The Best? Or the Favorites?

When I submitted my entries for the 2007 Top 100 Romance Poll, my exposure to romance novels was still fairly limited.  But in the past three years my reading has expanded in both breadth and depth, stretching across genres and eras and sensuality ratings.  My list of TBR books and Auto-Read authors has doubled in length, and I’ve found much delight in some damn good books that have come across my way.  However, this also leaves me with a quandary: With so many books to choose from, do I vote for the best, or my favourite?

After all, the poll’s title (“Top 100”) can be open to interpretation, and for me the two are not necessarily mutual.  For instance, I think Nora Roberts’s Angels Fall is one of her best books.  Plot, character, setting, structure, dialogue – you name it, she aces it.  I really enjoyed it, both times I read it, and I’ll continue to re-read it.  But do I read it as often as I read Sweet Revenge?  Hell no.  Sweet Revenge is faulty, but every time I read it I store away my critic’s hat and just enjoy.  I need my annual fix of the un-tannable Englishman and felonious Arabian princess.  However, when it came time to rank the books, my head overruled my habits, and Angels Fall went in at #6 with Sweet Revenge at #69.  Ditto Connie Brockway’s My Dearest Enemy and Bridal Favors. I re-read the latter probably twice as much as the former, but I think the former is the better book.  So I listed them as #10 and #22 respectively.

But did I ever claim to be consistent?  I hope not, because I did the exact reverse with Jane Austen:  The inimitable Pride and Prejudice came out in the top three, and Persuasion at #21.  In a way, that’s totally unfair.  I really do think Persuasion is a better book than P&P.  It’s more succinct, it shows more maturity, and displays a greater range of characterization.  But I’d be lying if I said Darcy and Elizabeth are anything but my favourite romance couple ever.  And isn’t that what this list is about?  The top 100 Romances?

So I’m not fretting about it.  I find as I read more and more, a strange thing happens: I become simultaneously more critical and more tolerant.  Experience has given me a better foundation from which to judge books, but it also continually reminds me that enjoyment – bottom line – is the goal.  Three years ago, my Top 100 list had some books that I’d rated well critically, but that I probably wouldn’t read again, for whatever reason.

This year, I’ve gotten more discerning.  However often I read them, I’ve only listed books that I will continue to read.  And that makes perfect sense.  Re-reading means I enjoyed the romance, full stop.  In other words, these are my favourite, and the best, romances.

So, since the poll closed last night, tell us how you voted.  Did you go for the best, your favorites, or a mixture of both?

-        Jean AAR

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18 Responses to The Best? Or the Favorites?

  1. I get down to about number ten with my heart and my head in full agreement – past number ten it’s a battle. Those old Elizabeth Lowell’s I’ve reread a thousand times despite the un-pc-ness (can’t tell you why I hyphenated that) and the repetitive nature of her books from book to book – they still made the list despite thier flaws. I was late to the sharon and Tom Curtis – just tried to read some this last year and they just don’t work for me coming into them now – they did not make the list.

  2. Sandy C. says:

    I was true to myself and listed my 100 favorite romances, 49 of which turned out to be category romances from the 80s and 90s. In fact, my #1 book is “A Very Special Favor” by Kristin James. Why? Because in times of great stress, that’s the book I always turn to. The cover is held together with tape by this point! It’s not an amazing book, but it’s a modern Cinderella story, which I’ve always been a sucker for, and it’s sweet with no unnecessary angst or silly misunderstandings – comfort food with no calories!

    I had a little trouble figuring out where to put certain books (this one should rank higher than that one!), but yes, it does come down to enjoyment – and for me, how many times I reread each book. I also listed three old Elizabeth Lowell books (“Fever”, “Dark Fire”, and “Fire and Rain”), Molly, so don’t feel alone!

    When looking at other people’s lists, with so many titles and authors I’ve never heard of, maybe I should branch out more. My list might look very different the next time AAR does this poll. :)

  3. marcella says:

    That list was hard to put together!
    I chose all books with my heart instead of my head. Lots of comfort reads have therefore made in into my top 100.
    Only wish I had read more books by now, the list feels so incomplete. I still feel there’s so much to discover out there.

  4. Karenmc says:

    I spent weeks on my list, dealing with the same issue. I even re-read two books to confirm where I was placing them. It finally came down to which of two books would I rather keep, and the one I could live without moved down on the list. I guess that means my critic’s hat was slipping off, but none of the books on my list (the final count was in the seventies) are poorly written or what might be considered guilty pleasures.

    I already had a tentative top ten list, and when I was finished with the big list, those initial ten were still pretty much at the top. My number one book never moved, and I was a bit surprised after all the other jockeying that went on further down the list.

  5. lindajean says:

    After a fair amount of dithering, I decided to go with my heart — all of the books in the top 50 were ones that I had read at least twice. After that, I tried for a good mix of old favorites and new discoveries. The list is heavy on Georgette Heyer and Mary Stewart, as I have re-read those many a time. I could have put in almost all the Heyer books, but tried to control myself and list only the very top faves like Venetia and The Grand Sophy and Devil’s Cub …

  6. Pat says:

    Oh, my heart, my heart, I voted with my heart. I taught English composition at the college level for 20 years and have been a book reviewer since 1970–you do the math!–but threw away all those impediments when I wrote my list. I only ranked books I reread with no thought to classics or run-on sentences or literary value.

    As I said in response to another blog entry here, probably some in my top 10 are beloved only by me, but this means they at least got a few points in the grand scheme of things that they may make the overall 100 list.

    (An aside: I’m currently reading for review How to Marry a Duke by newcomer Vicky Dreiling and am really enjoying it.)

  7. bungluna says:

    I don’t have a critic’s hat. I am ruthless as to what books make it on my keeper shelf. There are some books I listed that were great but that I wouldn’t re-read again. I also left out some old favorites that get re-read as part of a beloved series without being individualy beloved. That said, I just couldn’t come up with 100 novels that I adore. Maybe next year…

  8. Renee says:

    Unfortunately, I did not vote this year. Every time I tried to put together my list, life got in the way. But I will say the two titles that consistently rolled around in my head when I was thinking about the poll were the Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer and Paradise by Judith McNaught. For whatever reason, I think the those two novels capture the essence of what attracted me to romance novels in the first place.

    • Tee says:

      Renee: Unfortunately, I did not vote this year. …snip… But I will say the two titles that consistently rolled around in my head when I was thinking about the poll were the Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer and Paradise by Judith McNaught.

      Too bad you didn’t even just vote those two, Renee. One would have received 100 points and the other 99.

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  10. Cindy says:

    I almost never re-read books – my TBR pile is just too enormous! The only three I can think of that I’ve read more than once are Pride and Prejudice; Cold Mountain; and The Witch of Blackbird Pond. But I do have a very short stack of books that I’ve kept just in case I ever want to read them again. Those books were my top 8 or so. Other than that I went back to my reading list and entered the books with stars. A book gets a star if I finish it with a tear in my eye and/or a big goofy smile on my face. I don’t really care much about “best”. I only had a eliminate a few stars to get my top 100. Worked for me!

  11. melinda says:

    Considering how small a percentage of the potential voters probably have advanced literature degrees, I think it’s a fair assumption that most of us don’t approach our reading with “contrast and compare” in our heads! I’m thinking the heart rules here. I keep a database of books, and when I finish one that I love, I just pop it into my Favorites section right then while I’m thinking about it. I will say it seems when there are spelling, grammar, structure, plotting and/or continuity errors that come to my attention, it often means I wasn’t enjoying the story that much anyway.

    I only managed to come up with 96 or so in that favorites list, and after the top 10 I just sorta guessed by 10s – you know, I like this group of 10 better than the other group of 10. This is my first year to vote – I think this is an incredibly useful and helpful list (thank you AAR!), so I want to support it as much as possible. I figure any method of coming up with your top picks is as valid as any other. I do have my absolute top 3 but even among them, I’m not sure which one is really #1!

    • Tee says:

      melinda: I only managed to come up with 96 or so in that favorites list, and after the top 10 I just sorta guessed by 10s – you know, I like this group of 10 better than the other group of 10. ….snip…. I figure any method of coming up with your top picks is as valid as any other. I do have my absolute top 3 but even among them, I’m not sure which one is really #1!

      Absolutely, melinda. I suspect, that as much as AAR uses this list and encourages their viewers to seek it out at times, even they realize that it’s not a perfect list. The books are the favorites of the readers that bothered to send them in and, hopefully, can be useful to new romance fiction readers, especially. I’m also finding the individual lists of others very interesting. But the bottom line here is that it’s done with fun and enjoyment. That’s what the majority of us read for. We do expect good writing and stories and are constantly encouraging that on the boards, but we’re here to enjoy. And that goes for whatever genre we love the best. Better yet, if we can love a few novels from each of them. So whether five picks were sent in or 100, they came from the heart. ♥

  12. dick says:

    What one favors, in my thinking, rarely has anything to do with thought. I like bread because my taste buds say oh yes when I chew it. My brain is ony tangentially involved.

  13. J says:

    I voted based on what books I loved – are they literary masterpieces? Heck no! Do they make me happy when I reread them, or think about them? Do they have scenes that years later stick out in my head? Are they angsty or sweet when I need them to be? Yes, Yes and Yes. So, 100% heart over head any time I am talking about loving a book, regardless of how others might perceive it or how well written it is.

  14. Lada says:

    I agree with J. This list was from my heart and about those books that made a lasting impression on me, for any number of reasons. I also updated my list quite a bit because so many newer authors have written some great books and my personal reading taste has evolved over time as well. I hope to see many new books and authors included this year and especially hope more contemporaries and paranormal make the cut!!

  15. Michael says:

    Question: I just realized that my entry was in the wrong format. I had it as rank, author, title instead of rank, title, author. Will my ballot still be counted?

  16. LinnieGayl says:

    Michael, not to worry. Your ballot will definitely be counted!

    LinnieGayl, one of the AAR Pollsters…who is STILL entering ballots :)

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