While the first romance that ever really registered with me is Sweet, Savage Love (and I attribute that to it being the first book in which the sex was varied and, for the time, explicit), the first romance novel I read was–and I have no idea which–one of Barbara Cartland’s 723 books.

I read hundreds of Cartland’s books and they all blend together now in my head. There’s always a lovely young virginal woman, an older slightly rakish and devastatingly handsome hero, a villain who wants bad things to happen, a scene in a carriage, and at least one kiss that renders our heroine into a proverbial butter pat. Many are under 200 pages, so I, a very speedy reader, could read one a day and my library seemed to have an endless selection.

Once I’d read all the Cartlands, I moved onto Harlequin Presents. They too all blurred together. The man was usually older and sexually experienced, the women longed to cut lose but couldn’t feel good about it without L-O-V-E. There were often arch–and to junior high me somewhat perplexing–descriptions of sex and no heroine ever used birth control or longed for anything but having the hero put a ring on her left hand.

When I turned 13, a older babysitter–who had an inappropriate crush on my dad–gave me Sweet, Savage Love, The Wolf and the Dove, and Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen. By the time I was 15, in 1976, sex was a given in many best-sellers and I’d move away from romance and into salacious best-selling fiction. (I still remember being 15 and reading about sex with a Snickers bar because, really, how could one forget such a scene?)

How about you? What was the first romance you remember reading? What do you remember most about it?


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