15 July 2014

Reading Rainbow: How I Fell in Love with Romance Novels

When people ask me what kind of books I like to read, I end up having a major existential crisis. If you had asked me 15 years ago, I would have told you that murder mysteries were my favorite and that I was (probably) currently reading an Agatha Christie book. My dad was really into Agatha Christie then so we had something to talk about. Also, Agatha Christie was in the Adult section of the library and well, my reading skills were obviously better than other 11 year olds who were still in the Young Adult section. Amateurs. (And let's not forget to mention the feat that was reading Gone with the Wind in sixth grade--just because it was over 1,000 pages. Yeah. I have a problem.) 

If you had asked me 10 years ago, I would have said fantasy. I read a ton of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien one summer. Like not just the books they wrote, but books about their lives. I remember being really upset when the book on Tolkien I ordered interlibrary loan didn't come because it was a university book and they wouldn't lend to a public library. 

In the last 3-5 years, my love has been Young Adult fiction. I blame this, of course, on skipping them when I was trying to grow up too fast. I hope that I have a greater appreciation for them now and I often find myself wishing I had read the book when I was younger. I often wonder what my life would have been like if I read Looking for Alaska when it was published (the end of my junior year in high school) or if I had been able to read Paulo  Coelho's The Alchemist after both high school & college graduations. 

But I never say that I like to read romance novels. Ever. Never ever. I don't know when this started. I try my hardest to never read Nicholas Sparks novels. Occasionally, as I've confessed on this blog before, I do read/try to read one of his book, but with limited success. I don't read Harlequin Romance novels. Those novels are all the same, aren't they? One character is moneyed and privilege and one is lower class or rebellious and, of course, they are thrown together. Arranged marriages are usually involved, too. They hate each other at first, of course, but eventually actually "fall in love" and are happy. I hate that the plots are almost all the same with half-developed characters, and lets face it, mostly just about sex. So no, I don't like to read romance novels. 

What I do like to read is good stories whose characters happen to fall in love/find love. To me, that is something entirely different from romance novels. Maybe its just semantics and they really are the same thing. I don't know. But the way I see them, they are two very different things. 

Rainbow Rowell's books helped me figure out these distinctions with romance novels, I think. I picked them up at my friend Rachel's recommendation. (Let's face it, she has flawless taste in books.) I think what I love best about her books (and by the way, Landline was another home run) is that they are about real, ordinary people trying to live their lives. They aren't about a love sick teenage/adult who latches on to the first hot guy/girl they see. Actually, Rowell shows you in pretty much all of her books, that just because a person is attractive doesn't mean that they are a good person. Appearance and personality are not connected. That isn't to say of course that the only good people are ugly, not at all. In Landline, Georgie is constantly commenting on how her husband, Neal, is attractive and the little things she loves about him and the way he looks. By contrast, her writing partner (I have since lent my copy of the book so forgive me for not remembering his name…is it Scott?) is the quintessential adorable frat boy who has a new girlfriend every couple of months and becomes successful at everything he does…but is kind of a prat in normal life. A sincere prat at times, but still a prat. 

And before I make every reason I love her books about style and the mechanics of her plots, let's be real: her books make me happy. Watching, as it were, two people meet, argue, date, break up, get back together, work problems out and, of course, fall in love, makes me ridiculously happy. All readers connect in a very intense way to the protagonist; when they fall in love, you, as the reader, do too. And that is something that will seem like magic to me.

What do you think about romance novels, friends? How do you define them and how do you decide what to read? 

Currently Reading:
Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo (yes. still.)
Wonder by  R. J. Palacio (I am LOVING this book!) 

No comments: