If you’d been at Barnes and Noble last Saturday around 6pm, you could have witnessed me skulking shamefully around a section of the store that I normally avoid like the plague: the dreaded Romance section.
I’d taken my sweet little grandmother to the bookstore that evening just to get her out of the house for a while. I don’t know her to be a big reader, aside from People and Southern Living, but I figured we’d give it a shot. I asked her if she’d like to get a book or two while we were there. She paused in thought before saying, “You know, I used to love to read. But your granddaddy hated for me to read because I’d get so involved in a book…”
“Well,” I said, “Then we need to get you a book and get you back in the game!” She smiled and nodded her head. “What do you like?” I asked.
“Oh, I like detective novels. Gothic detective novels.”
Okay, that’s a bit specific. Hmm. I don’t read detective novels except for the occasional Elmore Leonard, and I don’t really think she’d like those. I steered her over to the Mystery section of the store, where she stood stupified.
“There’s so many of them! How do I choose?” The bright covers and multiple displays seemed to be sensory overload for her and she stepped away, turning back to the magazine section of the store.
“Okay, wait. We don’t have to get a detective novel; what else do you like?”
“Um…I like romance stories.”
Good grief. What?
“You like…romance novels? Like Danielle Steel?” I queried tentatively.
“No, not like that. Gothic romance novels.”
Again with the Gothic obsession! What is this? Where did this even come from? Jesus, I really hope that she’s not talking about some scary-ass A. N. Roquelaure-type novels. But it got even more specific…
“I like romance novels with knights and castles.”
Whew. That seems a little tamer.
“Okay, let’s see what we can find for you, then.” I hesitantly placed myself fully in front of the romance shelves, my eyes shifting back and forth to make sure that no one I knew was around. I started picking books off the shelves according to whether or not they had flowery imagery on their spines. I figured, the flowerier the better and the less tawdry (hopefully).
“I don’t have my reading glasses. Can you read the backs of the books to me?” she asked expectantly.
Oh, dear God. Her hearing is terrible; I’m going to have to read these really loudly.
“Okay, here goes…’Headstrong Lady Portia Derring has an impeccable pedigree . . . and not a penny to her name. Which is why she is alone on the rain-swept Yorkshire moor, waiting for a wealthy earl she has never met but whom her family insists she wed. When she’s nearly trampled by the blackguard’s stallion, Portia is more determined than ever to refuse Heath Moreton’s suit. Handsome devil he may be, but she could never marry a rogue who’s so clearly out of control!'” I flinched with nearly every word.
“Ooh, that one sounds good! What about the next one?”
“‘Though she has yet to be courted by any man, spirited Gillyanne Murray decides the time has come to visit the dower lands gifted to her by her father’s kinsmen. She arrives to find the small keep surrounded by three lairds, each one vying for her hand.and property. Though resolved to refuse them all, the threat of battle on her threshold forces her to boldly choose a suitor: Sir Connor MacEnroy, a handsome, daring knight of few words. As his wife, Gillyanne is stunned by his terse, cold distance-and her own yearning to feel passion in his arms. Now, bringing her healing touch to a land and a keep ravaged by treachery and secret enemies, she dares to reach out for the one thing she fears she may forever be denied.her husband’s closely guarded heart.'” This was truly painful to read, and people were beginning to stare.
“I like the sound of that one, too!”
“Great — let’s get these two, then, and get you home so you can start reading them!”
“Well, what about those others? What are those about?”
And so it went, for another fifteen minutes. I gave a public reading of the descriptions of a large sampling of Zebra Historical Romance novels as the emo kids sitting in the Graphic Novels section openly snickered at me and the hipsters in the Poetry section eyed me with disdain.
My grandmother finally chose the first two novels I’d read from, nullifying any need for me to have read the others. I hurried her up to the cash register and we left, the shame of simply reading descriptions of such trash burning my literary soul.
The next morning, I called to check on the progress of her books. “How are they so far?”
“They’re awful. I can barely read this junk!”
Such is life.
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