September 2002

Jen Crispin

misc columns

Skeletons in the bookcloset

This is so not my fault. Really. It all started when the woman who works in my apartment office noticed what a bookslut I am. Every day when I walk back and forth in front of her office on my way to or from the bus stop, I can be seen wearing a backpack and carrying a book. Sometimes I remember more trivial details, like bringing my lunchbag or a water bottle. But I always have the book.

So one day she commented on it and told me that she was quite a reader herself. Wonderful! It's always good to find a fellow reader that one can talk and trade books with. But as we continued to chat I realized that she only read one author and worse, that this author wrote romance novels. Charming. I smiled politely as she extolled the virtues of this particular author. She insisted that the heroines in her novels were actually clever and always got the upper hand as I tried to think of a pressing reason why I needed to be inside my apartment right that instant. Before I knew exactly what was happening, she had told me that she had double copies of a few of her books, and that she would bring them by for me. Great! How do I tell this enthusiastic and very friendly woman (who is in charge of cutting me some slack when I forget to pay my rent on time) that I outgrew romance novels in ninth grade? That if I want a book with a plot, I'll read a novel, and if I want to get off, I'll read some erotica? I smiled and thanked her and escaped as quickly as possible.

A week or so later she called me into her office when I walked by, and handed me two books. "See, I didn't forget!" she told me. Fabulous! I dropped the books on the nearest shelf as soon as I got into my apartment and wondered if anyone would be the wiser if I just took them straight to the nearest used bookstore for credit. Then I remembered trying to sell off my romance collection in high school and realized it wouldn't be worth the effort. My parents still have a box full of them last time I checked, and they've had seven years of garage sales to try to get rid of them.

I realized that there was no getting out of this. Sooner or later she was going to ask me what I thought of them. Either I could lie, tell her straight to her face what I thought of her and her silly choice of books, or I could read them. So one night, right before bedtime, I picked one up. I was having trouble choosing a book to read next anyway, and I figured I would just read a chapter or two, enough to be able to fake having read the book next time I talked to her. But then my husband stayed up late fixing his bike, and I read that book for two hours until he gave up and came to bed. And let me tell you, the sex was fantastic.

The next morning I had a dilemma. I wanted to keep reading that book, but I absolutely refused to leave the house with that book. I would not be seen in public with it. So I did the only rational thing possible. I stayed home.

Okay, so the book was a trifle naive, a bit simplistic, and in places formulaic. It was also much more entertaining to read in the bath than, well, pretty much anything I've read recently. And really, where else am I going to find such feisty heroines? The Brontes are dead, and I'm afraid to say that even put together, they didn't write half as many books as this author did. However, when at eleven, I finally finished the book and made my way to the bus stop to put in an appearance at work (after a two hour lunch with my husband, of course), I ran into the woman from the office, told her I'd enjoyed the book, and she told me that she had more -- it took a lot of restraint to not scream "NOOOOOOOO!" and run. Romance novels as an antidote to the dark book that I had just finished reading that had left me morose and depressed are one thing. Romance novels as a regular part of my reading diet will hopefully not ever occur again. I like to learn things from the books that I read. In junior high, I mostly wanted to learn about sex. Now I have a husband for that.

I would ask that the day someone finds me in a book store buying a romance novel they put me out of my misery, but I am quite sure that my sister has just put in her application for a gun license.