Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Book Lust

[This blog of mine was first published by Romance Novel TV. I'm reposting it here with their permission.]

Louisa May Alcott wrote of Jo March, "She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain." This is certainly true of rock star librarian Nancy Pearl. As the winner of the Women’s National Book Association Award and the author of Book Lust and More Book Lust, she certainly knows about books "for every mood, moment, and reason."

With over 175 lists of recommended books, in her first work alone, I was eager to read what she had to say about romance.

"Nonsense" was her comment when romance readers see the need to qualify their love of the genre with, "I know it's not good literature, but…"

Of course, I agree. We read to encounter new worlds and new ways of looking at our own world. We read to gain wisdom, to experience beauty, to marvel over how writers use language, and for the pure wonderment of it all. We also read for company and for escape. And romance novels provide the perfect escapist brew.

Pearl divides her romance list into: historical, Regency, contemporary, action-suspense, and paranormal. A large category missing from this list is erotic romance.

Among the classics, Pearl gives a nod to Austen, the Brontes, du Maurier, Baroness Orczy, Georgette Heyer, and Victoria Holt. Absent from this section are Regina Towers who wrote for Candlelight Regencies, Joan Smith for Fawcett, Janet Louise Roberts, and many more. Perhaps the most egregious loss is the doyenne of romance Barbara Cartland, who sold over a billion copies of her 723 books and left behind 160 unpublished manuscripts.

Under paranormals, she covers Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series, La Nora, Rita Clay Estrada, Dinah McCall, Amanda Quick, and Jacqueline Marten. Missing are JR Ward, Teresa Medeiros, and Brenda Joyce.

Historicals and Regencies include Joan Wolf, Carla Kelly, Mary Balogh, Amanda Quick, Dorothy Garlock, Julie Garwood, and LaVyrle Spencer; however the absence of the following is marked: Mary Jo Putney, Laura Kinsale, Loretta Chase, Mary Reed McCall, Christina Dodd, JoAnn Ross among many others.

Jennifer Cruise and Susan Elizabeth Phillips are huge in the contemporary section, but not on Pearl's list, whereas Suzanne Brockmann and Elizabeth Lowell are the sole upholders of the suspense category. Another noticeable lack in the list was the mention of the small group of men who write romances, either under female pseudonyms or in partnership with a woman (Toni Carrington). Some like James Rollins are card carrying members of the Romance Writers of America.

Given that romance fiction if 54.9% of all popular mass-market fiction sold and 39.3% of all fiction sold according to RWA, Pearl's attention to the genre was disappointing at best. I will, however, conscientiously take her following advice.

"One of my strongest-held beliefs is that no one should ever finish a book that they're not enjoying, no matter how popular or well reviewed the book is."

What are your top ten favorite authors? Top ten favorite books? Which categories, authors, and books would you say should've been on Pearl's list but weren't? Lastly, do you agree with Pearl about abandoning a wall-banger, i.e., a book deemed unenjoyable despite strenuous efforts?


Diane Gaston said...

Keira, I can remember the revelation I had when I realized (all on my own) that I did not have to finish a book I was not enjoying or one that didn't completely grab my interest.

I take exception in Pearl's statement about romance, "I know it is not good literature...." What makes good literature? Romances can be innovative, lyrical, life-changing. They can make us look at our world differently, gain wisdom, experience beauty. The language can be marvelous. Not all romances, but some. Why sweep a whole genre away because not EVERY romance is more than escapist fare? Not all literature is good literature either.

Keira Soleore said...

Diane wrote: "Romances can be innovative, lyrical, life-changing. They can make us look at our world differently, gain wisdom, experience beauty. The langugage can be marvelous."

I completely agree with you there. Pick up any Kinsale, and you see it. There are plenty of authors whose books I proudly display on my shelves, whose stories deal with the humanity in us, far better than many literary novels, who are so focused on grabbing emotional attention from the reader, by writing about extreme unrealistic negative emotions.

Actually, Pearl said, "Nonsense" in response to romance readers who preface their reading choice with "I know it's not good literature, but...". I admire Pearl for taking that stance so at odds with the bias we see everywhere. And for a person from Seattle to do so is double the awe for me. Seattle is filled with snobby trade paperback readers

Lisa Hendrix said...

Regarding the men: Harold Lowry, who writes western romances as Leigh Greenwood, was President of RWA. Seems to me he deserves a mention on her list for that, if nothing else, although he writes terrific western romances (and makes a living off them, too). And Love's Tender Fury, the 1983 mega-hit by Jennifer Wilde (Tom Huff) should definitely be there.

I don't see how any list that leaves out Kinsale's Flowers from the Storm—much less some of the other fabulous historical authors you mentioned—can be considered complete. I love Nancy Purl, but I've never heard her mention romance on her radio spots, and I suspect she hasn't read the genre as widely as she should if she wants to be making lists of the very best.

Keira Soleore said...

Lisa, I completely agree with you regarding the men and Laura Kinsale. Also SEP and Crusie and so many others. She needs to do some close reading of the genres she purpotes to cover. Having said that, she's made reading so popular, there are two action figures made in her image.

avoriana said...

I agree with Pearl that readers shouldn't finish a book they aren't enjoying. Reading should be enjoyable and that's the first thing I ask for from a book. I try to read twenty percent of a book before ditching, but at the twenty percent marker if I'm not hooked, I ditch. I have too many must reads in my TBR to stick with a book I don't like.

Keira Soleore said...

Avoriana, welcome to the blog and thanks for commenting.

" Reading should be enjoyable and that's the first thing I ask for from a book."

Absolutely. No fiction book should be so clever as to be caught up solely in the techniques of prose and description, that the story and its characters are left far behind.

" Reading should be enjoyable and that's the first thing I ask for from a book."

You're far more tenacious and fair. There have been books I have ditched after 10 pages, because they simply didn't grab me, or there were so many errors that I couldn't follow the story, etc.