How It All Began – Reading Romance

5 Sep

The First years

I always loved to read which is a bit surprising because my parents are not really readers. I read all kinds of books, borrowing from the library, but I was always drawn to books with an element of relationship or romance in the story. I was fine with other stories, but if there was a hint of romance in it, it was so much better.

I can’t remember how old I was when I discovered the “real stuff,” but it was on a hot summer day. I remember that I read this novel in a not often used and rather dark room while sitting on a rolled up carpet (intended for renovations after the temperature would go down). I think I must have been rather young to read it in hiding. The thing I remember most about the novel is the place where I read it – a dark room with only a few sun rays slanting through the shutters (enough to read + I didn’t dare letting more sun in as that would have given me away), piece of fluff visible in the rays, how hot it was in the room, and I, sitting on the rolled up carpet with the “book” in my hot little hands. I put “book” in inverted commas, because it wasn’t a book; It’s called “Romanheft” in German which my dictionary translates as “cheap pulp novel/penny dreadful” and looks like a small-sized magazine. As far as I know, you can still get them (picture on the right).

I don’t remember much about the story, let alone title or author. I know it was very tame. I’m not even sure if the couple kissed at the end but – here’s the thing – I’m pretty sure that the heroine was pregnant/had a child (by another man?) without being married before the start of the story. And that is all, but I’m sure the memory of the “where” will always stay with me. I then read all the other novels of that kind my mother had stashed away in a small cupboard in this room. So at some point, she must have read them (they were a couple of years old when I got my hands on them).

Some time later, maybe a few years, I discovered “Sweet Valley High” and other similar books. I didn’t read them regularly. It all depended on my money, which books the store had, and if I got up the nerve to go in the store because the owners, an elderly couple, were rather condescending regarding my reading material; especially the woman was sometimes downright sneering. But it was the only place around I could reach on my own and which sold these books, so I was stuck (it was located in a town next to the village where I grew up). Looking back, I think “really bad customer service,” but then I was just intimidated and thought something was wrong with me that I liked to read these books. I hope today I would be grown up enough to tell them: “If you don’t like this kind of book, don’t sell it.” It was mostly a stationary shop with a very small selection of books, so they certainly could decide for themselves what they wanted to sell and what not.


Anyway, then “cora” (Joint Venture Axel Springer Verlag AG / Harlequin Enterprises Ltd., Canada) launched a new line, “denise,” aimed at girls my age with first love stories. They later added a second line that was called “denise mystery” – stories with paranormal touches. I think that both lines were probably written for the American market and then translated, as were SVH and the other novels I read. “Denise” and “denise mystery” had a schedule and were numbered. They also were still as flexible as a magazine but without staples; I could put them on my shelves just like books. The best thing about them: I could get them in a store in our village so I never had to darken the doorstep of the shop in the neighouring town. Sadly, I threw them all away when I finally succumbed to the “you don’t read this kind of book” thing (last two years in school; definitely when I went away to university). I had quite a collection. *sigh*

(And OMG, I remember this cover!)

Reading Romance Without Knowing It

It took around ten years, before I read “this kind of book” again. Then it started with Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander (early 2000). I had heard about it long before I bought it myself. It was a special edition with a reduced price (the ones the publish to get new readers for a series) that made me decide that I wanted to see what it all was about (German edition). I liked it enough that I went out on a Sunday to look for the next ones at the train station (no shops open). I got the next three books all at once, only to realize I liked them less with each sequential one. *duh*

I then found Nora Roberts’s Dream Trilogy and discovered Penelope Williamson (the first one was Keeper of the Dream).

This was all by chance. I didn’t get the idea to look online for information, although I used the internet a lot to read (romancy) fanfiction of my favourite video games. I also stayed far away from the shelve of “bodice rippers” in book stores. I still thought: I don’t read “this kind of book.” The first hint that I actually did read “this kind of book” came from one of Penelope Williamson’s novels: Beloved Rogue. Of course, my edition looked like this:

and not like this:

so how should I know?

I then bought Nora Roberts’s “Concannon Sisters” (worked well), one Georgette Heyer (worked well), and a few others (didn’t work as well).

It is difficult finding romance novels when you look in the wrong places.

Reading Romance, in English

Then some day I made the connection between reading fanfiction online, looking for information about all and everything online, and wanting to look at Amazon even though everybody said you’d risk losing personal data and worse when you ordered there: I searched for romance novel sites and found The Romance Reader and All About Romance. From there I started.

Now I knew what I was looking for: I read romance novels. I had the help of two online review sites and Amazon, I was more informed, and I decided to do it in English. It was September 2000.

My first order shows that I was still heavily influenced by Gabaldon’s Outlander and looked for novels set in Scotland, preferable with time travel:

  • Julie Garwood – The Bride
  • Linda Howard – Son of the Morning
  • Susan King – Lady Miracle
  • Lynn Kurland – Stardust of Yesterday
  • Johanna Lindsey – Until Forever

The first book I read was Julie Garwood’s The Bride. It came recommended by an A review and I expected a lot. And, umh, I didn’t like it. Huh?

It took me

  1. some time to realize that just because a book gets a good grade it doesn’t naturally mean that it is a “good” book in my eyes and that I’ll like it;
  2. three Garwood novels to realize that she just isn’t for me.

I had more luck with Howard’s Son of the Morning and King’s Lady Miracle. I liked Lynn Kurland’s Stardust of Yesterday, but Johanna Lindsey’s Until Forever was more of a miss for me.

But the important thing is: I never looked back.

What is your story?

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7 Responses to “How It All Began – Reading Romance”

  1. Christine Saturday, September 6, 2008 at 5:09 pm #

    Great story, Taja!!!

    I’ve only been reading romance for two years now. Can you believe that? And I’m already a pro at it. LOL I’ve always loved anything romantic, though. I just never picked up a romance novel. A few years ago, I was reading a lot of YA novels. I started out reading some more complicated novels out loud to my daughter, and then found myself finishing them when she fell asleep and then reading others without even reading them to her. One day I picked up Stephenie Meyer’s first novel, Twilight and fell in love with romanticized vampires. That was September 2006. I then went online looking for something similar in an adult version and discovered paranormal romance for the first time. I didn’t even know such a genre existed. I’ve been hooked ever since. Even though paranormal romance is probably still my favorite romance subgenre, I also now read urban fantasy, sci fi romance, contemporaries, historicals, and a few categories. I still enjoy an occasional YA novel, too. That’s my story. =)

  2. Taja Sunday, September 7, 2008 at 11:15 am #

    Christine, thank you for taking the time to read all that and for your comment. “Seduced by YA” – I like that and I like your story. It’s such a nice/appealing picture – a parent reading to a child, IMO.

    I read a few Harry Potters, but that is as far as my experience with YA goes. Several times I was tempted to pick one up, like Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight for example (but not any longer 🙂 ), but I never actually bought one. My impression is that they are very different (in a good way) and diverse from the novels I read at that age. But then, I bought what I saw and maybe there were other options?

    One of the best things about romance novels is the diversity of subgenres you can read, IMO. I think that the different settings help to keep you from getting bored with the genre, so I try to vary them. But I’m with you on the strong appeal of paranormal romance – even though it probably doesn’t look like that from my list of recently read books. 😉

  3. Kristie(J) Sunday, September 7, 2008 at 5:04 pm #

    I think I’ve been reading looking for the romance in books all my life. Even in my Nancy Drew days, it was the relationship between Nancy and Ned that I enjoyed the most.
    Then came the “Bodice Ripper” era of Rosemary Rogers and Kathleen Woodiwiss et al. After reading a few of them, I gave up romance for a while. I just couldn’t take the total jerk like behavior of the heroes(?) During that time, I read all kinds of other books – biographies, fantasy, mystery, sports – pretty much anything but romance.
    Then I was in the library and saw the book Cherished Enemy by Patricia Veryan. I was so attracted and blown away by the cover, I decided to give it a read. And fell in love with romance books all over again. I started out very low key with the sex scenes (still slightly traumatized by the earlier bodice ripper type) and kisses only. But then I slowly started reading more and more explicit books and discovered much to my delight that he heroes had undergone a change and were a much more sensitive type than before.
    And the rest they say, is history. I haven’t looked back since.
    After a while of getting bad romance mixed in with good romance – and becoming alarmed at the obsessiveness that I was developing towards them, I also happened to stumble on TRR and AAR and discovered much to my delighted surprise that I wasn’t alone in my obsessiveness – that there were a lot of romance readers just like me – in fact a whole community of them. That discovery really changed my world – a rather overblown statement – but true nevertheless. Then I started a blog and many in the romance community became Very Dear Friends even though it was all online.
    Then opportunities arose where I could start meeting these Very Dear Friends in person. Cindy of Nocturnal Wonderings who lived about an hour and a half away was the first person I met. Then Ames and Nath. Then I went to Dallas and met Wendy, Jane and Sybil. This year in SF was even better as I had an opportunity to meet even more bloggers in person.
    And I’ve discovered that despite how different we all are, Ames and Nath for example are younger then my sons, we all have a Very Strong bond that connects us all. No matter the age or where we live – there is something that connects us and makes us friends.

  4. Taja Sunday, September 7, 2008 at 8:21 pm #

    Kristie, thank you for your comment and your story and for taking the time to write it. I really appreciate it.

    I think I only read two novels by Woodiwiss – Shanna and A Rose in Winter(?). It must have been before 2000, because Woodiwiss and Shanna were just names; I didn’t know about their significance. I think I was okay with the Woodiwiss’s novels, but all in all, I think I’m glad I had not much contact with “bodice rippers.” 😉

    [I] discovered much to my delighted surprise that I wasn’t alone in my obsessiveness – that there were a lot of romance readers just like me – in fact a whole community of them. That discovery really changed my world

    Yes, I know what you mean. I felt kind of blown away then, too. There were other people who read “this kind of book” and they took it rather seriously. Talk about a revelation! Plus: I discovered I had a lot to learn. 🙂

    I like to read your blog and when you write about meeting other bloggers, I’m often reminded of the time I first discovered the online community of romance readers. It’s great.

    And I really like how you expressed this in your last sentence, so I quote again: 🙂

    No matter the age or where we live – there is something that connects us and makes us friends.

  5. Kristie(J) Monday, September 8, 2008 at 2:32 am #

    I give Rosemary Rogers, Kathleen Woodiwiss and the other who wrote them their due – they were the pioneers and if we didn’t have them back then, who knows where romance would be today. And I think I could read them now amongst the romance of today and it wouldn’t have the same effect. I did try a Woodiwiss a couple of years ago – Shanna – and to be honest it seemed pretty silly and decidedly purple. But back when I was fairly new to marriage and in my early 20’s, a steady dose of nothing but those kinds of romance – well it reached the point for me that it wasn’t a good thing.
    And it is the friendships that form isn’t it that make the romance so special. I think partly because it is based on a mutual love of romance. Despite the fact that so many enjoy such a wide variety – and often very different tastes- it’s the very basic love of a good romance – that makes friendship so special. And the fact that I have friends all over the world(!!!!) is amazing to me.
    I’m sure it will never happen – but still – can you imagine the fun of a world-wide romance convention – what fun it would be?

  6. Taja Monday, September 8, 2008 at 11:09 am #

    Kristie, I understand why you stopped reading them back then. There was one novel I read in my “reading romance without knowing it” time that I’m pretty sure was one of them. I didn’t mention it in my other comment because I only know the heroine was raped by the hero and it had an exotic setting. I was pretty disgusted with it (it had a rather misleading cover, like Williamson’s cover for Beloved Rogue). So as I said, I’m glad I missed them.

    As for Woodiwiss, I just have a hazy idea about the plot but that is all. I know I read them in German and just because of that, I probably couldn’t read them today. Words or combination of words I barely register in English seem “silly” to me in their German translation. I don’t know, reading in English is like a buffer. It certainly helps with the (purple) prose. [Because of that, I sometimes think it would be interesting to see how Ward’s BDB is doing in the German translation. 😉 ]

    I think one of the reason why I finally decided to comment on blogs and to make my blog more public is, like you said, the mutual love of romance displayed there. In RL, I don’t know anybody who reads romance novels, at least not in the way I do. Some occasionally read Nora Roberts, even like the novels, but they are of course not one of “those books.” 😉

    Blog posts about a RWA convention or similar events always sound and look like so much fun. So yes, I can imagine a world-wide romance convention. It would be great and a LOT of fun, I’m sure (and never happen).

    But we have blogs. They are great and fun too. 🙂

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Book Genres, Preferences, And Reading (Part 1) « Books and Games - Friday, September 19, 2008

    […] Personal, Reading in general — Taja @ 5:53 pm I planned this post 1) as a follow up to the How it all began: Reading Romance post two weeks ago, and 2) because I never got around to do a post about my book preferences and […]

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