I just went on a two-week vacation, and I did not pack a single book.
That’s not to say I didn’t read. I read every day. I didn’t need to bring any books because I borrowed ones from my two hostesses—my mother and my sister.
At my sister’s house, I read Kathryn Stockett’s very excellent Southern novel, The Help. Anyone who has not yet read this—you are missing out. Run to the store or library and pick up a copy. Now. My sister and I spent hours discussing this novel.
At my mother’s house, I read from her collection of Emilie Loring romance novels. Someday, my mother’s collection of Emilie Loring romance novels will become my collection of Emilie Loring romance novels because I called dibs on them for when she (my mother, not Emilie Loring) dies. My mother owns a copy of every single Emilie Loring romance novel, with the exception of With This Ring. Until this visit, I did not realize that she was missing With This Ring, so guess what I’ll be hunting for all over the Internet come holiday time?
Minus With This Ring, my mother owns all fifty-plus novels, even the ones written after Emilie Loring’s death. (Don’t tell my mom. She doesn’t know that Emilie herself did not write those last twenty books from beyond the grave. Anybody who reveals to her that they were ghost written, using partial manuscripts or rough drafts found after Emilie Loring passed, is going to suffer my wrath.)
Emilie Loring died a long time ago (1951, at the age of 87), but her work lives on. It lived on a lot two weeks ago because my mother and I had long discussions about the books. Each day, I held out the copy that I planned to read. The books were sometimes held together with a rubber band, the pages brittle and yellow, the sticker price of 40 cents still intact. One glimpse of the book cover, and my mother promptly told me the setting, the plot, who betrayed the hero, a description of the spunky best friend, and what the heroine wore the night she and the hero, inevitably, realized they were madly in love.
Did the spoilers stop me from reading the book? Of course not. I’ve read them all multiple times. I have not familiarized myself with the details to the degree that my mother has, but I’m still young. Someday, when the collection of Emilie Loring romance novels is mine, I will memorize which raven-haired beauty wore a gold sheath to what ball, and which broad-shouldered ex-college football player roommate is really a government agent gone bad.
The books were formulaic and predictable, which is probably why it was easy to ghost write the last twenty without even her biggest fans (my mother and me) suspecting. (Confession: I found out about ten minutes ago, when I researched the year of her death. Damn you, Wikipedia.)
While at home, I read one Emilie Loring romance novel in bed at night and one during my parents’ afternoon nap, which lasts exactly two hours and is exactly enough time to read an Emilie Loring romance novel, especially if you have already read every single one multiple times.
This time, however, I didn’t just read the novels. I studied them. Why are they as addictive as crack? What makes these novels, which are almost laughably dated, still so engaging?
I’ll tell you why. Emilie Loring mastered world building. In an Emilie Loring romance novel, she presents two major characters who are finely drawn, even though the reader knows from the get-go that neither the hero nor the heroine will ever say bad words, have premarital sex, act against the government, be rude to the help, smoke pot or kick a puppy. The men in the stories were gallant and honest; the women were brave and well-mannered. Despite the necessary misunderstandings and miscommunications, the characters always treated one another with respect. Isn’t that what real love between two real people should be like?
That glossy innocence aside, the characters lived in a real city, at a specific time, with situations that were relevant to the time and place. She was excellent at description, so each Emilie Loring romance novel reads like a mini time capsule of American history.
I didn’t recognize her talent at world building when I was a young girl reading my mother’s books. I only knew that I enjoyed the stories, that I got “lost” in it from page one onward. No matter how many times I read an Emilie Loring romance novel, I was transported to the time and place with her characters.
That’s good writing.
Here is a final tidbit about Emilie Loring and her romance novels. She didn’t start her writing career until she was fifty years old. I did not know this until about ten minutes ago. (I guess I should take back the damn you, Wikipedia.) This makes me admire and love Emilie Loring, and her romance novels, all the more.
Is there a writer who has earned your unconditional love? A book you’ve discussed with your sister for hours? Stories that you shared with your mother that, when she goes or has gone, will always remind you of her?
Tell me about it.