Kat Mayo is Sharing the Shallows

As I am posting this on the day of my 21st anniversary, I chose to share my shallows with the only person other than my husband with whom I go on date nights – Kat Mayo. Kat Mayo changed my world around. She was my borrower (and now my friend) but like no other. We first met when she was borrowing picture books but we bonded over romance fiction. She pushed me to join the online book conversations in forums, on Twitter, on Goodreads. She pushed me to attend romance readers conventions and she pushed me to write a blog. She calls me a prude as I blanche at some of the conversations I end up having with her, and we plan excellent date nights where we sit talking and talking all night about our favourite books. Despite not yet being on one of her podcasts, she is one of my favourite readerly people. 

Kat Mayo hugging a Fabio cutoutKat Mayo @Bookthingo

Occupation: I could tell you but….you know the rest.

Can you describe yourself:

Kat and Vassiliki met across a room of crowded library shelves, bonded over Thomas the Tank Engine books, and discovered a shared love for Jennifer Crusie’s books. Kat reviews books at Book Thingo, and hosts a podcast exploring romance books and their place in literary culture. She loves to kill fairies.

What is your main reading medium (books, blogs, games, news, etc) and how much time do you spend reading a week?

Books, emails, tweets, stuff for the day job, and the Google vortex. At least 60 hours, but if we’re talking about reading purely for pleasure, I’d say around 15 hours a week. It will vary depending on how busy life is. That said, if I happen to pick up a fantabulous book, the world just has to work around my need to read.

Melina Marchetta The Piper's SonWhat or who is your joyful reading (guilty or otherwise) pleasure? 

I rarely feel guilt while reading, and I have too many favourites to answer this properly! My favourite rereads are Melina Marchetta’s young adult books. Her writing just gets into my bones. I have a cherished collection of books by Laura Kinsale, Kelly Hunter and Kathleen O’Reilly. One of the hidden gems on my shelf is an anthology called Out of This World Lover, because it has a funny erotic paranormal romance short story by Shannon Stacey, featuring an intergalactic ambassador who calls an electrician because she thinks they provide sexual services.

Last year, I discovered Wattpad and binged on teen romances — something that traditional publishing is very stingy with.

Oh, and I’ve built a list of books with vomit scenes. It now has so many titles that I’ve branched out to keeping lists that track other bodily fluids mentioned in books.

Welcome to Temptation by Jennifer CrusieDo you have a favourite storyline or plot? And do you have one you will not read?

I love friends to lovers, grumpy/tortured heroes, Titian-haired heroines (yes, I do!), childhood sweethearts, brother’s best friend/best friend’s sister. I also love the reverse harem …. In other words, I love romance tropes. 😀

I probably won’t pick up motorcycle club books, or where the h/h are involved in organised crime. I don’t like incest, although I can tolerate it if the writing is very good. I don’t like infidelity and will probably not read a plot with adultery — and if I do, I would almost certainly read it backwards (from the ending, back to the beginning). (Consensual, happy, non-monogamous couples are exempted. I love the tension of a well-written threesome.) I can’t stand Catholic priests as romance heroes; I find this plot worse than adultery. I’m not a fan of the stripper/prostitute heroine — it’s rarely done well, and frankly, Brooke Magnanti set a very high bar for writing in this space.

I love aristocratic ennui, but not any other kind. Spare me the bajillionaire with boredom issues. No one wants to marry a guy like that.

Why do you/don’t you use a public library?

My usual MO is that I use the library religiously until I forget to return books and accrue a fortune in fines, and then I can never go back there again. I’m terrible. That said, now that I’ve been book blogging for a few years, advance copies and Amazon one-click keep me well-stocked with books.

Do you RUI*. If so, what?

I’ll read anytime, anywhere, when I get the opportunity.

Do you have a favourite reading spot?

Not really. I can read anywhere — and I do!

Toilet reading: 

b) Only my own books/phone/tablet/ereader

Romance fiction of the Happily Ever After (not the love tragedy) kind – are you a Lover or a Hater and why?

Lover. Life’s too short to put up with shitty endings.

What would you give up reading for**?

My family. World peace.

Can a romance/crime/super/etc hero be the driver of a hatchback?

Of course. It’s a travesty that there aren’t more hatchback driver heroes in romance. Especially in new adult. How else will you bring home your IKEA furniture?

grown man riding a Thomas the Tank Engine toy

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Look Ma! I’m on a podcast! or This is what you get when you don’t vet your children’s reading

On Valentine’s Day, Kat Mayo and I spent a good part of our day travelling to 2SER studios for an interview on Love and Passion. Anyone that knows both Kat and me would know that we can talk about romance fiction for hours. Put us in front of a microphone and we will amp it up just that tad bit more. I recommend you get yourself a cup of tea, coffee, icecream, cakey and sit back and enjoy.

Love and Passion Show 116 on 2SER

Love and Passion Show 116 on 2SER

The show was aired on a Saturday and unbeknownst to me, one of my sisters went to my mum’s place and translated the interview to mum as it was being aired. During the break in the interview, I received a phone call from my mum.

Mum: When did you start reading romances?

Me: 32 years ago.

Mum: Really? So you just went on the radio to tell everyone?

Me: Yes mum.

Mum: Thank you for letting them know that I don’t read them. But you didn’t tell them I read religious books and biographies of saints.

Me: Sorry mum. I did consider it.

Mum: So what do you know about romance?

Me: Ummm…you know how I went back to uni last year?

Mum: Yes.

Me: That is what I am studying. I told you about it. And you know I read romances. You would always ask me to help you cook and clean and to put down “those romances”.

Mum: I didn’t think you were actually reading romances. I was being ironic.

There you have it. My mum, the original hipster.

Unlike a lot of romance readers I have met, I did not discover romances by finding my mum or grandmum’s stash. If anything, reading is not a shared activity for my mum and I as our interests are quite different. Not now and not when I was a younger either.

For many people, the thought of a parent not knowing what their children are reading seems to be anathema. It is equated as “not caring” or “how can you trust what they have chosen”.

I can tell you that both my parents cared that I was reading. Their main aim was to provide my sisters and I with ample opportunities to read and do homework. That is, ensuring that we didn’t have too many distractions – 1 doll, no video player, 1 TV, regular visits to the library and food at the ready. Both my parents were Greek migrants so Greek was the main conversational language in our home. My mum’s English reading skills were minimal (she worked a day job in a factory, a night shift as a cleaner, a weekend job as a cleaner, ran a boarding house AND raised 4 daughters) and though she was literate in Greek, due to her mindblowing superwoman working life, her rare chance to relax involved her knitting, tatting, gardening and reading the newspaper and the Bible. For mum, food and care was her bonding experience – as well as teaching me how to embroider which I still do on occasion. The only reading I remember sharing with my mum was when I would translate Paris Match from French to Greek for her when they had spreads on the Greek ex-royal family or an article on Cristina and/or Athena Onassis.

As my dad was highly literate in English, mum was quite happy to let him take charge of the homework and reading tasks. Though she did not know the content of the books I was reading, my dad did. Luckily, he was of the mindset that censorship of reading was wrong and never objected to the books I was reading that other friends’ parents were voicing concerns over. Thankfully, he trusted my choices.

My reading path was mine to choose. Influenced by my sisters, my teachers, friends, the books available at the library and my local newsagency, there was a joy in discovering my interests unfettered by close examination of the content of my books by my parents. This is something I try hard to emulate with my sons though it is difficult when you are a librarian to not be involved in their reading lives. Making opportunities for them to read is a much harder task. Gaming and computing distractions abound in our home and are much more addictive than the written word. To be fair, they have both hooked me onto Football Manager and I am crap at it. Its complex rules and processes make me weep for the simplicity of a linear narrative text. I no longer choose books for them. I stopped doing so when they were 8. Unless they ask I won’t read their choices. It is their private party, their little secret. Funnily, both of them at 11 years old have sneakily challenged me with “Mum, there’s lots of snogging and drug taking in the book I’m reading”. My reply has been “That’s good. Would you like something to eat?”.

I never thought of my romance reading as ever being secret. I never felt that they were my private party. I honestly thought I read romances openly for most of my life. That is until last week when I realised that it only took 32 years for my mum to come to the realisation that when she was shouting at me to put away those romances, her daughter was really, truly reading romances.

Sex, love and passion: the appeal of romance novels: the moderator responds

On Friday the 11th of February, I moderated a Romance Panel for the City of Sydney at Ultimo Library.

Kick off your Friday night talking about Sex, Passion and Love with our romance panel discussion. Join Mills and Boon author Annie West, romance scholar Sandra Barletta and book blogger, Kat Mayo along with Ultimo’s romance reading librarians in discussing romance fiction in the 21st century…

It was a fabulous night with an engaged audience, a wonderful panel and fantastic discussion that ensued. So fantastic that Ultimo Community Centre staff had to push us out of the building as we went beyond their closing time.

As the moderator for the panel I had my questions prepped and I knew that I wouldn’t have to prepare meaningful answers (ever the shallowreader).

From the left: Annie West, Sandra Barletta, Kat Mayo and Vassiliki Veros Photograph courtesy from BookThingo http://www.flickr.com/photos/bookthingo/

However, as the panel discussion progressed I found that I really wanted to give my point of view, too. I behaved and, with the exception of the last question and some library promotion, I left the answers to the panel. A transcript of the panel’s answers is available on BookThingo’s blog. I now would like to share my answers to the questions on the night:

Why do you do what you do in romance, of all genres (I’ll answer this in the vein of why do I promote romance reading as a librarian)

Public libraries are charged with providing equity and access of information to all.  My feeling had been that libraries and librarians were not treating genre fiction and it’s readers with equity. Throughout all my years as a librarian, romances not only were not purchased for library collections but there was also a certain attitude amongst staff and some borrowers that romance reading was secondary and that library budget money would not be devoted towards the genre. This annoyed me so I decided to support the underdog, climb onto my soap box and declare romance King until the shelves were populated and the staff accepting  of readers choices.

What have you observed as differences between romance in the past decade as opposed to romance in the 80s?

For me there are 2 standout differences:

1. Like Annie, the 80’s and prior were predominately written from the female point of view. During the 90’s and now in the 21st century there was a gradual shift to both the female and male point’s of view being written into a novel. In my opinion, this shift has been so strong that the way I personally categorise the books I read is that if it has both the protagonists’ points of view then it is a romance. If it is only a female or male point of view it is categorised as Chicklit or Ladlit.

2. The sex is much more explicit and, thankfully, turgid shafts and manhoods have made way for erections and dicks. A much more realistic reflection of contemporary language.

Some people think that reading the last page first is sacrilege. Do you?

I always read the last page. I  feel that “fairies must die” and have previously blogged about this.

Now about male leads. Why do we love rakes, rogues, cowboys, tycoons, sheikhs?

My favourite leads are Montana cowboys and the best friend/sibling’s best friend hook up. Journeys into someone else’s life, journey’s into a world quite foreign and the complete escape from the reality of our own lives. I tend to avoid romances set in Sydney and in Australia as I keep finding myself distracted by the setting of the book.

Kat, you said people get bored with just a kiss, but the obvious exception is Twilight. Can you discuss why it was successful?

As I haven’t read Twilight nor have I watched the movies I cannot answer this question. Though on a purely aesthetic basis – Team Edward.

Do you think romance has lost its stigma?

I think that some of the stigma associated with reading romance has dissipated for the following reasons.

1. Romance readers and romance publishers are leading the ebook revolution. This is acknowledged further by traditional book review magazines taking on romance reviewers.

2. The establishment of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance and the Journal for Popular Romance have made inroads in bringing academic merit to the study of popular romance literature. Having been established for under 3 years it will be interesting the changes that will come forth over the next decade.

That said, there is still  a large amount of bias towards romance literature and a lot more work is needed from not only the reading and reviewing public but the publishers of romance, also.

What books would you suggest to a new romance reader?

My 1st question to the person venturing into reading romance would be: What do you normally enjoy and then I would select titles from there. I’m a strong believer in merging someone into a genre by using cross-over fiction titles though there are some definite titles that I never hesitate to recommend:

Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie

A Matter of Class by Mary Balogh

How come book stores don’t have a romance section? Where can we buy romance?

Unfortunately, romance isn’t stocked in most bookstores because it relates back to the stigma question and bookstores don’t value their readers. I get my romance books from 2 sources Kmart/Target and from overseas. Either the Book depository or Amazon. I also get most of my books from the library but, it too, has it’s biases.

Fave authors? (the only one I answered on the night)

Vassiliki: Anne McAllisterJennifer CrusieVictoria DahlSusan Elizabeth PhillipsSuzanne BrockmannAnne Stuart, Rachel Gibson, Julie James and Melanie La’Brooy)

It was a very successful event and I feel it is apt that my moderator’s cherry was painlessly popped at a romance literature panel.