I was reading some comments on the Smart Bitches blog when I came across a reader who claimed that every romance reader surely had another romance reader in their family, a mother or a grandmother from whom they stole their first romance novels.
And for me, that just isn't true! My mom doesn't read romance and neither does my grandma. I discovered romance when I was given Julie Garwood's Saving Grace to translate by my editor - and I never looked back. That story started a looong streak of historical romances featuring glorious Highlanders, and I went on to translate two more of those (incidentally, I also think those were the only romances my mom ever read).
So I decided to do a Twitter poll to ask after other readers' path to romance - and I was surprised by the amazing number of replies I got! I collected some of them into this story. They're a bit out of order (for dramatic effect, haha), but they tell a fascinating tale of how many different paths lead to the same end: reading romance.
I'll admit that my initial question was poorly worded: some readers might have gotten their first romances from their relatives, but voted "no" because they didn't have to steal them. Others voted "no" because they stole them from their dads (or in one case, a grandpa!). The end result for my question Romance readers: did you start reading romance by stealing your mom's (grandma's, aunt's...) books? was that 45% of people voted YES and 55% voted NO. But the clarifications were the interesting parts!
As for how readers found their first romances, we've got:
- sneaking them from their relatives' stashes - grandmothers in particular seemed to have been the victims of this terrible crime,
- buying them because they were cheaper than other books,
- mothers trying to silence their daughters by shoving romance at them,
- friends lending their own copies (or trading them like a particularly hot kind of contraband...*snort*),
- reading "new" classics like Twilight or 50 Shades of Gray,
- reading them because relatives forbade it,
- and possibly my favorite, buying a romance as a distraction from being caught in a snowstorm.
The hiding places for romance novel stashes were also interesting - readers found them in
- living rooms,
- and sewing baskets.
People who recommended or read romances before were:
- great aunts,
- a dad,
- a grandpa,
- and coworkers.
Most common "gateway drugs" were:
- Georgette Heyer,
- Victoria Holt,
- Danielle Steele,
- Stephanie Meyer,
- Barbara Cartland,
- Julie Garwood,
- and E. L. James.
Some readers were really young when they first started reading romances: the youngest on record was only ten!
And romance reading had some downfalls, as well as some pretty cool results:
- making older people (like relatives, teachers, or religious schools) criticize the reader's choice of reading material,
- making their relatives read romance,
- and helping readers figure out their sexuality.
What struck me as the best aspect of this entire giant conversation was the idea of books being passed down through generations. Feel-good stories borrowed and returned, read and re-read, kindling new passions for love and writing. I might not have had a background of romance readers but you can bet my mom will read my stories when they're published.
I wonder if e-books are making this kind of lending more difficult, as it's more difficult to pass them around. Or will the relatively low price of e-books facilitate their distribution? And how do you feel about audiobooks?
I'd love to continue this great debate, so feel free to leave a comment down below!