Reader of the Moment

June 6, 2003:
I hated to read. Serious!

You wouldn't have caught me dead with a book.

In sixth grade, my teacher (and I really liked her, too) lost patience and MADE me read Willa Cather's MY ANTONIA for a book report. Out loud. To my mother! It was torture - for both of us. To this day, mention Cather's name to me and I shudder. The following two years were marked with ever-increasing reading struggles. Suggestions of dyslexia had been considered but I didn't display most of the common symptoms. My vision was perfect.

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Testing for high school placement finally brought the entire ordeal to a head. My reading performance was erratic. I took the reading portion twice. The first time, I scored very low. However, the second time, I scored very high. Answers were demanded. A reading specialist / ophthalmologist ascertained the problem: my eyes didn't move in sync when I read a line (a problem that is often missed by educators and ophthalmologists, even today). I underwent reading therapy.

Salvation!

That summer, as my therapy commenced, my cousin came to visit. She had always been a voracious reader. We were both entering high school in the fall. All she wanted to do during her visit was read her silly book. She really didn't want to watch television or go to the mall or run around with my neighborhood friends. Instead, she'd hideout with her book. Her favorite spot was in my parents' shower. It had one of those ledges upon which she could sit. And it was private. I was most annoyed! Hurt, too.

So, we were in my room. She had just finished the book and we were talking (for once). I'd been moping, a bit. The cursed book was lying on the bed. In a fit of pique, I picked it up (yes, I was tempted to fling it across the room). I studied the illustration of a castle in the distance with a vineyard in the foreground. Reading the flaps, something grabbed me. I thought, hmm, my cousin has been really rude because of this particular book. Something about it MUST be good, for her to behave that way (and, believe me, she KNEW how to behave properly). What the heck, I concluded. Give it a try.

Thus, the conversion to a booklover began.

The book? Victoria Holt's THE KING OF THE CASTLE. The year? 1968.

Today, not only am I a voracious reader, I'm a writer, too - with all the professional credentials. I volunteer in my sons' school library. I've chaired writers' conferences. More recently, I've evolved into a book collector. I know writers. I know books.

And . . . I love to read.

-- Catherine Wilson

May 11, 2003:
My name is Sara, and I am a book junkie. From early on, I think it was clear to my parents that there were two great loves in my life - art, and the written word. I saved and cataloged every book I received, lovingly arranging them on the bookshelf in my room. I soon had so many that my mother would stand in the doorway to my room with her arms crossed. "Sara, you really ought to go through those books and get rid of a few of them," she would say. I would huff and puff, stomp my feet around, and after hours of deliberation would conclude I could not part with a single one.

So went the cycle.

By the time I was in high school, even with sports and school clubs, I always carried a book in my backpack. Deciding that romance novels were too embarrassing to be seen reading at school, I attempted to read the classics: Jane Eyre, Catcher in the Rye, Watership Down. They made me look smart, and I definitely felt less raunchy…But alas, my heart wasn't in the classics.

Fast-forward 7 years later.

Here I sit, writing this email, and all I can think about is climbing into bed with the romance novel that is currently on my nightstand. And like most readers, I have favorite authors and favorite themes. When I read a new book by an author knowing that her next book isn't due to be released for MONTHS or even another year, the feeling can only be described as "The Endless Wait….” So I fill my time reading new authors, and with luck, I'll strike gold with another great author whose stories give me that butterflies-in-the-stomach kind of feeling. I'll close the book with an exhilarating snap and sigh so loudly with contentment that my husband looks over at me with a lopsided grin.

My love affair with books has brought a lot of joy into my life - well, with the exception of the occasional "Lemon" (and I can usually spot these from the beginning). Over the course of my 25 years, I have been grounded from reading (on account of not doing chores), read books while stopped at the Train Crossing, read books in a boat while my dad was fishing, and of course, have read books under the covers as a child with a flashlight.

I have dreamed for a long time about writing a book of my own…now if only I could come up with a storyline…

-- Sara Gramer

April 11, 2003:
Words are my wellspring. I taught myself to read the newspaper when I was three and wrote my first and most grandiose opus - a grandiopus, I guess - in second grade. It began, " 'Get thee hence!' she declared." After that, I worked my way through an antique set of Harvard Classics before reaching high school. I adore everything about words, where they came from, how they're used, what they can do. I never go anywhere without carting along at least two books. I have this recurring nightmare where I run out of gas on the highway and have nothing to read but roadmaps until help arrives. At this moment, my briefcase contains lesson plans for my science students, a microwaveable can of tomato soup, some fossils, a broken pencil or two, and paperback copies of UmbertoEco's "Foucault's Pendulum" and a mystery anthology entitled, "English Country House Murders." There is also Stef Ann Holm's "Weeping Angel."

It is this last that probably defines me most, even though it astonishes people who discover that I read romance novels. Maybe it astonishes me, too, a little. After all, my father always scorned them as "snivel books," and my husband and sons roll their eyes when I've got Curtiss Ann Matlock in one hand and a wooden spoon in the other. I've discovered that both are necessary when gravy must be stirred. And while my family devours dinner, I devour the power of love. I absorb it from the pages of little, skinny books and reflect it back to the world in the form of optimism and hope. Romance novels keep me believing that obstacles and odds are overcome when we are guided by the truth and sincerity in our hearts. They make me remember to see for myself what is true and sincere in even the unlikeliest of other hearts. I believe romance novels make me a better person.

-- Jaime Jacobs

March 7th, 2003:
I have always been a bookworm. I was the "quiet one" of 4 children growing up. I would escape to my room to read for hours on end. My parents never bothered to ground me when I was a child because it never did any good. I'd just pick up a book and escape my room by heading to far off lands (some so far away they had to be accessed through wardrobes). I picked up my first romance- a Janet Dailey that I don't remember the title for - and I was hooked! I started sneaking to read my mom's Harlequins before she read them. I'd go through 6-8 books a week from the library. Whatever romance I could find. I still read all the typical young adult fiction- Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, and Carolyn Keene (Nancy Drew), but I was hooked on romance. As a British Literature major in college, romances were a guilty pleasure. After several professors accused me of reading "empty" novels, I began to hide my romance behind book covers and notebooks.

After 15 years, I openly read my "trashy" novels on my 4 hour commute each day. I don't care that people think romance novels lack "literary" value. Where else can you find virtues like love, family, trust and passion so well portrayed? At 6-8 books a week, my habit is bordering on voracious. My husband has threatened to disown me if I buy any more books. He can't understand how I can read a book and never go back to it. He reads the same 3 authors that he's read since he was 12- How boring is that???- While I read something new each day. With a wish list that spans close to 20 pages, I don't see my obsession ending any time soon. And that suits me just fine. I'll let other people sneer while I continue to enjoy such wonderful things as true love, passion, and a guaranteed happily ever after!

Happy reading

-- Allison Whidden

February 7th, 2003:
I was 13 years old and out of school with rheumatic fever for a year when I picked up my first romance book titled "Fancy" by Frank G. Slaughter and then books by Frank Yerby. I enjoyed these romantic, adventure books as well as medieval and English authors. I was in and out of school for a year so I had a chance to read a lot of books. I had a spell between 1965 when I was married, to 1985 before I picked up any more romance or any other kind of book. Then in 1985 I happened to pick up a book by Cassie Edwards and I was hooked again on romance. I have enjoyed other writers such as Madeline Baker, Georgina Gentry, Betty Brooks, Catherine Coulter and numerous others. In fact, when I got hooked on books again I actually gave up my soaps, which I watched for 28 years at my job.

I have branched into other romance genre books and authors such as Christine Feehan, Diana Gabaldon, and Julie Garwood. Now, while my husband watches his game shows I am reading a book. If the books are good, I can read a book a day. Of course, some take longer. The only problem is that my spouse has it that I have so many books in my room he can't get in. I'm such a reader of books that I have close to 4,000.and only a third I have read. So I guess I'll always be kept busy reading.

-- Emma Metz

January 10th, 2003:
I just celebrated my 45th birthday and no one in my family gave me any books - even though they know reading is my favorite thing to do. I started reading in Junior High. I would save my lunch money to buy Harlequins. Our library had only a few romances and I read them as soon as they came in. Over the years my reading tastes have changed depending on what is happening in my own life. I went through a period of only wanting to read historical, now I am at a different stage in my life and I love women's fiction that deals with relationships of families and also romantic suspense. I can't imagine not having a book to read. I can't pass a bookstore without buying at least one book. Last year my vacation was timed for New Orleans so that I could go to the RWA book signing with 200 authors. I was in book heaven. I stayed in the same hotel as some of the authors and got to meet so many wonderful people. It was a dream come true for me. I am still reading books from that book signing since I bought so many. Can we ever have too many books?

I am awed by the talent of the writers of today. I really don't like to go back and read the books written in the 80's. It seems that they are so dated, but I can't wait each month to get my hands on something new. I have a list and keep up with what I want to read and buy and right now it's already up to mid 2003.

-- Jan Mardis

December 6th, 2002:
I have been reading and been an avid reader all my life. I grew up with books they now call classic children’s stories. This was, can you believe it, before television when we “watched” the radio, played outside until the street lights went on and led incredibility innocent lives in the 40’s and 50’s. I remember the shelves of my parents home filled with wonderful books - “My Friend Flicka,” “Black Beauty,” (I was a girl, ergo I loved horses, although “Lassie Come Home” was also a favorite.) If it had a cover on it, I read it. If there was no cover, like cereal boxes, I still read it - still do in fact. I majored in English Literature in college (also in Philosophy and Art), reading all the classics and loving every one. So much so that I’m probably the only one of a very few you know who’s read John Spencer’s Faire Queen in the original very olde English. Even then I was heading toward romance “The gentle knight was prickling o’er the plain.” So on to reality and adulthood where, after Joyce Carole Oats and other wonderful women authors (this was the 60’s and 70’s after all) I discovered Science Fiction and eventually discovered the wonderful world of Marion Zimmer Bradley. After reading SF for several years, I realized that what I truly was seeking to read about was the relationship between the hero and heroine. What I wanted to read about was relationships: love.

One Sunday in the 80’s, the Chicago Tribune’s paperback book review was of an Amanda Quick novel, you know, one of the single word titles. I bought the book, read it, and then read another and another and found out that these books were all in a section of the store called ROMANCE! Imagine it! A whole section of books that were named for just the things I wanted to read. Now, about 1,400 books later, I realize that this is my reading base. This is where I was headed all those many years (and it is many years) ago.

Every once and a while, my English LITERATURE self rears her head and says, “You can do better than this. Stop it! Read one of those top 10 novels from the New York Times reviews.” And I do and then I return to my fate, to my ROMANCES, to my home. Because after all, this is LITERATURE, too. Wonderful words, written by wordsmiths and poets and such talent and such imagination. I thank you for sharing that talent and love of the written word and the well-formed sentence and the soaring sense of time and place and person. Thank you all for the joy you have given me.

-- Jane Kimball

November 1st, 2002:
I grew up in the 1960's, romance was all a girl ever thought about. We believed in holding hands, stealing a kiss in the back of the bleachers at football games, double dates, vanilla and cherry cokes, the drive-ins, slow dancing; having "steadies," and going to the movies to see tragic love stories with Susan Hayward, Kim Novak, and Elizabeth Taylor. Romance was our dream. It wasn't just enough to date someone; you had to go through the entire dating protocol. You know, a guy asks a friend to ask his girl if you were seeing anybody, then the guy makes the first move and calls (even though you had already found out from your girlfriend's boyfriend's sister that he was interested in you as you were him). Then you meet at the local hangout and share a cherry coke. You invite him over to meet your parents, your first date, after several dates, he asks you to go steady and you melt your mother's dinner candles into his class ring so that you can wear it on your finger. I was an avid romance reader as was my mother. She never taught me to read romance, but we could sit and watch love stories in black and white on the TV for hours. My mother had romance books everywhere. If my mother got a free moment, she would occupy herself by reading. Reading was a treat, special, and an opportunity to leave the mundane behind you for a few moments and get caught up in a "dream."

I am just as passionate about my reading as was my mother. I do not like to loan or give away books because I will reread some books again and again. I have books in the bed (literally), a five-shelf bookcase with books in my room, books in every room of the house because I will read more than one at time. My kids have strongly suggested that I start writing my own books and get some of my money back. :-) Romance has brought me a lot of pleasure.

--Joyce E. Vaughn

October 4th, 2002:
I come from a long line of readers. My mom was the only one of her 8 brothers and sisters who didn’t enjoy reading. She said that she didn’t have time or the patience to sit that long. :) I have always loved to read. In elementary school I always read the most books, and I have a lot of certificates from my childhood. Reading always took me off to far away places, without leaving my room! My first books that really got me hooked were the Trixie Beldon series. One day I somehow got my hands on Judy Blume's FOREVER...WOW was I hooked! So, soon after I went to one of my aunt’s house and picked up one of her romance books. That was all I needed! I was probably 17 at the time, and now at 38, I couldn’t begin to count the number of books I have read! (Hubby would say "too many!") I actually began keeping up with the number a few years back, out of curiosity. I read approx 120 a year.

I read so many different types of romance. My favs lately have been Temps and Blaze! I never knew those tiny books had so much too offer. :) I wish I could think up stories like that. I am just thankful that the authors care to share their imagination with me. What would I do in my spare time without them?

Luckily, my children love reading too. We spend hours in book stores. Its fun to see what they enjoy reading. Thanks for letting me attempt to tell you my story. Most of all, thank you authors for writing such great books!

--Peg Kayser

September 6th, 2002:
When I was a little girl I remember my mother and her two sisters passing books back and forth amongst themselves. They left their initials in the top left-hand corner to indicate that they had read the book before it was passed along. They had pretty shiny covers with quite provocative covers that sure caught the attention of my cousin and me! I remember listening to my mother and her two sisters just rant and rave about one particular book. They had unofficial book club meetings and ranted and raved about the setting, etc. but what I remember most about their heated discussions was whether or not they loved or hated the male character in the book. I can't recall much else about what that was said, but I know without a doubt that while my aunt was in love with this guy - my own mother wanted to "string him up." Even years later I could recall that the title had the word "flower" in it and when the topic came up in a casual conversation years later I learned that the book they were all so passionate about was the Kathleen Woodiwiss classic, The Flame and the Flower.

Like many other romance authors, I am "reformed." I grew up scoffing at my mother and her sisters' choices of reading materials (while I was only reading the bare minimum myself and only "serious" books, of course - and only for school). However, one evening when I was visiting my parents I couldn't sleep and happened upon a copy of Kathleen Woodiwiss' A Season Beyond a Kiss. I was hooked! Although I have since read many more romances that I enjoyed even more I still saw in this book hints of what my aunts and my mother saw in "the original," as Kathleen Woodiwiss fans sometimes refer to as The Flame and the Flower. Since picking up that book, I have been hooked on reading again, a passion that was buried inside somewhere and just aching to get out again.

I will forever be indebted to my mom and her two sisters for passing along their love of reading to me. My own desire was dormant for a while but it is very much alive now. I read other books outside the genre, as I am sure most other romance fans do as well. But as I told my reading buddy recently, I have read enough "Oprah" books to depress me for a lifetime. Give me love and passion and a happy ending any day.

--Lori Craig

August 2nd, 2002:
I like your title "reader of the moment." I am 40 and a little plus, and have been reading romance since I graduated college and was able to take that "small moment" of spare reading time for my very own. Most of my moments come while traveling, and I always remember my favorite books by the trip I was taking while reading them. I can recall reading "Lady Vixen" by Shirley Busbee on the "L" train, en route to my first job in downtown Chicago. At that time, I was probably hiding it inside my boot bag or somewhere equally improbable. "The Wolf and the Dove" and the Roselynde Chronicles by Roberta Gellis were also enjoyed in this clandestine fashion - as were our old friends Ginny and Steve of "Sweet Savage Love" fame.

My husband and I took frequent weekend trips to camp in the woodsy parks of Wisconsin in a mini-motor home with my two young stepsons. I would take a book - one only was the limit - and would stay up all night reading under the tiny overhead lamp (it's hard to sleep in one of those little motor homes anyway, sharing close quarters with husband, kids and dogs). In this way, I thoroughly enjoyed the likes of "Whitney My Love" and "Hummingbird".

I was in the middle of a move to Colorado, and remember devouring "Stormfire" by Christine Monson while my husband interviewed for a new job. I believe I read "Seize the Fire" by Laura Kinsale on that same job-hunting trip, and she truly ruined me for 95% of all authors writing romance at that time.

On a camping trip in the Rockies I ignored the scenery while gobbling up Diana Gabaldon's "Outlander". I still have my original paperback copy even though it is rumpled and most likely moldy from my dog Nyssa having stepped on it after taking a plunge in the lake near the top of Cottonwood Pass. Nyssa is gone now but the memory - and the outstanding book - lives on. I recently had the pleasure of stringing up a hammock in an aspen grove in the Great Sand Dunes NP, and read a Carla Kelly while my husband took photos and enjoyed the golden day chasing his own hobby.

Imagine the joy when I discovered the Used Book Stores of the world! Now wherever we travel I can search them out, and coincidentally need to stop for gas at the station next door! This joy is a close second to the joy I experienced when I found that my library was purchasing romance novels on audio books!! I have a one-hour commute each way, and to be able to listen to a Georgette Heyer or a Judith Ivory as I drive is almost decadent.

I have been telling my husband for several years now that I am researching my next career as a romance novel writer. As he is very sweet and loves me more than I probably deserve, he goes along with this fiction and often encourages me in my research - usually when he wants to sit down and relax with a book of his own. What I would like to know is how many other fellow romance readers justify their habit in this very same way!!

-- Pam Standley

July 5th, 2002:
I just discovered All About Romance & I thought I'd share my thoughts about reading romances. I was taught to read when I was 4 years old by my 2 older sisters who were tired of reading to me endlessly. From then on, I always gravitated to the romantic style, as I loved fairy tales. At about 12, I discovered some of my dad's Zane Grey books, and I was hooked. I read a book called Katherine by Anya Seton and that set me on to Historicals set in England.

I read a large variety of books, not SF or Fantasy though. I always thought my now grown up daughter would read what I did but she reads very differently than I do. Once in awhile she will recommend a book to me that I will read and enjoy. The last one was about the Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. I really enjoyed it.

I still enjoy romances of the American West a lot, even though I am Canadian! It's that old Zane Grey connection I think. My Favorite Zane Grey was "Code of the West." My favorite author now is Deborah Smith. I can't wait for each new book of hers. Her best one was "Blue Willow," but also liked "Miracle."

-- Joyce Cosh

June 7th, 2002:
People who know me now would find this hard to believe, but I had a great deal of trouble learning to read as a child. I was moved backwards into easier and easier reading groups in the second grade, and I stayed at the next-to-lowest level group through elementary school (the lowest level was for children for whom English was not their first language). I can remember clearly being frosted with jealousy that my friends in the advanced reading group were presenting plays and acting out stories to the other groups, when I could barely figure out what the words said. I don't remember as clearly the day I finally Got It, but eventually I learned to read.

Unfortunately for me, I had little patience with much of the reading material available in my school libraries, and the books my father liked to read were beyond boring to me then (the civil war for 46,538 pages? You have got to be kidding me!). I read through much of the YA novels for kids my age, and while I collected the Sweet Valley High series with a rather frightening intensity, they bored me. No setting, predictable plots, and basic character development: I couldn't have named those concepts at the time, but I did think more than once, "Okay, I GET it, they're in California, they're TWINS and they're Gorgeous. Move ON!"

I began to finish the SVH books and others like them in less than half an hour - hardly worth the money I'd paid for them! So I could read, but I didn't really want to, so I stopped, which made the struggle and eventual success in learning to read seem rather brittle in comparison to that bright shiny joy I'd envisioned receiving for my new skills. Then, just before high school, I found romance novels. A friend of a friend was reading a very thick paperback book in the public library, and I was jealous (What is it with me and the jealousy?!) that she was reading such a thick book and enjoying it. It had to be boring, I remember thinking. She must be smarter than me because she could enjoy a thick book.

To me, thick books were boring, much like the ones my father stockpiled by his reading chair. Then I saw the cover, and asked her what it was. "A romance," she said. "She's Scottish, and he's English, and she doesn't want to be married to him, but she has no choice, so she's disguised herself as an ugly troll so he'll buzz off and leave her alone." I asked her if it was good, and she was amazed that I'd never discovered romance novels. There was a huge rack of them along one wall and she dragged me over. I don't think she took a breath while she explained all the different kinds of romance: "This is The Flame and the Flower and it's really good but I didn't like it because there's, like, this really nasty rape scene, but I marked the pages so if you wanna skip it just look for the folded corners and skip to the pages that aren't folded at the top and this is Night Magic and it's really good and so is The Raven and the Rose and this one is really good but it has a weird ending but I think there's gonna be a sequeal and THIS one is good too, but not as good as THIS one...."

Turns out she'd read most of the wall's worth of novels, and was rereading her favorite: Midsummer Magic, by Catherine Coulter. She put it down to go to the bathroom, and I picked it up. I read the first few pages. When she got back, I'd already checked it out and started reading as I walked home from the library. (Yes, I am still ashamed).

Even now, I read as if I'm trying to catch up with all those words I missed when I was in elementary school. I learned some years ago that many teachers of adult literacy programs use romance novels to teach women because the stories are interesting, and the language and concepts are both challenging and accessible. This makes vats of sense to me: I became a faster, stronger, and very giddy reader the more romance novels I found. I even found my knowledge of European social and cultural history to be of much use in high school World History class. I read my way through Coulter, found the other triumvirate of writers of whom my public library had a limitless supply, and kept on reading. Then, I began exploring the local bookstores - I loved some of these books so much, I had problems giving them back to the library! I would find myself wanting to revisit a scene or reread a particular moment in a story, and the fact that the characters and stories and countries I loved weren't right there with me in my room proved to be a rather expensive habit indeed. Even as I packed for college, I had to sit and pick which of my favorite romances would come with me; invariably I left one at home that I desperately wanted to revisit later in the semester. Driving home to Pennsylvania from South Carolina for a romance novel would make perfect sense to me, but somehow I realized my parents wouldn't feel the same way.

Today I'm planning a trip to Ikea to buy more bookshelves for my office at home. I've already been forced out of my husband's bookshelves and filled up my own - even stacking them two deep on the shelf. I read nothing but romances, with the occasional contemporary women's fiction novel thrown in. Nothing makes me happier than a day without time limits: if I can sit on the sofa and read a romance cover to cover with no interruptions, I'm glazed with contentment for weeks. I love the guarantee of a happy ending, particularly now when, around me, there is so much present and obvious unhappiness (I live in Jersey City, and the World Trade Center was at the end of my street, if you didn't count the Hudson River as an obstacle). I can escape to England, Scotland, France, or even different parts of the US, into different character's lives, into troubles that aren't my own but are no less important and pressing, into a world as challenging as mine, but with the absolute certainty that, yes, things will work out in the end, and there will be a Happily Ever After. There's just nothing better than that.

Thanks for letting me share!

-- Sarah Wendell

May 3rd, 2002:
We came in from another awful games lesson, our toes, knees and fingers frozen, our lacrosse sticks needing a good coating of Vaseline to stop them from stiffening up. I sat down to get changed and I saw a book lying underneath the wire-mesh racks where we were meant to store our muddy shoes. I picked it up and was transported immediately to another place; a glamorous place where the most sophisticated man could fall for an ingénue with a bit of feistiness. I don't remember the name of the book or the author, though I suspect it was Anne Weale, a stalwart of the British publishing house Mills & Boon, which more recently has become part of the Harlequin empire. I remember the hero, Florian, though, and most of all; I remember that tingling sensation that came with exploring emotions almost to the extent of experiencing them directly. Since that day, I've been a closet and an out-of-the-closet romance reader. I've read a ton of other types of books, but I've finally (25 years later) admitted to my family and myself that I am a dedicated, no-holds-barred romance addict. I am in perpetual search of the next keeper. Keepers are hard to define, but they are the ones which make me cry and laugh and go to sleep with a huge grin, because of course, the end of the day, in bed or in the bath, is where most of my romance reading is done. And sometimes, when the going is good, the beginning of the next day...

The big keeper has been GWTW - my parents had to confiscate it from me four or five times between the ages of 13 and 15, because I would read it over and over again, interspersed with Catcher in the Rye. I had a copy of Shanna which disappeared somewhere between school and university. And of course, there is my all-time favourite, Georgette Heyer. When I was 12 or 13, my mother took me to a bridge party because she couldn't find a sitter. I was tucked into a chaise lounge with Frederica and Sylvester, and those two have remained my favourites. Joyous, spritely, wise and witty. At university, I would make surreptitious raids on the public library and have romance-fests all to myself, which is how I came across Eva Ibbotson.

Since I discovered the Internet, a whole new world of great contemporary romancers has opened up to me, and I love blending the best of the British and American markets, though I have to say that Jennifer Crusie has blown the rest of the competition out of the water, as far as I am concerned. More and more I appreciate the input from reviews, and I'm just about to work my way through Connie Brockway. From the UK, I can recommend the early books of Fiona Walker - French Kiss and Snap Happy, as well as that stalwart, Jilly Cooper, who never fails to entertain and amuse.

I'm beginning to stand up for my reading choices. I'm beginning to read my romances brazenly in public and to argue the case for them when others mock. I'm beginning to see just how important romances are to the way we experience our world - a great alternative, a challenging alternative to the cultural addictions of our time - soap operas, Gameboy, Playstation - which shape our reactions to and actions in the "real world". Since I started reading romances, there has been an explosion in choice and type and slant. But the best still reach out and touch us directly and honestly, reminding us of the good things in life - love, laughter, passion and the rarity, the meeting of true minds and true hearts.

--Zeba Clarke

April 5, 2002:
So you wanna know my roots? My grandmother always loved to read romance novels but she had no one to pass them on to so she started sending them over to me. Needless to say I was hooked on Romance . That was when I was 11 years old and as you can imagine the books were a lot tamer back then. Helen R. Myers was the author that really got me hooked as a child, but the romance books and I have sort of evolved together, as they got more exciting I got more excited to read them. (They are sort of like old friends, they have been through everything with me, all my ups and downs.) Anyway , it's now 21 years later and I still haven't lost my love for reading romance books. It honestly doesn't matter what kind of romance book (I don't like to limit myself) Mainstream Suspense, Harlequin , as long as there is romance in it I am there . I start out each month at the book store with the one that jumps out at me the most and buy the end of the month I have bought just about all the new ones that they came out with for that month and start over the next month .I am so bad that the manager calls me to come in as soon as new ones come in and he will even let me go through them and but them before he even has them inventoried . From Big Names like Catherine Coulter, Nora Roberts, and Diana Gabaldon to authors like Claire Delacroix Madeline Baker, Tina St.John, and Margaret Evans Porter (who I had my husband drive 3 hours each way last month just to meet) to Harlequin authors Kristi Gold, Kathie Denosky, Tori Carrington, and newcomers Joanne Rock, Roxann Delaney, and Nicole Burhnam. I love them all and then some.

I now read a book a day during the week and 2 a day on the weekend (after my husband and kids go to sleep). I am a big sap for happy endings and I admit that when reading a sad story I cry with the best of them. I am the first to be volunteered when there is a read-a-thon going on. (On the 6th I handed in the papers for the latest read-a-thon and I had read just over 33,000 pages of romance in 6 weeks.)

My husband thinks that I am nuts because "I always have my face stuffed in a book at night " as he puts I it. And for all those people who say buying books is a waste of money, I look at it like this a book cost less or the same as a pack of cigarettes now a days. It's something that I can enjoy over and over again and share with others to enjoy .Romance Books are my own addiction, but hey , what a way to go . Like my grandmother before me I am now passing the romance books on to my 14-year-old niece and she loves them too.

-- Diana Tidlund

March 8, 2002:
I am a life-long, card-carrying bookworm. Always have been, a condition I inherited from my mother. Neither of us has ever walked past a bookstore without stopping in "just to look." A fate worse than death would be not having a library card. When I was in the fifth grade I got an "Unsatisfactory" mark on my report card in the section "Getting along with other students." At the parent's conference, the teacher explained to my mother that it wasn't really that I didn't get along with the other kids, but that at recess, instead of playing with them, I'd sit on the school porch and read a book. My mom just sort of blinked and said, "So? What's your point?" My first "favorite" book was Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes. It's considered a Young Adult novel but I still reread it every once in a while despite having long ago ceased to be a "Young Adult". In spite of being a voracious reader (I'd done Gone With the Wind twice by age 14) I rarely enjoyed the books I was required to read in school. To Kill a Mockingbird didn't impress me a bit, and I absolutely detested both Catcher in the Rye and The Old Man and the Sea. Go figure.

Since childhood I've always been fascinated with medieval Britain, but had snobbishly considered romances to be unworthy . It was the discovery of my first used book store and the beautiful cover art of Bertrice Small's Skye O'Malley that helped me rid myself of that little misconception. That cover had such gorgeous colors and looked more like a painting than a photograph; and it wasn't the stereotypically sleazy romance cover with a half naked couple in some improbable position. So I bought it (at half price) and not only did I love it, but I also realized what I'd been missing all these years, and immediately went on to glom the rest of Bertrice Small's books. In my family I have an (undeserved) reputation of being a goody two-shoes. My sister read Skye O'Malley on my recommendation, and was extremely shocked. "I can't believe Peggy actually read a book like that!" was her reaction. Not that she thought it was a bad book, but that I would read, enjoy and recommend a book with such explicit sex scenes. I just smiled smugly and thought, you don't know me as well as you think you do!

Skye O'Malley encouraged me to start reading other historical romances, and when I realized some of the authors I came to like also wrote contemporaries, I hesitantly tried a few and was very happy I did. I think I've come to enjoy contemporaries even more than historicals because they make one feel that these wonderful romantic things might actually happen to real people. When I moved to Minnesota I started reading LaVyrle Spencer and really enjoyed books set in places I was familiar with. I still kick myself for not having the guts to ask my husband to stop so I could take a picture when we drove through Brower, MN (Spencer's home town) while taking our daughter to camp.

One Christmas my husband was shopping for some last minute stocking stuffers, and he popped into the romance section at B. Daltons and plucked a book for me randomly off the shelf. He had no idea what I'd read or would like; he just thought I might like the guy on the cover. That book was Laura Kinsale's Flowers from the Storm (I think it was Fabio on the cover) and it was the most fortunate random pick I can imagine. I absolutely fell in love with her work and like Ms. Small's books, I had to glom everything Kinsale wrote and eagerly await her next work.

Thought I do find a lot of great things (and a few stinkers too) through reviews and recommendations, still a lot has to said for chance and circumstance in discovering the romance genre and specific enjoyable books and authors. I wonder sometimes what other gems might be out there that I might have missed just by accident or happenstance, despite the humongous size of my TBR piles.

--Peggy Hoffman

February 8, 2002:
Ever since I can remember, I have always loved to read, which stemmed from my fascination with the English language. I read my first true romance novel when I was a sophomore in high school. I borrowed Ondine by Shannon Drake from a girl in my Honors English Class. From that moment on, I was hooked. I was amazed how someone's words could come alive and make me feel each smell, sight, and sound. Of course, the descriptive love scenes had made its mark as well, leaving me breathless and quite amazed! From that moment on, romance reading has been what I live for. I tried to convince myself at first that I would only stick to the historicals, so that I had an excuse for reading it in the first place. But after time, it no longer became a chore to do so, because I loved how authors were able to mix history with romance. It somehow made the past more exciting and more easier to relate to. I still look forward to great historicals to this day, knowing such authors like Heather Graham a.k.a Shannon Drake, Nicole Jordan, Andrea Kane, and Stephanie Laurens won't disappoint.

Of course, over time, I have opened myself up to all kinds of romance genres, past and present. I have attuned myself so well at times, that I just have to read the first few pages of a book to know whether or not it is something that I will be interested in. Overall though, coming across a few books that I think are duds in my opinion is a good thing. Differences in writing styles need to be presented, because all of us have different tastes and wants and needs. This factor makes the writing market what it is today, and I would not change that for the world. I have even started writing my own romance novel in hopes that one day others will appreciate my story of romance and suspense.

The presence of used bookstores and the internet has also helped me in my reading adventures, which in turn has led me to expand my list of favorite authors. I don't know what I would do without the reviews from AAR, which has helped me attune myself to what I really look for in a book. The discovery of half.com has helped as well in the budget category, making it easier than ever to acquire the books that I crave to read at discounted prices. I read now every chance that I can get, and I believe that there are only better authors and books yet to come.

--Iswari D. Sharma

January 11, 2002:
I'm an ardent feminist who thought that I would never read romance novels. In midlife, I became a romance reader by accident. I had become tired of seeing the women in my profession (librarians) being stereotyped as lonely, asexual old maids who wear buns. A few years ago when I was browsing the paperback racks at my local public library, I happened upon a romance involving a librarian. Wow! Was I ever surprised!! Here was a complex, flesh and blood woman who took her professional responsibilities seriously in service to her small town community. And far from wearing matronly dresses and a bun, she was brainy as well as strikingly beautiful. And when the right man comes along, she overcomes the trauma of a vicious sexual assault that scarred her college years and goes on to a fulfilling relationship.

After finishing what I will always fondly remember as "that wonderful librarian romance novel", I went on to read romances dealing with the aftermath of a painful divorce, an escape from an abusive relationship, and a relationship between a man and a woman of differing ethnic backgrounds. I learned that while the primary goal of romance writing may be to entertain the reader, that does not mean that the contemporary romance novel automatically shies away from dealing with the complexities in the lives of modern women. Moreover, the sex scenes are fun and written with a woman's desires and preferences in mind; - and this, in itself, is implicitly feminist.

-- Marion I. Lipshutz

December 7, 2001:
Ah...where to begin? Perhaps the beginning? That's as good a place as any.... I don't recall offhand where my introduction to romance originated. I know I was about 12 or 13 when I discovered them...a miserable child, I was far from a popular soul in school, so reading was an escape from the cruel social pressures of 8th grade. I admit that my interest was initially piqued by the handsome and rugged long haired gentlemen (and rogues alike ) on the covers. (I was a fan of the glam band 80's hair bands, so seeing those glossy manes blowing in the breeze was very enticing)...adding sex and adventure to the mix made them completely irresistible.

Once I really started getting into them (i.e.: I realized that there was a story to be found within the hallowed covers that went beyond just smut), I was hooked. I read every style I could get my hands on before my niche was discovered and favourite authors began to form. Now my shelves are littered with historical beauties from Bertrice Small and Marsha Canham (just to name two of so many. I have to carry a list to Barnes & Noble in order to remember them all!) and I sing the praises of romance to anyone looking for something new to read, though very few have taken to the genre as I did. It's all I read.

I finally found a kindred spirit in my roommate. Twelve years my senior, her romance collection is expansive (though she does stray to the SF now and again), thereby allowing me to read older works from authors who have become overlooked or *gasp* obsolete as the years have gone on.

It saddens me that romance is not viewed in a serious light...those who don't read them and have never given them a chance seem to think that the material is comprised solely of fluff and should not be considered a real novel simply based on the fact that it's a love story. I get so much joy from following these people through their courtships (or lack thereof) and into their usually reluctant realization that they cannot live without one another. I find my emotions going right along with theirs...I'm angry at the hero when he misunderstands the heroine and goes off to do something unbelievably rash as a result...and I sympathize with him as he realizes his mistake and tries desperately to reconcile before it's too late...

I'll wrap this up before it becomes a novel in it's own...but after reading other submissions, I had to put in my two cents...I've started writing a romance on my own and have developed a newfound respect for the people who write them. The amount of work that goes into researching them and putting a storyline together with characters that become so real to the reader is just unreal...I can only hope that my end product is half as wonderful as those that spurred me to create it in the first place!

-- Sue Malvesta




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