Okay, yes...as a teenage girl I devoured Danielle Steele and Kathleen Woodiwiss, sighing wistfully and forming somewhat hackneyed ideals about love, sex, and marriage.
But as I matured, so did my taste in reading material, as well as my philosophy regarding it. Simply put, life is too short to read crap. There is too much wonderful literature out there, too many brilliant authors. I hunger to know them. So, I resolved not to waste my time reading sensationalistic garbage.
I do enjoy a good thriller, and sometimes I need something purely frivolous to calm the tempest of thought raging in my head. I don't automatically dismiss an author simply because he or she is at the height of popularity, though I did, for a while, steadfastly refuse to read anything on Oprah's book club list. But for the most part, I try to stick to reading that is enriching of the mind and spirit.
Yes. I have, on more than one occasion, been called a book snob.
So you see why "romance" has largely been stricken from my list of acceptable reading. You know the type of tripe I'm talking about..."Bodice Rippers" as I often refer to them. Formulaic foibles of hero and heroine, replete with heaving bosoms, throbbing loins, and plenty of laving.
Now, as a rule, I'm a pretty big fan of laving in general. LOVE me some laving. Can't live without it, in fact.
I'd rather experience it than read about it, especially when the descriptives employed are couched in time-worn cliches and sophomoric euphemisms and the recipients of which, are unfailingly fair of body and face, with nary an ass pimple or nipple hair to be found.
So, imagine my surpise and chagrin at finding myself utterly, completely, inextricably and undeniably addicted to Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series.
In four weeks I have read, nay...consumed...four of the books. I have stayed up into the wee hours reading, knowing my alarm would be going off at 6 am, and not caring, reading on with reckless abandon, wholly unable to stop turning pages. I have bargained with myself as the minutes ticked by on the clock...just 30 more minutes, one more chapter, just until I find out if...telling myself, that if I stop at 12:00, I can still get 6 hours of sleep. I can make do with 5. 4, and I'll take a nap after I wash all the bedclothes and remake the beds.
I have carried them with me everywhere..the ballpark, the orthodontist, the therapist...hoping for a few stolen moments of reading during the day. I have, for the first time ever, been tempted to read ahead, compelled in a way I have never, ever experienced before to know if my beloved Claire and Jamie have made it through the next crisis. Lived to see another day. Found one another after being separated by oceans of time and the obligations of another life.
And not only am I consumed by their fate. When I am away from them, I miss them, as if they were flesh and blood human beings. I think and wonder and worry about what will happen to them next. I have always had the ability to become completely immersed in a book. In truth, while I am reading, the story becomes my reality. But this really surpasses anything I have ever experienced.
Frankly, I'm a little embarassed by it.
But I'm in good and plentiful company I've found. Apparently, Outlander has a HUGE following. I really had no idea.
There are fansites, discussion groups, dubious artistic renderings, and magazine articles.
People have even created videos.
That guy is SO not Jamie, though I quite like Kate Beckinsale as Claire.
After forgiving myself for the lapse in taste and judgement, I began to realize that categorizing these books as "romance" is a heinous oversimplification and gross injustice. True, there is certainly romance novel-esque contrivance and cliche. And its true that somtimes, the loose ends are tied up far too tidily to be anything but a vehicle of convenience.
But Diana Gabaldon is an incredible storyteller, and I like her writing style a lot. Girlfriend doesn't shy away from big words or a run on sentence. Truly, a woman after my own heart.
Outlander is a sweeping historical epic, exhaustively researched, unimpeachable in it's authenticity. The plot is complex but plausible, the many twists surprising, but tenable. It is all woven together with rich imagery and commendable attention to detail. The language, the culture, and the humanity of the 17th century Scottish Highlands are brought to life by the artistry with which they are written. I could see, hear, smell and taste the world described within the pages. I was, and am, utterly lost in it.
But it's the characters that make Outlander really compelling. Like the writing, they are infused with a sincerity and a passion that is rare. They are so well developed that they practically breathe and because of that, they inspire in the reader a unique affection. We like them. We love them. We hope for them and we fear for them. And when I have read the last book, I will mourn the loss of them.
Simple romance? No. Certainly not. There is romance to be sure, and the really delicious kind that will give a gal a whopping case of heaving bosom. But it so, so, so much more.
When searching for Outlander at my local Barnes and Noble, I was dismayed to find that it had, perhaps predictably, been placed in the romance section. I told the clerk that it really didn't belong there, because it was so much more than just a romance.
He said with a bit of a smirk and smidge of condescension, "Yeah, I know, I hear that all the time."
I felt compelled to defend myself, and indeed, I realized, I was holding the other books in my arms in such a way as to display the titles clearly to his view. They were respectable books. Real literature. Snob worthy.
But I knew that when I got home, it would be the lastest Outlander that made it's way out of the jaunty green bag first. And, that it would be quite some time before anything "respectable" claimed my attention again.
I suppose, I will simply have to redefine my terms in order to live with myself.
Well done, Ms. Gabaldon. Well done.