Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Long & Short of It, Through Thick & Thin, Harlequin Thrives!

I LOVE to read! I love books and magazines, newspapers and journals. I just simply love to read. When I was a kid and knew that my mother wouldn't allow one of my books at the breakfast table--had to hurry so I wouldn't be late for school--I read the cereal boxes, often they were the same cereal boxes I had read the morning before. But I read them again anyway--I just loved to read. I can clearly remember the first book I brought home from school in first grade and the absolute sense of "over the top I felt when I could read and pronounce all those words flawlessly remains fixed in my memory. It was probably one of the "Dick & Jane" books. Of course, there were only about 20 words in the entire book, but when one is six and acquiring a new skill, who cares how many or how few words are in a particular book?

I was probably the school librarian's favorite student--I was in the library all the time, every night, turning in books, checking them out, straightening out the card catalogue, straightening out the bookshelves, and never, never keeping books beyond their due date. What a kid! In fact, my very first job was as a student helper (for fifty cents an hour) at the Public Library which happened to be right across the street from the high school and about six blocks from my house--on the same street, in fact. By this time I had consumed all the Sue Barton, R.N. books, the Nancy Drew books, books full of Greek mythology, novels like Quo Vadis, The Robe, Giant, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, A Many Splendored Thing, The Silver Chalice and Ivanhoe, along with the F. Scott Fitzgerald books. All this was, of course, in addition to literature assignments for book reports and English Literature which was a required course for all college prep seniors.

Then the years of early marriage and having kids hit. OMG, noise, diapers (cloth ones, mind you), and babies everywhere. My hubby and I had four kids in five years and by the time the last baby was born, I hadn't been in a bathing suit for five years, owned very few outfits that weren't maternity clothes, had two sets of shoes because some days my feet were swollen and some days they weren't, and was absolutely positive I was going to be pregnant forever. There were several years when I was never out of the house except to go grocery shopping (is it any wonder that I still think of grocery shopping as a personal time activity?). It was especially difficult when we were living in the Chicago area and the snows for several years were quite deep. But . . . the sanity of this woman was saved by Harlequin. Yes, Harlequin romances. . . you know, those short novels that came every month, four at a time, and which all started to read the same and filled with characters that had the most incredible names. In the midst of diaper washing and bottle fixing and wiping kid noses and rocking babies, I had my Harlequin romances--doors to other worlds, entree into other people's situations and circumstances, and a way of using personal time--the miniscule amount I had--that sometimes was even better than grocery shopping.

I've always wondered if the survival of Harlequin has been, in large part, because there were so many people like me, who were literally "tied to the mast" with family responsibilities and who found those little short novels a way of escape. When my kids got older, I scheduled a "Mother's Reading Day" every month. By this time I was teaching my girls to cook a bit, so I would give them all tasks for that day, prepare the main dish ahead of time with directions for getting it on the table, make sure they were all well and away at school, and then I would retreat to my bedroom, hunker down in my comfy bed with a stack of those short novels, and forget the world. Everyone in my family knew that no one came through my door unless it was a genuine emergency. I have to say that I was a much nicer person after that "day off." I firmly believe it was my salvation in more ways than one.

Now Harlequin has a number of imprints and a large number of authors writing for them. I know of several who have a separate pen name for their Harlequin writing contracts, and there are some authors who write lots of books for them. I have reviewed a number of books that are published under one of the imprints and most of them have been really good. I know there are reviewers who don't pay much attention to their Super Romances, but I have found them to be very good reads, not expensive, and written by some very good authors.

And so . . . Harlequin Thrives. I, for one, am thankful that during those lean years there were fictional books available to me for a very small price. Yes, I know, I love libraries and I use our Los Angeles County Library all the time. But in those years, when getting out of the house was like outfitting an army in snowsuits, having those books come to my door in the mail every month was a delight. I think I looked forward to them more than I ever did my membership packages from the cosmetic club. After all, why would I really need cosmetics? I never went anywhere. I still buy Harlequin short novels at the used book store near us, and I still am delighted when I can review one of their books. I hope that all of you can look back and see how good books have brought a lot of fun and joy into your life. Until next time . . .


Wendy said...

Dr. J: This post made me so happy, I can't even tell you. I've long felt that Harlequin's "bread and butter" over the years were those woman who were "tied to the mast." And while women's lives have changed (we work outside the home, maybe we're single parents etc.), those little books have been a constant. They take us away to our "happy place."

Kim Swiderski said...

I'd be lost without my Harlequins!