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Romance…Why the Shame?

romance
I’ve noticed a weird phenomenon with women buying romance novels.  There are a lot of excuses. “I started reading them in high school, and I can’t stop.”  “They’re for my mom, really.”  “I don’t usually buy this sort of thing…”  “I just need a little break from Tolstoy.”  “I know they’re not exactly literature.”

It sounds more like teenage boys buying an issue of Playboy.  The wording of the excuses, obviously, differs (at least I hope it does), but the tone doesn’t.  In fact, people buying erotica aren’t as shamefaced as some of these ladies.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with reading romance.  Some of the authors are very talented as writers, if in no other way than the ability to deliver what the reader wants, time after time.  If it’s a bit of a guilty pleasure, like indulging in Godiva truffles, that’s fine, but why act like they’ve been caught drinking vodka straight from the bottle?

To me, one of the reasons reading is wonderful is that it can create so many different experiences.  Not every book you read has to be “literature”, and you don’t have to like all the literature either.  I, for one, despise Joyce’s Ulysses .   Also, if you want a light read, a story with a happy ending, what basically amounts to an adult fairy tale, that’s romance.  They can be formulaic, sure – but most fairy tales, both romance and adventure, are.

The original definition of romantic meant knights, adventure, true love, duels, etc.  The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers are romance.  The Princess Bride is romance. Robin Hood, Canterbury Tales, stories of Arthur and Camelot, all classic romance.  Somehow, though, even though modern romance novels contain many of the same elements of heroes, villains, derring-do, true love, reconciliation, and happy ending, they are sneered at as being “fluff”.

Well, I like fluff.  I sometimes like a story where I know it’s going to work out ok.  Sometimes there is enough tragedy and politics and brutality in real life, and it’s nice to, for a while, live in a world where you know the hero or heroine will always save the day, the couple will always kiss and make up, and the bad guy will get what’s coming to him/her.   And the lovemaking never fails to be spectacular.  Every time.  Hey, it’s fantasy, right?

Romance and adventure novels (and many combine both elements) are, for me, the book equivalent of comfort food.  In fact, if I can read them while eating comfort food, that’s even better.   Ladies (and gentlemen, of whom I see even fewer buying romance), there is no shame in buying romance.

Reading Harlequin is not a crime.    It’s ok to have a bodice ripper next to Kafka.  Keep in mind that Shakespeare was the Michael Crichton of his time.   Or perhaps Steven Spielberg.

Bring your romance novels to the counter proudly, knowing that you’re going to have way more fun than the people in line who are only reading a book to impress their friends and colleagues.

Later, we can sit around, eating chips (from the bag), and drinking beer (from the bottle), and having a fabulous time.   Maybe we can convince those other guys to join us.

C.

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Bookstore Confessional

Working at a bookstore, I have heard personal details of the lives of many strangers.  Small details are unavoidable, because they are looking for a book on grieving, or how to handle an unfaithful spouse.  Some customers, however, will pour out their heartaches, problems, battles.

On my very first day, there was a young woman looking for baby care books.  Having two children myself, we got into a spirited discussion of the merits of various books, and I left her looking through a stack of them.  The next time I passed by, she waved me over, and asked if I could help her find another book.  She was looking for a book on mending relationships, since three scant months before the baby was due, her boyfriend had decided that he really didn’t want a commitment right now.  I had some serious trouble not pointing out to her the book on how to get rid of *&$@%!%$#&@$$.  I also got her some tissues, and a glass of water.  Poor thing.

I had a man tell me the complete details of his battle with depression, and his hope that the book he was purchasing might finally help him win it.

On one particularly memorable occasion, I was concerned about a woman who seemed to be in a lot of pain.  She waved me off, saying that it would pass… and then telling me that truthfully, she wished she was dead.  This, as you can imagine, didn’t reassure, me, and I lingered, debating whether I should take further action.  She then spoke curtly to me, telling me to go away, and she didn’t need anyone hovering, and making her feel self-conscious.   I refrained from telling her that if she didn’t want people to worry, she shouldn’t tell them she wanted to die – obviously she was in great pain, and didn’t want pity, so I left her alone, wishing I could have helped somehow.

I also get to be the first to hear good news occasionally.  Women buying books on pregnancy, who haven’t told anyone yet because it’s very early.  Men looking for ideas on the best way to propose.   A man who returned his books and do-it-yourself guides on divorce, because they had worked things out.  One woman, in her mid-fifties, who looked like the stereotype of the prim spinster librarian, who was picking up a copy of the Kama Sutra for her new boyfriend.

I sometimes wonder why  the impulse to share is there.  Is it sometimes easier to talk to a stranger?  Is it just a sympathetic ear at the right moment?  Perhaps it’s just that with so many people coming through the store, one or two are bound to want to talk?

In any case, the people in the bookstore often have stories just as fascinating as the books themselves.

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Retail Hostility

The other day, a homeless man came in to the bookstore where I work.  He settled in to a chair, and started looking through the shelves.  I asked if I could help him find something, and he said yes, he was trying to figure out ways to make his diet healthier while homeless, since it was really hard for him to have a balanced meal.   We went through a few book ideas, and found a couple of possibilities.

He thanked me.  And then thanked me again.  For not pretending he was invisible, or escorting him from the store.  For treating him like a human being.  He said our store was always great, letting him get cleaned up in the washroom, letting him stay as long as he wanted.   He told me that he used to be a teacher, but circumstances had left him homeless.   He was so happy, just because someone had been willing to have a conversation with him, treat him like a person.

He made my day.

And then there was the couple who came in, having issues with their e-reader.  The return date had passed, with us, and it was now under manufacturer’s warranty.  I offered to try to help them solve the issue, but they refused.   They yelled about customer support at the e-reader company.  They yelled at me, yelled at my manager.  There was swearing.  Everything we tried to say, they talked over.  Apparently they were having an issue with their treadmill,  that was our fault too.  We were thieves, it was a conspiracy.  We were horrible people who were knowingly selling bad products.

They ruined my day.

The contrast between these two encounters is ridiculous.  The homeless man was the soul of courtesy.  The well-off couple were horrible.   Why do people feel they can treat retail workers like dirt?  I can’t imagine someone behaving this way at a bank, but maybe they’re horrible there, too.   I’m not sure what lesson to take from all this.   If my kids behaved like that couple did, they would be in deep, deep trouble.

With other customers, I have taken hours to try to help them with issues they’ve been having with their e-readers, or to teach them how to use them.  I like helping people.  That couple, though, I will not exactly be going out of my way to help.  I’m guessing if I told them that, it would just be one more reason to shout at me.

Obviously, courtesy and respect are not tied to your bank balance.   The upstanding citizen?  The homeless man.

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Essence & Folly

essenceandfolly
 

The other day, we had an author signing in my bookstore.  The gentleman in question impressed me greatly, with his warm interactions with readers and obvious passion for his subject material, and also by the fact that he had a small girl curled in his lap for an extended period of time, and simply continued speaking to people about his book.

The man’s name is Jorge David Awe, and his first published work is a thing of beauty.  It is a collection of short-stories, inspired by the town he grew up in, in his native Belize.  Apparently friends have been pressing him to put pen to paper with his recollections, and bless those friends.

The writing reminds me a bit of Stephen Leacock, in that ability to describe a character so perfectly you feel you would recognize him on the street, with a few well-chosen words.  The stories are funny, or dark, or darkly funny, and are like little tiny written still lifes.

In his inscription, Awe wrote that he hoped I would enjoy being introduced to a “colourful, raw, and wonderful culture,” and I did.   The stories are little snapshots of lives without veneers, of how perhaps we would behave were we not occupied with the appearance of normalcy.

Raw indeed.

Go grab Essence & Folly, by Jorge David Awe – you’ll be glad you did.

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Can you help me find a book? No.

So, I had an interesting day at work.  Interesting being a euphemism for bad.

Example interaction: ” Can you help me find a particular book, please?”

“I’d be happy to.  What are we looking for?”

“I think it’s red, there’s a picture of a girl on the cover, and I think it’s written by a guy.  But I’m not sure.”

Um…

Ex. 2:

“Excuse me, I spilled coffee on this book I was looking at.”

“Oh, no!  Well, accidents happen…”

“So I was wondering if I could get a discount on it now?”

Seriously?

And the crowning glory of my day, as I was leaving the washroom after tidying it, a customer came in through the door at high speed, hitting me in the face with the door, and breaking my tooth (as well as leaving a very impressive lump on my jaw).  Some days, I feel like I should get hazard pay.

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Bibliophiliacs welcome!

People who love books tend to be interesting people.  Book love (or bibliophilia) can range from adoring a classic adventure novel, to devouring Harlequin, to reading only the works of Margaret Atwood, to acquiring a library of rare first editions.  It comes in many forms, and all are welcome here.

I intend to use this space to write about books I’ve read, what I loved, what I didn’t.    There may also be anecdotes from my work in the bookstore, which is never, never boring.

 

 

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