|Girl Reading by Charles Edward Perugini|
You don’t hear much about them these days, but before the romance revolution that began with the publication of Kathleen Woodiwiss’s The Flame and the Flower in 1972, women were reading romance fiction. The first romances I read were my mother’s books. One muggy Georgia summer weekday, a short time before I turned ten, I was complaining because I had nothing to read and my dad couldn’t take me to the library until Saturday. Tired of my whining, my mother pointed me toward her books and said “Read.” I did.
By Saturday, my reading interest had changed because I had discovered romance. I had read Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and a half dozen romances by Emilie Loring and Grace Livingston Hill. I was an avid reader from the time I was five, but it was that summer that my appetite for more and more to read became voracious. I carried a book with me everywhere, snatching a few moments to read lying on a towel at the swimming pool, following my mother down the aisles of the grocery store, even a few times stealing minutes during a Sunday morning sermon. (The last reached a forcible conclusion when my mother found me out.) Over the next couple of years, I discovered other treasures on my mother’s bookshelves—books by Faith Baldwin, Elizabeth Cadell, and D. E. Stevenson.
These were the books that started my life-long love affair with romance. I still have a double handful of my mother’s romances on my keeper shelves. I have since discovered that my experience was not unusual. Some studies suggest that most women who think of themselves as heavy readers began reading for pleasure between the ages of five and nine (63%), and a significant number (44%) read books that were recommended by their mothers or another close relative. (Many of my earlier favorite books—the Anne of Green Gables books and Louisa May Alcott’s books, for example—were also books my mother had loved and wanted me and my sister to read.)
It was many years later when I was in graduate school that I discovered just how popular the romance writers whose books my mother loved and shared with me had been. When I left my romance-reading closet where I had lurked throughout most of my academic career and joined the online romance fiction community, I was bothered by the fact that Loring and the others seemed largely forgotten. I toyed with the idea of writing a book about these gentle romance authors whose books tens of thousands of women readers devoured in an age when the only steam in romance fiction was that rising from the heroine’s tea cup. I even did some research and filled notebooks with copious notes, but other writing for profit and for pleasure always seemed to take precedence.
This week I did some cleaning and decluttering, and one of the decisions I had to make was whether to trash my notes on gentle romance along with some of the books by these authors. Somehow it seemed a betrayal of my mother and the gift she gave me that long ago summer to do so. That’s when a new idea was born: to use this blog for a series of posts paying tribute to the five romance writers I discovered on Mother’s bookshelves. So, beginning tomorrow and continuing through March, appropriately Women’s History Month, every other Saturday, I’ll be posting a tribute post to one of these writers. I’ll still do my regular Tuesday reviews and irregular bonus reviews on Thursdays, but the Saturday posts for this period will be focused on my mother’s books. I hope you will enjoy them.
How old were you when you discovered reading for pleasure? Who introduced you to romance fiction?