Life Occasionally Needs a Little Buttercream Frosting
Here’s what so many non-romance-readers don’t get: reality is not the point.
No one ever needs to reads a novel to learn more about reality; it’s what we live in, and it’s pretty difficult to avoid. (Believe me, I’ve tried.) If you want factual knowledge about the fascinating world we live in, read non-fiction or watch the news. But in our current culture, it seems as if a novel is only good, or good for you, if it serves some kind of instructive purpose. We’re somewhat embarrassed to admit that we do anything just for pleasure these days, and even more embarrassed to admit that we read or watch something in the deliberate pursuit of emotion.
But that’s what novels are for: to elicit emotion. And the reason we read romance is because we want to experience the best emotions: tenderness, passion, sacrifice, healing, joy, satisfaction. Is it bad to want that?
I’ve heard romance novels referred to as trash even by some of the genre’s most devoted readers. I’m sympathetic rather than offended because I understand where it’s coming from: we’re all swimming in the same reality here, and if you want to go against the current, you learn to poke fun at yourself, and your tastes, before other people inevitably do. Love is not trash, however, and romance readers are not dumpster-divers but rather connoisseurs of emotion. They tend to discuss their favorite novels–the flavors and complexities and textures–as meticulously as sommeliers at an international wine tasting.
I have also heard romance novels compared to junk food. If that’s true, I’m here to tell you, my standard diet of reality occasionally needs a layer of buttercream frosting. The emotions engendered by a romance novel tend to soften the edges of those days when reality can get a little brutal. And the glow of happily-ever-after flatters everyone in its wake, including tired husbands with dark circles under their eyes and dishpan hands and muddy shoes from having just taken out the garbage. After I read a romance, I have no illusions that my husband is a rakish duke, and I don’t fault him for not turning into one. But to me, he is as sexy and romantic and wonderful as any romance hero could ever be. Because reality is more than just how things are . . . reality is also how we see them. And the two are not mutually exclusive.
Is it bad to read a book that was created to elicit emotion? Only if it’s bad to love music, art, poetry, dreaming, dancing, and everything about life that isn’t related to survival and Spartan practicality. Could you live in a world without romance novels, ice cream, twinkle lights, sandcastles, flower bouquets, hugging, holding hands and kissing?
But would you really want to?
Recommendations: For a smart, witty and passionate historical romance, I recommend anything by Sarah Maclean, although my personal favorite is “Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake.”
Questions for Lisa:
What is the craziest or ugliest object in your house, and why do you keep it?
We have a betta fish named Marcel, who has lived years beyond the average life expectancy . . . and it shows. Poor Marcel is homely, bedraggled, half-blind, and as feisty as can be. We are careful to keep him away from mirrors. No expense is spared in preserving the life of this fish—the best water treatments and silk plants and tank adornments, not to mention careful monitoring of temperature and nutrition. I’m dreading the day when he goes.
If there was a movie made about your life, what would it be called? (And just for fun, who would play you?)
“The Days Of Wine And Fritos” . . . but I can’t think of an actress who could replicate my enthusiasm for salty snack food.
What is the best non-monetary gift you ever received?
When my son was six, he took a black and white photograph that he called “tower of hands” . . . it was my hand on the table, and then his, and my daughter’s tiny hand on the very top. He gave it to me in a construction paper frame. It was at a time when my husband was traveling a lot (he was in sales); so often it was just me and the two children. The photo is precious to me because it represents the three of us sticking together while Daddy was gone.
If you had to pick one romantic scene or couple to recommend to a first-time reader of YOUR books, which would it be? (Any picks for romance novels in general?)
I guess Evie and Sebastian from Devil In Winter . . . it was a historical novel, one of a quartet called the Wallflowers. I loved writing it because Sebastian had been the villain of the previous novel, so it was a pairing between a viciously articulate scoundrel and an innocent, shy heiress who stutters.
And one of the best romance novels ever written is All Through The Night by Connie Brockway . . . an amazingly sensuous and romantic story about a beautiful young widow who is secretly an infamous thief, and the man sent to catch her.
You are reading this essay at ReadARomanceMonth.com. Be sure to visit the About Read-A-Romance Month to learn more, or the Authors & Contributors page to see a list of all the great romance writers who are participating in celebrating the romance genre during the month of August. Also visit the Awesome Contests page to see how you can register each week to win “A Month of Romance” (31 books), e-readers, and even the Grand Central Grand Prize, an iPad mini. If you love romance, then this is the place to be!
Lisa Kleypas is generously donating a copy of Crystal Cove to give away (one U.S. only, apologies to international readers). U.S. readers, to enter, either leave a comment here or enter the weekly drawing on the contest page. Or both. (Only one entry per commenter per post, though – multiple comments on one essay does not give you more chances.) Comment entries must be posted by 11:59pm EST Aug 22 to be eligible, though winners will be announced the following week.
After graduating from Wellesley College with a political science degree, Lisa published her first novel at age twenty-one. Her books are published in fourteen languages and are bestsellers all over the world, with 17 having been on the New York Times Bestseller List. In December 2012, her book Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor was the basis for the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, Christmas With Holly.
Lisa writes for St. Martins Press and is represented by her agent Mel Berger of the William Morris agency. You can find her online at www.lisakleypas.com
Buy Lisa’s Books Online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble