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October 17, 2010

Sunday Book Thread

You know you read them, ladies: those books with the gauzy pictures on the front of some busty wench swooning in the arms of some muscular dude who looks like a roadie for Metallica. Romances. Bodice-rippers. Estrogen-flavored pr0n.

My mother and my sister both went through truckoads of them -- my mom had just about every Harlequin romance ever printed, and if you know how many of those novels have been printed over the years, you know that's a lot of books. When she passed away, the whole collection went to the local library. My sis preferred the thick historical novels that usually involved a pirate who was really a nobleman in disguise who was nailing some abandoned waif who was really a countess or a duchess in disguise. (Yeah, I read a couple of them, big whoop, wanna fight about it?)

I have reached the age in my life when I'm actually disappointed if a novel doesn't have a love story in it of some kind. Even such a studly adventure novel as Stephen Hunter's Point of Impact has a love story in it. I will even confess to having read Jude Deveraux's The Black Lyon several years back when I was reading a lot of Middle Ages history. (But really: Jude Deveraux? That's gotta be a pseudonym. I'll bet it's really a guy named Wally Schwartz or something.) I like happy endings, I like books that have a noble hero and a really evil villian, and I like heroines who are spunky, proud, and can do the horizontal tango like feral weasels. The Black Lyon delivered on all counts.

Romance novels are really the last hold-outs of a very old-fashioned mode of storytelling (back when nearly all adventure/satire/love novels were called "romances"). They tend to be highly socially conservative -- for all the shenanigans, marriage and children are almost always the goal. The man is the provider and protector; the woman is the caregiver and social center. Romances are, in fact, sort of an expression of cultural gestalt at any given time because they tend to illustrate exactly what women (and many men) want from life and love. I guess we ought to be gratified that the answer is still "marriage and children".

It's always struck me as funny that so many romance heroes of modern times are pirates, privateers, thieves, brigands, and rebels -- but not really. The highwayman is actually a Scots Laird, you see, who is only trying to feed his starving people. He can never be some stinky loser who's too lazy to work for a living. Women love the bad boys, but only if they're not really bad. And there's always some plot where the heroine dresses up as a young lad to hide herself away; apparently she's counting on the hero being as thick as a plank in addition to being good looking, bronzed, and muscular. (Never a thin, cave-chested hero, either: only orange mesomorphs need apply.)

This thread is for all you ladies -- and maybe even you dudes; confession is good for the soul -- who read and enjoy romance novels.


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posted by Monty at 07:46 AM

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