Life is About More Than Just Survival
The first written romances were medieval, involving knights, fair maidens, a quest, and chivalry. Men were valiant, strong, and courteous. Women were lovely, pure, and faithful.
Much has changed since then, and for the better, too. Women are no longer given away as dowry by their fathers to some hairy toothless landowner they’ve never met before. Men fight most of their battles in the legal court or vicariously through football and baseball, instead of stabbing each other with spears, and far fewer horses have to fall, which cheers me immeasurably. People in general live much longer lives, not dying in hideous pain from the plague, with leeches and blood-letting as part of their health routine, and best of all, many fewer women die in childbirth and suffer less from infections due to unwashed midwives’ hands.
And yet. . .who can resist the knight in shining armor daydream? Why do we still curl up with novels where men say to women: “I will love you until the end of time.”? (No amount of torture or seduction has made my husband say this to me, even after 30 years.) Why do women flock to romantic movies and read romantic books?
One theory—my theory, actually—is that these days, if we’re fortunate, we live very long lives, and our lives may be happy, healthy, and full, but still as human beings we’re genetically endowed with a desire as strong as our heartbeat to believe that life is about more than just survival.
I believe every single one of us, male and female, has had at least one day in our lives, and probably more than one day, when we felt ourselves lifted above the ordinary, when we felt like a hero or a heroine, when we first kissed our one true love, when we achieved a goal we’d been struggling to attain. We can’t hope to have such moments often in our lives, but we can relive them, remember them, re-feel them, especially when we read books that move us to tears. And those moments of recalling, those souvenirs of pride, praise, and passion, help us get through the tough days, the blah days, help us remember why we’re alive.
The first romance I read was, of course, Cinderella. How timeless a tale, if not exactly accurate: we all get to leave our brooms and dustpans and be kissed by a prince, an event so wonderful we marry and live happily ever after, along with our brooms and dustpans.
The most recent best romance novel I’ve read isn’t even a “romance” novel. It’s a mystery called Learning to Swim by Sara Henry, which begins with a woman diving off a ferry into Lake Champlain to rescue a little boy. She is both hero and heroine in this novel, and she finds her fair share of princes.
My five-year-old granddaughter loves Cinderella. My grandson’s first request was to ask me for a sword. We’re born for a need for the quest, the hero kissing the heroine, the flowing banners, crimson capes, and golden crowns in our lives, and romance novels keep us happily supplied.
Questions for Nancy:
What is the craziest or ugliest object in your house, and why do you keep it?
The ugliest object in our house is, and I apologize for being so pedestrian, my iron. I have a lovely ironing board cover, but there’s no way to pretty up an iron, and it’s obvious why I keep it.
If there was a movie made about your life, what would it be called? (And just for fun, who would play you?)
The title of a movie about my life would be: How Did She Get to Be So Lucky? (Except for Her Frizzy Hair). Kate Middleton would play me and Tom Brady would play my husband, Charley. (Hey, this is romance, right?)
What is the best non-monetary gift you ever received?
This is easy: my children and grandchildren. And since I am romantic, I’ll add what I wrote for the acknowledgements to Island Girls:
“Finally, a brief explanation: I realize that in my novels women meet wonderful men on Nantucket. Truly, this is simply a matter of fiction imitating fact. Thirty years ago I came to Nantucket to visit a friend. She introduced me to Charley Walters. We’ve been married for over twenty-eight years, some of them relatively challenging, pun intended. Charley is my constant inspiration for all good men. He is my companion, my champion, my cavalier, and the steady center of my soul. Thank you, Charley. Maybe everyone should be an island girl, at least once.”
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 recommend Ben and Natalie in my novel Summer Breeze for someone reading me for the first time. Ben literally rescues Natalie; they’re attracted to each other, but he’s a scientist and she’s an artist, so they have trouble communicating. I find the scene where he tries to explain his work to her toward the end of the book as incredibly sweet and romantic as a long embrace.
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!
Nancy is generously donating an audiobook of Island Girls to U.S. readers (apologies to international readers). To enter the domestic contest, 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 23 to be eligible, though winners will be announced the following week.
Nancy Thayer is the author of twenty-three novels, including Summer House, The Hot Flash Club, Beachcombers, Heat Wave, Summer Breeze, and Island Girls, due out June 2013. Her books concern the mysteries and romance of families and relationships: marriage and friendships, divorce and love, custody and step parenting, family secrets and private self-affirmation, the quest for independence and the normal human hunger for personal connections.
Nancy Thayer has a B.A. and M.A. in English literature from the University of Missouri at Kansas City. She was a Fellow at the Breadloaf Writers’ Conference. She has lived on Nantucket Island year-round for twenty-eight years with her husband Charley Walters. Her daughter is the novelist Samantha Wilde.
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