Two weeks after the End of the World As We Know It, and Iím starting to feel like this is as normal as things are going to get for a while. Iím working, Iím sleeping, Iím eating. But, surprisingly, Iím not reading, at least not my usual diet of romance novels and womenís fiction. Since September 11, 2001, Iíve completed one - count it, one - new novel. Instead, Iíve relied on the books from my keeper shelf to comfort me. Old friends from Nora Roberts, Justine Dare and Maggie Osborne helped relax me during sleepless nights immediately after the tragedy. Iíve also renewed my interest in the brilliant simplicity and subversive humor of Bill Wattersonís Calvin and Hobbes cartoon books. When Iíve tried to read new novels, they just doesnít click. I skim a few pages, then close them with a kind of listless apathy.
After the events of 9/11, fiction seems trivial and meaningless. It represents Before, not After. I canít identify with the static characters on the pages who donít realize that everything has changed, that our feelings of safety and security have vanished. I have an urge to read - gasp! - non-fiction, to alleviate a nagging guilt that I really donít know enough about the Real World. Thereís a hope, probably futile, that if I learn more about world politics and history, then Iíll be able to comprehend the unfathomable forces that drove a band of terrorists to kill more than 6,000 innocent individuals in one devastating moment.
I suppose that sooner or later I will return to reading fiction and romance novels. But I canít help wondering if Iíll find a changed landscape there as well. Iíve read a lot of mea culpas from other aspects of the entertainment industry. Suddenly the same people that raked in the dough by making movies that showed hundreds of people being killed by natural disasters or faceless foreign agents are realizing that maybe, just maybe, itís tasteless to release more of the same type of flick in the wake of our national tragedy. Comics who thrived on satirizing everything and everyone suddenly understand that there are some events too serious to mock. The entertainment world seems poised for a kinder, gentler phase.
Surely that can only mean good news for the romance novel, which has nothing to apologize for. In a time of war and uncertainty, readers will be looking for a good escape. In a nation finally realizing the importance of love and family, maybe the genre that celebrates both wonít be mocked so viciously. But there are changes ahead for heroes, settings and plots. Will readers still be keen on Suzanne Brockmannís Navy SEALs combating Eastern European terrorists, when the plot mirrors so closely what is likely to happen to real American servicemen and women, except with no guarantee of happy ending? Will they still want to read about desert sheiks when sentiment against Arab-Americans is at an irrationally high fevered pitch? Will category romances of 2002 replace The Cowboyís Secret Baby with The Fireman and the Virgin?
I have no inside information, but here are a few predictions. I think the recent popularity of the contemporary novel will wane prematurely. I foresee a renewed interest in historical novels, as readers escape to the past in which we already know the rules and the outcomes. Or perhaps weíll see a jump ahead to the future, with the optimistic premise that humanity survives this crisis to populate other galaxies in the 25th century. And love may be more highly valued, but I doubt that romance novels will ever be considered serious literature until women rule the world (and maybe not even then).
Meanwhile, I struggle to find a book that can hold my interest as much as todayís newspaper or the latest CNN headlines. Have I left something behind that can never be recaptured, or is this just a temporary hiatus from 35 years of reading fiction?
But that's my opinion.
Readers, email The Romance Reader with your opinion. Have an idea for a Forum of your own? Let us know.
Sept 28, 2001