Romance readers tend to be a devout bunch. Though we span the spectrum of religious beliefs, economic backgrounds, and geography, our passion for romantic literature brings us together and gives us endless possibilities of things to chat about.
Most of my friends (outside the wonderful community I’ve met in cyberspace) don’t read romance. When I lend them one of my favorites, none of them has gotten hooked. They usually read and respond with “Meh. Still don’t get why you like it.”
That’s fine by me. Everyone should be free to read what they enjoy, and I’m thrilled that my friends respect me enough to at least try one of the books I love, even if they discover it’s not for them.
I’ve often wondered what it is about the genre—about any genre, really—that attracts certain readers. Why do I love romance but don’t feel at all engaged by sci-fi or fantasy? Even when I was a kiddo devouring young adult fiction, I sought books with a strong romantic element. I loved books that were dark, where the romance looked doomed to fail, but where fate turned everything around by the end.
Somehow I got on Harlequin’s mailing list when I was 12, and a box of four grown-up romance novels arrived on my doorstep. I remember some of the first stories I read. Though I have no clue who wrote them, I’m thankful that they introduced me to a whole new world of reading.
One of my strongest memories from my early days of romance reading was when I picked up my first single-title novel. I must’ve been 13 because I remember the mom next door picked me and her kids up from junior high one afternoon, and she was reading a book with a gorgeous psychedelic rainbow cover. It called to me, and I asked her what it was about. As her kids climbed in the van after me, she threw the book on the floor and said, “It’s just a complete fantasy.”
I wanted it. I’d never seen such a pretty cover. And I loved the fancy script that splashed the title across the front: The Sherbrooke Bride.
As soon as she dropped me off at home, I jumped on my bike and pedaled to Target, where I found dozens of copies of the book at the end of a row of romance novels. It seemed like fate. I bought it, and some bubble gum, probably because the cover made me crave Bubblicious.
I read the Sherbrooke Bride that night and waited desperately for the next in the trilogy to come out. In the meantime, I spent a huge amount of my babysitting money on other novels. Catherine Coulter had gotten me hooked.
I recently found one of her novels from the early 90s in a box in my parents’ garage. With quite a bit of trepidation, I reread it. Just as I thought I would be, I was horrified by some of the scenes. I’ve decided not to revisit any more of the books I was so fond of as a teenager because I don’t want them to lose their magic.
Do you remember the first romance that got you hooked on the genre? If you’ve been reading romance for a long time, have you ever gone back to read books you used to love? Or are you worried they wouldn’t be as good as you remember? If you’re not a romance reader, what book got you hooked on your favorite genre?
This is cross-posted at The Season
My school library had a collection of Harlequin romances and I read almost all of them. The first author I remember being hooked on is Johanna Lindsey. I still read the ‘good parts’. Sex was forbidden to me when I was growing up, so of course I had to know why. Romance novels were my sex education.
Oh yes. The things I learned from romance novels…though I remember being confused by several things. Figured them out eventually. 😉
I remember when I was a little girl, my first writings were soap operas – like General Hospital, One Life to Live, etc. I suppose I spent a little too much time watching them with my mother. I’ve never considered myself to be a romance writer – but hey I was probably on to something.
Today, I enjoy writing historical fiction – primarily because I like reading historical fiction.
Those soaps probably taught you loads about ending on a hook and creating compelling, addictive characters, Nichole. Great training for novelists!
My Mom was (and still is) a big romance reader. I remember the summer I was eleven or so, she was on a V.C. Andrews kick. I borrowed one of her books, even though I had been told they were for grown ups and that I was not to read them. I hid it in a cupboard in the back of our motor home, sneaking paragraphs when my parents went out for walks. Needless to say I was caught and the book was taken away, although I do think my Mom felt bad doing it. I’ve never gone back to read those books – like you I’m afraid it just wouldn’t be the same!
Thanks for a great post!
Ooh, VC Andrews is another writer I loved in my early teens! So much angst and weird drama. I definitely couldn’t go back and read her, though. She was too powerful to me at the time.
Thanks for reminding me about her, Carrie!
Barbara Cartland and Kathleen Woodiwiss first pulled me away from horror books then later Nora Roberts and AKA, JD Robb pulled me completely in. I am still hooked on almost anything by Nora Roberts, and most of Christine Feehan’s Carpathian series and Sherrilyn Kenyon’s,Anne Bishop’s Black Jewel series.I also love many of the what if Pride and Prejudice books,especially Linda Wells versions.Guess that’s why I write romance suspense and paranormal romance.
It’s wonderful that one of the writers you loved when you got hooked is still someone you love, Pam. What a compliment to Nora!
My first romances were my mother’s book club editions of Mary Stewart’s gothic romances – The Moonspinners, The Gabriel Hounds – I loved them, but now I suspect I’d notice the TSTL heroines who run out onto the grounds of the spooky castle in their nighties whenever they hear a funny noise. Then I discovered Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, which are still my favorite romances, though Heathcliff and Mr. Rochester are no longer my manly ideals.
Isn’t it funny how some character types are so appealing when we’re young, Joanne, and so unattractive as we gain life experience? I’m with you on Heathcliff and Rochester; I thought they were so romantic, but now I imagine they’d remind me depressed, controlling men I’ve met in real life. *shudders* I’ll let my teenage self keep ’em!