Right off the bat, I need to let you know that I haven’t conducted a Gallup Poll about who does and doesn’t read romance novels.
I’m not basing my opinion on any audience measurement, or public-opinion tallies or anything else quite so snooty-wooty.
My theory evolved accidently. I truly didn’t expect it.
Flashback: Long ago. Arizona. Small, satellite office. Boxes of Harlequin Romance paperbacks everywhere – packed, unpacked, being mailed somewhere. Typewriters clacking away in another room.
I was super young and working for a temp agency before a major move to California.
Have to admit I was a bit of a clerical snob back then. I was a shorthand whiz (130 wpm) and typed at least 80 wpm on a bad day. So when I was told my temp job for the next two weeks involved reading mail, highlighting the main points, and handing the letters off to someone else to type a response, I scoffed.
Say what? Read letters? In a romance novel office? Embarrassing!
Basically, I needed the job, but my attitude stunk. It got stinkier when they wheeled in a huge mail-room cart full of handwritten letters.
We’re talking back when people wrote to publishers, and their letters were actually read and answered. Wow.
Now run outside and scream.
It’s that strange.
With a heavy spirit, I started reading. Before I knew it, it was lunch time. Then it was time to go home. Next morning, I was back and eager to continue. I read and read, highlighted and highlighted. *personal habit . . . isn’t everything important?*
Women poured out their hearts about what those books meant to them, and how they managed to squeeze water out of a rock – that is, find time to read. The largest percentage of letters I read were from farm wives in the Midwest and the South. Coming from a country/ranch background, I identified with them.
Somewhere into my umpty-umpth letter, I began to like the ladies who wrote to Harlequin. A lot. I learned all about their lives.
They cooked huge country breakfasts for their families and cleaned up the mess themselves. No husband help in the kitchen back then. Most of the time, the kids were still in diapers, or off to school or doing other chores.
After breakfast, these farm wives headed to the garden to hoe or pick vegetables to clean, can, freeze, puree or cook. If not that, hundreds of other tasks needed “tended to.”
Hubby resurfaced about lunchtime, often rolling in from the fields on his tractor– HUNGRY!
They cooked three meals a day, scrubbed their houses, raised kids, worked beside their husbands, grew crops, turned live chickens into dinner, slopped pigs, tended to livestock, watered lawns with hoses, sewed clothes and curtains and raised flowers.
They were deeply involved in their children’s school activities, neighbors’ calamities and successes…and church.
They talked about their husbands in positive, humorous ways. Sometimes they caught them reading their romance novels, and it delighted them, even as it gave them fodder to tease the poor dudes unmercifully.
Somehow, bless their hearts, they found a little time to curl up with a warm-hearted Harlequin romance paperback.
Their letters dripped with sincere praise as they literally begged for the next exciting adventure.
So here’s my homemade theory – romance books were (are) the best little mini-vacations for rural women facing a daily flood of endless tasks.
Picture it! After farm wife:
Snapped a zillion bushels of green beans, and/or,
Spooned the last batch of scalded, peeled peaches into sterilized Mason jars with a few whole cloves and a sprinkle of cinnamon, and/or,
Stayed up all night with a stressed-out mama cow in labor,
she dives into the pages of a romance novel for an imaginary ski trip to Aspen, an ocean romp in Jamaica or a wild holiday in Rome with a handsome rogue *think Gerard Butler* pursuing her knock-down, gorgeous bod, and brilliant mind.
For oh-so-brief lapses of time, farm wife’s own impossibly thick lashes fluttered,
her fair cheeks burned,
her pulse raced.
She was admired, beloved, and sought after like the rare beauty she truly is.
Scores of men want her, but only her one true-love hero will ever win her heart!
Farm wife closes the book and stares wistfully out the window for a few seconds.
On her feet.
Time to mop, weed, cook, can, drive, water, hoe, plant, sew, feed, restore, carry, soothe a worry, smooth an argument, or smooch a kid.
See what I mean?
Romance books are escapism on steroids for work-weary females.
Don’t you just love these work-weary, wonderful ladies!
Are farm wives still into romance books? I don’t know. I would really love to hear from some of the rural wives out there. Also from you brave urban warrior wives.
What books transport you to another world where you don’t think about wiping noses, cleaning dog poop off your shoes or worrying about cooking meals?
I love to hear from you.
*One disclaimer. The new wave of so-called “romance books” that have nothing at all to do with romance, history, or splendid writing and everything to do with mere titillation, lust, and gawdawful writing do not deserve our attention here.*
Just for fun . . .