The One Where Abi Is All Bark, No Bite and Living
in the Caribbean
In this episode Abi spends five lackluster minutes
in her local bookstore searching for a romance book
on the romance shelf. All she can find is some Zane,
several Nicholas Sparks, an understandably mislocated
Carl Hiassen (title: Skinny
Dip; cover: pink) and the
literary compendium of Danielle Steel.
She asks herself why she even bothers and heads over
to the only romance bookstore on the island, a thirty
minute drive away. It is a closet romance store. Mystery
and horror titles take up three quarters of the space
but there are always at least four women butt-brushing
in the cramped romance aisles while a lone gentleman
can peruse Dean Koontz unmolested and at his leisure.
As she enters the store, Abi hopes Loretta
Scandalous Ways has arrived. If she has
to wait one more day she will throw credit card debt
to the wind and purchase it on Amazon. Alas...it
has not arrived.
Abi browses for about forty minutes. She narrowly
misses out on the latest and last Julia
the lady to her right has eyes like a hawk and hands
faster than Usain Bolt’s
feet. Damn it!
Abi rents four books: Susan
Baby But Mine, Kathleen
Thomas’Delicious and Marjorie
Liu’s Soul Song. She’ll buy them later
if she likes any but appreciates the opportunity to
borrow now. On her way home Abi stops off at the bank.
It’s month-end so the queue will be hideously
long. She tucks her Blaze into her purse, a nifty travel
companion and decides to bring Soul
Song along too.
There is a hot, presumably naked man on the Liu cover
but Abi is really not bothered. Who cares? She certainly
doesn’t. She’ll read what she wants, when
she wants, where she wants!
She wonders whether she should keep Soul
at home and take the SEP instead. Not that the generic
yellow cover and barely discernible graphics of the
SEP have anything to do with this. To prove her point,
she will take Delicious, undone corset and all, strangers
in the bank bedamned. No, she will stick with her original
choice. Naked man comes with her.
The bank queue rivals that for Space Mountain at Disney
World. Abi recognizes her excellent foresight in bringing
along two books to while away the hour. She takes out
her O’Reilly. Gee, is there any other book in
the world more recognizable than a Harlequin? The Bible.
Maybe. She folds the cover back tightly and as far
as it can go because it’s easier to read that
way, not for any...other...reason.
Gosh, that heroine Cleo sure has some vivid sexual
dreams. The word "impaling" seems
extra stark against the white of the page, what with
it being in black ink and all. It even looks larger
than the other words and - Abi stops reading and glances
to her right - is that man looking over her
shoulder? How rude! She wonders if he can see the words
stallion large, fluid
stroke, potency, and well
endowed. They are in flashing neon lights so
if the color red didn’t clue him in, the
smut talk would for sure. Most importantly however,
he needed to mind his own damn business.
Abi flips past the rest of Cleo’s dream and
continues to read. Cleo and Sean are turning out to
be quite sexually active. But most importantly, she
cannot read with that man breathing down her back!
She is forced to return the O’Reilly to her purse.
As she slips it in, the Liu falls to the floor, face
up. Sweet Jesu. Not that it matters! So what? She can
read what she wants, when she wants, where she wants!
The woman in front of her offers assistance where it
is not needed and retrieves the Liu. Abi is not imagining
it; there is a smirk on her stupid, ignorant face.
Long walk, short pier okay, lady?
Abi returns the naked man to her purse and decides
to watch the TV instead. BBC America. She is au
courant with world news and intensely interested in all the
Finished with the bank, Abi walks back to her car.
Inside, she pulls out all four books, gives them a
few random flips and reads their blurbs again to decide
on appropriate reading order for when she is home.
The O’Reilly will be good for a lazy Friday night
and she is mentally quibbling over leaving Delicious or the SEP for last when someone knocks on her window.
An acquaintance! Friendly but not friends, you know
how that goes.
Hello, hello. Today was just too hot! TGIF. Indeed.
What books are those? Oh, just some romances I picked
up for the weekend. Ha ha, ha ha. I must lend you my
Great West Indian Author, seminal work! Ok, sure, thanks.
Acquaintance moves on. Abi searches for her backbone
because it is missing. She thinks of all the romances
she’s read and compares the best of them with
the best of the Great Authors. Romance more than holds
its own. She does not care what the critics say.
Or so she says?
I read romance in public all the time but there are
occasions - many more than I like - when
I become self-conscious and choose to hide my choice
of reading material. It may depend on the cover (anything
starring Fabio), the title (Sex,
Straight Up for example),
the sexual content (I had a hard time reading Mine
Till Midnight by Lisa
Kleypas while standing in a line)
or simply my surroundings (do I know anybody in the
queue? Are people close together or is there a comfortable
amount of personal space?) but notwithstanding my desire
to be romance-reading and proud, I can’t say
I’ve reached the position where I am 100% confident
in 100% of situations, flashing my books around.
In the example I gave above, I disparage romance novels
by prefacing them with the descriptor "just," as in
"nothing imporant." However, I also
have moments where I enter a defensive mode. On those
occasions, I hold my book directly in front my face
and dare anybody to say anything, anything at all about
that half dressed woman atop silk sheets or that book
called Burning Desire. In defensive
mode, I am also extra happy and very loud. If that
acquaintance had met me in the bank queue I would have
said for all of town and country to hear: "I’m
reading a Harlequin Blaze, you know, a romance, like
Mills & Boon.
So far, so good. I’m enjoying it, particularly
the hot sex scenes," or something similarly
Disparagement and defensiveness are two sides of the
same coin of shame. I look forward to that day when
I can answer a "what are you reading?" question
with a factual answer, devoid of any emotion. "A
romance," I will say, as indistinct in
inflection from "a medical suspense" with
no compunction to give a wry, accompanying smile; no
urge to chuck the book to the side and disavow ownership.
I enjoyed Jane G’s column last week and aspire
to that level of pride in my reading choices. I’m
not interested in being a romance activist to the wider
world so much as activating my own sense of self however.
I truly believe some of the best writing in modern
literature can be found within the romance canon and
yet, yet - too often I lose my backbone. I
have found it of infinite more ease to bark about the
quality of romance than to follow up with an explanatory
bite. Or in a more relevant cliché, unrestrained
public support for romance novels is easier said than
Do you ever chicken out while reading your romance
books in public? Do you have a jacket cover for example
or are your spines horribly bent in your quest to hide
all six of Fabio’s packs from the man opposite
you on the train? If you don’t suffer through
any of these personal crises, please offer words of
wisdom to those of us that do.