I want the pleasure of reading a REALLY good book

I used to be a voracious reader. I considered myself bookish and so did everyone around me. And whenever I saw a book I have not read my pulse will quicken and I would start looking at the book longingly. I used to read the few books that I got with gratefulness and read them from cover to cover. Those were the days. Now my iPad is filled with PDFs of books by ostensibly great writers and I just close the tab and play an online game.

But I am not sure if it is just the presence of the online games that stopped me being a book-lover. It is also the quality of the books that I found around me. Does finding the right book for you get more and more difficult as you grow older? Why am I less indulgent about the prose? Is it because you can’t really enjoy James Patterson after acquainting yourself in Wilkie Collin’s writing? My first Patterson book attempted a multiple narrative format and fell flat on its own face. Did Agatha Christie spoil the mystery genre for me by making me too used to slithering red herrings that now when someone tries to put a mystery under my nose, I sniff it out and tut-tut at the budding author’s lack of skill? I don’t know. But I still feel the need to read.

A few years ago a friend pushed J. D. Salinger’s “The catcher in the rye” into my hands and I returned the favor by pushing a copy of George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion” into hers and we continued to do this until she relocated to Hyderabad. Now I have no one who really knows what I will like and the recommendations I see online don’t do anything to me.  Or maybe I am just picking the wrong recommendations?

These days I start judging the writer from the first line onwards. It does not feel like I am following the protagonist’s journey. It is more like the author is sitting in front of me and trying to impress me in some sort of audition and I give Simon Cowell-type pronouncements on the quality of the product. And it seems to me that the young ones have started to write before they have read enough. Reading the seven Harry Potter books alone is all very well if you want to write Snape/Lily shipping stories. But writing something that is worth reading is a herculean task and good preparation of the mind is essential from the writer and I wonder if sufficient ‘writers’ realize this. I find it painful when very immature writers try to be profound.

Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins and Matt Ridley kept me company with their well-researched Pop-Sci books and I could not get enough of their erudite and passionate arguments in favor of their pet theories. And even if some of their concepts are too much for my slow brain, it still worth the trouble I put into reading their books.

But I came to miss evocative storytelling from someone who knew what he or she was doing. My childhood dream was to earn enough money to buy any book I took a fancy to. But just as the dream was turning to a reality, my ability to take fancy to any book at all was at an all-time low. Is that the fate of adulthood?

Do you still read? Can you recommend something from a writer who isn’t putting on a circus of emotions and going all drama-queen on me? Can you recommend something to read that was really worth your while?


She felt weak at the knees

Romance novels seem to have an infamous reputation. Some people seem to think that they are the female version of porn. It is and it is not. Most of these novels are not as explicit as most non-readers assume them to be. They are just as much wish fulfilling junk as porn is, that is all. Most romance novels are not steaming hot.

I frequently read these books from the age of 17 and went on till 21 but I was never voracious in my appetite. But I did give these novels a fair chance to impress me. I only knew them as novels for adult women and did not know that they have the same reputation as soap operas. Hell, I did not even know that soap operas had the reputation that they do. I don’t have the actual count, but let us say I have read about 40-50 of these books and let us take a quick look at the must-haves of the quintessential romance novel.

Ka Ching

As a young girl I was amused that the first romance novel I read had a rich man and a poor girl as the protagonists. Most of the stories I had heard/seen/read until then were from Tamil movies and we all know that the woman is almost always from the more privileged background. Whether it is Jayalalitha singing “Unnai naan santhithean” or Vaijayanti Mala singing “Raja Magal Roja Malar” the pretty women were always filthy rich. So if it is a woman’s fantasy the equation gets to be reversed? I thought it was hilarious that my first Mills and Boon novel had a secretary (of sorts) falling for her boss. Now I see how stupid I was. ALL romance novels are about secretaries falling for their bosses… or nurses falling for doctors…  or nannies falling for the widowed father of a cranky child.

And the more high-minded classic novels are not exempt from this, pretty much all of Jane Austen’s novels and those of the Bronte Sisters fall dutifully under this category.

And please don’t think they are desirable men who just happen to be rich. The wealth of these men is central to their perceived attractiveness. Sample these titles taken from here

Number Title Author Date/Year released
# 3683 The Millionaire’s Daughter Sophie Weston January 2002
# 3698 His Secretary’s Secret Barbara McMahon April 2002
# 3700 The Corporate Bridegroom Liz Fielding May 2002
# 3702 The Doctors’ Baby Marion Lennox May 2002
# 3703 His Majesty’s Marriage: The King’s Bride Lucy Gordon June 2002
# 3703 His Majesty’s Marriage: The Prince’s Choice Rebecca Winters June 2002
# 3705 The Tycoon’s Temptation Renee Roszel June 2002
# 3706 The Nanny’s Secret Grace Green June 2002
# 3708 The Tycoon’s Takeover Liz Fielding July 2002
# 3709 The Prince’s Proposal Sophie Weston July 2002
# 3711 The Boss’s Daughter Leigh Michaels August 2002
# 3726 A Royal Proposition Marion Lennox November 2002
# 3729 The Tycoon’s Proposition Rebecca Winters December 2002
# 3730 The Fortunes Of Francesca Betty Neels December 2002


Note how the women in the titles are nannies or secretaries and men are tycoons and royals and bosses. There may be Mayors, Kings, Sheikhs, Billionaires, Princes, Dukes, Aristocrats and Barons. And this is just the title. Trust me, the heroine may run away to a distant island to soothe her aching heart and the hero will charter a helicopter to get there. The engagement ring is surely going to be impossibly big. Don’t be deceived if you see the word ‘Princess’ in the title. The odds are against her being a blue blooded princess. She is probably princess as a prince fancies her or she is referred to as a princess for no apparent reason. It is actually very unlikely that she is a rich person.

The other attributes of the man in question

The dude is handsome. He has had a rocking sex life until the virgin heroine batted her eye-lash at him. He never goes after women but they throw themselves at him. He never had to go hunting, you see? Every girl is begging to marry him or is willing to dump her husband if he wants her to.

But he has never known love, the poor thing. All the pretty women and the fancy dating and the rocking sex but to what end? No love in his empty life. No chirping in his empty nest. Don’t fret. Our girl will show him the power of innocence. Everything will be hotsy-totsy very soon.

The female best friend

Our heroine’s best friend is a foil to our very own virgin heroine and so you can bet your last rupee that she is no virgin. But no, she is no vamp. She is a normal youngster with normal quirks and normal libido and normal heartbreaks and has not found true love due to normal men being normal jerks and everything is SO normal about her. She looks normal in her blue jeans and white t-shirt and her hair is the normal length and she is normally out every Friday night on a normal date that ends in normal sex without any abnormal orgasm. She is the side-kick. She is the perfect foil. My heart weeps for her. It really does.

The male best friend

If things are sad for the female best friend, they are worse for the male best friend. He is someone who would love to pair up with our heroine and make sweet cuddly babies together. He is attentive, kind, decent and normal. No wonder the heroine friend-zoned him. I should probably write a detailed post as to WHY men of this sort are friend-zoned a lot for I am often asked this question. The reasons in real-life can be quite complicated. In fiction he has one job – to make our heroine appear very attractive.

This man may eventually find another nice girl and marry but he will never really get over our heroine.

The other woman

More often than not, there is a fashionably plastic rich woman who is going to go all “Oh, I told Mitch that he can sow all the wild oats he wants before we get married sometime next year, but he should not pick too innocent a doll to play with. I hope you had a nice time, dear, but I also do hope you don’t get too hurt.” on our poor innocent heroine. And chances are that our heroine is going to believe this yarn and believe that it was only a fling on the hero’s part and he could never take her seriously. This is in spite of very good evidence that the hero can’t stand the sight of this vamp right from the opening line of the book and is openly hostile to her, every bit of the way.

Our very own incomparable super special snowflake

The most special thing about our heroine is that she is not very special at all. She is not witty or intelligent or interesting, but she will be told that she is. Looks-wise, she is boringly normal in her own eyes and a breathtakingly beautiful in the eyes of every other person she meets. She will not do particularly brave deeds, but the adjective will find its way towards her anyway. In short, she is just as spectacular as the reader. So she is the honest Hamam soap that a millionaire falls for as he is sick and tired of all the Lux soaps around him.

The Romance, the passion, the … climax

Did I mention that our heroine is inexperienced? Hmm… I thought I would have, but that is because she had not met this dude before. She is a volcano and erupts and keeps erupting for an unnaturally long time. No she did not lose temper, silly, she is passionate. She accelerates from 0 to 100 in 5 seconds and that is probably why she is as desirable as a Ferrari.

Apparently rape enters into the picture of many of these stories, but thankfully I never read any. For some reason, it puts me off. Anyway, it is mostly consensual even if they are sneering at each other.

Other things happen. Like they may crack a mystery code together or save a puppy or write a book on archeology but none of this matters. What matters is that she gets pregnant and settles in her particularly lavish nest with a roaring lion that recently started to coo to her after slipping a ring on her finger.