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March 16, 2013

Theresa Timmons: Novels once of loving couples mock them now

When I was a young teenager, my wicked stepmother gave me about a half dozen Harlequin Romance novels.

The novels were a few years old when I was gifted, so my best guess now is that the books were from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Romance novels from that time period were much less explicit than they are now. The lovestruck couples in the stories met, fell madly in love, kissed at the end to celebrate the marriage proposal — and lived happily ever after. Like Doris Day and Rock Hudson.

When you are a 13-year-old girl, that stuff is great reading.

I thought the books were exceptionally well written. Plus really cool. After all, the stories often involved a young women and a somewhat older man who was mature and experienced — and that older man was also intrigued and even amused by the opposite qualities in the young woman. There was playful banter, fainting, and sometimes a rescue, all the obvious ingredients for an everlasting love.

And when I finished a book, I had a warm fuzzy feeling of happiness. All was well in the battle of the sexes when I was 13 years old.

But I quickly lost interest in the books and moved on to bigger and better happiness inducing discoveries, like chocolate and learning to drive.

Now fast forward more than 35 years, through a marriage and kids and grandkids — and all the happiness and sadness and gains and losses and sickness and health that comes with 35 years of living. Fast forward to a Saturday evening at an auction in Alexandria, where several boxes of books are up for bids.

I noticed a particular box right away, because it was filled with Harlequin Romance novels and the covers of the books were ‘dated.’ The pictures were clearly from a different generation, the styles from the early ’70s, the 40-year-old colors faded and dull. I picked up a book, opened it and sniffed. Yep, that musty, pungent scent of an aged book wafted right up my nose. And I had a flashback right then and there, a warm fuzzy feeling of happiness.

I bought the whole box at a bargain price. There were no other bidders. I heard a few giggles from the audience, and the auctioneer thanked me for my bid. Clearly, the value of this secret treasure was lost on everybody in the room. I lugged the heavy box home, took it into my room and dropped it on the floor.

I could hardly wait to get started. I grabbed a novel, curled up on my bed, and started reading.

Fifteen minutes later, I stopped reading. This couldn’t be right. Maybe it was just this particular book? It wasn’t very well written. The story was cheesy. The young woman was a little silly. And her hero wasn’t all that nice. Lots of “mocking.” Mocking glances. Mocking smiles.

My husband Seth doesn’t get dinner if he does any mocking at our house. We have a “no mocking” policy, except compensated mocking (as in a column).

In desperation I grabbed a second book. Surely this one would be better? My eyes moved over the words, my brain desperately seeking the literary brilliance equal to “Pride and Prejudice.” Or “Wuthering Heights.” After all, if you are going to have a less-than-perfect insane love interest, he should at least be portrayed in a compelling manner like the scary, irresistible Heathcliff.

But the brilliance was missing, as was a good editor, apparently.

It came to me then ... in the past 35 years, those romance novels had not changed a bit. I had. Not sure if that is good or bad?

For Sale Cheap: 140 Harlequin Romance Novels. Copyright early 1970s. Smell great.

Theresa Timmons’ column appears every first and third Sunday. She is an Elwood resident and can be reached at paperflinger40@yahoo.com.

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