I’ve read wildly. I’ve read deeply. But you know what I haven’t done? I haven’t read romantically. Every now and again I’ll download a sample of highly recommended romance novel, and I won’t even finish it. Too unrealistic.
(Says the girl who’s always up for a tale with a map labeled: Here be dragons. Or this month, books with mummies, psychic children, and spooky wallpaper.)
But for first-time author, long-time host of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour, Linda Holmes? Yes, I will read a romance, especially after a real live book-loving friend raved about it. And then I will share it with my husband, who has no use for dragons but is always up for a rom-com.
Evvie Drake Starts Over is fun, is thoughtful, and has a lot of heart. It’s also got great banter. If you listen to the podcast, you know Holmes is a huge fan of the ‘90s TV series Sports Night, and the book reflects that passion.
Holmes loves romance in all its incarnations — novels, Hallmark movies, Netflix movies, big-screen releases, TV series, and theater. What she brings to her novel that I most liked is a deep understanding of the friendship that is possible between two people who, in a different story, might be attracted to each other. In this story, it’s Evvie and her best friend, Andy. The idea of them getting together is presented as ludicrous and allows their friendship to be fully explored. It’s not perfect (no friendship is), but it’s good. It’s a kind of love.
The main characters in Evvie Drake felt very real. In Dr. Maryanne Wolf’s Reader, Come Home, she says that we readers “immerse ourselves in the worlds created by books and the lives and feelings of the ‘friends’ who inhabit them.” For a delightful summer month I immersed myself in the people from the fictional but oh-so-believable burg of Calcasset, Maine, and felt like I’d made new friends. I didn’t even mind that two of them fell in love.
In fact, I enjoyed the book so much that I plan to make my next read another romance, the YA bestseller turned Netflix movie To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han. The story had been on my list from the time Holmes and a special Pop Culture Happy Hour panel reviewed it, but I didn’t take the plunge until a friend — another real live book-loving one — said it and the series of which it is part — are, and I quote, “masterpieces of literature.”
It took a while for Jane Austen to get any respect too.
Everything I can find by new U.S. Poet Laureate, Joy Harjo
Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing, Robert Caro
The Yellow Wall-Paper, Charlotte Perkins Gilman (length between a short story and a novella and completely brilliant)
Goodbye to a River, John Graves
Evvie Drake Starts Over, Linda Homes
Early Readers and Picture Books
Oh My Oh My Oh Dinosaurs!, Sandra Boynton (Children’s Book Club meets August 9!)
Brontorina, James Howe, illus. Randy Cecil
The Dark, Lemony Snicket, illus. Jon Klassen
Middle Grade and YA
Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds, Gwenda Bond (not sure which category this official prequel for the TV series should go in, but Bond is a YA and middle-grade author)
Goosebumps: Return of the Mummy, R.L. Stine
The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas
1. Is there a genre you have avoided? Would you, could you read it if a writer you love gave it a whirl?
2. Romances come in different styles. This one is light on the adult situations but a bit heavier than I expected on the adult language. I mention it in case it matters to you.
3. Did you make some time for deep reading this month? What stories stirred your soul?
4. Share your July pages. Sliced, started, and abandoned are all fair game.
- Perspective: The Two, The Only: Calvin and Hobbes - December 16, 2022
- Children’s Book Club: A Very Haunted Christmas - December 9, 2022
- By Heart: ‘The night is darkening round me’ by Emily Brontë - December 2, 2022
I avoided romance novels for a very long time, until — I didn’t. I avoided them after reading one by a best-selling author that was plain, flat-out bad — badly written, cardboard characters, wooden situations (I though it might be a parody of romance novels). Three weeks later, it showed up on The New York Times bestseller list. What do I know?
I read one last week, thinking I’d bought a certain kind of romance novel. After the second sentence on the first page, I realized I was mistaken. It was still a romance novel, but not the genre I thought it was. I steeled myself and read it anyway. It was a good story but a flawed one.
My Father Left Me Ireland by Michael Brendan Dougherty
In Search of the Common Good by Jake Meador
Justice on Trial: The Kavanaugh Confirmation and the Future of the Supreme Court by Millie Hemingway and Carrie Severino
Hawthorne’s ‘The Scarlet Letter’ by Leland Ryken
The Art of the Essay by Charity Singleton Craig
When You Look at Me by Pepper Basham (romance novel!)
The Porpoise by Mark Haddon
Charming the Troublemaker by Pepper Basham (another romance novel!)
Light from Distant Stars by Shawn Smucker
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Adam by Chris Keniston (yet another romance novel!)
Black December by Scott Hunter
Murder on Magazine by Julie Smith
Four Stories by Glenn McGoldrick
Woodworm by Matt Duggan
On the Occasion of a Wedding by Ollie Bowen
Megan Willome says
Glynn, I suspect you’re a romantic at heart.
I just finished a YA romance but thought the main character chose the wrong fella. Bummer.
L.L. Barkat says
I’m not sure I actively avoid genres so much as only go to certain ones if they come recommended. Mostly, I am just looking for a good book. 🙂 I do, however, tend to concentrate on nonfiction, for the way it opens me to new ideas and strategies.
What I like about Jane Austen (it took a while for me to engage with her, too :), is how she’s not just dealing with romance but also the very interesting subject of social power, which everyone has but in vastly different ways depending on life situation. Okay, after saying that, I am just now, right in this moment, considering why monastics choose celibacy; maybe it’s also about personal power rather than just the issue of personal pleasure.
Last night I was very much missing books. I actually sat on the edge of my bed and said it aloud to the open air, “I miss books.” Then I opened my “Kindness” memorization paper and keenly felt the next set of lines I was trying to commit to memory: “You ride and ride the bus/thinking it will never stop/the passengers eating maize and chicken will stare out the window forever.”
Regarding The Yellow Wallpaper, what a book, little as it is. Sara actually started creating a graphic novel of it, though I don’t think that project will ever be finished. Maybe I’ll dig around and try to find the art so you can see. 🙂
I look forward to hearing about your Harjo poetry travels. 🙂
Megan Willome says
I would love to see a graphic novel of “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Yes, please!
Jane Austen’s stories are about power, money, and friendship, as well as romance. Masterpieces.
I look forward to what I’ll write about Joy Harjo, beyond all my poetry journaling. I’ll be using one of her poems at the TSP retreat.
My reading (some of these were in progress in June but now all are finished):
Brene Brown, ‘Daring Greatly’ (a re-read; I took a workshop in it)
Jennifer Berry Hawes, ‘Grace Will Lead Us Home’ (about the Charleston survivors; I also saw the new film ‘Charleston’ during a special showing)
Andrew E. Stoner, ‘The Journalist of Castro Street: The Life of Randy Shilts’ (very good)
Eliza Griswold, ‘Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America’ (a very well-told story about fracking in Pennsylvania – it should be outlawed everywhere)
Jim Harrison, ‘The Essential Poems’
Lynn Olson, “Madame Fourcade’s Secret War’
Ocean Vuong, ‘On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous’ (so beautifully written I plan to re-read it)
Marilyn McEntyre, ‘When Poets Pray’
Jeffrey L. Johnson, Ed., ‘Stars Shall Bend Their Voices: Poets’ Favorite Hymns & Spiritual Songs’
Margaret Renkl, ‘Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss’ (beautifully written essays; I’ll finish this today)
Colson Whitehead, ‘The Nickel Boys’
Diane Lockward, Ed., ‘A Constellation of Kisses’ (a poem of mine is in this anthology, I’m proud to say; the poems are wonderful)
Elizabeth J. Coleman, Ed., ‘HERE: Poems for the Planet’ (excellent poems from a wide range of writers)
I’ve read quite a bit of Harjo, Megan. I enjoy her work very much.
Megan Willome says
Maureen, congrats! I like many of Lockward’s poems.
I have a podcast interview queued up with Whitehead about his new book.
Sandra Heska King says
I actually finished a book! Charity’s The Art of the Essay. And wrote a review. Yay me!
I keep bouncing around with my books. I’m glad I brought a bunch with me. I never did finish Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass, so I’m continuing in that. I’m also working my way through The Book of Delights by Ross Gay, Voices in the Air and Words Under the Water by Nye. Picking my way through Frances Mayes’ The Discovery of Poetry AND brought Dave Barry’s Best State Ever (Florida) along. I’m starting that today.
I’m looking forward to reading some Harjo.
Megan Willome says
I loved Nye’s “Voices in the Air” and will be drawing from it for a long time, especially the way so many poems interact with other poets.
Did you decide to read Dave Barry after reading Charity’s book?
Bethany R. says
I enjoyed this post and reading each of your comments. Such a lovely community here. 🙂
I pretty much never read “Romance,” unless by accident or by Jane Austen. 😉 I appreciate her wit more than the weddings.
Megan Willome says
Behany, agreed. Her wit can still bite.
LW Willingham says
I am, just barely, starting to read again. I am in the middle of Alexander Chee’s “How to Write an Autobiographical Novel” which is a terrific collection of personal essays. I’m also reading “The Book of Delights” from time to time which I’ve been surprised to learn was not a singular find of mine but lots of people are reading. 🙂 Also poking around in Tony Hoagland’s essays “The Art of Voice.” And I picked up a book discovered at Capitol Bookstore in DC, “Humans: A Brief History of How We F*cked It Up” which is a hilarious angle on certain aspects of our history. It goes way back, beginning with “3,200,000 BCE: Lucy falls out of a tree and dies. Humanity will repeat this pattern many times over the next 3.2 million years.” Part of me is feeling like this one might oddly be the one that gives me hope that I’ll read again. Part of me thinks I’ve just been reading more because I’ve been on a plane every week for the last month and I grew weary in my quest to watch 22 movies to catch up on the MCU archive so I can watch Infinity Wars.
Megan Willome says
That line about Lucy made me laugh.
In case you didn’t hear the news out of Comic Con, the MCU will be sprawling hither and yon, so don’t hurt yourself.
Diana Trautwein says
I loved this book, for exactly the reasons you noted. In between planning for and leading funerals the last few weeks — good work, but exhausting on so many levels — I have done some reading this summer.
“This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared” – a wonderful journey through the Jewish high holy days.
“As Kingfishers Catch Fire” – a collection of Eugene Peterson’s sermons
“The Universal Christ” – Richard Rohr’s magnum opus
“A Gospel of Hope” – Walter Brueggemann’s collection of pithy rich sayings on a variety of topics
Huh . . . seems to be a bit of a theme here . . .
Read this summer:
“Light from Distant Stars” – Shawn Smucker
“Rock with Wings” and “Spider Woman’s Daughter” – Anne Hillerman
“The Moment of LIft” – Melinda Gates (WONDERFUL book)
“Holy Envy ” – Barbara Brown Taylor
“Death in Paradise,” “Night Passage,” and “Trouble in Paradise” – Robert B. Parker
“Where the LIght Gets In” – a mom-with-Alzheimer’s story by actress Kimberly Williams
SIX (at least) titles by Faye Kellerman, while on vacation
The last in the Maisie Dobbs mystery series (which I adore)
When life gets heavy, I crave murder mysteries — don’t ask me why. I either read them or watch them. Those I watch are almost entirely British.
Megan Willome says
Diana, I’m so grateful you shared your summer reading list. The variety piques my interest.
On murder mysteries, I like that at the end they are solved. It’s extremely comforting, despite the subject matter. Real life doesn’t have solutions for its heaviness.