This news of strong romance sales delighted me, but it didn't surprise me. Romance readers are the most loyal of book fans and mass market paperbacks are cheaper than a lot of adult fiction. But the truth of the matter is that in depressing news cycles, people often seek to escape through the pages of a book. I am no stranger to this.
During difficult periods in my life, I turn to romance novels because I want my guarantee of a happily-ever-after ending. I do this for the same reason children watch the same Disney movie over and over or demand to be read the same picture book again and again. Why? Because they already know what's going to happen and how it will end. This gives them a feeling of safety and control in a world they don't understand.
Adults who turn to romance novels are seeking a similar sense of safety and control. We know that when we turn those pages, we enter a world where no matter what conflict the characters encounter or what rollicking adventures the author sends us on, we'll all arrive safely at our happy ending. Mainstream fiction gives us many wonderful things, but it doesn't promise to deliver this guarantee to its readers.
In the summer of 2006, my husband complained of bad stomachaches. We dismissed it as nothing serious, attributing it to the stress of moving into a rental house while we were having construction done on our own home. One month into the project, my husband's stomach pain became so severe, he nearly passed out in CVS while up the medicine his doctor had prescribed.
He returns home and curls into a fetal position on our bed. I am frantically trying to extract information from him. He tells me if the pain gets worse, he is to call his doctor and go to the emergency room. This is a man who is in shape, works out, runs consistently and is rarely if ever sick. His only experience with the hospital was during the birth of our two children. He also can't stand to be a passenger in his own car, so when I'm advised to drive him to the nearest emergency room and he probably has something called Diverticulitis, I'm terrified. His doctor might as well have said he has supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and expect this to calm me. Nothing is worse than fear of the unknown.
Thank God for my brother-in-law, who is a doctor and who studied infectious disease. He explained that my husband had an infection in the colon and that while causing extreme pain, is treatable. And thank God for Jennifer Crusie whom I was reading in the midst of this crisis. My husband and I spent over twelve hours in the emergency room of the hospital that day. My husband lay on a cot in the hall of the ER, taking morphine to control his pain, while we waited for a room to open. His infection was so severe he had to be admitted into the hospital for a week.
During this period, I devoured Crusie's sweet, feel good romances, Anyone But You, Strange Bedpersons, and Getting Rid of Bradley. I escaped with Janet Evanovich's kick ass bounty hunter, Stephanie Plum, reading the first three books in her series.
I wanted to laugh when my present situation wasn't giving me anything to laugh about. My husband stopped responding to the antibiotics, and we had to cut short a weekend get-away to Vermont to switch his drugs. I took comfort in knowing that despite whatever the conflicts the characters were experiencing in these stories I read, I knew everything would resolve happily. When we learned surgery that would remove ten inches of my husband's infected colon was the best treatment for his case, for awhile I escaped to a happier world through these novels. When we were told my husband may have to have two separate surgeries and wear a colostomy bag between the operations, I followed Stephanie Plum's madcap adventures. In her world, I relished Stephanie's ability to kick ass even when half the time she was screwing up.
After surgery and missing two months of work, my husband fully recovered. He'd visit the construction crew at our house and joke to them that if they missed with the staple gun, they'd look like him. He'd then lift up his shirt to proudly show off his twenty-something titanium staples in his chest. Lovely. He quips to friends that they can now call him semi-colon.
I'm an eclectic reader. I'll read anything and everything with historical fiction being my favorite. I just finished and loved, Dennis Lehane's 700-page novel, The Given Day. It brings post WWI Boston alive in its story about the fight to develop a police union. Before this, I read The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee, which takes place in Hong Kong before, during and after WWII. These are wonderful, richly informative books, but reading them was a journey into the unknown. There were no guarantees of how they would end, no automatic ticket to a happy resolution for all involved. This is fine, but not when my life is spiraling into its own cycle of conflict. How can I read about another's crumbling world when mine is falling apart? I can't have both my escape route and my real life be stress filled. That's double jeopardy.
When a friend of mine went through radiation therapy for her cancer, I loaned her my audiotape of Sophie Kinsella's Can You Keep a Secret? She loved it for making her laugh during a difficult period. For a few minutes, she was able to escape.
So it's little surprise that the sale of romance novels are up during these difficult times. For anyone looking for a happy ending when their own lives aren't giving them one, pick up a romance, sit back and enjoy. As an added bonus, you just might fall in love with its handsome hero. But that's a blog for another day....