My mom is the person who made me a book lover. Reading to me when I was little every night before bed, taking me to the library to get my own card so I could start checking favorites out on my own, encouraging my reading – even when it was at weird times, like family outings to Dodger baseball games, or when we were getting our hair done at the shop (where gossip, daytime tv and more gossip are the preferred media outlets).
She and I share a love of books, just not usually the same books.
While I was young and working my way through school’s required reading with side excursions into the YA-of-the-day, my mom had this bookish tradition that I distinctly recall: she shared books with her friends. Not just a few books. TONS of books. Traveling through households in paper shopping bags galore, a new stash every week.
These books were a mystery, at first. It took me a while to sleuth around and figure out what these books were. They weren’t shared with me, which was outrageous; they were stored in a corner of her bedroom, all small paperbacks with bright, flashy covers and adventurously rhyming titles. One day when she was out I snuck into her room, picked one up and started reading. Woah.
To that point, my contact with sex in books came from the occasional Danielle Steele, and that milestone of a YA book, whispered about in dark library corners and on the playground, Forever. I got it, but I didn’t really get it. You know?
So when I started reading – I can’t remember which one, but there was the typical man/woman lusty busty pose on the front; the plot started out chaste with a woman, probably alone and penniless, a man who happens upon her estate/mansion/crumbling castle, they hate each other at first but then, through necessity and lack of other options, feelings start to develop, and then WHAM – sexytimes.
I was smitten, but really a very big young book snob with more important literature to read, and so I moved on, never really getting into romance as a genre.
Enter Beverly Jenkins.
We had a meet-cute: last year at Book Riot Live, the inaugural event, I ran into this nice woman in the hotel where we were both staying on the same floor. We traded a genial what’s up, smiled pleasantly and went about our ways – to the same venue, where we laughed, introduced ourselves, and I went on to attend one of her panels on writing about sex and IT WAS SO GOOD, so honest, so refreshingly candid and down to earth, and I became a fan.
When I got home I called my mom up and name-dropped this awesome black woman writer I’d met in person. She was not impressed. “Oh yes,” she responded, perfecting that bored tone I’d used on her as a teen, “Beverly. Your Auntie loves her and they’re friends – she came to talk to our book club and we had a great time.”
I write this in part to recognize how moms are always right, even if it’s 20 years later.
I’m currently reading The Taming of Jessi Rose and loving it. There is historical fiction packed into a novel about a woman standing up for herself and taking on family burdens, race relations and pioneers of Texas when the state was over 100,000 square miles…the book includes a reading list for more of the historical aspect, a trademark of Jenkins.
And ok, I have one gripe: I’m not loving that in the novel, Jessi, a black woman in Texas defending her ranch from poachers and outlaws, is described as having short cropped hair, like a boy. To me, quite sexy. But the cover shows a ball-gowned woman with long flowing brown locks…
I get it, but I don’t get it.
But I get the allure of historical romance novels, and love that Jenkins’ feature people of color, and don’t shy away from the issues or the sex.
In the end, I’ve become a fan of these not-trashy novels, and in recognizing their value I take one more step towards my mom, my first reader.