Issue #61 (November 1, 1998)

What To Do?
As I sit in my study at my keyboard, I can survey the bookshelves that comprise the entire room - they are filled with romance, and, for some reason, I can't find a thing to read. Yes, folks, I seem to be in a romance slump, which is why I've been reading a lot of non-romance books lately (I have to read something, you see). Like you, that's one of the things I do when I lose that romance groove. This time, however, it doesn't seem to be working, and I'm getting a bit panicky. Try explaining that panicky feeling to a person who is not an obsessed reader and they will look at you like you are from the planet Zoroth! I think I'll try re-reading one or two of my all-time favorites next - maybe that'll work.

One of the strangest things I've noticed during this break from romance reading is how much longer a book I can read when it isn't a romance. Most romances over 350 pages, historicals at least, seem padded to me; indeed, many in the 350-page range seem padded as well. I have a shorter attention span for romance novels than I do for general fiction. Before I started reading romance, I used to buy books by how thick they were - the thicker the better. Just a couple of weeks ago I tore through Wally Lamb's I Know This Much is True in a couple of days, and it weighs in at roughly 900 pages.

Anyone else notice that many of the longer romances seem harder to read? Perhaps it's inherent in the structure of the genre. When a book is focused on a love relationship, maybe there are only so many ways to fill the pages. I'd love to hear your ideas on this, but first I'll share with you what other readers say about getting out of a romance rut. Most of you who wrote in continue to read, but perhaps switch sub-genres, switch to another genre or general or non-fiction, or re-read a favorite or two (or three). Others go on magazine binges, which I've tried, but they just aren't substantial enough to be a good fix in my case. Still others, horror of horrors, actually go cold turkey on reading for a time. Some of you are actually in reading slumps right now - perhaps we could form a club of some sort and post about our feelings of desperation?

Here's a smattering of what you wrote in on this question:

Genia: "I read one of my favorites from the past to get back in the mood for more romances - the last few times it happened I picked up Son Of The Morning by Linda Howard once, and Lord Of The Storm by Justine Dare another time. I have a groaning shelf of keepers but return to about a dozen tried and true goodies as though they were chocolate (!) and they have a similar soothing effect."

Joan: "I usually take a long break from reading (a week or two) doing cleaning, cross-stitch, or just watching TV to unwind instead of reading. Sometimes, though, if a book leaves a particularly bad taste in my mouth, I read a book from my keeper shelf or a non-romance book."

Lainy: "I go back to my old standbys - Johanna Lindsey's Mallory series, Elizabeth Lowell's Untamed, Untouched, or Forbidden, or Jude Deveraux's Velvet series or The Conquest. I have read these over and over again. I read about 5-10 of them, and then I usually snap out of it."

Julie "I do something completely different for a while. It's usually a remodeling project or knitting for the winter - by the time the project is finished or everybody has enough mittens, I'm usually ready to read again."

Tamera: "In my tbr pile, I have titles that I save for 'special occasions' - reading slumps. The pile is made up of favorite authors, favorite plots, or books that have been raved about. Also in this pile are special books that I feel will be one night reads - you know, so good I will read all day and night just to finish? Another solution that has worked for me is to avoid reading for a week or two. By the end of my exile, I can usually find something that sounds good to me. I feel a reading slump indicates I have reached the saturation point of romances, and nothing I pick up will interest me. It's like taking a vacation to recover from burnout."

Deanna: "Are we talking winter or summer here? I'm from northern New England, and if I go through a reading slump in the winter the first thing I do is pull out my hair. No, seriously, I don't think I can go through reading slumps in the winter....I have to read during the winter. Good or bad. During the summer, I quit reading all together if I get into a slump for a week. There are other things to do, hike, swim, and play tennis, until I cannot wait to get back to reading. All that healthy non-sedentary activity starts to stress me out after a while until I'm dying to read. After all, isn't that why we were blessed with Garwood? She's always great for a re-read."

Angel: "When I am sick of romance (did I really say that???) I will switch off and read a true crime novel or mystery. I may pick up my cross-stitch for a few nights or watch a good movie. Another great remedy for the slumps is a trip to Barnes & Noble to the bargain shelves...last time I got one on photographs of the Civil War, one on Russian Royalty and one on Letters from women on Wagon Trains...great change of pace. Then in a week or two, I am ready for a good, old juicy romantic tumble with a hot hunk and a gutsy heroine! Slump solved!!!"

Monica: "I am currently in a reading slump. As you can see, I'm cruising the 'Net! I also like to go to the book store and find a novel with an eye catching cover to restart my romance engines."

Alecia: "I go back to a tried and true. Upon reading the 2nd (3rd, 4th, 5th) time, the emotional punch is usually lessened, but I still feel as though I spent my time wisely, not wasting it on some 'throw it against the wall to hear the bang' junk story. And usually after the 2nd time through, the 'I don't want to read anything else blues' are not as prevalent as they were the first time."

Benita: "To get out of a romance slump sometimes I reread favorite romance novels, and sometimes I read or reread totally different types of books. For example lately I've reread The Grapes of Wrath and Animal Farm. I also read a few books in Spanish like Cien anos de soledad and Boquitas Pintas (100 Years of Solitude and Heartbreak Tango). After a couple of weeks hiatus from romance novels, I am now reading the release of High Energy by Dara Joy. It feels good to be back!"

Sabrinne: "Usually I give up romance for a while and read those books that my friends recommended to me a couple of months ago but I was too busy reading other books to pay attention to. Just a while ago I fell into a romance reading slump so I read a few of Dean Koontz's books and they were fantastic, it was what I needed to clear my head a little but eventually I picked up a Nora Roberts and began reading again."

What To Do? The Flip Side:
The flip side of being in a romance reading slump after having read one too many sub-standard romances is determining what to read after you've read a fabulous romance by which everything else pales in comparison.

Maudeen Wachsmith's article, I Got Dem Just Gone Done With A Really Good Book Blues, posted last year at AAR, tackles this question. Since I only read a handful of books a year that are of this level, this is not a problem I face very often. But it does come up from time to time. After reading Elizabeth Lowell's Too Hot to Handle this summer, I knew I wouldn't be able to read another romance for awhile - this book was one of those that brought my emotions so close to the surface that I felt it in my skin. I was so raw after reading this book that I had to leave the romance genre altogether; I had to cleanse my palate.

Here's a link to Maudeen's article, which is followed by reader comments on what they do when they have those Just Got Done With a Really Good Book Blues. There's a link directly back to this column when you're finished. If you want to weigh in on this topic, use the email link on the Blues page.

Always Reading:
If you are like Alecia (see reader comments to Maudeen's article) or me, you simply have to read. Doesn't matter what it is - cereal box, shampoo bottle, air freshener ingredients, whatever is handy at the moment. (Whoever emailed me that she reads in the shower, please let me know (again) how you keep the book from getting wet!) AAR Reviewer Blythe is the same way, She really identifies "with the 'always reading' problem. I have trouble even watching TV without a book in my hand. Eating without something in front of me drives me crazy. When I am visiting someone else's house and there is no newspaper to read at breakfast, I have to contain the desperate, panicky feeling. When I saw my little girls playing house and they borrowed a newspaper for the table ('because tables need newspapers, mom'), I knew the apples hadn't fallen far from the tree."

Deanna is another reader who has to have a book in her hands at all times - she wrote, "Has anyone figured out how to read while flossing? I always drop the book. I've tried to hold it with my feet, but it always slides out!" Reader Teri, btw, recommends using a flosser; I guess she reads while she flosses as well.

Heidi wrote that she too is always reading, whether it is the yellow pages in a motel, or a list of ingredients in a bottle of hairspray (aren't those chemicals hard to pronounce? The ones on air freshener are harder to read than those on shampoo, but I've never tried hairspray before). Both Heidi and Shelley like to read on their lunch break, and are amazed at how many people are amazed to see someone reading. Shelley wonders, however, why people assume it's okay to interrupt her lunch hour with business questions, as does AAR Reviewer Ellen. She wrote, "I'm getting very, very tired of people who think it's weird to read while I'm taking my coffee break, or after I've finished lunch, or if there is nothing on the TV. If I hear, 'Oh you're always reading' again in that supercilious tone of voice that some people have been using lately, I'm going to scream and throw things (not my book of course). Sorry for the rant, but I'm beginning to think readers are rare."

Marjorie also reads all the time, during commercials (another TV reader!), when on hold on the phone, when pages are loading on the computer, and even, at times, when she's walking. She added, "I am a little too paranoid to drive in heavy traffic, although I have seen people reading the newspaper. I read on my breaks at work and during lunch. I even keep a selection of paperbacks in my glove compartment in case some unexpected waiting comes up or I finish the book in my purse before I expected (as a side issue - you might do a little survey on how many purse straps we have broken due to carrying books and how many of us take books into consideration whenever we by a purse). In addition, I read signs, flyers, menus, boxes, truck panels and - my favorites - bumper stickers and vanity plates (my current favorite HIOFSIR)."

Ann is much like Marjorie; although she draws the line at reading while walking because she's "seen too many people crash into light poles." Like Marjorie, she's been tempted to read while driving, but has never crossed that particular line. I'll 'fess up here - I have, but only at stoplights, and it's been an unconscious type of thing. I'll find myself getting honked at when the light turns green, and I won't even have remembered picking up the darn book!

Katsy is another reader who has been reading the backs of cereal boxes and billboards on long trips since childhood. While her children were growing, she always had something to read during while waiting for Little League practice, dance lessons, or music lessons to be over. She reads, "Every time I have a dental or doctor's appointment I have a new romance with me. It keeps my mind off of some occasional unpleasant procedures and of course is loads better than the ancient magazines which are kept in most waiting rooms. I am the organist at our church. Occasionally I have to play for more than one Mass on a weekend, so after I have heard the sermon once, I feel that I can read during the sermons for the next Mass or two. (I can get away with this since the choir loft is in the back of church and I found a quiet little corner)"

Christine was pleased to discover that there are others who read the backs of cereal boxes. She wrote, "I thought it might be an aberration peculiar to my family. My father did, I did, all my siblings did, and my children do." Other card-carrying members of the cereal box club include Lisa, who remembers reading them at the breakfast table as a child. She cannot be without a book, and reads "while waiting for food to heat in the microwave, while on hold on the telephone, while waiting for my children at various classes or events.....you name a place or a time and I am probably reading. Most people think it is odd, but I have found people through the years who understand perfectly. Those people have become my good friends more often than not." Then there is Teresa, whose parents used to laugh at her for reading cereal boxes. She rarely goes anywhere without a book, and counts herself lucky for finding a compatible husband who is the same; they often read at the table during dinner, and neither gets offended.

Teri, who always promises "When I'm an old lady, I shall wear purple," reads when she goes fishing, which used to prompt her beloved late father-in-law to comment, "Whut the hayell you gonna do, Teri, read out loud ta them fish?"

If you are enjoying what these bookaholics had to say, please click here for a full page on You Know You're a Bookaholic When. . . .

That Reminds Me. . .
When I asked readers to post about "always reading," Kathy wrote this:

Why is it that no one I know will admit to liking and reading romance novels? Whenever I ask a friend what they are reading, they usually tell me about some self-help book or 10 Steps to a Better Hair Day type book they just finished. But peek behind the glossy hard bound editions and dry How To's on their bookshelves and guess what? Yep there they are!!! The novels with the hero and heroine in a passionate embrace! Titles that include the words: Savage! Desire! Passion! On the other, I display my paperbacks proudly for all to see! Most, my favorites at least, I have read and reread so many times they are falling apart. My husband teases me also, calling them 'bodice rippers'. He also knows that when I get a new book, I am 'checked out' for the evening! And yes, I am always reading!! And when my friends ask me what I'm reading I tell them loud and proud about the latest, GASP!!!! romance novel or newest author I've discovered. The friend in question usually wrinkles her nose and tells me she's just not into that anymore....uh huh, yeah, right. The next week we are visiting again and as she goes to refill our tea, I always go and sneak a peek behind the 'presentation books and, hey, well, what do you know? It seems that my friends' guilty pleasures stash continues to grow. Hmmm. Imagine that!"

Kathy's posting reminded me of my own situation. Yes, me, Laurie Likes Books, whose work day revolves around the romance novel, sometimes does not proudly proclaim the type of book I write about when queried, particularly when queried by someone who works with my husband. We were at a business-related dinner party this summer and I was in a discussion about reading historical novels with a partner's wife, and when she discovered they were historical romance novels, all conversation ceased. Later that night I discovered my husband had practically been handing out our bookmarks - seems he doesn't let the "bodice ripper" bugaboo bother him as much as I sometimes do. What about you, and/or your friends?

More on Reader Idiosyncrasies:
We've talked about glomming (first discussed more than two years ago in Issue #9 of this column), GWHR(glomming without having read), "saving" books, reading from back to front, and now we've talked about reading while taking a shower. What are some other idiosyncrasies readers have 'fessed up about? Here's a sampling:

Mark writes that he buys books knowing he won't be able to read them for years. With my tbr shelves of 600 or so romances, well know this feeling. I continue to buy romances today, even though I can't possibly read them fast enough. But to consider not buying more until I catch up seems more ludicrous than continuing to buy. As for those books Mark continues to buy, "I buy (them) when I find them because I know how hard it can be to get them laterómany books go out of print very quickly and availability in used book stores is unpredictable. My unread romance books number in the hundreds and unread SF in the thousands, but I won't start a new book unless I can finish it the same day. I reread favorites a lotóI will reread a book over a period of several days when time doesn't permit a one-day read. In fact, I currently make sure I get a daily dose of humor by rereading part of a funny romance."

Kathy, like many a glommer before her, will not read books that are part of a series until she gets the whole series. She waited, for example, to read Nora Roberts' Dreaming series until she had all three books. While this may work with established authors, this can be, in fact, GWHR, and it can be dangerous. Why, I've bought all five of the (proposed three-book) Merlin's Legacy series by Quinn Taylor Evans. Will I ever read the series? What if I don't like the first one I read?

Teresa tends to "buy books and keep them often for two or three years before reading them, like another reader who commented, until the right mood strikes me. Also, with books based on something historical where I know something bad will happen I read about 3/4 of the way through then stop and leave the book, often for months, then go back and finally finish. And, I often put down a book I'm really enjoying and again, leave it for months before going back to it. Why? Because I like to be able to stretch it out, rather than reading it through really quickly. Can't explain it more than that. Other books I'm really enjoying I'll just keep reading till they're done. I guess again that it all depends on my mood. My husband can't figure out my penchant for reading 2 or 3 books at the same time - usually a romance/historical fiction, a mystery and a non-fiction book."

Many of us are multiple readers - I often have three or so books going at a time, although with magazines, I have to just finish it and toss it in the trash to have that satisfied feeling. I have often stopped in the middle of a good book either right before or after something bad happens because I need to wait to handle the intensity. But while I can't relate to stopping in the middle of a good book for longer than a day or so (that's about how long I can delay gratification!), apparently Carol can. She wrote, "I do virtually everything that Teresa does except I don't necessarily stop at a place where something bad is going to happen. It can be anywhere! I'm always reading multiple books. If it is a great book, however, I will usually blast right through it! I have a pretty good memory. I can remember everything right up to the point I left off. I assume Teresa does too."

Is it Good or Not?
One of my idiosyncrasies is that I'm a crank. I can read a romance and be thoroughly enjoying it, and then come across a sub-plot towards the end, or encounter a twist of plot three quarters through a romance that, in essence, destroys the entire read. This has happened at least twice with romances that went on to become favorites with other readers. Most recently, it happened with Edith Layton's The Cad. This book started out as a keeper for me, and would have earned an A had the author not written the lengthy hero/heroine separation she did.

Two readers whom I greatly respect, including AAR Reviewer Marianne Stillings, also found this separation, and its attenuating circumstances, problematical. And yet, Marianne graded the book a B+. My grade? A C-. My other friend said if she had graded it, she would have given The Cad a B-. All three of us absolutely loved the first two-thirds of this book, and yet, as much as they disliked some 80 or so pages, they ended up placing this book on their recommended list.

Are you fairly forgiving, or can you be as cranky as I am? This may tie into the padding issue I briefly hit upon earlier in this column, because it is often those sub-plots which appear towards the end of a romance which can transform a recommended read into a merely average one. All of a sudden, a clever and different premise becomes mundane and stereotypical. While that wasn't the case with The Cad, it was the case with Hidden Magic, which I reviewed when I was at The Romance Reader.

The Message Board:
It's time to post to the message board again. Here are the questions I'd like you to consider responding to:

Romance Reading Slumps - Are you in one now? Do you get a panicked feeling when you are in one, as though you're never going to love another romance novel again? Do you do what other readers do to get out of your slumps? How long was your longest dry spell?

Romance versus Non-Romance - Do you prefer shorter or longer romances, shorter or longer non-genre fiction? Do some romances give you the feeling they were padded by an editor's request to fulfill a word count? Buying books by their thickness - does that strike a chord? Do you "tolerate" or prefer longer non-genre fiction than genre fiction?

Romance Reading Slumps: The Flip Side - Do you do what other readers do after you've read such a magnificent romance that others pale by comparison? (You can post here or send me an email from Maudeen's article page.

Always Reading - Are you always reading? Will anyone 'fess up to reading while driving or while stopped at a red light? Do you get the feeling others think you are odd because you enjoy reading as a leisure activity?

Still Embarassed (Sometimes)? - Are you still sometimes embarassed to have people know you read romance? Do you know people who are "closet" readers? What are some horror stories you can share about your experiences with rude behavior on this subject?

Romance Reader Idiosyncracies - Do you read multiple books at once? If you've ever GWHR'd, did you ever end up trading the entire series without reading it? Do you buy and buy (and buy) more books, knowing you'll be dead before you can read them all?

Is It Good Or Not? - How forgiving are you when you read a romance which takes a turn for the worse, or features what reads like a padded sub-plot? Are you cranky like me, or are you more forgiving like Marianne?

Until next time, TTFN, Laurie Likes Books

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