I first started reading romances around age 11, when I discovered my mother’s huge stash of category romances. I read gazillions of these books—seriously, I couldn’t get enough—reading roughly 6 per week for years. Because I never had to look further than the upstairs cupboards for my next fix, for years I didn’t even know that single-title romances existed.

Out of the hundreds of category romances I read, I have no recollection of 99% of them. Occasionally when I’m in the local UBS, I’ll recognize a cover, but when I read the blurb my memory isn’t stimulated in the slightest. They just didn’t stick with me over the long term. But there is that 1% that I not only remember, I adored. I may not have remembered the titles or authors, but I remembered bits and pieces of the stories themselves, and most importantly, I remembered how I felt when reading them.

So late last year I endeavored to find these books—roughly half a dozen—and re-read them. After spending hours (literally) on Amazon and Paperback Swap, I managed to locate
all but one of the books. I was so excited when I received them in the mail. How fun to discover them all over again!

Before I cracked open that first book, though, I started to wonder if I was setting myself up for huge disappointment. I had such fond memories of these books, but what if my pre-teen reading taste was terrible? What if I opened these beloved books and destroyed all my happy memories? Ultimately, the possibility of rediscovering a great read outweighed my fears.

I decided to re-read the books and conduct an experiment of sorts. Instead of going into the stories assuming I would still love them, I tried to read them objectively. What would I think about this book if I were reading it for the first time? I have to admit that the feminist in me was secretly afraid that in my younger years I liked books with doormat heroines and domineering heroes. Part of that fear was based on the time period these books were written in, 1988 to 1993, and part of it was because I didn’t have a strong memory of what my reading tastes were back then.

Well, I just recently finished re-reading the last of these long-lost treasures, and was delighted to discover that I didn’t have an affection for doormat heroines. Quite the opposite, in fact:

In Legal Tender by Kelsey Roberts, the heroine is an attorney struggling against both an apparent preference for male attorneys by the partners, and the frequent sexual harassment by the senior partner of the firm.

The heroine of A Dangerous Game by Candace Schuler is a private investigator and the daughter of a police officer. Due to her gender and diminutive stature, she struggles with not being taken seriously by men—notably her father and the hero.

The Seduction of Jake Tallman by Cait London features a heroine who is a high-powered CEO, and has earned a reputation as an ice princess/dragon lady. In order to get men to take her seriously, she’s had to become ruthless and highly competitive.
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The heroine of Dreams, Part One and Dreams, Part Two by Jayne Ann Krentz is a business executive who’s just discovered that hard-work and dedication won’t get her beyond the glass ceiling, when she’s passed over for a promotion in favor of a less-experienced male co-worker.

See a pattern here? All of these heroines are strong female characters working in a male-dominated environment, and having to struggle against sexism. The heroes of these books are also surprisingly (or not so surprisingly) similar to each other. They are all alpha heroes with strong protective instincts, but who, in the end, realize that the women they love are strong and intelligent, and by the book’s end are treating them as equals. Hmm, these are just the kinds of books that I’m a sucker for today. What good taste I had back then! ;)

I also discovered that it’s nearly impossible to objectively evaluate a book that has so many nostalgic memories wrapped up in it. While I would like to think that I still love these books because they are all just that good, I know that fond memories play a part, too. When I re-read the first line of Legal Tender, a huge grin split my face and I was awash with happy feelings. Was it because the opening line is spectacular? No, it was just memories and excitement over finding a long-lost book I loved.

Each of these books contains problems that I recognized now, but didn’t even notice back then. In The Seduction of Jake Tallman, for example, the heroine is a 38 year old virgin who mistakenly believes she lost her virginity many years ago. Seriously, it’s laughable. If I came across the same plot point in a book today I would throw it down in disgust. But it brings back happy memories and makes me feel good, so to hell with plausibility.

The results of my experiment are somewhat mixed, but on the whole quite positive. I’m happy to know that I wasn’t a fan of doormat heroines, and only slightly disappointed to realize these books weren’t the perfect stories I’d remembered them being. I’m glad I took the time to track them down, and loved re-reading them all—they’ll remain on my keeper shelf for years to come.

Have your reading tastes changed since you first started reading romance? If you’re a long-time reader, what have you thought when you went back to reread an old favorite? Do you think nostalgic memories of a particular book allow you to overlook things that would annoy you in a current release?

-Katie Mack