A few weeks ago my library had their yearly sale on books. I picked up several, including Principles of Literary Criticism by Ivor Armstrong Richards. This is a mid-century century edition of a book still in print. If Alice Winkelman paid full price in February of 1953, the book cost her $4.00. I assume she purchased the book herself, that it was not a Valentine’s Day gift from an ardent suitor. If it was a gift, I trust the following year he was a little less ardent and a lot more suitable.
Unless books on literary theory are what rang Alice’s bell. Then, by all means, I hope he wooed her with New Criticism in ’53 and let the tiger out of the cage in ’54 with a spicy tome on Structuralism.
A possible scenario, just not a likely one. It would take a special girl, is all I am saying.
It also takes a special girl to bring a 58 year-old book on antiquated theory to her annual gynecological appointment, but I did. For some reason, it seemed appropriate.
So there I sat, reading in a room full of pregnant 20-somethings while daytime TV dispensed wisdom in the background. I received a few curious stares, some surreptitious glances at the ring finger of my left hand. I took it all in stride, my confidence intact. I expected my reception. You don’t read a book like this in a gynecologist’s office without knowing everyone in the waiting room expects a torrent of moths and dust motes to shoot from your body the second your heels hit the stirrups.
People expect me to enjoy dry, serious, man repelling literature. With good reason, I suppose. I’ve been known to read from the Western Canon. I have a large vocabulary. I often sound like a priggish schoolmarm when I write. I enjoy(!) and do well at standardized testing because, let’s face it, those tests are all about reading comprehension. Most people attribute these skills to my love of reading, and they are right. Everything I am good at is because I read. A lot.
If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.
— Stephen King
I can trace my vocabulary, grammar, and writing style to reading, yes. I just can’t trace it to reading books on theory and criticism. No, I am confident the credit belongs to the several hundred romance novels I have read over the years.
No, not kidding.
The thought of me reading romance novels shocks people. To this day, Tiffany, one of my best friends for over 25 years, can’t wrap her head around the idea of me curling up on the sofa with a bodice ripper. She says of all the people in the world, she considers me the least likely to engage in frivolous reading. My other friend, Steve, says I am so pragmatic and level headed when it comes to romance in real life, he can’t imagine how I enjoy the fantastical nature of a love story.
I can explain. One, I watch about an hour of television per week, sometimes less. I’m not opposed to TV, of course. I just don’t see the draw. I would rather read, and I consider romance novels my Jersey Shore. (True story: the last reality show I saw was season 2 of Survivor. Is that show still on?) Romance novels are my TV, my mental break.
Two, I find romance novels are a perfect balance to my sensible nature. On Saturday night, the Mister and I watched Sweet Home Alabama, the movie where Reese Witherspoon needs to go home and convince her estranged husband to grant her a quickie divorce before her fiance discovers she’s married. At one point in the movie her fiance surprises her with a room full of roses and a voice mail saying he left her a rose for every time he thought about her the night before.
I turned to the Mister and said, “Don’t ever do that.”
He looked at me and said, “No problem there.”
But show me a book where friends turn into lovers, or enemies turn into lovers, or anything even remotely resembles the plot whereby two unlikely people are matched up and forced into a marriage of convenience even though it is 2011? Well. I AM ALL OVER IT.
In my early twenties, I adored regency romances. They were my favorite and account for 75% of my crazy vocabulary. Don’t knock the theory. They aren’t always historically accurate, but the English is more formal compared to modern usage. You pick up an interesting word or two. Meaning, there are ten thousand ways to say nipple. I know all of them.
These days I am a fan of contemporary romances. They don’t improve my vocabulary, but if the writer is strong I learn a lot about pacing and dialogue. Believe it or not, it helps with writing blog posts.
I am normally particular about the way I start and end a post, but tonight I can’t pull it together. I’m feeling a touch exposed after revealing my torrid secret and it’s already past midnight. Last week I was at my parents’ house and I pulled a dozen old romance novels from my twenties off the shelves. Right now, on my nightstand, there is a novel set in 12th century Europe waiting for me. I think the mixture of shyness and anticipation (marriage of convenience!) is making it difficult for me to craft a solid ending.
This much I can say. You should never judge a book by its cover–especially me.