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 At the Back Fence Issue #136

April 1, 2002

We’ve got a couple of great topics to bring you in this issue of At the Back Fence. You may recall that Robin brought up the unreality of the representation of business and romance in our last column. AAR Reviewer Nora Armstrong and ATBF’s own Anne Marble spin the reality/unreality wheel so that it points to the romance novels’ fairy tale roots. (Robin will spin that wheel again next time when she looks at the unwed mother in series romance.)

After Nora and Anne’s terrific segment I’ll present the results of last issue’s mini-poll on books to-be-read (TBR) and will also introduce a new mini-poll, this time on Desert Isle Keepers.

— Laurie Likes Books

Reality or Fantasy…or Both? (Nora Armstrong and Anne Marble)

“Fairy tale romance.” Is that term oxymoronic or redundant, or both? Recently, AAR reviewer Nora Armstrong looked into fairy tales and their connections to romances. Anne came along for the ride to make trouble for her. Nora started out the discussion by talking about the improbability of many romances.

Nora: An ATBF column at the end of last year generated a lively discussion regarding what many posters saw as the “unreal” aspects of a number of romance novels. Thirty-year-old, never-orgasmic virgins in contemporary stories? Unbelievable, they cry. Disgustingly wealthy and powerful heroes who are able to awaken the latent passions in the aforementioned virgins? Couldn’t happen, they insist. The dashing earl with a healthy side career as an undercover agent for the Crown? Highly improbable. Spies, SEALs, and millionaire cowboys teaming up with amnesiac brides? No way. This kind of stuff is too far removed from reality to be acceptable for some readers.

Anne: For some readers, the only romance that works is one that is close to home. Princes, spies, and SEALS, oh feh. They would rather read about the nice guy next door. Or at least about heroes who are everything the fairy tale heroes are not, like the heroes of Carla Kelly’s books. For these readers, most alpha heroes need not apply. The line for beta heroes starts right here… Still, the fairy tale heroes are the most popular among readers. There’s a reason for this. Maybe it’s a simple reason. We want to live the fairy tale, even for a little while. Some of us even want to win over the fairy tale hero for ourselves.

Nora: Most of us will agree that on some level romance novels are fairy tales in disguise. Not all fairy tales begin with “Once upon a time,” but they all end up with the understanding that the hero and heroine “lived happily ever after.” There are other conventions that fairy tales are expected to follow, too. They’re peopled with archetypes, characters representing universal personalities: damsels in distress, princesses locked in a tower, Sleeping Beauties and Cinderellas by the score, handsome princes, frog princes, rogues with the proverbial “heart of gold,” ferocious ogres, evil stepmothers, and so on. While we may not encounter the literal representations of such characters in romance, we do see their thematic representations. The heroes of these stories, be they male or female, undergo great trials and learn important truths about themselves on the way to their happy ending. What romance novels do is to take the essence – the themes – of these fairy tales and dress them up in different clothes.

Agreed? Good! So what’s the problem?

Well, I’ve been picking up a real tension between our “fairy-tale” expectations of the story, and our insistence that the characters and situations in these stories reflect at least some of our reality.

Anne: Often, the tension comes when the fairy tale doesn’t work. All romances require readers to suspend part of their disbelief, but fairy tale romances have a bigger burden than most. We have to accept that the knight or the SEAL would act this way and that, that the heroine would put up with it, and so forth. One of the first books I reviewed for AAR (The Flower and the Sword) was a romance that should’ve been a fairy tale. It had many of the crucial elements – castles, a brave knight, a heroine who is suddenly forced to prove herself, and even an evil sister. It should have been a romantic fairy tale. But… the characters behaved in ways that pushed the story beyond the point of believability. Some of my favorite stories have been about characters regaining lost trust, but I have to throw up my hands when the hero refuses to believe a heroine who is so clearly perfect. With those books, my willing suspension of disbelief is strained so much it needs an icepack. Too many reminders that you are reading a story can puncture fairy tales. As a kid, I could accept that Penelope Pitstop could drive a racecar while putting on makeup. As an adult, I have become pickier about the amount of make-believe I can accept. I wince when watching Penelope Pitstop cartoons (but I still enjoy the classic cartoons, such as those by Disney and Warner Brothers regardless of Ted Turner’s politically-correct-but-astoundingly-stupid decision to put Speedy Gonzales out of circulation).

Nora: Maybe part of the problem is that we see ourselves as grownups, and we think we’ve outgrown the need for fantasy in our lives. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Some sort of fantasy is important in everyone’s life. Kids play dress-up and engage in all sorts of pretending, and that’s a healthy thing. Trying on roles helps children make sense of the world they live in. The need for a measure of “pretend” doesn’t disappear as we grow out of childhood, either. Come on, admit it – haven’t you ever played rock star or opera diva in the bathroom mirror? Pirouetted across an empty room, the star of the ballet? From the innocuous rehearsal of the Oscar-acceptance speech we know we’ll never deliver, to the more realistic telling-off we’d love to give a snotty clerk or a problem customer, all we’re doing is playing a grown-up version of “let’s pretend.”

Anne: “Who, me?” she asked innocently. In the back yard, I used to pretend to be a brave jungle woman. Why should Tarzan have all the fun? Now, I read voraciously and write novels. Maybe one reason I find escape in written fantasies is because my parents gave away the swing set from which I used to rule the jungle.

Nora: Our reading choices, especially when it comes to fiction, are an extension of this. Losing ourselves in a story, identifying on some level with the characters (even if it’s only to say, “What a stupid thing for her/him to do! I’m smarter than that”), helps us to sort out the world we live in, and who we are as individuals. And while romance readers may no longer choose a story that begins with, “Once upon a time,” we always want that “Happily Ever After” at the end.

So, if we expect the fairy-tale HEA in modern romances, why might we have trouble going along with the other character conventions that come before it in this kind of story?

I think part of it goes back to our ability to identify with the characters and their struggles. A character who’s too far removed from the reader’s reality won’t resonate with that reader. One of the reasons I could never get into many of the “glitz and glamour” books of the late 1980s and early 1990s is because so many of the heroines were born into great wealth, a basis that was too far removed from my own reality.

Anne: Identification is a big part of it. Have you ever noticed that we’re really hard on privileged yet imperfect heroines, particularly when they’re spoiled? It’s bad enough that they’re rich, they’re not happy about it! Look at the recent review of Elaine Coffman’s The Fifth Daughter. AAR reviewer Ellen Micheletti disliked the spoiled, flirtatious Marisa for much of the book. Some of the book’s fans saw this character as the female equivalent of a tortured hero. But many romance readers dislike spoiled heroines. Maybe they remind us too much of people we meet in real life (or remind us of the women our parents raised us not to be). Or maybe, as Nora suggests, most of us can’t identify with a spoiled heroine, but we can identify with a heroine who is downtrodden. Even better, a downtrodden heroine who is unjustly accused of being spoiled, such as the heroine of Elizabeth Lowell’s Too Hot to Handle? Some of the best romances have a fairytale element; some even come complete with a cruel stepmother and stepsisters.

Nora: Now, if you handed me the story of a girl who starts out poor and struggles to achieve material and emotional wealth – Cinderella in a different setting – I was there! It was easy for me to “pretend” that I was that young woman, struggling to find her way in territory that was foreign to her, and ending up in the lap of luxury, to boot. Many of us can identify with Julie Garwood’s or Judith McNaught’s heroines because we all want to be beautiful and desired, and we can remember what it felt like to be so young and naïve – and maybe we wish we’d had the courage of some of those heroines when we were that young. Sometimes we can even relate to what the studly alpha hero is going through, because everybody knows what it feels like to offer your hand or heart to someone and risk rejection.

Anne: Yes!!! Oh, sorry, I’m really getting into this… This is so true. Many of the most popular heroines are poor and faced with incredible struggles. Whenever I ask the members of AARlist for suggestions of books with spoiled heroines, I get a few suggestions. But ask for suggestions of downtrodden Cinderella heroines, and the nominations pour in. A well-drawn downtrodden heroine can make or break a book. If Fleur of The Secret Pearl had been less downtrodden, perhaps a governess instead of a prostitute who became a governess, the book would have been nowhere near as powerful. Sometimes, the poverty can go too far to be believable to readers. But the heroine has to be believable. That fairy tale image can be shattered by too much darn reality. For example, many readers couldn’t accept the heroine of Dream a Little Dream because she turned down the chance for money that could have helped her son. There’s nobility, and there’s stubbornness. Still, some readers loved this heroine because of her self-sacrifice. Followers of ATBF will remember that self-sacrificing heroines became a topic of hot discussion in Issue 129 in December 2001. I’ll let Nora hit on another hot topic.

Nora: Let’s talk about the sexuality of the heroine and her hero for a moment, since this seems to be an area that generates lots of disagreement among readers. In addition to identifying with the protagonists, readers have to be able to admire them. We want them to win; we’re pulling for them to earn their HEA. And in order for them to do that, they have to demonstrate that they have heroic qualities. They’ve got to be smart and tenacious and courageous enough to stand up and overcome the obstacles in their paths. I think we also want our heroes and heroines to be better than we are on some level; if they don’t start out that way they end up there. So they need to have, or develop, a moral code that approaches some ideal. And – sorry – that ideal doesn’t include a woman engaging in oodles and boodles of indiscriminate recreational sex with multiple partners before she meets the man who will eventually become her hero. Just as it’s hard to cheer for a heroine who’s TSTL, it’s difficult for many readers to admire a female character with lots of sexual experience.

Anne: Also, if we’re going to talk about fairy tales, I think a lot of readers like the magic that’s inherent when the heroine is the hero’s first. In real life, the first time is often horrid. In romance, it is almost always great. And inexperienced heroines continue to be popular. Sure, as many recent discussions on the Potpourri and ATBF Message Boards have shown, some readers don’t agree. Some readers are sick of virgins, some refuse to read about virginal heroines at all, others want a better balance. But many readers still prefer to read about inexperienced heroines.

Nora: Are we tired of reading about Sweet Polly Purebred, the thirty-year-old, never-orgasmic virgin who knows her body less well than her doctor does? Maybe, and I think we’re beginning to see heroines with some sexual history – they may even have had satisfying relationships in the past. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re ready to welcome the female equivalent of the Duke of Slut. While most romance readers enjoy a well-written fairy tale, they also want a story experience featuring a heroine with whom they can identify on some level, and for many readers, vast pre-or extramarital sex is outside their realm of experience – indeed, that’s a role they don’t even want to try on in their imaginations. It’s too far outside their comfort zone, and it’s not behavior they can admire.

Anne: Right, no more Sweet Polly Purebred, please. While most readers don’t want to read about the Duchess of Slut – no offense to her grace – they are sick of heroines who don’t know what orgasms are. One of my first memories of sexual silliness in a romance novel involves a virginal heroine in a historical. Not only was she able to have wonderful sex the first time, but this innocent became innovative even as she naively asked things like “Oh, is it all right if I do this with my hips?” I was surprised the hero didn’t reply “Well, duh!” My suspension of disbelief made a twanging sound as it snapped in two. However, for fans, there has to be a middle ground between Sweet Polly and the Duchess of Slut. Are we done with books where the premise hinges on the heroine’s virginity – the ones where the hero knows she’s good only because she has an intact hymen? I think that story line is now living in an assisted living facility. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m also getting fed up with those “experienced” heroines touted in a cover blurb who are nothing more than “fake sluts.” Picky and capricious? Me?

Nora: Keep in mind that part of the story experience involves the reader going outside her own existence and trying on a role that’s different from hers in a safe and non-threatening manner. The key phrase here is “safe and non-threatening.” Don’t shoot me for pointing out that, whether we like it or not, we live in a society that is by and large still pretty conservative when it comes to thinking about sexual behavior, although this is likely to change as the ranks of romance readers who came of age after the sexual revolution continues to grow. Still, for many readers, women who are open about having had numerous sex partners are judged to be lacking the above-mentioned heroic and admirable qualities; it’s for that reason that such a woman tends not to make very good material for a romance-novel heroine. That’s where I think the hero with a colorful sexual past comes in.

Anne: The message board discussions bear out that many readers still want romance characters (well, heroines, anyway!) who reflect traditional values. What the heroes reflect is another matter indeed! By the way, I know somebody is going to mention that AAR has a Special Title Listing devoted to Virginal Heroes, so I’ll mention it first. And I’ll point out that the list is awfully short! Perhaps now we know why.

Nora: First of all, we want our heroes to be “manly men,” and what more blatant way is there to portray a man’s ultimate masculinity than by giving him an extensive sexual past? And just as we know we’ll never be involved in espionage or head a vast multinational corporation (other shorthand ways for the hero to say, “Hey, I’m a real stud!”), it’s kind of fun to try on the role of a sexually very experienced person in the context of a story. There’s a real paradox involved here, I think, a very delicate balance: the author has to create an appealing, dynamic character whom the reader can identify with on some level, while letting her predominantly female audience know that this character is different enough from them that it’s safe for them to try on this role without passing any judgments on themselves in the process. So, okay, unlike most of us, His Grace of Slut may have slept with half the ton, but deep down, like all of us, he just wants to be loved. Is that so wrong?

Anne: Yes, even the infamous Duke of Slut has his place. Rakes of all types are acceptable to most readers – unless of course they do that “rake thing” after meeting the heroine. But rakes who see the heroine and say “Aha! That’s what it’s all about!” are a special breed. Maybe the heroes of Stephanie Laurens’ Bar Cynster novels are popular not just because they are rakes, but also because they pursue the heroines from the start of the novels. On the other hand, I’m not crazy about rakes who sleep with lots of women before meeting the heroine but later tell the heroine they didn’t like it. Nicole Jordan’s The Seduction opened with a mild bondage scene involving the hero and his current mistress. He later told the heroine that those exotic experiences had bored him. Ahem, Lord Sin, you must’ve been doing it wrong.

Nora: Being male, the hero is different enough from the reader that she can say, “Oh, that’s typical ‘guy’ behavior. I’d never do that,” while a little voice whispers in the back of her subconscious, “but what might it be like if I did?” It’s safe and non-threatening for her to assume this role for however long it takes her to read the book, because he’s so not like her that she can get away with pretending she’s the hero. The character who’s more fundamentally like the reader – the heroine – has a slightly more difficult “moral standard” of sexuality to live up to, but in the end she reaps the benefit of her man’s past promiscuity, and ultimately becomes just as sexually expressive as he’s been all along. Besides, she gains power in a very public manner, since she’s the only woman who’s been able to rein the hero’s sexuality in and confine its expression to his relationship with her. Remember that old saw about “reformed rakes making the best husbands”? In romance, everybody wins: the hero slays his dragons, the heroine tames her beast, and the reader gets to pretend she’s done both. How much happier could Happily Ever After be?

Anne: I like this theory. I think it explains a lot. This is why we’re so willing and eager to read about heroes we would never ever want to meet in real life. Because deep down inside, we’re living the hero’s adventures, not just the heroine’s adventures. That’s not to say that there aren’t exceptions. Nora Roberts’ heroes are definitely guys in every sense of the word, but her heroines are also strong. Somehow, she manages to pull off that balance.

Nora: Romance authors walk a real tightrope. They have to balance the fairy-tale conventions of the genre while including reader expectations for reality as they craft their stories. The books that fail in either regard are the ones that hit the wall, usually because the reader cannot identify with the characters. The author who writes a story with the perfect balance of reality and fantasy gives us a book that we’ll cherish and remember and talk about for a long, long time.

Anne: That romance with the perfect balance is like the Holy Grail. When I look for a book I will really love, I look for a book with that perfect balance. Unfortunately, I can’t always figure out what makes or breaks it. My own tastes vary from week to week. So is it any wonder that one fan’s keeper is one fan’s wallbanger? First, we’re all willing to accept a different level of reality when we’re seeking our dose of fantasy. Second, readers have different hang-ups, as well as different likes. A trip through AAR’s Message Boards will prove that there are there are lots of opinions – but most importantly, somewhere, a reader is always raving about the book that struck the perfect balance for her.

Books To Be Read (LLB)

Roughly 450 readers participated in the mini-poll we presented in our last At the Back Fence column. Here are the answers we received to the question “How big is your TBR pile?”

I don’t have a tbr pile (29) 6%
My tbr pile is small – less than 20 books (114) 25%
My tbr is between 20 and 50 books (73) 16%
My tbr isn’t so bad; it’s between 50 and 100 books (49) 11%
My tbr is getting up there; it’s between 100 and 200 (55) 12%
My stack has gotten out of hand; I’ve got 200-300 books (36) 8%
I take my tbr very seriously and have 300-500 books (26) 5%
My tbr has involved carpentry; I have 500-1,000 books tbr (22) 4%
I’m a serial bookaholic with 1,000-1,500 books tbr (15)
What? Why did you stop at 1,500? (23)
(Total Votes – 442)

Given my own vote of “My tbr has involved carpentry; I have 500-1,000 books tbr,” it’s clear I no longer have a reasonable handle on the situation. I say this because I was actually surprised that the majority of those who voted had TBR’s smaller than 100 books. I shuddered to learn that so many readers didn’t even have a TBR pile – my first thought was, “How can you read something when you’ve got nothing to pick from!?” And yet, it did feel nice to know that, as obsessive as I am, I’m not as obsessive as some other readers – 8% of other readers to be specific.

When I try to be reasonable about this, I realize that for most people, having more than 50 books tbr is a pretty big deal – which means that more than half of those who voted in this mini-poll have book collections non-bookie romance readers would be amazed to see.

Most of us who have large TBR’s have been collecting books for years. I’m proud to say it’s taken me eight years to build my collection of books tbr. While I wish it weren’t as large at is it if only because my tastes change faster than I can keep up, as far as collections go, it’s a nice one. Vicki, whose TBR she calls “Mount McKinley,” reads between two and four books a week, which means she adds more books to her TBR than she eliminates. As to why she has such an extensive TBR, she gives many reasons, including “it’s my security blanket – I’m afraid of not having anything to read;” “I like to have books available when people start to talk about them; and “I hate to read series out of order so I will collect the whole series before I start reading.” I can relate to this last reason; series glomming without having read has definitely been an issue for me in the past. After having been burned a number of times, I try not now to glom a series unless I’ve read (at least) one of its books. Steph most definitely agrees, and has another reason to add, one that I’ll bet every single one of us would agree with: “I feel drawn to bookstores. I must go in if I pass one. And if I’m in, I’m going to buy a book. It never fails.”

As I watched poll results coming in, I wondered whether or not people were perhaps underestimating their numbers. After all – when I arranged a group of paperbacks “normally” on a 26-inch wide bookshelf in my study, it held 25 paperbacks, so it doesn’t take much space to house 50 or even 100 books. Not that many bookies use bookshelves as they were meant to be used, however. As Keishon pointed out, many of us create double rows on our bookshelves or find other creative ways to cram as many books on a shelf as humanly possible. One of my own 26-inch wide bookshelves has about 50 books on it; the Lisa Kleypas collection is stacked vertically, as is the Jayne Ann Krentz collection (which features two vertical stacks!) and the Betina Krahn collection. There are also ten or so “stand-alone” books on this shelf, by authors whose last names begin with “K.” It may take extra time, effort and a step stool for me to retrieve a book at the bottom of one of the JAK stacks, but we do what we have to.

One of those who wrote in to talk about the size of her TBR was Cris, who realized her estimating skills left something to be desired. Though she thought she had only 20 or so books tbr, she decided to lay them out on the living room floor. To her surprise, she counted 70 books and doesn’t know if she feels delighted or chagrined!

Those of us who have large TBR’s and have been collecting them over a long period of time have developed different ways to feed our habits. Cathy, for instance, sells her non-keepers for half-price online. Others frequent UBS’s, thrift shops, and garage sales to fill in backlists and flesh out their bookshelves. And, as hobbies go, buying paperbacks is still cheaper than many other hobbies or forms of entertainment. Many of us adhere to this form of logic: “I don’t smoke, drink, do drugs, travel a lot or buy expensive jewelry/clothes, so I won’t feel guilty spending money on books!”

It is curious, though, that some of us have been scolded for the number of books we own; couldn’t we have spent that money on “better things?” The argument is similar to one we’ve heard many times before on the amount of time spent reading; shouldn’t we be doing something “better” with our time? What about my brother-in-law who has left parties at inopportune moments to watch sporting events and who schleps his wife and two children 200 miles each way to watch Saturday evening football games several weekends each fall? Are women not allowed the luxury of “down time,” or are we to always be judged against the maxim “a woman’s work is never done?”

The lure of a bargain draws many a reader into shopping at UBS’s, thrift stores, and garage sales. The “high” one gets upon buying a hard to find book cheaply is one many a Loehmann’s shopper will recognize. It’s the thrill of the hunt, the discovery of the expected treasure, and a bookie’s obsessiveness. As Steph wrote, “I’ll buy a hard to find book because I know I’ll never find it anywhere else. Or, if it’s a backlist of an author I like, I’ll go ahead and get it even if I’m not sure it’ll be a good read, because I know I won’t find it anywhere else.”

Tanya has a slightly different reason for collecting – call it a superstition. She writes: “I’ve convinced myself as long as the TBR pile remains, I will not die. I realize this is morbid, but what can I say? We all have to rationalize our TBRs.”

Whereas many people daydream over trips to exotic locales, bookies dream about wall-to-wall bookshelves. My husband has made it so that every square inch of my study (including its closet!) that could be devoted to bookshelves is. Not considering the closet, I count 35 shelves in my study – right now they are filled to only 70% capacity, leaving tons of room for my collection to grow. This makes me inordinately happy, and I’m not the only one. Here’s what Cindy had to say about the allure of bookshelves (and great husbands who build them):

“When my husband and I got married and I moved into his home he knew without a doubt I would need bookshelves. He created an office for me with wall to wall bookcases framing a large window. Soon that was not enough and he had to build two sets of bookcases made up of 3 columns (26” wide each) in our living room! I tell you I just love my DH! Now hard to believe, but I only have about 50 books that I have not read and maybe 20 that I would seriously consider in a TBR pile. I am one of those people (and Bob is my witness) who gets wiggy if I have less than 10 books in my TBR. Thanks God, Chapters does not close until 11:00 PM because one night I panicked when I had only 8 books to chose from. I went and dropped close to $150 on new books that night. Bob has been very careful to ask if I need to go to the bookstore nowadays and if I say I am going he never stands in my way! He’s one in a million and a great carpenter. He says that he never knew he was capable of such detailed work. I, of course, believe he can do anything with tools – and it’s his hobby! He loves nothing more than to tear apart a room and make it into a cozy nook for the two of us. He just noticed the other day that I may need more bookcases! I didn’t even have to suggest it.

Let’s Take a Quick Poll!

It seems fitting that since we’ve talked about books tbr that we should also talk about some of the books we’ve already read. So let’s consider the Desert Isle Keeper in another mini-poll. Many of us keep most or all of the books we’ve read while others keep only absolute favorites. Some of us don’t keep the books they’ve loved, although that’s a tough one for me to think about without shuddering. Although the questions for this column will include all the books you keep and non-romance DIK’s, let’s be specific for the mini-poll and only consider romance novel Desert Isle Keepers.

After you answer the following question about the number of romances you’ve awarded Desert Isle Keeper status, you’ll be taken back here to the column, directly underneath the poll question itself, where the questions for the message board are listed. (Feel free to scroll down one screen and then back again to see where you’ll end up.) Since it’ll be on your mind, the first question will relate to your DIK’s and will allow you to expand upon your answer.

ATBF Survey QuestionHow many romances have you awarded DIK Status?I don’t keep romances I’ve read, even if I’ve loved themI am the pickiest romance reader in the world with 1 – 5 romance DIK’sI’m incredibly discriminating and have 5 – 10 romance DIK’sMany romances are good but not many are great; 10 – 15 romance DIK’s for meI have a nice collection of 15 – 20 romance DIK’sI’m proud of my lone keeper shelf of 20 – 30 romance DIK’sI’ve been reading romance a long time and have 30 – 40 romance DIK’sI fall in love with particular authors; I have 40 – 50 romance DIK’sI am a very enthusiastic romance reader and have 50 – 75 romance DIK’sI love falling in love with romances & have 75 – 100 DIK’sWhat can I say? I have more than 100 romance DIK’s!Poll closed April 14th
Results can be found here.Alxnet Free Web Tools

Time to Post to the Message Board

Here are the questions we’d like to have you consider this time:

histbutRomance Novel Desert Isle Keepers – Do you keep all-time favorite romances? Are you stingy giving romance DIK’s or do you find it easy to grant a romance DIK status? Do your romance DIK’s fit on one small shelf or have you had to devote many shelves or boxes to house them?

histbut Other Desert Isle Keepers – Are romance novels the only books you grant DIK status? Conversely, do you have more non-romance DIK’s than you have romance DIK’s? Do you segregate the two types of DIK’s? Where are your DIK’s stored?

histbut Books Kept But Not Keepers – Do you keep books other than all-time keepers or do you trade/sell/donate books you don’t love? I used to keep anything graded B- and higher and books graded lower if they were part of a series I was reading/had read. I’ve since traded in anything graded lower than B-. What’s your formula, and, what do you do with the books you don’t keep? Finally, do you keep all-time keepers separate from books kept but not DIK’s?

histbut Adults and Fairy Tales – Do you believe that because we are grown-ups, we should be past the need for fairy tales in our lives? This would be a great place to talk about those literary and cultural critics who seem to be saying there’s something wrong with women needing the “escape” offered in a romance novel.

histbut Fairy Tale Romance – On the one hand, we read romances for the fantasy of it. On the other hand, if those same fantastical reads are too far afield, we complain about their lack of grounding in reality. Where do you draw the line, and why?

histbut Fantasy and Reality – Nora wrote that there is a tension between our “fairy tale” expectations and our insistence that the characters and situations reflect at least some of our reality. Anne mentioned that this tension often exists when the fairy tale doesn’t work because fairy tales require more suspension of disbelief. Do you think that’s the reason? If yes, why yes, and if not, why not?

histbut The Tightrope, or the Holy Grail – Name some great romances that walked that tightrope to perfection, those stories that balanced the genre’s fairy-tale conventions while meeting readers’ expectations for reality. Name some that failed too, and why.

histbut Post your comments and/or questions to our Potpourri Message Board

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