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 are not the books I’m mentioning here.*
Jodi Lea Stewart is the author of a contemporary trilogy set in the Navajo Nation and two historical adventure-mysteries. More are on the way!
Trouble sneaks in one Oklahoma afternoon in 1934 like an oily twister. A beloved neighbor is murdered, and a single piece of evidence sends the sheriff to arrest a black man Biddy, a sharecropper’s daughter, knows is innocent. Hauntingly terrifying sounds seeping from the woods lead Biddy into even deeper mysteries and despair and finally into the shocking truths of that fateful summer.
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AN ADVENTURE-MYSTERY TRILOGY YOU DON’T WANT TO MISS! SILKI, THE GIRL OF MANY SCARVES trilogy has no age limits.
COMING IN SEPTEMBER:
THE ACCIDENTAL ROAD
A teen and her mother escaping an abusive husband tumble into the epicenter of crime peddlers invading Arizona and Nevada in the 1950s. Stranded hundreds of miles from their planned destination of Las Vegas, they land in a dusty town full of ghosts and tales, treachery and corruption. Avoiding disaster is tricky, especially as it leads Kat into a fevered quest for things as simple as home and trust. Danger lurks everywhere, leading her to wonder if she and her mother really did take The Accidental Road of life, or if it’s the exact right road to all they ever hoped for.
Jodi Lea Stewart was born in Texas to an “Okie” mom and a Texan dad. Her younger years were spent in Texas and Oklahoma; hence, she knows all about biscuits and gravy, blackberry picking, chiggers, and snipe hunting. At the age of eight, she moved to a large cattle ranch in the White Mountains of Arizona. Later, she left her studies at the University of Arizona in Tucson to move to San Francisco, where she learned about peace, love, and exactly what she DIDN’T want to do with her life. Since then, Jodi graduated summa cum laude with a BS in Business Management, raised three children, worked as an electro-mechanical drafter, penned humor columns for a college periodical, wrote regional Western articles, and served as managing editor of a Fortune 500 corporate newsletter. She currently resides in Arizona with her husband, her delightful 90+year-old mother, a crazy Standard poodle named Jazz, a rescue cat, and numerous gigantic, bossy houseplants.
Just for fun . . .
What a fascinating insight into the life of a farmer’s wife. I bet that’s dead right about escapism for them. They work so hard! I love anything with good writing especially if it is poetic. Day to day life is far from poetic, so that’s my escapism 🙂
Women in the country have always worked circles around the rest of us, haven’t they? My mom could “rustle” up enough grub to feed a whole pack of hungry cowboys during roundup time on our ranch when I was a kid. Later in her life, when she took up bird hunting, she’d hunt with the men all day…then fry up the quail and pheasant with biscuits and gravy and homemade pie that night. I know. It’s boggeling! Great to hear from you, Catherine!
Jodi, I have to be honest ~ I’ve never been into romance novels. BUT your post made me wanna pick one up 😉
I take a journey every time I pick up a great book, no matter the genre and it is definitely an escape.
Actually, Kim, I have read very few myself. The ones I’ve enjoyed are heavily historical with great writing. If I remember right, the older Harlequin Romance novels were mostly sweet…not too racy. That’s okay with me! *blush*
Wow, I love this. I grew up in that era, and this post was a wonderful walk down memory lane. I’d bet good money that farm wives still love romances, My mom is in her eighties and still reads them. Great post.
Your mom sounds like a real kicker. Mine is in her eighties also and still drives 1,000 miles to see her sister whenever she feels like it. Crack shot with a gun, too. Little ring-tail-tooters, aren’t they? 😀 I’ll bet you’re right about the farm wives. Sure hope I hear from some of them out there. I’m curious, aren’t you? Come back and visit me soon, Prudence!
Mini-vacations in Aspen. Jayne Ann Krentz has a book called Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women. It’s an anthology of writings by romance writers. She has some ideas there that might add to your theory. Nice post, good insights all the way. Check out Lemon Custard for another cut on the farm wife.
Sounds like interesting reading, Jack. Thanks for visiting me. Come back often. I’m trying to up my blog posts to 3 x week. Not quite there, but trying!
Your theory seems perfectly valid. I read all over the place and — romance, too. Escapism into a place where the world is right for awhile, and you can be the perfectly adored woman for a bit is not to be looked down upon.
It’s escapism on steroids, Cora! I think it’s healthy to visit our little “woman caves” whenever we can. They are places, as you said, where we are totally acceptable and perfectly adored. Whether those caves are in romance novels, in our own homes or on the pages of our writing work-in-progress, they rejuvenate and refresh. Great to hear from you, fellow Twitterer!