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My sister has accused me of being a literary snob. I suppose that may be true, but as a librarian, I know that every reader has her book, and every book its reader (to paraphrase S.R. Ranganathan). I have always assumed that I don’t like romance novels, just as I’ve assumed I don’t like science fiction, horror, action/adventure, and many other genres. But that’s like saying you don’t like Brussels sprouts without having ever tried them. (I love them, in case you’re wondering.)
In library school my favorite class (and practically the only one that didn’t focus on esoteric theory or technology) was Readers’ Advisory, taught by the amazing Connie Van Fleet. In this class we learned of the many reasons why people read, of the appeal factors that draw readers to a particular book, and of how we, as librarians, must educate ourselves about the variety of books available, and how to connect people with books that are right for them. As part of this curriculum we read from every genre imaginable, and to my surprise, I could usually find something to appreciate in every genre.
On May 4 romance author Eloisa James (real name Mary Bly) is coming to the Hardesty Regional Library. She leads a double life as a professor of Shakespeare at Fordham University in New York and as a bestselling romance author. She’s one smart cookie. After obtaining a degree from Harvard she got a M.Phil. from Oxford University and a Ph.D. from Yale. She began writing romance novels as a way to pay off her student loans, using a pen name for fear that she’d never gain tenure if her colleagues knew what she was up to. She came out of the genre closet after she gained tenure and after she hit the New York Times bestseller list.
I just finished her memoir Paris in Love, one of the most delightful books I’ve read lately. After a bout with breast cancer, she and her Italian-born husband sold their house in New Jersey, packed up their kids, and moved to Paris for a year. This book recounts that magical experience in brief vignettes. Her ability to capture a moment and paint a picture within a short paragraph, to fully develop her characters (her family) through this diary-like format, and to completely captivate her reader (me) by her ability to see the magical in the mundane made me feel the need to explore her romance novels.
In the middle of reading a piece describing the local street market I had to stop and share this sentence with my husband because it was so fanciful and perfect. “I was staggered by a mound of fresh mushrooms, big and ruffled like hats for elderly churchgoing fairies.” Reading this book was a feast for the senses. When I turned the last page I felt like I was saying goodbye to a dear friend. I can’t wait to meet this woman in person and I will be checking out her romances!