Monday, February 13, 2012

A Family Affair

I mentioned on Friday that the first romance novel I ever read came from my parent’s bookshelf. That book, and many of the others I devoured in the first, heady, weeks of my obsession belonged to my mom, and my love of romance novels comes directly from her. After reading my first post, she reminded me of a story she used to tell me about her weekly trips with her father to the newsstand in their small Western Pennsylvania town, where he would buy newspapers, and she would buy paperback romance novels.

Over the years, my love of romance novels has become a family affair. To  understand why that is, you have to understand the composition of my family. See, I come from a family filled with girls. My mom has 2 sisters, my dad has a sister, most of my cousins are girls, I am incredibly lucky to have 2 sisters of my own, and one of my sisters just had her first child; a girl. With all those girls, it is no surprise that the sharing of books has gone on for years, and has spanned generations.

Some of my most vivid memories are of my amazing grandma, my mom’s mom, coming to visit us. During every trip, books my sisters, my mom and I were reading would disappear, only to magically reappear in her bedroom, where she always had a stack waiting to be read. “oh honey,” she would say, “I didn’t know you were reading this. I’ll give it back as soon as I’m done.”

When Grandma passed away last year, we were able to smile through our tears as we thought about all the gifts she gave us, chief among them a love of reading and an appreciation for the beauty of sharing books with family. Her first Yahrtzeit - the Jewish anniversary of her death - starts tonight. To remember her and celebrate her incredible life, I will eat some of her favorite chocolate covered caramels and drink her favorite tea while I read a romance novel; smiling while I think about how much she would have loved the story.

Soon after I started reading romance novels, my sisters both caught the bug as well. It happened one summer when the 5 of us - my parents, my sisters, and I - went on vacation for a week to a small island off the west coast of Florida. Since it was a beach vacation, my mom went to our favorite used bookstore before we left and bought stacks of romance novels for us to share. Among them was a book called 
It Had to Be You, by the amazing, and as yet undiscovered by us, Susan Elizabeth Phillips. My mom read it first, followed by my middle sister Katie, myself, then my youngest sister Louisa. By the end of that vacation, my sisters were romance novel converts, and the 4 of us could have preached like an evangelist about the epic love of Phoebe and Dan. We soon moved on to Molly and Kevin in This Heart of Mine (my most favorite book, and the namesake of my blog), and the rest of her Chicago Stars series. It was that series that cemented our joint love of romance novels; a love that endures until today.

Over the years, this joint love has brought us closer, and has helped bridge the geographical distance between us. Since one of my sisters and I live in New York, my parents live in Pittsburgh, and my other sister lives in Cleveland, we are not always able to be together, but reading the same books makes our distance seem smaller. When Katie had her new baby in November, Louisa and I were not able to be there the day the baby was born, but our first new baby gift to Katie - 
The Next Always, the first book in the new Nora Roberts trilogy - made it seem like we were. And by the time we were all together 3 weeks later, we had all read it, and were bemoaning the fact that the second book in the trilogy doesn’t come out until May.

You may be asking at this point, where does your dad fit in to this romance novel loving family full of girls? Well, fit in he does, and spectacularly. According to my grandma, my dad’s mom, my dad has always loved girls, and in my opinion, there is no better man in the world to lead a family of 3 daughters. Not only has he listened to, and participated in, dinner conversations over the years on all the topics that regularly consume a house full of girls, but he has also even, from time to time, joined us in our love of romance novels. I was not sure at the time whether he read Nora Roberts’ 
Northern Lights to humor my mom, but when he moved on to Sandra Brown’s Chill Factor, I knew he enjoyed the stories as much as we did. Though the few romance novels he has read have been of the more action packed variety, he is able to share in his girls’ greatest love, making it a true family affair.

My family has always been close, but I think that our shared love of romance novels has brought us even closer as my sisters and I get older, and start families of our own. Despite the physical distance that is sometimes between us, reading the same books makes us feel like we are just around the corner from each other. Every time I get pulled into one of my favorite books, I think about my sisters, and wonder if, at that same moment, they are also opening a romance, and thinking about me too.

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