Recently I was chatting with someone on Twitter about our different tastes in romance fiction, and she asked me what my all time favorite romances are. And . . . I choked. I’m not sure I have favorite romances. Here’s why:
- How can you play favorites?!?!
Of course I like some books better than others, but I find compiling a short list to be like picking a favorite child. Someone will feel hurt and left out! But what about …? My favorite Austen novel is Pride and Prejudice. No wait, it’s Persuasion! Can it be a six-way tie?
I find it easier to list favorite types of books: I like comedy more than romangst, for instance. A romance should give you pangs and thrills, but I like them leavened with laughs. Favorite trope? Marriage of convenience or some other forced teamwork. Favorite authors, sure (although if you limited me to five or even ten I’d be in trouble).
- “All Time” is short, for me
I’ve always loved reading love stories. I discovered Austen in high school, and went on from there to writers like Jane Aiken Hodge (she was right next to her sister, Joan Aiken, a childhood favorite, on the library shelf) and Georgette Heyer. Not to mention all kinds of other books with romances in them.
But I didn’t venture (much) into genre romance until sometime in 2009. My husband gave me an e-reader for Christmas 2008. I thought, “what will I do with this thing?” and downloaded some free Victorian novels I’d always meant to read but that are hard to get ahold of. Then it occurred to me that I could buy a romance without being embarrassed. Yes, I was one of those readers. A mommy hiding her naughty book habit on her Kindle–well, Sony. I’m over that now.
But because I haven’t been reading romance regularly for very long, I think my tastes are still developing. For me, time is key to favorites. I’m not sure that I’d still love some of my early romance reads if I read them now. (For instance, Catherine Coulter, whom I read in my pre-Sony days? No. Lisa Kleypas? Maybe.)
- It has to be a re-read
This is linked to “I haven’t been reading romance that long.” For me, favorite books are by definition those that stand up to repeated re-reading. If I had to list my top ten favorites ever (notice I’m not doing it) some children’s books would make the list (Madeleine L’Engle, Ursula LeGuin, Diana Wynne Jones), along with some Austen and Heyer, Elizabeth Peters’ Crocodile on the Sandbank, A.S. Byatt’s Possession and George Eliot’s Middlemarch. Maybe White Teeth by Zadie Smith. (OMG, there is not a single male author on that list. I’d probably stick in Bleak House if there were room). Some are “great literature” and some aren’t, but they’re all books I’ve re-read with undiminished–indeed, increased–pleasure over many years.
I don’t re-read romance much. Oh, I mean to. But I discovered book blogs around the same time I discovered romance-reading, and now there are always more more MORE books to read. I had that problem before, but it’s astronomically bigger now. The ease of buying e-books means my TBR pile scares me. I feel guilty if I re-read.
So I think that I don’t give romances a fair shot at becoming “all time favorites.” I know I’ve read some that have the potential to be. What I need is a “To Re-Read” list, so that those poor books get a shot at my true, lasting love.
I might post a follow-up with lists of various favorites and re-read candidates. I’d love to hear your favorites, and also what it takes for a book to make the list.