My introduction to this wondrous genre of popular fiction started innocently enough. It was my junior year of high school. I picked up a book from the coffee table in our living room, curious about its bright red cover with the title in gold. As a life-long reader of whatever books I could get my hands on, this was not unusual behavior. The book was Nora Roberts’ The Stanislaski Sisters, and once my eyes scanned the first page, no one, not my friends, not my parents, not my sisters, not god himself could have made me put that book down until I had finished every last word, and scoured the bookshelves in my parent’s room in search of the sequel. I found The Stanislaski Brothers, and stayed up until 3am that very night; not able to sleep until Bess finally convinced Alex that she was sure they would be together forever. I was sure too.
That was more than 12 years ago, and through the rest of high school, college, law school and beyond, I remained a loud and proud romance novel devotee; much to the confusion of new friends I met in college, and the amusement of my professional colleagues.
I never really cared, though, what other people thought. Every time I opened a book, whether there was a new story waiting in the pages for me to enjoy, or a much loved story I was re-reading for the millionth time (I am a major re-reader…more on that later), the first sentence always reaffirmed my devotion to the romance. I have spent entire days and entire nights in the company of Malory and Flynn, Dana and Jordan, Emma and Michael, Phoebe and Dan, Molly and Kevin, and countless other couples just like them, unable to put down the book until the final, always satisfying conclusion.
When it comes to choosing my books, there aren’t many authors I wont try at least once, and I am pretty open-minded when it comes to plot. A couple falls in love while making and selling wine in Northern California? Certainly. A trilogy where three couples must find love in order to free three goddesses from their magical prison behind the Curtain of Dreams? Why not. The daughter of a rock n’ roll legend finds solace and love in the arms of a police detective? Sign me up.
But despite my flexibility, there is one thing upon which I will never, ever compromise. There must, (and I truly can’t emphasize this enough), MUST be a happy ending. I don’t care how beautiful the story. If it’s sad in the end, I am not the least bit interested in the journey. Nicholas Sparks need not apply.
So really, what is it about these books that keeps me coming back for more? I know all the statistics. $1.5 billion industry, over 2,000 romances published each year, 46% of all mass market books sold in the United States are romances. But impressive as those stats are, its not the popularity of the genre that has me stalking the Nora Roberts website like a woman possessed, and pre-ordering her books months before they are published.
What it is, for me at least, is the escape. Not that I have much to escape from; my life is pretty great. But after a long and hard day at work, or a particularly annoying weekend filled with errands and obligations, who wouldn’t want to lose themselves in a story about two wildly beautiful people falling in love on the deck of a boat while treasure hunting off the coast of Mexico? Or about two people who knew each other as children, discovering each other again as adults while sharing a mutual love for camping in Olympic National Park?
What started as a chance encounter with a new book 12 years ago has turned into an all-consuming love affair with romance novels and the people who write them. I have shared my love with, and offered book suggestions to, friends and family alike (although you would be hard-pressed to find someone with whom I will share my actual books…I am a little finicky about my personal collection), and have spent considerable time thinking about creating a forum to share that love, and those suggestions with a wider audience.
As the weather turns cold in the Northeast this weekend, you can find me under blankets, drinking hot chocolate, and spending quality time with some of my favorite characters. I hope you will join me.