Sunday, May 10, 2009

Show and Tell

I love to read.

I have loved to read forever, since spending hours in my room holed up with R.L. Stine and The Babysitters Club. No, even before that, I'm sure. When I was a toddler and my mom would find me in bed "reading" to Snoopy. (The book was upside-down, no less. I was a talented child!)

I wish I could claim a working knowledge of classical literature and literary fiction; I'd love to be up on Oprah's latest pick. But honestly, the books I devour will not be found on any book club list. You won't overhear two intellectuals discussing them over espresso at a trendy cafe: "What was your take on the bodice ripping in chapter four?" "Why, that bosom heaving left me grappling with its contraposition of existentialism and deterministic fatalism!"

Some call them trashy. I call them perfection.

On my nightstand, you'll find nothing but historical romance and my new obsession, paranormal romance. (Which is like "Twilight" for grown ups, for those of you who shop in the more high-brow areas of the bookstore and are unfamiliar with this genre.)

I recently had the honor of listening to a speech by one of my favorite authors. Her keynote address at the "Romance Extravaganza" (yee haw!) was about the struggle of popular fiction authors -- those who write romance novels, thrillers, mysteries, etc. -- to get the same respect given to their literary fiction counterparts. Not surprisingly, being a consummate wordsmith, she was able to define something that was more nebulous in my own mind. The major difference between the two categories (popular fiction v. literary fiction) is like comparing black-and-white to gray.

In popular fiction, there are good guys and bad guys. Right and wrong. Problem and solution. The reader begins the book knowing one thing for certain: there will be a happy ending. All the questions raised will be answered, except maybe Does the author get embarrassed when her parents read the sex parts she's written? Literary fiction is the opposite. It explores the human condition without definite resolution or capital Truth, pushing readers to examine the unknowns of life and love and choices and God and all those other fun things that make your head spin and send you to the freezer for another scoop of ice cream. (Or is that just me?)

(She also said that many readers will only read one area of romance, like historical or contemporary. Which is very true for me. Nothing contemporary unless it's in the paranormal. Because I have a really hard time believing that "normal" guys these days would say any of those cheesy touchy-feely lines, and the books just lose all credibility for me. But a pirate or a vampire... whose to say they wouldn't talk like that?)

This particular author's apt description of the two subcategories of fiction solidified in my head why I avoid any books that require me to do much contemplation. One of the most valuable lessons I learned in studying and then practicing counseling was that if you don't accept the grayness, uncertainty, and relativism in life, you can run yourself into some mighty serious mental problems. This was news to me, previously having lived mainly in black-and-white myself, and although it was a struggle at first to be comfortable in the gray, it was actually a huge relief to take that pressure off. Infertility became a prime example. As much as I craved immediate answers, only time could reveal What fertility treatment will work for me? or Will I actually ever get pregnant? I had to accept that.

But even though I can now (mostly) embrace a life that includes black, white, and all shades of gray, that doesn't mean I'm not comforted by the occasional escape to places like sitcom land, where trouble never lasts for longer than 30 minutes. (Unless it's a Very Special episode that requires two parts, of course.) Which is why at the end of the day, I seek comfort and refuge with my trusted old friend The Romance Novel. I prefer this explanation to one that might dismissively label me as simply shallow and, well, horny.

This post is already longer than I had intended, but we are just now getting to the good part! The part where I realized it was my destiny all along to move to Seattle so I could meet my favorite historical romance novelist of all time: Amanda Quick. (Or Jayne Ann Krentz, which is her real name, if you want to get technical.)

She resides in Seattle, because as I am constantly reminding you, SEATTLE ROCKS. And as an extension of that rockage, the King County Library System is arguably the best in the country. Among other reasons, they are the brilliant, generous hearts that brought the "Romance Extravaganza," and thus Amanda Quick, to the lives of rabid fans such as myself.

Leaving DH and Bean home for the afternoon, I drove to the library with knots in my stomach. I tend to get very star struck, like the time I saw Jerry Springer walking in downtown Chicago or spotted Mr. T's limo on the highway. I arrived 30 minutes early, purchased a copy of her newest book, and sat gripping it tightly in my seat. I glanced around and finally spotted her, looking surprisingly normal as she chatted with a group of women. (Did I expect her to glow?) When she presented the keynote address as discussed above, I found her to be incredibly funny, smart, and confident... not unexpected, considering those adjectives describe every one of her female main characters. And I would know, having read all 25 (now 26) novels.

After she spoke, I quickly took my place in line for her to sign my new purchase. As I inched forward, my heart raced faster and I frantically searched my mind for something clever and witty to say, which would of course then prompt her to laugh heartily and respond, "Would you like to join me for coffee after the event?"

Me and Amanda Quick, BFFs.

Unfortunately, in reality I stood in front of her like an idiot, barely remembering how to spell my own name as she flashed a smile and scrawled her signature.

"Not that I would expect you to remember me, but I comment on your blog as CJ," I offered lamely.

My head swam as she responded pleasantly and thanked me for following her blog.

I smiled and nodded, all ability for coherent speech having left me by this point.

After a brief silence, she politely added, "It's a nice varied collection of authors we have on the blog."

I managed a weak "yep."

With that, she handed me back the book, and I was left to return to my seat and suppress the bile that had risen in my throat.

I will never forget meeting her, it was such a thrilling experience to interact (even moronically) with an author I have loved and admired for 10+ years. As I squeaked excitedly to DH before I left that morning, "It'd be like you meeting.... (glancing down at his current read) ... Kurt Vonnegut!" He shot me a look that said you are out of your mind, but to each his own, I say. Now if I could just meet Kresley Cole and Jane Austen, I can die a happy romance reader.

Whether you read that entire post or just scrolled down for the pictures (I don't blame you!), we have finally arrived at my show and tell: my pictures from the book signing and the coveted dedication.

Now go back to Mel's for more Show and Tell fun!

(Cross-posted on Secrets of an Infertile Mom.)


Kristina P. said...

That's so awesome you were able to meet an author that you love.

Happy Mother's Day!

Red said...

So exciting to meet someone who you idolise.

For what it is worth, I read both kinds of romance - I love period romance (ones with maybe a little less bodice ripping than ones you decribe) and contemporary ones (colourful covers, often featuring glitter or gold that make me feel like I am flicking through a glossy magazine).

Oh, and I have kept all my Babysitters Club books up to #109 including all super specials - just incase I have a little girl who appreciates them one day!

Soxy Deb said...

I read the whole thing. Promise.

I love to read as well. I will occasionally read something thought provoking, but I'm more of an escape chick myself. Life's hard, I need my books to be more enjoyable and relaxing.
Again, that's not to say I didn't enjoy say, The Davinci Code; but reading a book that you know will have a happy ending helps me think I may have one too.

Now, why no obligatory Bean pic?
Wassup with that?!

Jen said... it! Well I love it when I don't owe them hefty fees for forgetting to return my books :)

Once I went to Aerosmith signing their autobiography at Costco. Stephen Tyler actually said hi to me as he signed my book. I felt like a rock star.

Coffeegrl said...

Ahhh. Reading. And books. And authors. *sigh* I'm swooning just thinking about these things. I believe in equal opportunity reading. One person's "trash" is another person's treasure. I read plenty of popular fiction (lots of mystery and fantasy over the years, increasingly more and more romance) and I love it. I've read some "literary fiction" and frankly don't always find it to be the escape that I need my reading to be. There's some great literary fiction out there, but there's some junk out there too. Calling it "literary fiction" doesn't mean it's NOT junk if you ask me ;)