by Charina Russo
This year at the Romantic Times Convention, COS launched a readers initiative called ‘Sometimes Reading IS the Story.’ It’s a public service announcement focusing on the importance of reading. Reading is personal and what better way to promote it than hearing the personal stories from the reader’s themselves? In our minds we can go back to a special and cherished moment in our lives that got us reading in the first place. And it got me thinking about my own personal story…
I don’t have a particular memory from my childhood about reading. Nothing like my mother reading to me before I went to bed and other than a textbook, I hardly read when I was in High School. I just didn’t read in my leisure time. And as I made my way in the workforce, if it wasn’t accounts receivable or reviewing erroneous funds deposited into the account for the Bank for International Settlements, that was the extent of reading for me. My reading love affair came later in life after my father passed away in June, 2001. He was only 61 years old and died from a massive heart attack. His death was sudden and I was devastated. My daddy was gone and while my mother was still alive, I felt like an orphan. A friend of mine thought reading would help me cope. She handed me Julie Garwood’s, Saving Grace and I was hooked! Ahhh, Gabriel *sigh*… if only real-life men were as honorable and devoted like you. I read her entire historical backlist, and as much as I loved them, I felt I needed more; “more” being hotter love scenes. Don’t get me wrong, her love scenes were sexy and fun but I wanted something steamier. The same friend recommend that I read Virginia Henley. So, I went to B&N and bought a copy of Enslaved and hit pay dirt. It had everything that I was looking for; an extremely sexy and alpha hero, a strong heroine, a plot that kept me engaged (it was a time travel) and very sexy, hot and sensual love scenes. I speed read through her backlist.
I immersed myself deeper into reading when two events shortly following the death of my father would change my life forever; on the day we laid him to rest, I received crushing news. My daughter, the love of my life was diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. My heart was broken for my little girl. Three months later I would be caught up in the chaos that was 9/11. When so much crap is thrown at you, especially in such a short period of time, you wonder how much more you can take? How did these sequence of events affect me? Instead of acting out or going into a rage, I imploded. They impacted me in such a way that I mentally shut down and withdrew from life.
I instantly realized the reason why I connected with romances; I was searching for happiness and found it in fiction. My reality sucked and I desperately needed to escape and reading romances provided that diversion. There was a surge of military themed romances that came after the horrific events of 9/11, American pride and all that… but I couldn’t read them. They touched on something too close to home, so I latched on to historicals like a life line, it was all I read. With all that I was feeling and being trapped in my own personal hell, surprisingly, I discovered I loved to read. Some books were so emotional, I would get so choked up sometimes, tears poured from my eyes without me realizing it until one would fall onto a page. I loved that, “WOW! That was some book” feeling when I finished. It was the words that mattered and how deeply they affected me. The deeper I got into the stories, the more I connected with the characters. I felt what they felt, understood their reasoning, was rooting for them. It was love conquering all and good defeating evil and our couple fighting against all odds to be together. There is one book however, that I would turn to over the years, for comfort and solace, even if I read only a few pages. The book that would help me battle my demons was Where Dreams Begin by Lisa Kleypas. It is by far my most cherished book and I cannot tell you how many times I’ve read it over the years. It’s so beaten and battered, the spine broken, too many pages dog-eared to mark favorite passages and scenes… “well loved” I call it. It touched me on a emotional level, to the core of me and since I am a comfort reader, whenever I traveled, it came with me.
I stayed dedicated to historicals for a number of years. You might say I was a historical romance junkie… LOL! I was able to maintain because there was an extensive backlist. From well known authors like Lisa Kleypas (Suddenly You, Dreaming of You) and Stephanie Laurens (The Cynster’s) to the ‘where are they now’ authors like Sandy Hingston (The Affair) and Josie Litton (Dream of Me and Believe in Me). If you can get your hands on these treasures; Keeper of the Dream by Penelope Williamson, Flowers From the Storm by Laura Kinsale, Tapestry by Karen Ranney and Bewitching by Jill Barnett, then do so, they are everything a romance should be. There are other authors that have earned ‘auto-buy’ status… Pamela Clare, Sylvia Day, Liz Carlyle, Monica McCarty, Sabrina Jeffries and Jillian Hunter to name a few. Their words and wonderful stories have sustained me.
However, as the Paranormal/ Urban Fantasy genre exploded, there haven’t been as many historicals published like there used to. I tried them, truly did, but they just weren’t my cup of tea. Vampire/Werewolf, some I liked, others… ehhh… they were ok. And I couldn’t get past the first 50 pages into futuristic/alternate universe stories. Those genres too have evolved and as the plots got, shall I say “more advanced,” I just couldn’t get into them. I think it was/is a combination of publishers wanting to tap into the paranormal goldmine, and authors scrambling, trying to make stories unique and original; not reading like everything else out there, a lot of them, just went beyond my realm of belief… I mean come on! Were-hamsters and sex addicted cyborgs?
So what could become the enemy of a prolific reader? Well, in the past year, I ran into a problem… space. I ran out of it. I couldn’t justify going on an Ikea run and buying another bookcase. It was either that or getting rid of the books or the kids… and I really love my books… LOL! So I finally caved and bought an eReader. I absolutely LOVE my Nook, affectionately called “Nookie.” Get it? Romances = lots of Nookie… LOL! What I love about it is, I am one that had to carry one or two books with me wherever I go. Now ALL my books come with me and I don’t have to decide which book to take with me when I go out. In my BN (Before Nook) stage, I bought a lot of books, and I mean A LOT, four at a time per week… that’s how much I was reading AND not just historicals. Now AN (After Nook), and no space limitations? Well, RELEASE THE HOUNDS! With the constraints of space lifted, I branched out into other genre’s… contemporary/romantic suspense and I also gave paranormals another try. I rarely read them, with a few exceptions, Amanda Jayde’s, Dark Moon Rising, Donna Grant (Dark Sword Series) Karen Marie Moning’s Highlander Time Travels (wish she’d write more) and Tina St. John’s now out-of-print, Dragon Chalice Series. I tried JR Ward, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Jacklyn Frank, even Christine Feehan and believe me, much to my friends chagrin, I STILL can’t get into them. I’ve concluded they just aren’t for me. So I feel somewhat vindicated that I’ve proven I’m not a paranormal snob.
Romantic Suspense, however, I LOVE them. I have shouted on a NYC bus ‘AH I KNEW IT!’ when the villain is revealed. Contemporary/Romantic Suspense authors like, Pamela Clare (she’s a twofer; historical and Romantic Suspense) Lisa Marie Rice, Jaci Burton, Jill Shalvis, Jasmine Haynes and Shayla Black and many more since I purchased a Nook; they have now been added to what is now a growing ‘auto-buy’ list. I don’t want to analyze too much why, but if I had to? I think me venturing into another genre’s, through time and the healing process, I am in a much better place in my mind.
Ten years later, I’m still reading and I love it more than ever. Since I expanded the reading pool, I discovered more authors, their backlist and also some gems where I least expected to find them. I purchase more books from epublishers like Liquid Silver and Samhain.
C.S. Lewis once said ‘We Read to know we are not alone.’ Think about that statement and think about how true it is when we open up and read a book? Every reading experience, we meet someone and for a little while, they become friends as we involve ourselves and have an invested interest in the outcome of their lives. That they’re fictional characters makes no difference… they become real to the reader.
So you see, reading is personal and we all have a story to tell. This is mine, and if what I tell you inspires you in any way to pick up a book and read, then I have done my job. It opens your mind, feeds the imagination, takes you on a long and wonderful journey, and in my case, it healed a wounded soul.