Last week on Twitter, Miss Bates asked “How old were you when you read your first romance? Name it, please!” She got a lot of great responses, and followed up with a wonderful blog post (which also got great responses). Lots of us said how much fun this conversation was, and how we should have more like that.
I really enjoyed the responses, many of which included reflection on why this reading experience stood out (because I phrased it that way, not everyone answered by naming a specific book, or a book they thought was “great”). And I loved the way mentions of a book led into discussions of it, including many I’m sure I didn’t even see. I’m afraid I’m not as inspired as Miss B, who listed and linked individual responses, but here are some common themes:
“I Couldn’t Stop Reading”
I love the way it feels when you must know what happens next, or when you just don’t want to leave a book’s world and characters. Some of the books people mentioned here: Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun; Christos Tsiolkas, The Slap (polarized a book club, but love it or hate it, they kept reading); S. U. Pacat’s Captive Prince.
A Voice or Mood That’s “Right” for You
This is kind of a grab-bag, but a number of people talked about how an author’s voice or style was part of what made a great reading experience–something that just clicked for that reader. Katherine Addison’s Goblin Emperor was described by one reader as “lovely, poignant and tender” and by another as “quiet, sneakily addictive, profound.” Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven was loved for its “tenderness [and] wistfulness.” Another reader was sucked in by Donna Thorland’s style to the kind of plot she normally doesn’t love in Mistress Firebrand. I’m guessing this is a big part of what made certain category romance authors (Sarah Morgan, Lynne Graham, Jessica Hart) stand out for some readers, too–I know it is for me. And this doesn’t just apply to non-fiction: someone described Rob Lowe’s Stories I Only Tell My Friends as “just so charming,” and others chimed in to agree.
Books That Change How You Think
This can be fiction, of course! (Goblin Emperor and Station Eleven apply). But a couple of people mentioned non-fiction works that really made them think. Pastrix, by Nadia Bolz-Weber, is where one reader is “seeking answers to questions that may have no answers.” Another praised the “tremendously insightful argument” of Matt Bai’s book on the Gary Hart Scandal, All the Truth Will Out.
When you really don’t want to leave an author’s world. One person mentioned reading a ton of Mills & Boon Medical romances from Scribd, another a Suzanne Robinson glom. A third talked of her discovery of Rose Lerner’s Lively St. Lemeston world (two books can’t really be a glom, but I think the principle is the same: this is a place I want to hang out for a while).
Rereading an Old Favorite/New Book by a Favorite Author
These ranged from 19th-century classics to a classic historical fiction in Greek, to classic romance. One person was lucky enough to discover a Terry Pratchett book she hadn’t read yet. Several people named the latest in Patrica Briggs’s Alpha and Omega series, Dead Heat, and some the latest in Anne Bishop’s Others series, Vision in Silver (for many, this series meant re-discovering a once-loved author). One reader loved Kristen Ashley’s Soaring, another Stella Riley’s newest releases (Riley is combining the reread/new book pleasures for many readers, because her backlist has just become available digitally and she’s also writing again and continuing her old series).
Many of these readers mentioned the comfort of sinking into a familiar world, catching up with “old friend” characters and seeing what new directions they went in, or coming to a beloved book with new eyes and finding it still satisfies.
Since I follow a lot of romance readers who also review, it’s no surprise that some brand-new (or not yet out) romance showed up on the list. Obviously, a new book can be a great experience for many of the reasons listed above. But I think reading “the latest” can bring its own pleasures. Reading a book a lot of your friends are reading too so you can discuss it together, for instance. Or conversely, making a new discovery and getting to share your love with the world.
Some of the most-named 2015 books (aside from those in series already mentioned) were Grace Draven’s fantasy romance Radiance and Elle Kennedy’s The Deal. Jackie Ashenden (multiple books), Jenny Holiday, and Courtney Milan’s Trade Me also fall into this category.
I really want to read a lot of these now! Luckily, since it’s still Lent and I said this wasn’t a shopping list, a good many are already in my TBR.
My own favorite reading experience of the year so far, listening to the first half of Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time series, combines many of these pleasures: audio helped me rediscover a series I’d enjoyed part of in the past (and maybe at a time of life when it appealed more to me); I loved Powell’s voice, and that of the audio narrator Simon Vance (who’s now reading me Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her?); the series evokes a particular time and place and creates a world with a huge cast of recurring characters, in which I loved to lose myself for hours; and I made excuses not to put my iPod down because I didn’t want to stop listening.
Please chime in with your own favorites, if you like.