My books are worth their weight in silver

Like most homes, we have a small stash of 5 cent, 10 cent and 20 cent coins that pile up in a coin jar. This coin jar is used regularly so there is rarely any more money than five dollars in it. My youngest son can only take canteen money from that jar to pay for his garlic bread or frozen oranges  and I get to use my handful of silver when I head down to my local opshop/charity shop.

Books at my opshop cost anywhere from $1 to $5. I will often throw some coins in my bag and head down to buy myself a book. When I did this today, I was overjoyed to find some Charlotte Lamb, Carole Mortimer, Anne Mather and Penny Jordan reprints on sale. These were reprints from their later books but even these reprints are nearly 10 years old and out of print. I counted my silver and found I had enough money to buy 3 books, all with 2 novels in each binding. I chose the ones I would buy, went to the front of the shop and waited to be served. The woman ahead of me was buying some interior decorating magazines. These were being sold for $1, too. There was a woman hovering to my side and when it came to my turn to be served she said to the woman at the checkout “Give her the Mills & Boon 3 for a dollar. I just want to get rid of them”. It turns out hover woman was the manager.

Now her comment took me aback somewhat. This is an opshop. Is there a place for snobbery in an opshop? I expect a certain egalitarianism from my opshop. I have often seen Target shirts hanging beside Ben Sherman shirts here. I have seen Sportsgirl skirts next to Jigsaw skirts. Frankly, my Mills & Boons, clutched closely to my bosom, had, just moments ago, been sitting on a shelf alongside John Banville’s the Sea and V. S. Naipaul’s Half a Life (ah! the sweet irony that they still sit on those shelves unpurchased). Isn’t shopping at an opshop an opportunity to give to a charity while benefitting from finding an item that is no longer easily purchased from mainstream retailers? For others it is a way to dress and clothe themselves while on a tight budget and for others it is a thumbing it to the big corporates in an attempt to be alternative.

Now this opshop only had 20 M&B titles which is quite a low amount in comparison with the opshop in the neighbouring suburb which has hundreds. And this was a good day! It often has none. Though on the one hand I was quite excited at the lower price so I hurried over to the shelves and chose another 6 books and bought 9 books for $3 (which being doubles means that I scored 18 new books today!) I was also angered. I wanted to shake my fist at the sky and shout “How could you denigrate these wonderfully written books. How could you value them less than a three year old tattered House and Garden”. But I didn’t. I did make a comment about literature snobs after I gave her my pennies.

I am offended on behalf of my reading love. My offense won’t last long as you develop a thick skin as an out-of-the-closet romance reader. But I choose to be affronted when my reading choices meet disdain, scorn and ridicule. I am going to love my books. And they are worth their weight in silver.

Postscript: Like most people, I buy my books from a broad range of places. Retailers, online, markets, opshops and second-hand bookshops. In anticipation of anyone reading this accusing me that if I felt that strongly about Mills & Boon why don’t I buy them new I would like to say that I only buy my in print Mills & Boon at full retail prices. And they are the books that are worth their weight in gold.

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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.