When I submitted my entries for the 2007 Top 100 Romance Poll, my exposure to romance novels was still fairly limited.  But in the past three years my reading has expanded in both breadth and depth, stretching across genres and eras and sensuality ratings.  My list of TBR books and Auto-Read authors has doubled in length, and I’ve found much delight in some damn good books that have come across my way.  However, this also leaves me with a quandary: With so many books to choose from, do I vote for the best, or my favourite?

After all, the poll’s title (“Top 100”) can be open to interpretation, and for me the two are not necessarily mutual.  For instance, I think Nora Roberts’s Angels Fall is one of her best books.  Plot, character, setting, structure, dialogue – you name it, she aces it.  I really enjoyed it, both times I read it, and I’ll continue to re-read it.  But do I read it as often as I read Sweet Revenge?  Hell no.  Sweet Revenge is faulty, but every time I read it I store away my critic’s hat and just enjoy.  I need my annual fix of the un-tannable Englishman and felonious Arabian princess.  However, when it came time to rank the books, my head overruled my habits, and Angels Fall went in at #6 with Sweet Revenge at #69.  Ditto Connie Brockway’s My Dearest Enemy and Bridal Favors. I re-read the latter probably twice as much as the former, but I think the former is the better book.  So I listed them as #10 and #22 respectively.

But did I ever claim to be consistent?  I hope not, because I did the exact reverse with Jane Austen:  The inimitable Pride and Prejudice came out in the top three, and Persuasion at #21.  In a way, that’s totally unfair.  I really do think Persuasion is a better book than P&P.  It’s more succinct, it shows more maturity, and displays a greater range of characterization.  But I’d be lying if I said Darcy and Elizabeth are anything but my favourite romance couple ever.  And isn’t that what this list is about?  The top 100 Romances?

So I’m not fretting about it.  I find as I read more and more, a strange thing happens: I become simultaneously more critical and more tolerant.  Experience has given me a better foundation from which to judge books, but it also continually reminds me that enjoyment – bottom line – is the goal.  Three years ago, my Top 100 list had some books that I’d rated well critically, but that I probably wouldn’t read again, for whatever reason.

This year, I’ve gotten more discerning.  However often I read them, I’ve only listed books that I will continue to read.  And that makes perfect sense.  Re-reading means I enjoyed the romance, full stop.  In other words, these are my favourite, and the best, romances.

So, since the poll closed last night, tell us how you voted.  Did you go for the best, your favorites, or a mixture of both?

–        Jean AAR

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