Reading Outside the Lines
A number of posts in the past couple of days have made me want to read more adventurously:
- Sandy at All About Romance asks “Are You an Adventurous Reader?” Like a lot of commenters, digital reading and audiobooks have widened my horizons.
- Jessica wrote a great post applying the idea of hard and soft limits to reading fiction; now I’m thinking about where my limits are and how I can push them (does that make me the sub and books my Dom?).
- January reviewed a book outside Dear Author‘s soft limits; both she and Jane liked it despite disturbing elements, and I wondered if I could enjoy something so far outside my own comfort zone.
Like a lot of readers I know, Jane and January are trying more self-published books in a search for something new and different. I’d like to, but I’ve barely ventured (only to authors whose traditionally published work I’ve already liked). Part of it is that competent grammar and editing are “musts” for me.
But I like the idea of discovering a book all by myself, without anyone’s recommendation, and having it surprise me. I’m just not sure where to start in finding them. I’ve felt a bit “flat” about my reading lately, and I think stretching myself would help. But I’m a coward, too. I have trouble with books that harrow or shock me.
In the beginning, romance reading was limit-pushing for me. First I regarded it as trash, read now and then in secret (even as I sought out literary fiction with a courtship plot and happy ending). Then historicals were OK, but I would never read those cheesy contemporary romances. OK, OK, but nothing with vampires. You get the picture. I’ve pushed a lot of limits. But now I mostly read romances in my comfort zone, and it’s time to redraw the lines again.
Passionate Reading Update
I got so many great comments, here and elsewhere, on my passionate reading post. Part of what I was asking for there, it occurs to me now, were books out of my comfort zone. I decided to start with suggestions already in my TBR, which I am trying to whittle down. That sounds like cheating. I’ve already bought these books, so how are they outside my usual limits? But I haven’t read them yet, so something in me is resisting (my twisted relationship with my TBR pile/files is way tl;dr, and I don’t fully understand it myself). So these are the books I’m moving up the pile, in no particular order:
Laura Kinsale, The Shadow and the Star (SonomaLass and Janine)
Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series–I’ve got several on audio, and have read Cordelia’s Honor (Victoria and Merrian)
Marie Sexton, Promises and K. A. Mitchell, No Souvenirs (Kaetrin)
Martha Wells, The Cloud Roads (Victoria)
And, totally cheating because not already in my TBR, but I’ve been wanting to read these for years and realized they are now e-available, Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles (Rohan)
I’ll keep other suggestions in mind! Thanks so much, everyone, for your wonderful comments on that post.
Let’s Talk About Sex
Today’s Globe and Mail seemed a bit conflicted about Valentine’s Day. On the one hand, the Style section featured pricey red gifts, fuchsia nail polishes, and chocolate dessert recipes for the holiday. On the other, there was Margaret Wente’s column proclaiming romantic love overrated and arguing that women in their 30s need to give up fantasies about The One and settle for . . . well, I’m not sure what she was arguing. For the record, I can’t stand Wente and any opinion of hers on post-secondary education is guaranteed to make me Hulk Smash Angry. While I’d agree that the fantasy of One True Love can be a problem, I didn’t like the way Wente wrote as if her own experience would apply to everyone. I’m here to tell you, Ms. Wente, that if you’re lucky, a lightning bolt at 21 can lead to lasting love. There are many ways to get there.
Then there was the Books page. The cover teased: “What gets Scott Turow hot under the collar–plus other blush-worthy erotica.” Inside, giant letters scream “Hot Type” and I’m promised writers (and Globe readers) will “weigh in on their favourite sexy and sensual works of art” and “steamy favourites.” You know where this is going, right? Read for yourself.
A lot of the books mentioned did not sound in the least bit erotic. I noticed on-line that some readers suggested romance novels (Meredith Duran, for instance), but none of those made the cut in the print paper, though some actual erotica did. Look, I’m as annoyed when genre readers bash literary fiction as I am when the reverse happens (we’re not totally separate groups, for one thing). And people can find all sorts of books erotic, so I’m not saying these writers were lying.
But I do regret that literary fiction is so often less able to be frank about sex than romance fiction is, and that when asked about “steamy reads” so many writers seemed to bend over backwards to find non-erotic books about sex. How about Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, who chose Lolita? Not, thankfully, because he found it sexy, but because “it is the first book I know of to show the terrible consequence of child sexual abuse.” That is what you come up with when asked for a sexy read? WTF?
Are people so afraid to talk about what turns them on? Do these writers never read something just because it will turn them on? Or, as a wise reader-friend said, “to see what will turn me on”? Or will they just not admit to it in a national newspaper?
For ages, I’ve been pondering a post about the sexy side of romance reading, but I’m not sure exactly what I want to say, or how to say it without going on way too long with way too much information. I’m not comfortable talking about these things. I’m still working on it. But for now, I’ll say this: I’m uncomfortable when readers say things like “hubs was glad I read book X” or “this book saved my sex life.” That’s TMI for uptight WASPy me.
But. Sometimes what I’m reading turns me on. Sometimes I choose a book on purpose to get turned on. Reading romance has helped me feel more comfortable acknowledging my own desires, to myself and my partner (apparently I still needed help with that at my advanced age). Because it’s helped me see them as normal, not shameful. You don’t even have to read the books. Skim a few erotica blurbs at All Romance E-Books, and you realize that your sexual imaginings are definitely no stranger than other people’s.
So for that, Happy Valentine’s Day to romance fiction, and to the many, many writers who are unafraid to depict sex frankly in their books and to create characters who are unashamed of their sexuality, and Happy Valentine’s Day to readers who are unafraid to discuss books that give them all kinds of pleasure.
Feel free to share your own steamy favorites, literary or otherwise, in the comments. If you dare.