Over the past several weeks, I’ve been methodically importing my entire CD collection into iTunes, backed up by a external hard drive and now resident on my shiny new 160GB iPod Classic. So far, I have about 11½ days worth of music on there (plus two movies and the entire first season of Star Trek the Original Series) and I’m lovin’ it—every day I listen to it on shuffle mode on my way back and forth from work and every day I hear at least one song I have never heard before (that’s how many CDs I have) and at least one other song I haven’t heard in twenty years or more.
The other day, an Andy Gibb song came on, and I was just about to skip it when I stopped myself, and not only listened but sang along, amazed that I knew every single word. I was just as amazed that the song was on my iPod in the first place. Where did this come from? Turns out it was on the soundtrack to the movie version of Charlie’s Angels, a CD my wife bought for reasons unknown, and which I blindly copied into my iTunes library.
This whole exercise has been a real walk down memory lane for me, one that brings up mixed emotions. I used to take great joy in my huge CD collection then somewhere along the way they just ended up in boxes in the closet, more of a nuisance than anything. I’m surprising myself by how easy it is, emotionally, to let go of that format and fully embrace the music for its own sake.
But then there’s this Andy Gibb song. When I was in high school I watched that great SNL rip-off Fridays—the show that gave us the comedy geniuses Larry David and Michael Richards—LA’s answer to the late-night comedy sketch show. Fridays also featured hipper bands than SNL showcased at the time, drawn from the LA New Wave scene. There I discovered DEVO, and from DEVO New Wave and from New Wave punk and from punk the beginnings of what would come to be known as “alternative.” I went straight from AC/DC and Journey to being a hyper-radicalized suburban punk and (I now have the maturity to understand) an insufferable music snob.
I remember railing against “corporate rock,” disco, and anything else that didn’t fit into my narrow margins of what was cool, though there was very little if anything about me that was “cool.” I rejected literally everything I used to like, ignored everything that wasn’t presented with that alt sensibility, and missed out on some good music along the way.
I guess it’s just a function of getting older, but I find that I’m no longer able to get stridently angry about the perceived coolness or relative significance of any particular music group. I still have some favorites, and some bands and styles of music I just cannot get behind (I will never like Jethro Tull. Ever.) but I’ve given myself permission to considerably widen my musical net. In some cases, I can’t see the edges. Just this morning my iPod randomly switched from The Brady Bunch to Julia Fordham to Bauhaus, and I just reveled in the transition.
But then there’s books.
This iTunes exercise came about the same time that my editor, Peter Archer, commented on passages in The Guide to Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction that I seemed overly catty when I discussed romance. I was being dismissive. My first reaction was something along the lines of, “Of course I’m being dismissive—it’s romance!” Then that Andy Gibb song started playing in my mind again, and it got me thinking.
Okay, maybe, as with Jethro Tull, I will never like romance novels. After all, they do tend to be written and sold to a specific demographic that I am not a part of. Right age, wrong gender.
But so many times over the years I’ve seen SF and fantasy, and especially the tie-in fantasy I’ve made a career of writing and editing, dismissed off-hand by people who are readily willing to admit they’ve never read it, but assume it has to be bad—the same way I’ve never read a word of a single romance novel but am (or used to be) convinced they’re awful, pointless, pandering fluff for lonely housewives. But then isn’t sword & sorcery awful, pointless, pandering fluff for lonely nerds? I’m a nerd—I’m happy to identify myself as a nerd. Nerds win. Just ask Bill Gates. But I’m not lonely. I have a wife and children and extended family and friends, and coworkers, and other professional acquaintances. I lead a very full life, which includes reading and writing SF and fantasy. I am forced to recognize that the same will be true for romance readers, mystery readers, “chick-lit” readers, and so on. I’ve read lots of mysteries I really enjoyed, but don’t think of myself as a “mystery reader.” Could it be that I could read a romance novel and not become a “romance reader,” per se, but also not hate it? Could I enjoy a romance novel? Could I at least respect the passion, the storytelling, the clever turn of phrase in a well-crafted romance?
I guess I have to find out the hard way.
If I can sing along to Andy Gibb, if my iPod can contain both Pablo Cruise and Butthole Surfers, surely I can widen my literary net the same way.
To that end, I set out on this quest: To find a romance novel people think is good, and read it.
And that’s where you come in. Please comment here and recommend a romance novel or two (or several) that you think I might like. It doesn’t have to be a “fantasy romance” or anything that somehow sits outside the confines of the genre. I want the romance version of R.A. Salvatore’s The Crystal Shard: a great example of the genre at its best, even while it’s being put down by snobby naysayers. I can’t promise I’ll like it, but I promise to read it, and discuss it here, soon.