time period these books were written in, 1988 to 1993, and part of it was because I didn’t have a strong memory of what my reading tastes were back then.

Well, I just recently finished re-reading the last of these long-lost treasures, and was delighted to discover that I didn’t have an affection for doormat heroines. Quite the opposite, in fact:

In Legal Tender by Kelsey Roberts, the heroine is an attorney struggling against both an apparent preference for male attorneys by the partners, and the frequent sexual harassment by the senior partner of the firm.

The heroine of A Dangerous Game by Candace Schuler is a private investigator and the daughter of a police officer. Due to her gender and diminutive stature, she struggles with not being taken seriously by men—notably her father and the hero.

The Seduction of Jake Tallman by Cait London features a heroine who is a high-powered CEO, and has earned a reputation as an ice princess/dragon lady. In order to get men to take her seriously, she’s had to become ruthless and highly competitive.
The heroine of Dreams, Part One and Dreams, Part Two by Jayne Ann Krentz is a business executive who’s just discovered that hard-work and dedication won’t get her beyond the glass ceiling, when she’s passed over for a promotion in favor of a less-experienced male co-worker.

See a pattern here? All of these heroines are strong female characters working in a male-dominated environment, and having to struggle against sexism. The heroes of these books are also surprisingly (or not so surprisingly) similar to each other. They are all alpha heroes with strong protective instincts, but who, in the end, realize that the women they love are strong and intelligent, and by the book’s end are treating them as equals. Hmm, these are just the kinds of books that I’m a sucker for today. What good taste I had back then! ;)

I also discovered that it’s nearly impossible to objectively evaluate a book that has so many nostalgic memories wrapped up in it. While I would like to think that I still love these books because they are all just that good, I know that fond memories play a part, too. When I re-read the first line of Legal Tender, a huge grin split my face and I was awash with happy feelings. Was it because the opening line is spectacular? No, it was just memories and excitement over finding a long-lost book I loved.

Each of these books contains problems that I recognized now, but didn’t even notice back then. In The Seduction of Jake Tallman, for example, the heroine is a 38 year old virgin who mistakenly believes she lost her virginity many years ago. Seriously, it’s laughable. If I came across the same plot point in a book today I would throw it down in disgust. But it brings back happy memories and makes me feel good, so to hell with plausibility.

The results of my experiment are somewhat mixed, but on the whole quite positive. I’m happy to know that I wasn’t a fan of doormat heroines, and only slightly disappointed to realize these books weren’t the perfect stories I’d remembered them being. I’m glad I took the time to track them down, and loved re-reading them all—they’ll remain on my keeper shelf for years to come.

Have your reading tastes changed since you first started reading romance? If you’re a long-time reader, what have you thought when you went back to reread an old favorite? Do you think nostalgic memories of a particular book allow you to overlook things that would annoy you in a current release?

-Katie Mack

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19 Responses to Re-Reading Old Favorites

  1. library addict says:

    I’m a frequent rereader of certain books, but certainly have not reread all the books I consider “favorites.”

    My early romance reading experiences actually formed my likes and dislikes. Since I read a bit of every type of category romance (including the now defunct Loveswept, Kismet, and multiple lines by Jove and Candlelight) as well as historicals, contemporary, and early paranormal (before the sub-genre really exploded) I read a few gems and a whole lot of books that one wonders how they were ever published. If I read enough books with certain plot elements that were poorly executed or simply didn’t work for me as a reader, the particular trope went on my “do not like” list.

    The first book I read by Jayne Ann Krentz was Trust Me back in 1995. I reread it last year and enjoyed it very much the second time around. From reading some of the threads here at AAR I am not at all sure some of my old Sandra Brown categories will have stood the test of time. But I keep them all because I spent about 2 years tracking down her backlist (back in the days before we shopped on-line and I actually wrote snail mail to used book sellers all over the US – LOL). I have very fond memories of early Carole Buck, Jennifer Greene, Justine Davis, Naomi Horton, and Lee Manger categories and think most of their books will have stood the test of time. The early (first 5 or 6) books in Rachel Lee’s Conard County series are actually markedly better than the books that came later IMO.

    I do find when I reread books that characters I tolerated the first time around drive me bonkers during rereads. I was much more forgiving of TSTL behavior, usually by the heroine, in my earlier days than I am now. But I still enjoy well written arrogant alpha jerk heroes provided the end of the books worked for me the first time around. I don’t necessarily like them as much in more current books, but for whatever reason they still work for me in the older romances. Nostalgia is certainly a factor there.

  2. Victoria S says:

    Hi, my name is Vickey and i am a re-reader! Yes, I re-read favorites so much I should be in a program. I re-read while waiting for new books to come out. I re-read when I get near the end of a book I don’t want to end, to put off reading the last few chapters. I re-read when i get a pile of new books, and don’t want to start reading them yet. I have re-read All the “In Death ” books, all the “Cynsters” all the “Arcane Society” novels, all the Mary Balogh “Slightly” books, all Agatha Christie’s..well you get the picture.
    If I buy a book I would not re-read, when I am done it goes to a used book store or to a relative. I ONLY KEEP BOOKS I KNOW I’LL RE-READ. Everything and I do mean everything else goes out of my house to make room for a true “Desert Island Keeper”! I have found that my tastes have changed over the years, and when I purge my bookshelves, if I haven’t re-read a book in quite a while—out it goes to make room for a keeper. I like re-reading a book almost as much the 10th time as the first !

  3. Estella says:

    I am not a rereader. I started out reading Barbara cartland and now read Lariossa Ione, Maya Banks, Alyssa Aaron, Anya bast and Claire Thompson.
    I guess you could say my taste in books has evolved over the years(50+).

  4. RobinB says:

    I’m a re-reader also, but I don’t re-read whole books (don’t really have the time, plus my TBR stacks are quite high!). What I sometimes do is re-read sections of a previously read book that I thought were particularly exciting and/or well-written. Some of my favorite sectional re-reads are from the early books in the Outlander series, and both the Silk series and the Fallen Angels series. Speaking of the latter two, I’m looking forward to Mary Jo Putney’s return to historical romance this summer. Much as I liked the alternate reality books she’s written recently, my favorite romantic fiction is a good historical, which Ms. Putney excels at!

  5. Danielle D says:

    I love to reread some of my “comfort reads” even though some of them are no longer politically correct — some of these books were the very first ones that I read when I started reading romance. I keep a few by the side of bed and when I can’t sleep I pick up one of these books and read maybe two chapters in the middle of the book or the ending.

  6. Claire says:

    I tried rereading The Flame and the Flower a few years ago after reading it back in 1980 and boy was I disappointed. I think generally it has to do with the time period it was written. A lot of the 1980′s or 70′s stuff, I feel pretty sure I won’t like it today. I can’t understand now how I thought Brandon raping Heather was in any way romantic in TFATF unless it was the groveling he had to go through to get her in the end.

    There are some books in the 90′s that have stood the test of time and some that have not for me. I recently read a few Linda Howards from the 90′s and I was disgusted at the alpha jerk behavior.

    One of my first series romances was in 1980 Harlequin Presents by Penny Jordan and I loved it. I remember her books had similar one word titles at the time like Obsession, Possession.. etc. I remember my heart beating faster when the heroine says the view was beautiful and the hero said yes but he was looking at her! Those were the days.

  7. Katie Mack says:

    library addict – I too was much more tolerant of TSTL behavior and alpha-jerk heroes in the past than I am today.

    Victoria S – I also only keep books I plan on re-reading. If I kept every book I read I’d have no place to sit down!

    RobinB – I usually re-read the entire book, but sometimes a particular scene will come to mind and I find I just want to re-read that one scene right away.

    Claire – At least your Penny Jordan memories can help make up for the disappointment in TFATF!

  8. Lorena says:

    I love to reread my favorites books. Like Katie, there are some that I remember so fondly that just thinking about them makes me smile. I recently reread Johanna Lindsey’s [b]Fires of Winter[\b], a book I loved when I originally read it in 1980-1981. I was stunned when reading it a couple of months ago to see that the hero backhanded the heroine across the face. I had completely forgotten about it. I realized that if it was a new read to me I probably wouldn’t even like it.

    Claire– I admit, I’m afraid to reread The Flame and The Flower. It was my very first romance novel back in the 70s and I LOVED it. I reread it throughout the 70s and loved it each time I read it. Certain passages are still seared into my brain. I’m not sure if it will hold up to the test of time, although The Wolf and The Dove is my all time favorite book, so it may.

  9. I started at the same age, almost the same way! 11 years old, with category romances my grandmother brought when she came to visit. I’d sneak into her room and steal them, stay up all night reading them, then put them back. The first book I really remember falling in love with, though, was the Shadow and the Star by Laura Kinsale. Oh, Samuel! *sob*

    I’d still call myself a Kinsale fan, but I’ve branched out into ever subgenre imaginable since then. Still, Shadow and Star totally withstands the test of time. Every couple of years, I reread it and lose my heart all over again.

  10. Regina Webb says:

    I hated to read. Until my cousin showed me the book she was reading (a historical romance) Well I started to read and I was hooked. I was 20 and It was back in the the late 70′s. Before I knew it I had a nice little collection of about 50 or so books.
    I got married and had children and stopped reading (no time). My collection of books was ruined by a flood. About three and a half years ago I found three books from my original collection behind a draw (hidden treasure). They were separated from the others and survived and in good condition. That made me miss the others and so began the search. I have purchased most of the titles but some still haunt me (unable to recall title or author).
    I have reread most of the books Woodwiss, Wilde, Rogers, Lindsey and Peters. Some with fond memories others were harsh and brutal. I wanted to see what I missing since the late 70′s early 80′s. So I went to Borders. I purchased a Stephanie Laurens book and nearly fell off my reading chair. My times have changed, so I bought the rest of her books. That was a little over three years ago and I have been reading ever since. With the help of the Top 100 Romance Poll and AAR Reviews Now I am in proud possession of approximately 650 books by 75 authors from the best of the best. Some of them I have read two or three times. Its like visiting old friends you laugh and cry and its all good.

  11. MaryK says:

    I’m definitely a re-reader. Some random thought will remind me of a book and make me want to read it again, or I’ll re-read a known good read to avoid dealing with my TBR pile.

    My tastes haven’t changed so much as refined. When I first started reading romance, I was so excited to finally find “my” genre that I read just about anything that looked good. Now that I’ve been reading romance for a while, I’m more discriminating because I’ve read “good” and “great” and can measure potential reads against them.

  12. Katie, when one of my aunts died a few years ago my cousin gave me a box of old M&B’s from the late sixties and early seventies. These were copies bought by my grandmother and circulated around the family. Some of them had been on our bookshelves at various times and I’d read them when I was about 10 or 11.
    I had a fabulous time (and got hay-fever) going through that box and re-reading books I’d forgotten. I even found the very first M&B I ever read, The Tender Leaves, by Essie Summers. As you say, impossible to read objectively with so much nostalgia in the way, but I thought they held up pretty well. Yes, they are very much of their time, but the characters are still crisp and fresh, and very few of the heroines could be described as a doormat.


  13. Katie Mack says:

    I love reading all your re-reading stories. A co-worker of mine asked me the other day, “If you’ve read a book once, why would you ever read it again?” And I was actually struck speechless because I had no idea how to put into words the pleasure I get from re-reading an old favorite. I ended up saying, “Because it’s really, really good.” I don’t think he understood. But I’m glad to see so many others do!

  14. Katie, does he ever re-watch a movie? My sister has limited space and doesn’t re-read much if at all, so she keeps very few books, although she probably reads as much as I do. I can understand it. We all read and experience books quite differently.
    There was a major clear out in my sons’ bedroom this weekend, starting with the bookshelf. Some we stacked for giveaway, just as many we stacked for “putting away” because we had all loved them so much! I’m the first to admit that I have a problem . . . and it looks like my youngest son has inherited it. He loves re-reads and some of the books are ones I loved as a child. Might be a topic for another column – childhood favourites, both our own, and for those of us old enough, our children’s faves. Interesting to see what’s still hot for the next generation.

  15. Roz says:

    I reread constantly a:- because there is comfort in visiting old friends ,in particular, Ravished by Amanda Quick ,in fact, come to think of it any Jayne Ann Krentz in any of her guises , and b:- I read about 200 pages an hour so there isn’t enough books out there to keep me going when I go on a reading jag . Nora Roberts , Diana Palmer, Christine Feehan , Lynne Graham and Dara Joy ( what has happened to her ) are other reread regulars. People think nothing of rewatching films and tv so why is there some incredulity when you dip into an old favourite ?

  16. Valerie V says:

    I am an avid rereader. I too reread between new books coming out. Sometimes, I just reread my favorite parts of a book. I tend to go through phases and reread all the books that I own by certain authors. For example, Skin Trade (by Laurell K. Hamilton) is coming out in June so I am currently rereading Anita Blake books. Last month, I was rereading my Sookie Stackhouse books in anticipation of the new Charlaine Harris book. I will reread the In Death series at any time. Same goes for Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series. My favorite books are like my favorite movies. I never get tired of reading them or seeing them again.

  17. Maria R. says:

    I’m so glad to see I’m not the only re-reader on the planet! At least once a year I’ll go through my old favourites: Nora Roberts, Susanna Kearsley, Jayne Anne Krentz, Patricia Gaffney, Agatha Christie, Jane Austen, Amanda Quick, La Vryle Spencer, Laura Kinsale, some Eloisa James, J.D. Robb, Marianne Keyes, Jane Feather, Brenda Joyce and Julia Quinn and yes, those politically incorrect Mills and Boons from when I first started to read romances. Not to mention my M. M. Kayes with definate imperialist leanings…

    Actually, I prefer to re-read and it is rare that a new book finds it’s way to my Keepers. I’ll even go on line for hours looking for a book I read years ago! I agree with Victoria S., though. Every year some books fall by the way-side (most recently all but two of my Julie Garwoods!!!) and I hand them on to a younger generation to get all the pleasure I had before something about them started to drive me round the bend!

  18. konnie says:

    i am looking for a book i read in the early 1980′s, but i can not remember the author, it was about the same time, kathleen woodiwiss had her big titles out and as well lindsey,and laurie mc bain. In this book it’s 2 central characters marry, in lousiana but then takes her to his home in texas, there is an infant, named nicholas, but he does not believe it is his son until one day, the child is left in patio fails holding on to fountain, when he picks up the child, he sees in the child’s eyes, it could only be his child, the mother has let the father with the doubt.

    Can anyone tell me the name of this book or author that likely wrote this romance book

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