omg I have a confession to make. Here it is: I don’t read much romance. And by that, I mean I probably read maybe 1-2 of those a year, but if I’m being really honest, I don’t think I’ve read a romance novel since the end of 2019. (having said that, I am currently reading a cute queer graphic novel romance)
I like writing romance (when I’m writing lol; see last week’s post), but as I’ve gotten older, I find it’s not the most interesting thing about characters or narratives or plot arcs or stories. It can add some spice to the mix, but a driving factor of life isn’t necessarily romance. I mean, who DOESN’T have a fuck-ton of other things going on? Seriously — who is able to spend every waking moment doing nothing but pursuing a romance? Must be nice if that’s you.
Also, the other thing about reading romance that frustrates me is that the characters involved spend a lot of time trying to please this other person or pining for someone when the real deal is that you can’t truly love others in unselfish/non-needy ways until you love and care about yourself in healthy ways.
Sorry, but there is no other person on the planet who can fix your issues and “complete” you. Only YOU can do that. Sure, another person (or people, for the polyamorous among us) can be a really good match for you, and you can complement each other and be great support systems for each other, but if YOU can’t complete yourself, then you’re probably trying to fix some of your own inner workings by using other people/relationships to do it, and that’s a huge burden to put on another person. Sorry. Truth bomb for you. It took me a long time to learn that, and a long time to get to a point where I liked being me and I liked who I am as a person. When I got to that point, romance was a hella bunch better, and so were my relationships. Both romantic and non-romantic.
All because I got my own shit together.
Anyway, that’s why I don’t read much romance. I want the character who’s been through all kinds of shit, gotten therapy, worked on their issues, and has come to recognize their strengths and weaknesses, and who refuses to indulge in potentially toxic situations. Characters like that tend to be older and (hopefully) wiser, and there’s not much market for romances with characters like that. Or maybe publishers just haven’t thought about it. And where are the stories for those who are Ace? Romance and meaningful relationships don’t need sex to be soulmate-ish. More of those stories, too. *side-eyes publishers*
Caveat: I’ll read a fluffy graphic novel queer romance (see below) because fluffy.
But on the list of 5 books I’ve recently read listed below (in no particular order), there is zero romance. It’s not my go-to and never has been (because I’m WEIRD, okay? LOLOL). HOWEVER, I am currently reading a graphic novel queer romance (see below in “currently reading”). Regardless, I read across genres and I read a lot of nonfiction. And I highly recommend doing that, because you can get a lot of different perspectives, which is always good.
1. War Girls, Tochi Onyebuchi (2019): young adult science fiction and omg, the world-building. It’s 2172 in Nigeria, in a world ravaged by climate change, nuclear war and perpetual battles. Two sisters torn apart by war — can they find their way back to each other? Onyebuchi also notes that he based the conflict in this book on the 1967 Nigerian Civil War. This is a beautifully written and deeply personal tale about the wounds and wreckage of war and the survival within. Read more about War Girls here.
2. The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime that Scandalized a City & Sparked the Tabloid Wars, Paul Collins (2012). I’m a true crime buff (yes, I’m a Murderino, too), so books like this are right up my alley, given that and my academic background in history. Here, a grisly murder (headless torso and then legs that match the torso) serves as the backdrop for the absolutely nutso media/tabloid wars in New York City around the turn of the 20th century. Fascinating look at how early police work often intertwined with tabloid journalism. Newsflash — tabloid stories and the yellow press are nothing new in this country’s history, and you’ll probably recognize the roots of current “media” cray.
3. American Predator: The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century, Maureen Callahan (2019). Yeah. More true crime. This one is about the serial killer Israel Keyes. We honestly don’t know how many people he killed and after his arrest before his trial he committed suicide in his jail cell. Keyes had “kill caches” stashed all over the country — kill kits — and he traveled extensively all over the U.S., selecting victims completely at random, which is why it’s been so hard to track his activities. His background includes growing up in an off-the-grid cult-like situation and hanging out with white supremacists. This was one scary dude. Don’t read this at night. Callahan frames the book around the horrific kidnapping and murder of a young woman in Alaska, which begins the unraveling of Keyes’s killings.
4. A Study in Scarlet Women, Sherry Thomas (2016). This is the first in Thomas’s Lady Sherlock Series and OMG so enjoyable! Most excellent take and interpretation of Sherlock Holmes. Here, Charlotte Holmes ends up “losing her place” in society due to a calculated dalliance with a married man so she could be pushed out of high society and basically be more free as a woman in Victorian London. Charlotte has always been different (and I’m suspecting Thomas wrote her as neurodivergent), but she uses the name “Sherlock Holmes” to help with police matters through a Lord friend of hers. Great re-imagining of Holmes, and fab writing. Fun fact: Thomas immigrated to this country from China when she was 13. English is not her first language. But damn, she wields it well.
5. Ring Shout, P. Djèlí Clark (2020). OH. MAH. GAWD. Run, don’t walk, and get yourself a copy of this ASAP. Here, Clark does an alt-history (OR IS IT) of the 1915-era Klan. That was the year the racist film Birth of a Nation swept the country and burrowed into the most horrible thoughts of white people, creating literal demons — Ku Kluxes — that spread fear and violence across the country. But there is resistance, and Maryse Boudreaux and her crew hunt and fight them, taking them out every chance they get. But something’s brewing in Macon, and it could unleash hell on earth. I am a HUGE fan of Clark, and this will stay with you long after you finish it. (also, in case you wondered, here’s what a Ring Shout is).
And I’m currently reading:
Historian Lisa McGirr’s excellent analysis of Prohibition as a tool to increase state power: The War on Alcohol: Prohibition and the Rise of the American State (2016). McGirr has done a lot of work on the American right, and I’ve always been fascinated by how the Christian Right, in particular, drove Prohibition (and continues to drive theocratic policy and laws — want to know why this country is such a fuck-up? The Christian Right plays a huge role in that since the country’s founding, basically). This addresses the role of the Christian Right in Prohibition, along with how Prohibition was used by law enforcement to police race, class, and gender.
And wow, I never actually thought of Eliot Ness outside that whole Prohibition thing, but in Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher: Hunting America’s Deadliest Serial Killer at the Dawn of Modern Criminology (2021) I’m getting a look at Ness as a lawman outside that, on the trail of the perpetrator responsible for the Cleveland torso murders.
AND OMG A CUTE QUEER HOCKEY ROMANCE (SEE????? I sometimes read romance!) in Check, Please, by Ngozi Ukazu. This started life as a super-popular webcomic and now is available in graphic novel form. Follow Eric, a former junior figure skating champ, co-ed hockey player, who is also an excellent baker and food vlogger. He starts playing for the Samwell University hockey team that has a really attractive captain, Jack.
Share your own reads in the comments if you want. I know folx out there are always looking to expand their book lists. 🙂
Happy weekend, all.