There's an ever growing pile of books I want to read…
Do you know what really bothers me? How dismissive people are of romantic fiction. I’m guilty of it myself. ‘Oh, it’s just romantic trash,’ I’ve said, describing a book that I absolutely loved and have reread several times. ‘I just needed something easy to read.’
I’ve been to book conferences where people were polled on what genres they enjoy and no-one raised their hand to admit to reading romance books. In fact, more adults in that room owned up to reading teen books than romantic ones. I’ve been embarrassed to admit to enjoying the works of Jill Mansell and Jennifer Crusie. See how I used the word admit there? More than once.
My dad was a big reader of romantic fiction (and also watcher of romantic movies – they made him cry!) but he used to pretend at the library or bookshop that he was getting them for my grandma. He liked other books too – science fiction and fantasy, satire, historical non-fiction – but the romance novels were the only ones he was embarrassed about reading.
What’s so shameful about enjoying love stories? Why does our culture rate them so far below other forms of fiction? It’s not as though it’s easier to write a romantic story than any other kind – trust me, I’ve tried.
Let’s talk about our favourite romance novels and authors, without implying that they are dumb or somehow worth less than any other type of writing. I love romance novels and I refuse to be ashamed of it. Next time I’m in that conference scenario, I am going to raise my hand up high and be proud of it. So I’ve decided to do a series of posts about authors that I love. The first few will be authors of love stories. I might diversify into other genres once I’ve done a few more. We’ll see.
Today I’m going to talk about how much I love books by Rainbow Rowell. LOVE THEM. I think she’s a brilliant and amazing and wonderful writer and that you should read her books. Recently I was talking to someone about Rainbow Rowell and it reminded me that I have a problem. Readers, I REALLY want to read her newest book and it doesn’t even have a UK publication date yet.
The book is called FANGIRL and is her third. There are many reasons for my desperation to read it but let me give you the top 3:
1) It’s about fandom and being a fan. I am myself a fangirl – I’ve been to geeky conventions, dressed up as my favourite characters and read and written fan fiction. It’s still on the internet somewhere if you’d like to read it. You’ll have to find it on your own, though. Reading it now, I feel that it is embarrassingly bad and I’d rather not point you at it. Anyway, I’m really interested in reading a book where the protagonist is active in fan culture.
2) Some people whose opinions I trust have already read it (darn them!) and told me that it is good.
3) I really, really enjoyed both of her other books, which I will talk about below.
I really hope that this gets published in the UK soon.
Have you read either of her other books?
Attachments is an adult novel about the guy whose job it is to monitor staff emails at a newspaper at the very end on the 90s/beginning of the millennium, when the internet is a fairly new introduction there. He hates his job. He doesn’t like the hours or what he’s supposed to be doing. Emails between two particular women keep turning up in the flagged folder and he means to send them a warning, he really does, but it turns out that their emails are really funny and endearing and he’d rather not because he likes them too much. Unfortunately, this all gets very awkward very quickly.
Lincoln (the guy) is a great character despite his problematic behaviour (trust me, he realises that it’s problematic!). He’s my age (28) and trying to figure out who he is and what he’s doing with his life, while still recovering from a fairly epicly bad romance. Through the novel, you really see him grow and develop as a person.
I also really cared about Beth and Jennifer, even though we only see them through their emails to one another and Lincoln’s interactions with them.
The novel is smart and funny but the real trick to it is how much you care about everyone. How fully realised they all are, even the really minor characters. Rainbow Rowell even dealt with the whole stalking aspect to my satisfaction, which could have gone badly in the hands of another writer.
Eleanor and Park is a teen/adult novel about the unlikely relationship between two teenagers in the 1980s. On the surface, Eleanor and Park don’t have anything in common. They just sit together on the bus and that wasn’t exactly intentional.
When they start getting to know one another through music and comic books, though, they find that the two of them fit together in ways they couldn’t possibly explain. Don’t be fooled by the talk of teenagers, Eleanor & Park is a much darker story than Attachments. Eleanor and Park both have problems. Eleanor in particular is in a very dark place. This novel could have been even darker and still been brilliant, and part of me wishes that Rainbow Rowell had gone there, but I do think it’s incredible just as it is.
This is a story that really captures how it feels to fall in love for the first time – butterflies in your stomach and wanting to be around the other person all the time and feeling really embarrassed when they so much as smile at you, hoping that they feel the same way and dreading that they won’t.
I think what makes it a brilliant read is that we’ve all been there. We’ve all experienced the love that we thought would last forever.
Also, Rainbow Rowell has playlists to go with this book available on her website. Because she’s awesome.
You’ve read them? Hooray! Let’s talk about how good they are and how much it sucks having to wait for Fangirl!
Oh my goodness. You should fix that immediately and here’s why:
The thing that makes Rainbow Rowell’s books so amazing is that she really hooks you with the characters. I own both Attachments and Eleanor and Park as ebooks (I’d really rather own them as physical books but I’ll have to wait until next year to buy them because of my current book-buying embargo!). Anyway, I read both of the little sample sections first. By the time I reached the end of the sample, I cared so much about the characters that I had to find out what happened to them next. She brings them to life so fully that you really feel like you know them and also want to know them more. You want good things for them. Her characters aren’t perfect but they are perfectly written.
Really, everything else I like about her books is secondary to this.
Rainbow Rowell is also brilliant at really capturing a time and place. I was born in 1985, which means that I have vague memories of the late 1980s and really strong memories of the 90s and everything after. There are a few things that don’t correlate perfectly (because I’m not American) but, for the most part, she has really captured all the nuances of those time periods and made them come back to life. I remember how freaked out everyone was about computers and the millennium, for instance, and a world without mobile phones when you couldn’t just text someone to let them know where you were going to be.
Both books also leave you feeling pretty good about life, which is nice when the real world isn’t treating you quite so well.
Just trust me on this one, okay? Even if you think you don’t like romance novels. Or teen novels. Or teen romance novels. Read her books. Even if you think you won’t like them. What if you’re missing out on something amazing just because you have a fixed idea about this one thing? You can always do what I did and try the sample first. If you don’t care about Lincoln, Beth and Jennifer or Eleanor and Park by the end of the sample, I won’t bother trying to persuade you any more.