Holy crap, it’s Labour Day weekend already.
Seems like one minute I was looking at hopeful seedlings in my garden and the next I was staring sadly at the mashed detritus of spindly broken plants and cursing construction workers… wait, I’m getting off track. What I really mean is, the unofficial end of summer really snuck up on me this year. And say what you will about proper “dates” — we all know that when school starts, summer’s over (and yes, I’m aware that a bunch of places in the US now start school in August, but that’s just creepy and wrong).
I generally like the whole back-to-school feeling. It’s been years (decades?) since I actually attended, but I still get a sense of eagerness and renewed drive. I guess that’s in part because school was always genuinely fun for me, and part because September also generally brings cooler nights, which make sleeping – and thus, life – much more bearable.
That surging feeling generally leads me to write on school-related topics this time of year. I’ve written about teachers, and about students, too. This year I find myself wanting to discuss the more general idea of learning as it pertains to Romance novels.
That may sound silly, but there’s actually a lot to be learned from a good Romance. Obviously, the entire genre itself is an emotional education. Romance readers acquire the ability to recognize elements and patterns in relationship behaviour, and establish an extensive vocabulary with which to explore them. That’s kind of a given. Connection is another kind of learning: some readers will find themselves in characters or situations and realize that they are not alone. That’s invaluable. And readers can also gain a keen appreciation for just how much a good book can add to their lives, though that’s definitely not specific to Romance, just a general perk for book-lovers everywhere.
Years ago, Harlequin used to put little encyclopedia-style entries in every book in their ‘Presents’ line, which gave a brief non-fiction blurb about some aspect of the book. A little travel precis of the country visited perhaps, or a brief overview of a historical figure mentioned in the story. I read those the way I used to read the “Enrich Your Word Power” sections in the old Reader’s Digest magazines I found at the cottage, with a sense of wonder and keen appreciation.
But currently I’m after exploring how one might develop a more general sense of learning from Romance novels. And because right now the humidity is making me grumpy, I’m thinking about how Romance novels have in fact taught me a very useful life skill: how to deal with things that annoy me.
You think I’m kidding. You’re wrong.
Back in 1991, Jayne Ann Krentz wrote a book called Sweet Fortune. It’s the story of Jessie, the off-beat scion of a powerful business family, and Sam, the man picked by Jessie’s father to be his successor… and Jessie’s husband. Jessie’s plan to oppose the match is seriously undermined by her attraction to Sam, while Sam’s plan to gain a foothold in a burgeoning business empire is shaken by Jessie’s flamboyant appeal. It’s a lighthearted romp of a story in the way only books from the early 90s can be, full of cults and computer hijinks and whatnot. But it also taught me an invaluable lesson: how to deal with getting fired.
Because Jessie? Gets fired a lot. So often, in fact, that she has developed a whole system for dealing with the inevitable. She buys herself the makings of a good dinner and a great drink, takes the evening to sulk or celebrate, then throws herself into a new plan the very next day. That basic strategy has stuck with me ever since, and not just for getting fired (though it did help the one time I was actually laid off). As a strategy, the applications of “Take the time to feel what you need to feel then MOVE ON” are limitless. Family arguments. Political screw ups. Job catastrophes. Dating woes. And it even worked for people who were not me. I used to give a high-drama friend time-limits: during those one/two/whatever days, she could mourn her breakups with all the public and melodramatic wailing she desired. But at the end of the interval, she had to stop. And stop she did.
On another front, Linda Howard has written books that provide a lot of practical information about how to survive plane crashes (Game of Chance) and extreme winter conditions (Ice). And her book Up Close and Dangerous covers both. But I read My Side of the Mountain dozens of times when I was a kid, and I spent a winter in Quebec City which upped my appreciation for cold conditions in every way. I respect winter, and I know what it’s capable of. What Linda Howard has done for me is help me deal with heat.
Howard is from the southern US, and it often shows in her writing. Her characters deal with heat the same way Torontonians deal with winter (at least, back when we actually had one): matter-of-factly. They might complain, but hot days are part of the fabric of their everyday lives and are treated accordingly. Her books Loving Evangeline and Kill and Tell are both set in hot, steaming locations — and the characters LIKE that! They enjoy the heat, accept the humidity, and just go on with their days.
Part of that acceptance comes from proper preparation, of course: her characters all dress appropriately, drink lots of liquids, and retreat to the water or to AC if things got overwhelming. But the simple premise that the heat could be enjoyed rather than just grimly endured was a revelation to me. I’m still not a fan of humidity, but I can see how some people are.
Nora Roberts’ Carolina Moon gave me some much-needed insight into the nature of the small-business mindset, especially how important it can be to delegate. Several books in Ilona Andrews’ ‘Kate Daniels’ series have by example taught me to endure interminable committee meetings about bylaws, no matter how mind-numbing. I may never need them to ward off an attack by a crazed lycanthrope, but at some point they might come in useful. Really all that’s left is to find a book that will teach me how to not completely lose my shit in traffic jams and I’m set.
True story: Chris Szego once kicked a crack into her car’s dashboard while stuck in a traffic jam.
The Search by Nora Roberts taught me to appreciate dogs. And that was a stretch for me.