In addition to back-to-school madness (what time is soccer practice again? is this my carpool day?) my dog had something unidentified removed from her stomach this week and I have become a post-op pet nurse. So this is an extra-fragmentary post and what little reading I’ve done has been fragmented too.
Post and Ri(post)e
Vassiliki at Shallowreader wrote a great post, which began as a response to my Overdetermined Hero post, about how she doesn’t “need to like the characters or story to enjoy reading a romance novel.” It reminded me of when I wrote about whether romance is feminist and Vacuous Minx responded by talking about why she enjoys books with “conservative” heroines who are not like her. I love these posts because they are glimpses into how another reader approaches books. Vassiliki is really different from me as a reader. I think that I do have to like something about the characters to really enjoy a romance novel. There has to be something there I can admire or identify with. I think it’s because a romance asks me to root for the characters to get a happy ending, so I have to want that ending for them and think it’s right for them. Maybe I even need to believe they deserve “emotional justice.”
I think that’s one way my reading of romance, or maybe of books I read for pleasure, differs from other reading. I can admire a book where I don’t really like the characters or agree with what I guess I’d call the “ethics” of the plot (where I don’t feel justice of some kind has been meted out to the characters). But I can’t love it. And since I am not getting emotional satisfaction from that kind of book, I need another kind, some type of intellectual pleasure, if I am going to enjoy reading it. So, for instance, I enjoyed reading James Joyce’s Ulysses because it was an interesting intellectual challenge, but it’s not a book I’m particularly tempted to re-read. A book like George Eliot’s Middlemarch or Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (okay, any Austen) gives me both emotional and intellectual satisfaction. These are books I love. Generally when I turn to romance I can do without the intellectual satisfaction (though it’s certainly to be found in the genre) but am not willing to do without the emotional satisfaction, to read about characters I don’t like at all. That may be a readerly failing on my part.
More of the Same?
A lot of readers I follow on Twitter, Goodreads, etc. are reading a type of contemporary romance that I am really tired of hearing about (hot, rich, agressive/dominant guy, innocent girl; hero is the fascinating character, the one you’re reading the book for; pretty steamy). It’s starting to feel like there is only One Book, that they’re All Like That. And I’m not interested, in part because the tropes seem ubiquitous right now. I need to poke around further afield to find reading that doesn’t make me feel burned out.. ETA: This came off as criticism of some of my online reader-friends, but wasn’t meant to. You guys enjoy what you like! I’m just not that into it.
At the moment I’m reading another book from Entangled (my first Kindle loan!). It’s working much better for me than my last attempt; the writing is cleaner/more to my taste and I like the humor. And yet the set-up is a lot like Jennifer Probst’s book, where it drove me crazy (rich guy needs a fake wife, hires scatty creative type). Here, I’m more willing to go with that, because the characters feel more believable and better-developed. That’s really what makes or breaks these crazy category-romance tropes.
I think the sexual tension between them is being well-established, but I find the writing and situation there to be the most familiar part of the book. The language and emotions described aren’t really particular to these characters. When it comes to their non-sexual interactions, the book feels fresher. I imagine sexual tension and sex scenes that feel “original” are really hard to write, but it’s a place I really want them. Maybe it’s not “original” I mean, but particular to the characters. When we’re falling for someone, it’s both familiar (I’ve had this kind of experience before, and so have billions of other people) and new (I’ve never seen just this dimple, or these hands, or whatever before, or not in this way). I think the books that best capture sexual tension capture that sense of the particularity of attraction. It’s not just any predatory alpha guy and wary woman, it’s these two, in their own way. This book doesn’t quite do that, at least not yet, and I think it’s because it lacks fresh detail in these scenes, falling back on the familiar. I feel like I’ve read not just these kisses, but this description of how it feels to want to kiss this person and why, before. Does that make sense?
I am too anxious to be a good traveler, but I love to go places in books. I recently finished listening to Into the Silence, Wade Davis’ epic account of the 1920s Everest expeditions, which I really enjoyed. On a recent bookstore trip, I picked up a book on Victorian exploration of the Nile for more epic adventures.
I also picked up an omnibus volume of Ngaio Marsh’s first three Inspector Alleyn mysteries. I think I read some later ones years ago, and also saw some of the TV series with Patrick Malahide as Alleyn. Classic British mysteries like this are like traditional Regencies for me. They may be populated by familiar character types, plots and settings, but they are characters, plots and settings I reliably enjoy. Even if the book is not a great example of its kind (and Marsh’s debut isn’t particularly) they are almost guaranteed to be at least a reasonably pleasant way to pass the time, not a wall-banger. And that seems to be what I need right now.
My current audiobook is Jayne Castle’s latest Harmony-set futuristic romance, The Lost Night. I have never read one of these, but I listen to them over and over, even though I don’t think they’re 5-star reads and find them rather formulaic–something really obvious in repeated listens. It’s partly that I find the narrators, Joyce Bean and Tanya Eby, soothing (I can’t stand Ann Flosnick, who narrates her Amanda Quick historicals). But I also like the way the couples work as a team and that they’re both smart, talented, and necessary to solving the problem/mystery at the book’s heart. It’s interesting that a book, series, or author can be a favorite even when you don’t think they are the best. For me, that’s Jayne Ann Krentz in all her guises.