It’s not even mid-November and Publishers Weekly has already announced their top five romances of 2012. I have read four of the five and enjoyed them all, but I was surprised to see Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand on the list. Don’t misunderstand. It’s a wonderful book, one that has been on my top 100 romance novels list since I first compiled it a dozen years ago. But it was first published in 1994 and Cedar Fort’s 2012 reissue is not even the first time it has been reissued. I’d vote for Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand as a classic romance, but I would not include it in my Best of 2012 list.
The question of which romance novels merit the label “classic” is another topic that usually evokes lively discussion. A more academic approach is to consider what novels belong in the canon of romance fiction. As romance scholar Jonathan A. Allan noted in a recent Teach Me Tonight post, there is no list of the "central texts of romance fiction that all scholars of popular romance should have read." Even if there were such a list, I wonder if romance readers would agree with scholars’ choice of “central texts.”
Several years ago, in one of those serendipitous moments that make me love research, I came across an article in which librarians knowledgeable about the romance genre generally and also fans of a particular subgenre selected five books that in their opinion “highlighted the features of that subgenre.” I am an inveterate maker of lists myself, and I am always intrigued by other people’s lists. Librarians listing romances had particular appeal since before I became active in online romance-reading communities I had never encountered a librarian who admitted reading romance. Because these lists serve as recommendations for other librarians interested in building their libraries’ romance collections, these romances might be considered the “classics” in the various subgenres.
1. Hern, Candice. A Garden Folly.
2. Kelly, Carla. Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand.
York: New American Library, 2003
3. Lane, Allison. The Rake's Rainbow.
New American Library, 1996
4. Metzger, Barbara. A Debt to Delia. New American Library, 2002
5. Richardson, Evelyn. Lady Alex's Gamble. New American Library, 1995
1. Beverley, Jo. Forbidden Magic.
New American Library, 2005
2. Putney, Mary Jo. The Wild Child.
Ballantine Books, 2000
3. Wiggs, Susan. The Lightkeeper.
4. Quinn, Julia. The Duke and I.
Avon Books, 2000
5. Schone, Robin. Scandalous Lovers.
1. Crusie, Jennifer. Bet Me.
St. Martin's Pr., 2004
2. Gibson, Rachel. See Jane Score.
3. Greene, Jennifer Blame It on Cupid.
HQN Books, 2007
4. Phillips, Susan Elizabeth. Natural Born Charmer.
York: William Morrow, 2007
5. Roberts, Nora. Born in Fire.
1. Brockmann, Suzanne. Unsung Hero.
Ivy Books, 2000
2. Brown, Sandra. Chill Factor.
Simon and Schuster, 2006
3. Garwood, Julie Heartbreaker.
Pocket Books, 2001
Always Time to Die. New York:
William Morrow, 2005
5. Stewart, Mary My Brother Michael. New York: Morrow, 2001
1. Feehan, Christine. Dark Prince.
Dorchester Leisure Books, 2005
2. Krentz, Jayne Ann. White Lies.
G. R Putnam's Sons, 2007
3. Owens, Robin D. HeartMate.
4. Sinclair, Linnea. Gabriel's Ghost.
5. Stuart, Anne. Cinderman.
So what do you think of this list of classics? How many have you read? What changes would you make to the list? What books published in the last five years have the enduring value that will make them classics? And do you think a book first published in 1994 belongs on a best-of-2012 list?
Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on The Romance Vagabonds blog in June 2008.