During my first class in Library School one of my professors introduced the auditorium of Library and Information Science students to S.R. Ranganathan's five rules of Library Science. The laws resonate with me deeply and affirmed for me that I was making the right choice is studying librarianship. S. R. Ranganathan’s second and third rules of library science are:
“2. Every reader his [or her] book. 3. Every book its reader.”
As a librarian I try to live by this rule, helping students and teachers find their books. I also then encourage them to put down books that aren't for them without feeling that book is a bad book, just not their book in this place and time. I love reading all kinds of books and have a deep frustration with those who sneer at genre literature or make blanket judgments on whole genres. I tend to immerse myself in genres fully and deeply before moving on. As young teen my genre of choice was Mystery, reading everything from Nancy Drew to Conan Doyle to Dashiell Hammett to Ian Rankin, then later I found Fantasy and Sci-fi (Tolkien and Asimov to GRR Martin and Anne McCaffery), in my twenties it was comic books (Bill Willigham to Gail Simone to Brian Michael Bendis). And now in my thirties I have found myself loving and exploring Romance novels. Are romance novels for everyone? Nope. Are they valuable and worthy literature? Yes !
Romance novels like all genre fiction can fall victim to over formulaic plots, over reliance on tropes and author shortcuts, but when done right they have the ability to move and transform the reader. If Romance is not your thing, that is fine, put it down, but let it find its reader.
Why I am reading Romance?
The Romance genre is preoccupied with human relationships, friendship and love, and one of the official library subject headings often associated with Romance is “Interpersonal relationships”. From the time I first read Austen I have sought out books where the central struggle or conflict is a personal one. In Romance novels the focus is on love: discovering it, nourishing it , and persevering in it against internal or external conflict. I dove into the Romance genre about two years ago, when were going through an extremely stressful time in our home. My husband was facing a lot of stress at work, and the uncertainty led to him suffering from anxiety and depression. I had to hold things together and keep us going. I had to step away from reading yet another dystopian YA novel. The happily-ever-afters (HEA) in Romance novels were incredibly necessary to my life then. I had enough bleakness in my real life thank you very much. I will cry and struggle right along with a character, but leave me with a bit of hope. Since then, life has improved greatly. We are both happy and comfortable in our home and work lives again, but I am still loving Romance novels, instead of leaving the genre behind I have shifted from reading primarily Historical Romances to Contemporary ones. I have also discovered a community of readers and authors through Twitter and blogs like Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, Dear Author and Wonk-o-mance where I find smart discussion on feminism, relationships and the craft of writing.
What about all the sex?
What about it? Yep, I am a Christian, pastor’s wife even, and I have sex. Do you have sex in your relationships? Why then should it be absent from books focused on love relationships? Sure some of it can be quite smutty, some of it can be boring (tab A into slot b) but when it is done right, it powerfully exposes characters to the reader and I enjoy reading about it. Need, desire, vulnerability & acceptance are real human emotions, and should be part of sexual encounters and a skilled author will writes sex scenes with all of these. In the romance novels I enjoy the sex scenes that are revelatory not merely titillating and the author is not scared to portray sex honestly, allowing characters to engage in good, bad, okay, empty or meaningful sex. And finally, it can be educational. No other genre places such a focus on female desire and female sexual satisfaction and I really appreciate that. I grew up with little conversation on sexual topics beyond encouragement to be sexually pure and the vague promises of happy married sex if I held out that long. When I read Romance fiction I find the variety of portrayals of sexual desire and arousal to be life-affirming. It might not always be my thing, my kink, but it is a human expression of love and my own life is fuller for reading about it.
What am I reviewing?
I am going to review books I have something to say about. I read dozens of books each month, many I simply enjoy in the moment and forget about later. Other stick with me, and I return to those authors again and again, because they touched something in me. It maybe the careful balance of old friendships and new lovers, maybe the glittering wit of flirty banter, maybe raw uncomfortable emotions of loss and grief. I have reposted some reviews I have written in the past year, most are just okay in that they spend too much time summarizing and too little responding or articulating why I book is worth reading. But I plan to use this place in the future as place to reflect on books that made me think or feel, most of them will be Romance, but some will be YA or picture books I am reading for work. Thank you for reading, may you find your book.