Monday, February 27, 2006

SB Day: Losing My Romance Virginity

Not only has Smart Bitches Day come ‘round to be celebrated once again, but today’s SB Day has a theme. Yep, that’s right, a theme! I know that your excitement, like mine, cannot be contained by mere punctuation. “What theme?” you ask with panting anticipation. Well, allow me to let Beth explain:

Everyone tell us about the first romance novel you ever read. I notice that's something that everyone tends to remember. And it tends to be funny. If you don't have a blog but want to participate, you can just comment here.

So, without further interruption, here’s how I lost my Romance virginity (and yes, it is totally my mother’s fault).

My mother has always been one of those readers. You know, the ones who read everything and anything. She does not quibble about literary vs. trash, or whether or not one book should be more important than another because it’s nonfiction. To her, books are books, and the very act of reading challenges the imagination and the mind. Basically,

If all reading is good, and reading is defined by Words + Page = Book, then Book + Person = Good. Q.E.D.

Thus one could infer that since romances have words on a page, the reading of romances by anyone was a good thing, and this was how I was raised.

Add in my mother’s love for happy endings (because, hello, not enough of those in the real world), which she shared with me (I was raised on fairy tales), and it was really only a matter of time before I picked up a romance novel.

Which I did, directly from one of her bookshelves, at age eleven…I think. Before we continue with the following account of my devirginization (hah! Spell check has no response for this word. Take that, Mircosoft!), I must warn you that I’ve given up remembering large parts of my childhood so that I can instead tell people inane facts about my bookstore. I cannot remember the first romance novel I read, but I can tell you the exact placement of Animals in Translation in my Pets/Nature Section (third shelf down, middle).

That said, I think that the book had a couple in the water near some sort of waterfall, and there was much partial nakedness involved. I’m pretty sure that I did not resort to the out and out theft of until the fourth or fifth chapter and the characters were trapped in the jungle. Until then I would sneak into my parent’s room when mom was otherwise occupied and read little snippets. Remembering back, I think the romance was an older one, more representative of the eighties than the nineties, and the male protagonist was a pig, but at the time it was all so swoon-worthy.

Oh my gosh, he’s carrying her through the jungle. Sigh.

Oh no, he’s shaking her because she did something brave (read stupid). Gasp.

Oh jeez, they’re in the water together! Swoon.

By the time I actually got to the sex part I had secreted the romance novel back to my room for more interrupted reading. Oh the glory! Oh the heartbreak! Will the hero make it in time?

I’m assuming he did, or had to, but really, I don’t remember. This book was just one in a long line of purloined one night stands that I had with my mother’s romances, sweaty moments under the sheets with a flashlight, trying desperately to finish the story before she realized the book was gone.

Eventually she caught me with a pat-down hug, the contraband book tucked in the band of my PJs under my sleep shirt. We had a long talk about how she didn’t mind if I read the romances, but she had to read them first (which at the time I thought had to do with her screening them for content, but now I think it had more to do with making sure that I didn’t take one she was in the middle of reading), and how I could talk to her about anything. It was an understanding, an agreement, and while I may have gained access to my mother’s romance collection, I think she gained something even more important: a human library system. With my head packed full of her titles and authors, I could tell her if she already owned the book or if it was a reprint by the time I was fourteen. In fact, to this day she still occasionally calls me from a bookstore, reads the back copy of some book (doesn’t have to be romance) to me (or just the title and author), and asks, “Do I own this?”

To which I can usually reply with a definitive yes or no.

Which makes me wonder. Maybe I didn’t lose large parts of my childhood to my bookstore. Maybe it I lost it to my mother’s bookshelves. Maybe Romance just started me on a lifelong journey to becoming a human bookkeeper.

Perhaps Romance is detrimental to your mind after all.


lady t said...

I can't remember the very first romance novel I read(have always been too embarassed to be in that section,like it was the Adult Only area of a video store)but one of the the first really sleazy ones was Jackie Collins' Hollywood Wives. I wound up reading that after the goofy TV miniseries had been on(I can still recall the theme song-"Spending their lives/on Rodeo Drive/Words that cut like knives/It's the Hollywood Wives"!)and it was quite an eye opener.

Later on,I discovered some Jaqueline Susann novels at a local thift store. Valley of the Dolls was the only one I finished but I still have The Love Machine and Once Is Not Enough on my shelves(hey,you never know when you need something,right?). The closest I get to romance these days is the paranormal or historical fiction type.

Eileen said...

I'm not sure I can remember the first either (maybe like men- you need a few under belt to have a comparision point) The first I recall was Gone with the Wind. It's possible I spent much of that summer swishing around with a faux Southern accent- hoping I could find someone to give a damn.

Bethany K. Warner said...

I've never really read romance books per se.... but I remember some time in middle school, reading Anne McCaffery's Pern books and all of a sudden, one of the male characters was helping one of the female characters out of her clothes. Given the fact I was sitting in civics class and my teacher had a propensity for taking whatever I was reading from me, I was quite nervous about being discovered. The content (comparitively) wasn't that bad, but I was young.

Nicole said...

I don't remember the first one I read either. It was sometime in my late teens. I don't count Gone With the Wind, though I read that in 5th grade.

I didn't really have parents who cared what I read. They pretty much let me read whatever and encouraged a variety of books. THough I never read romance young because my mother, dear woman that she is, hated them with a passion and I just never was curious enough to read them.

Bookseller Chick said...

Lady T, it doesn't have to be romance, but the time you discovered anything that others considered "wrong" or "trashy" or "inappropriate" for your age. I'm amused that you can remember the opening song for Hollywood wives.

Eileen, I think you have a point about men...and books, and I'm tickled that you might have been very faux south one summer. Oh, the power of the written word.

Bethany, I have so been there. Nothing yanks you out of a book faster than the realization that maybe you shouldn't be reading it where you are if don't want to get caught reading that particular portion. Eventually I stopped giving a damn for the most part, but there are still days. It's amazing how our definition of "bad" changes as we get older. Thanks for sharing.

Nicole, my mother was the definition of the hands on parent. It wasn't that she didn't let us make our mistakes, but she was damn aware when we were heading down the path to mistakeville, and she would judge whether or not it was life threatening. If it was life threatening step in, but if it was a mistake every kid needs to make growing up, she'd let it happen and then be there to dry our tears or scold us depending on the appropriate reaction. I think my introduction to romance had a lot to do with proximity and I probably wouldn't have picked one up on my own had my mother not had them in the house. How can you know you want something if you don't know that something exists?

Ms. Librarian said...

There are many reading "firsts" in my memory, including the time my mother handed me "Mr. Roberts" and told me in a "significant" tone of voice that if I had any questions I could come to her. (I think she was talking about the references to "the clap.")

I think "Gone With The Wind" was my first romance, too, but just as significant was my first bodice-ripper -- Kathleen Woodiwiss's "The Flame and the Flower" - you know, the one that takes place on the ocean and in the South. That book was hot! But, sadly, you can never go back again - I tried re-reading it not too long ago, and somehow, heavy breathing just didn't cut it anymore!

lifeisgood said...

I read my first romance novel this year at age 47! I stumbled across it when looking for another Janet Evanovich mystery. It was tame compared to some of them, and I'm hooked now. It's so addictive that I do find I have to set boundaries. I now save them for exercise time.
In the past, I was very dismissive of them. I thought mysteries were a guilty pleasure; the candy of the book world. What does that make romance novels?
I read while I exercise. I've found that I can often exercise for two hours if the book is steamy. Until now I've felt the need to keep them secret. I'm afraid of being judged, probably because before I got hooked, I would have judged others badly.
Reading the post, which I stumbled upon while looking for some new funny romance authors, compelled me to testify that my health and my sex life have greatly improved since that first discovery. My husband has no clue, but then again, he's not complaining!