My first review here at AAR was published May 17, 2007 — almost exactly four years ago. When I first started reviewing here, I was finishing up my senior year in high school. My first package of books coincided very closely with my AP tests — what a dilemma! Now, four years and 200 reviews later, is another landmark in my personal life: on Sunday, I graduated cum laude from American University with a degree in International Studies.
Saying that I have a degree in something makes it sound like I know a lot more than I feel that I do. (My roommate assures me that I do, in fact, know more about international studies than the average person – an endorsement of my school if there ever was one.) I’m still not entirely sure what I want to do with myself. I am lucky enough to have plans for the next year, working with the homeless through the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. But after that… who knows?
Romance novels have been constant companions throughout college. I remember waiting for a New Student Orientation session to start, reading Dockside by Susan Wiggs for review, and being delighted when the heroine’s daughter was attending American University. I’ve brought books with me everywhere. There’s always been a book in my bag and a box or shelf or drawer of books in my bedroom, in the six different places I’ve lived these past four years. It has certainly given me a different perspective, both as a college student that reads romance novels and a romance novel reader that is a college student. I read more than my classmates and friends. (Well, I read for pleasure more than they.) They have been the subject of papers and essays and projects, and have inspired them, despite some lingering academic prejudice. I once had a conversation with a literature professor in which she asked me, “But aren’t romance novels just about women finding a man to provide for them?”
I’m also younger than the average reader and heroine. In some ways, this puts me at a disadvantage; I’ve never held a full-time job, for goodness sake — though this will soon change. In the grand scheme of Major Life Events, I’m on the early end of the spectrum, not having been married, had children, lived by myself, or even been in a serious long-term relationship. Sometimes I wonder if that affects how I experience the novels. Age is something I think about fairly often; at my current part-time job, the majority of my coworkers are at least 70 years old, some of them in their nineties. I was blown away when I realized that my beloved coworker Jennie was nearly seventy years old when I was born.
The breadth of experiences in a person’s life is not always defined by age, but it certainly plays a part, and I’ve frequently wondered about how that influences both reading and writing. Do I see heroines differently? Is my reading experience different than that of someone my mother’s age? I may cringe when a socially tone deaf writer puts a fanny pack on a contemporary heroine in 2011, but this isn’t something limited to the young. I know of several seventy-year-olds who would be just as sartorially offended as my peers in their early twenties. Age is a factor, but it’s not the only factor. I’m young, but curious and well-traveled, and have friends who have lived very different lives than my own. In fact, sometimes the life experiences of friends have been more influential and eye-opening than my own.
College has been pretty good to me. I made some truly wonderful lifelong friends. I got to travel. I struggled personally, particularly with being diagnosed with trichotillomania, but am graduating on a high note. I’ve had my share of drunken mishaps and poor judgment calls, but not nearly as many as most. Through it all, I’ve had romance novels by my side. It was during these college years that I really began to understand the genre and its intricacies, and yet I have much more to learn, many more books to read, and a lot more to write. Now, at least, I don’t have to worry about homework.
– Jane Granville