My real purpose was to divide them up by decade of publication by the original publisher. I segregated the Betty Neels books simply because they otherwise overwhelm the sample.
Here's what I found:
From the 1960s: 10 (3 BN)
From the 1970s: 5 (43 BN)
From the 1980s: 35 (37 BN)
From the 1990s: 25 (46 BN)
From the 2000s: 4 (6 BN)
From 2010: none
There are some surprises here -- where are all the Mills & Boon and Harlequins from the seventies? I would have thought I had more than a dozen Anne Hampsons and Anne Mathers and Anne Weales (all those Annes!) but if I did, I don't any more. I hadn't realized I had so many (relatively speaking) books from the 1960s; mostly I was surprised that some of the books I love actually date back that far; their plots and characters seemed less dated (at least in my memory).
What doesn't surprise me is that I have so few books from the 2000s. Of the four I have, two are by Linda Howard and two by Gina Wilkins -- both authors much better represented in the 80s and 90s. What that means is I have no keepers among authors who a) write series contemporaries and b) got started in the late 90s or 2000s.
I do read those books. I know this because I have 23 recent series contemporaries listed at PaperBackSwap. They were all well recommended on AAR or elsewhere; one was even in someone's top ten list for 2009. I enjoyed them all. None is a keeper. In fact, the idea for this post came as I was reading Nancy Warren's Under the Influence, a DIK at AAR. I loved the book, was glad I got it, but I won't keep it. There's nothing in there I need to hold onto for future rereading. It's a swappable book.
What's up with this? Why do I have 75 keepers from the last century and only 4 from the past decade? Well, as we know, correlation is not the same as causation, so one thing I don't know for a fact is that Harlequin Enterprises isn't publishing as many keeper series contemporaries as they did back in the 80s and 90s. That may turn out to be a true statement, but there are a lot of reasons why it might not be. Let me count the ways:
§ I might not have kept a vast majority of the books I currently have shelved as "keepers" if I'd bought them in the 2000s. I know it's not the null set -- I have reread a few of them recently enough to know they aren't going anywhere! -- but it could be a teeny-tiny number compared to what's there now. Similarly, I might have kept most or all of the 23 books from the 2000s I'm offering to swap, had I read them back in the day. That's just a fancy way of saying, I've grown up and my tastes have changed.
That's all okay, but it misses a key point. As I've previously discussed here, I love angsty goodness, and a lot of the books (>30%, I'd guess) of the contemporaries I've held onto have lots of angsty goodness. At that rate, I ought to have found a few angsty books among the 23 I'm swapping, but it's not happened. Sex, yes -- there are body parts mentioned *by name* that weren't even hinted at back in the 80s! -- but not delicious angst. I dunno, maybe the recommendations didn't reflect angst -- but that's not really evidence that there are other, angsty 21st century contemporaries out there that I'm missing because I didn't see the recommendations for them.
§ Contemporaries are out of favor, so the caliber of writing found in Harlequin or Silhouette series novels in the 80s and 90s is now found in paranormals or YA or urban fiction. I guess I don't understand this argument, given the assumption we all have about the vast number of writers submitting to agents or directly to Harlequin. Harlequin/Silhouette/M&B publishes dozens of contemporaries every month, and that number must pale in comparison to the number of writers' manuscripts that get rejected. People are writing contemporaries and people are reading contemporaries, so why aren't more of the series contemporaries out there better? Why aren't more of them up to the standards of Glenda Sanders or Barbara Delinsky, say?
§ I'm too fussy. Well, that is a true statement, and maybe it explains why I'm swapping 23 books that others have opted to keep. A corollary proposition may also be true, namely that as I'm trying to write a contemporary -- a book I rather suspect I wouldn't "keep" unless it undergoes some major "personality implants" in the second and third drafts! -- I'm going to be hypercritical of others' efforts in the same genre. Hey, I may be the problem here. That's always a plausible answer!
So here's the challenge/opportunity to my readers:
Recommend an angsty series contemporary from 2000 to today that I won't be able to swap and so will make me eat my words! If I've already read it (and it's thus one of the 23 waiting for a new & loving home at PBS), I'll tell you and you can suggest an alternate title. If it isn't, I'll get the book, read it & discuss it here at Promantica. I'll even eat my words (if they can be written on Pepperidge Farm Bordeaux cookies...).
The winner -- the first person to suggest a series contemporary published in the 2000s that I want to keep -- will get a prize: a $20 (or approximate value in the currency of your choice) gift certificate to the book store of your choice.
Here's the fine print: one recommendation per commenter, comments will be logged by date & time and I'll read the books in the order in which they were suggested, all comments must be logged by June 1, 2010.