Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Bad Influence

I'm trying to remember how old I was when I started reading Romances. I know I started with a few Harlequins which I kept under the bed. One of which was Janet Dailey's The Thawing of Mara. I seem to remember this one solely for the fact that the hero's name was Sin. (Ooooo.) And, obviously, the heroine's name was Mara. I also remember a scene where he invites her to dinner and cooks two steaks with a fresh green salad. Don't know why, but that image is the ONLY one I remember from the book. I don't even remember why Mara had to be thawed. (Had something to do with her father?) (And my last parenthetical comment on this book is that I didn't realize it was by Janet Dailey until I went to Google the title to see if an image existed. One does, but not the one I remember.) The other Harlequin I have absolutely no memory of.

Let's just not walk down the path of memory lane wherein lies the moment where my Harvard-educated mother found these books under my bed. Yowza! To say she was "disappointed" in my reading choices is more than a mild understatement. To her it was as if she had found a pound of weed under there. Man, was she pissed.

I remember graduating to bodice rippers in prep school, which would have been when I was 15. I distinctly remember buying Jude Deveraux's Highland Velvet in a bookstore near the school. I totally fell for this cover. Swwooosh! And she's up on the horse! Ooo. My little teenaged heart just pitter pattered. I remember staring at it for the longest time screwing up my courage to actually buy it. I really felt as if I were about to buy a box of condoms, I was that embarrassed. But on the other hand, I REALLY had to own that book.

OK. So now, ahem, as a much more mature person, I'm a little embarrassed by having been taken in by this cover. But, boy did it work as a marketing tool in 1982. And well, you know, just because I'm feeling a touch defensive, she does have normal sized breasts, and the descriptions of the main characters do match the cover. The horse is de trop.

I read every Deveraux I could find and shortly thereafter moved on to Shirley Busbee, Johanna Lindsey, Roberta Gellis, a touch of Beatrice Small, and Julie Garwood and Judith McNaught. Glom Glom Glom, gobble gobble gobble.

Now I have a reasonable collection of romances in my bedroom (Arnette Lamb, Laura Kinsale, selected Julie Garwoods, some Judith Ivories, and a couple of Mary Baloghs). I also have many boxes of romances in the hallway. Most of the boxed books I bought in a lot on eBay so I could trade them on Paperback BookSwap for books I really want.

So my ever-precocious daughter (11) has been asking me what in the world all these books are which come and go through the mail. And I've given her the literary criticism version of the obsession. They're about two people meeting and falling in love. They tend to be set in very specific time periods, and there's a basic formula to the plot. Oh, and by the way, there's sex.

"Ew," says the pre-teen.

"Phew," says the Mom to herself. Because I kind of knew that she'd get grossed out by sex. (I think the falling in love part is probably OK, but physical sex? Yuckers.)

So a few days ago she comes down to breakfast and asks me over cereal, "Have you read Mr. Impossible? I really liked it."

"Eh. Well, I kind of read it, but I think I had been reading too many, and I didn't really like it."

"Oh! You should read it! It's all about this girl who's really smart but no one thinks she is, and they go through pyramids, and you should try it again."

OK. Coffee is slowly seeping into my brain and the synapses finally click together. Shit. That's not rated "sweet", as in kissing only. There's full-on sex in that one. Damn Damn Damn. OK. Calm down. She was going to grow into this at some point. Deep breath.

"So, uh, didn't the sex kind of bother you? Like isn't it pretty, you know, like, strong in that one?" (OK, don't hurt me--I say "like" a lot when I'm stressed.)

"Yeah. But they let you know when it's coming."

Turns out she's read a bunch at this point--and not Harlequins. She's straight into the European Historicals. Oh Lord. I am such a bad influence.

It's not like I can tell her not to read them. (Although I'm hiding Hot Spell from her--Mommy's not ready for romantica discussions just yet.) She has a theme she gravitates to: she likes stories about women who are smarter than people give them credit for. And she's smart and opinionated, so I can see where this works.

I am so waiting for some dear friend's mother to call me one night to say, "Do you KNOW what your daughter is READING??" Gah. (Of course, simply typing that reminded me that I have already had to ask her not to bring the romance she's working on to school to read during recess.)

I certainly enjoy talking about romances, so that will be cool to share with her. But I wasn't ready for this to start in fifth grade. Kids these days.

PS: She was right. Mr. Impossible is a good book and did deserve a re-read.


P.Devi said...

Ha. I was lucky enough that my parents never enquired into my reading habits--and I was reading adult romances by age 12 or 13. I'm sure they kept their gray hair at bay longer for it. Poor you!

Megan Frampton said...


My Harvard-educated mother was the one who brought home the trash...which I started reading even earlier than your daughter (but they were Barbara Cartlands, so nothing but ellipses). I quickly graduated to steamier stuff, including a boatload of Rosemary Rogers. Which my mom also brought into the house, and didn't care if I read. Hm. And look how well I--oh, never mind.

She sounds like a cool kid.

Jay said...

Hahahahaha that's pretty funny. I think I started romance with Harlequin American Romances - I liked the ones about a bumbling father with a baby.

My mom never really cared that I was reading romance but I do remember feeling weird sharing books with her. I read faster than her so we'd buy a book, I'd read stuff first, and then give it to her, like, ::crosses fingers:: please just let her gloss over the part where Chase did that thing with his leg...

Jay said...

*it not stuff. duh

Kristie (J) said...

I wasn't even allowed to read comic books growing up. But I don't think my mom freaked over Harlequins as much. I was grown and out of the house by the time I graduated to the 80's bodice rippers so it wasn't an issue. It is nice to know you'll have something to share with each other - even if she does seem a little young to you now :)

Kristie (J) said...

I wasn't even allowed to read comic books growing up. But I don't think my mom freaked over Harlequins as much. I was grown and out of the house by the time I graduated to the 80's bodice rippers so it wasn't an issue. It is nice to know you'll have something to share with each other - even if she does seem a little young to you now :)

Marianne McA said...

I found my daughter (at 13?) reading one - from memory probably a Silhouette Desire - and took it from her without thinking. It was so instinctive, I can't be sure what my reasons were.

I read romance young - certainly I was reading Heyer by eleven - but nothing explicit till much later. Most of my teenage exposure to the curious world of copulation came from Cosmo, which blessed me with an esoteric if incomplete education. [No sex education at school, though I thought later that we might have been supposed to draw certain inferences from the reproduction cycle of the rat. Needless to say, I'm not that joined up in my thinking.]

Kate R said...

Loretta Chase? your daughter's got good taste.

CindyS said...

Gah! I remember our Scout leader was pregnant when I was around 11 or 12 and she sent home permission slips for showing a video about conception. I was all ready and my mom signed saying it was probably time so I was very confused when the film had frogs, fish and I *think* dogs doing it. It's funny now, but I so didn't connect the dots. I felt so ripped off. I guess I was waiting for a nudie film ;)

I was so late to romance books it's almost embarassing. I mean, I wasn't allowed to read Are You There God, It's Me Margaret because she got her period!!

I was 18 when I stumbled across a book at my friend's house. Just so happened I opened the book to a sex scene. I was floored. They write about this!! Hooked ever since. Don't think I read my first Harlequin until I was 20 and again, ripped off. I bought 10 books for a buck at a fair only to discover no sex. Thanks, but, no.

Now, I was one of those girls who had a long term boyfriend at the age of 15. We never went all the way but I wonder if I would have dated such a pain in the arse if I had been able to read romance.

There, a positive thing for your daughter. Maybe she won't date until she's 22 because all the boys she will meet will seem dim ;)


CindyS said...

Did I just write 'we didn't go all the way'? Could I be more of dork. Yeah, we never did the horizontal mamba.

There. Feeling mature again.


Suisan said...

It's taken a few days, but everything is settling out in my head. And I'm OK with her reading my romances.

I just figured she'd start out with light kissy-face young adult stuff or Harlequins. I think the swan dive into the deep end of the pool freaked me out. But she can swim, so I'm OK. (Whch reminds me, I have to get my kids signed up for swimming lessons this summer. Mommy=distraction.)

And I wasn't allowed to, sigh, eat sugared cereals, watch cartoons, read comic books, or do anything which wasn't literary and highbrow. I went to college not knowing who Pink Floyd was. (Although I had heard the song "We don't need no Education.") My husband is constantly trippng over his jaw as he learns of some pop reference that I have no inkling of.

So the romance novels? Oh My. Not on the Norton Anthology reading list. (Jane Eyre is Mother-approved. Nacy Drew just barely qualifies. I was never banned from reading Judy Blume, but it was not encouraged. Rob Roy, Ivanhoe, Treasure Island, Three Musketeers get the Father Thumbs-up, but not The Scarlet Pimpernel nor The Prisoner of Zenda. There is something odd about sneaking Scarlet Pimpernel books into the house.) OK, enough of that--like shooting fish in a barrel I suppose.

Suisan said...

OH! For got my Growth Education story (we had odd names for Sex Ed when I was growing up.)

Went to friend's house for sleepover--she pointed out the Birth Control Pills by the side of the sink. So I asked, "Why doesn't your mother just keep her underwear on at night?"

Somehow I had the idea that the conception part just happened as an accident--the snake escaped from the terrarium and went wandering in the night, I guess.

Apparently she asked her mom and her mom told my mom the story. Hee Hee.

sybil said...

I LOVE this story. Go you. Kids will do whatever the hell they want to do, isn't it best to do with your imput?

My mother flipped the hell out when she found something... not a Sweet Valley High but a book along those lines. ::gasp there was a boy on the cover::

what did I learn from that? Never leave books with suggestive covers around. So by 12 I was reading Jackie Collins, Sidney Sheldon, Judith Krantz, I recall reading Flowers in the Attic around 10 and was still reading VC stuff until 17ish.

My lil sis, who is about to be 12, wouldn't read it I don't think. She has my mom's prude gene ;).

Marianne McA said...

Sybil, I agree it's easy to get it wrong, but I do think children at this age need parenting. You wouldn't say 'Kids will do whatever the hell they want to do' if Suisan was talking about her eleven year old skipping school.

It's a difficult issue to grapple with as a parent because there's no consensus - will Little Britain make my child racist? will Harry Potter turn her satanist? [Life of Brian? Sex & the City? Celebrity Big Brother?]
I end up making continual case-by-case, child-by-child, happy-with-this, uneasy-about-that judgements.
I'm sure I get it wrong, but I'm convinced it's right to try.