Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I used to regularly post reviews of the books I'd read. But last spring I realized that my taste in books was going further and further downhill, and that my book reviews probably weren't particularly interesting anymore. And it's only gotten worse since. To prove my point: I spent the last half of the summer reading trashy romance novels. And you know what? I'm not even sorry. I loved it. I hadn't read one in more than twenty years,* and -- while I wouldn't exactly recommend any of them-- I have to say that they are light-years better than they used to be. It was fun. But now my conscience is telling me that summer is over and I should stop with the brain candy and start reading stuff that I don't have to be embarrassed to be seen with.

Well, OK. Just as soon as I finish Three Nights of Sin. (no, I'm not kidding, there really is a novel with that name-- but I haven't read it. Yet.)

Anyway, just to further show you how low I've slunk, I'll tell you the story of my reading list for this summer. Those of you who've been around for awhile will remember that about once a year, I assign myself a reading project-- several books that are related in some way-- and push myself to read through the whole list. One year, I read Reading Lolita in Tehran, plus most of the books her class studies. Another year, I read a collection of the letters of Maxwell Perkins and novels by his three most famous authors--Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Wolfe. Then there were Merton, O'Connor, Walker Percy and Dorothy Day another year. (full disclosure: I've never actually managed to read every book on any of my reading project lists. But I give it a pretty good shot, anyway.)

So this year, at the beginning of the summer, I decided that I was going to read Chaucer and Spenser. I'm dead serious. I really thought I was going to spend the summer sitting out at the lake with the Faerie Queene in my lap. Oh, 'tis galling the things we must admit to online. I got online and ordered a modernized Chaucer to go with the original version I still have from college, and also got the recommended edition of FQ.

As you can probably guess, I made it through the Prologue and the Wife of Bath's tale before my attention wandered. I think it's actually a little impressive that I made it that far. Although at the moment I can't remember what the segue was, for some reason I went from that to reading the Satanic Verses, the famous book that sent Salman Rushdie into hiding for (seven? eight?) years. It is brilliant, and beautifully written-- if I remember, I'll put a paragraph or two in the comments to this post-- but it doesn't exactly move quickly. Sections of it are very absorbing, but then there are long sections that are.... well, maybe not boring, but slow.

So enter my daughter with Twilight in hand. I'm blaming the whole romance novel obsession on her. In case you've been locked away in a closet for the past six months, Twilight is the first book in a series about a girl who falls in love with a vampire. It's written and marketed for teenagers, but once you know the characters' names, you'll overhear a surprising number of competent-looking adults gossiping away about Edward and Bella as if they lived down the street. There is very little plot or characterization outside the two main characters' obsessive love for each other, but you know-- you just can't put them down. I'm snobbish enough that I have to say that I didn't really read them, I just skimmed through them. But I did, in the space of about two weeks, get through all four books, each of them well over 500 pages. After spending over a month getting through Satanic Verses.

Why am I admitting this publicly?? Oh, the shame.

But it gets worse. So then, realizing that it had been a very long time since I'd read a good bodice ripper-- at least twenty years, and probably more like twenty-five*-- I started combing through used books and picking them up. I bet I've read twenty since mid-August. Not kidding. Last week I decided I would let myself keep going until October 1st, which would be tomorrow. I've got one more to finish tonight and them I'm quitting cold turkey. Promise. Higher quality reading suggestions welcome, reply here.


* I'm making a distinction here between just regular old romance novels (hard to write a good story without someone falling in love, imo) and trashy romance novels, aka bodice rippers, which have such steamy love scenes that they should carry ratings on the cover. Oh, my. .... After re-reading this, to be fair I should say that the Twilight series is not explicit, but it has enough of the conventions of a trashy romance novel that I was reminded of them.


  1. OK, moving on.... Here is a paragraph from The Satanic Verses. Saladin Chamcha, one of the two main characters, has been talking (for several pages) about the four loves of his life. After he thinks about the culture of the English-speaking people he adores, the city of London, and his wife Pamela, he moves on to the fourth:

    Culture, city, wife; and a fourth and final love, of which he had spoken to nobody: the love of a dream. In the old days, the dream had recurred about once a month; a simple dream, set in a city park, along an avenue of mature elms, whose overarching branches turned into a green tunnel into which the sky and the sunlight were dripping, here and there, through perfect imperfections in the canopy of leaves. In this sylvan secrecy, Saladin saw himself, accompanied by a small boy of about five, whom he was teaching to ride a bicycle. The boy, wobbling alarmingly at first, made heroic efforts to gain and maintain his balance, with the ferocity of one who wishes his father to be proud of him. The dream-Chamcha ran along behind his imagined son, holding the bike upright by gripping the parcel rack over the rear wheel. Then he released it, and the boy (not knowing himself to be unsupported) kept going: balance came like a gift of flight, and the two of them were gliding down the avenue, Chamcha running, the boy pedalling harder and harder. "You did it!" Saladin rejoiced, and the equally elated child shouted back, "Look at me! See how quickly I learned! Aren't you pleased with me? Aren't you pleased?" It was a dream to weep at; for when he awoke, there was no bicycle and no child....

  2. Could you write out your "dream" for me? I have one or two that I will write for you via separate email. I went a writers conference this weekend, surrounded by people who are actually producing (some selling) work. And many of them are voracious readers also. I think you would have enjoyed yourself. I hooked up with two friends (who I introduced to each other) and we ended up forming a critique group by the end the the weekend. Would you be interested in knowing more? The group will actually begin as a creative writing group (like the one you and I attended) using a book I am waiting to receive. my husband will also participate. We could use a good writer and a good reader. I think you would enjoy meeting these people, although we may only be meeting electronically in the end. You know how schedules are. Is this the right place to be writing stuff like? Invitations and such. I can easily cese and desist.
    Lil' Ms Anonymous

  3. I'd be interested in a list of the romances that you enjoyed. Occasionally I will find a really delightful read. I think BET ME by Jennifer Crusie is great fun. I also enjoyed FAKING IT. Though I'll deny it in public if you ask me :)

  4. OK, the lucky commenters get to be ANONYMOUS while I actually have to OWN UP to this... :-) But for what it's worth, the ones I've kept rather than passing back to the used bookstore are: A Summer to Remember by Mary Balogh, The Raven Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt, and Then Came You by Lisa Kleypas-- which is a pretty creditable re-write of the Taming of the Shrew (down to the beautiful, obedient younger sister), and is the best one I've read so far if you can get through the first half when the shrew is really, really shrewish. Maybe honorable mention to "As You Desire" by Connie Brockway and "The Viscount who Loved Me" by Julia Quinn (although why she felt like she had to add an author's note apologizing for the hero's pain over his father's death is beyond me).

  5. Oh, and I neglected to mention the series I got hooked on during my romance novel obsession, and these I'm still reading: the Eve Dallas series by J.D. Robb. They were highly recommended to me by a friend whose taste doesn't always match up with mine, so I didn't read them for a long time. Then I needed something for a long car trip so I got the first one (Naked in Death) and I am hooked. They're about a woman police officer and her fantasy husband Roarke, a gazillionaire (since she's not married in the first couple, that's a bit of a spoiler, but not much, as the general direction is pretty obvious from the getgo). J.D. Robb is a pseudonym for Nora Roberts, the famous romance novelist, so I tried a couple of hers since I like Robb. But for whatever reason, I have yet to read a Nora Roberts book I could finish, let alone recommend. Isn't that strange? Anyway, I finished #5 in the Eve Dallas series a couple of weeks ago, and while it wasn't as good as the others, it was good enough that I'm going on to #6.

  6. Life is short. Read what you love.