Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Good Glom

At left:  The Childhood Glom: for me, it included Nancy Drew mysteries...
 Glom, vt to snatch or steal [from Gaelic gl\`am to seize, devour]                          -- The Chambers Dictionary & Thesaurus

Around the same time I stopped reading new (or new to me) authors, I also stopped glomming books.  This was the 1990s, a decade lost to law school and law jobs.  When I emerged in 2000, I had completely lost track of who was writing what.

Before the 90s, though, I used to fall under the spell of certain authors and have to read every single one of their books.  I spent the summer of 1976 tracking down obscure branches of the Borough of Camden Library looking for all the copies of romances written by . . . someone.  I'm embarrassed to admit I have no recollection of the author's name or of any of the titles.  I just remember the treasure hunt to find them all, which meant looking up the branches in a London A-to-Z, figuring out the bus routes, walking a lot, and coming home to my great-aunt's studio with a new-to-me book.  As you can tell, the hunt was more memorable than any of the books.

There are a lot of components that go into the urge to glom.  (I take the word to have its original Gaelic meeting, "to devour," in this context.)  The completion gene helps: that desire to make sure we have all of a collection.  But there's an atavistic, even visceral component -- a conviction that if this book felt good, then another will feel good, and another, and another.  Add to that the challenge to find them all, and you've got the makings of a good glom.

But there's another way to glom books: to feel the desire or even the need to read the same book -- or series of books -- all over again.  Like immediately after finishing them.  My glomming drought ended in 2009 when someone touted Julia Spencer-Fleming's Millers Kill series of mysteries.  I hadn't glommed mysteries since my love affair with Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey books, and I didn't expect anything much with Spencer-Fleming.  Boy, was I wrong.  I got the first one, read it, read the next one, read the third . . . all the way through number 6.  When I closed the last one she had out, I immediately picked up the first one and read them all over again in order.  I'm waiting for a real publication date for number 7 so that I can re-reread them all, in order, timing it so I'm done just as the most recent one is downloaded to my Kindle.

Now that's a glom.

By contrast, I didn't glom all of Mary Balogh's Slightly series, but the final book, Slightly Dangerous, was glom worthy.  I only read it months ago, and I've already dipped into it for the good bits more than once.  If I sit here thinking about it too long, I'll want to go find it and re-reread it as well.

I'm fighting the urge to reread all of Cherise Sinclair's books days after finishing the last one.  Please believe me when I tell you that it's not the sexy bits that are calling me back to her books.  It's the heroes.  Because of the basic plot outline (as different as Sinclair's books are from Betty Neels's slew of English-Nurse-Marries-Dutch-Doctor books, these authors share a "if it works, keep working it" philosophy to their stories), the romance follows a well-worked pattern:
  1. Hero and heroine meet cute (heroine is often in some discomfort -- completely wet, very cold, etc. -- and hero takes pity on her because he hates to see anyone in distress)
  2. Hero challenges heroine to discover her true nature
  3. Heroine resists based on misunderstanding of what the hero is offering
  4. Hero demonstrates that he puts her needs first, takes care of her first, etc.  He may be kinky as hell, but he takes the time to learn what she wants (using biometrics as a homegrown lie detector), leads her step by step toward her own objectives, and never ever abandons her
  5. Hot sex
  6. Question arises for both protagonists: is this love?
  7. Hero had been, uh, playing the field but realizes there's merit in a more domestic and long term relationship with her.
  8. Heroine realizes he was right about her true nature, but even so, she doesn't feel any of that with anyone else.  But he doesn't/can't love her, so she's going to have to pick up the pieces and move on.  Find someone else, eventually.  Maybe in time she can face a life without him . . . ?
  9. Hero finds her, says he was wrong wrong wrong for sending her away, that he does love her, etc., etc.
  10. HEA
I'll leave the feminist issues for someone else to parse.  It's not the precise nature of the kink that seems questionable to me -- presumably liberated women are allowed to say, "Hey, I like this.  More please!"  and I defy anyone to find a moment in Sinclair's books where a heroine is coerced or forced into anything.  But Sinclair's heroes seem very much too good to be true.  They're not dominant to get what they want; they're dominant to give what she wants. 

Yeah, right.  My advice?  Don't try that at home.  I would worry if someone thought these guys a) exist in great numbers and b) can be identified at clubs called "Chains" and "The Dungeon."  Kissing toads is one way to find your prince, but I wouldn't want to try that approach in an alternative lifestyle situation.  As fate would have it, just as I was ready to publish, Twitter led me to this post about how important it is to be a bitch when dealing with unknown men.  Sinclair's heroines don't act wussy, but I can see how someone reading her books would think the downcast eyes and shy demeanor might be a way to get a Sinclair hero to look at you.  Not so.  She makes it very clear that her heroines can and do fight their own battles.  That's why her heroes love them.  So buy Gavin de Becker's book, The Gift of Fear if you have any questions about how to act around strangers.

Amazingly, there's a very satisfying romance in every one of Sinclair's stories.  By satisfying, I include an HEA the reader can believe.  Four of Sinclair's books are sequential, so we get to see the relationships of her earlier protagonists in later stories.  It's pretty clear she envisions for her couples a fairly modern give-and-take between two adults, except in the bedroom.  Any gender-specific inequalities aren't enforced in the domestic relationship.  But I can't help wondering if hardcore feminist readers wouldn't prefer the imbalance in sexual power and control to be reversed, so it's a woman calling the shots.

Here's why that wouldn't work for me.  The way Sinclair lays it out, the hero is dominant but solicitous and always focused on what the heroine wants.  These are fairy tale romances: Prince Charming finds and treasures Cinderella in a way most of us don't expect in real life but like to read about.  It would be easy to imagine a very selfish (even narcissistic) woman using the kindness and concerns for her own ends.  Similarly, it's all too easy to picture some boor faking the "I'm only concerned with you," crap and when the woman trusts him, pursuing his own agenda at her expense.

As the reader, I have to believe that both the hero and heroine care about and for each other.  Well, the way Sinclair writes them, her heroes are thrillingly focused on the heroine's needs, wants and pleasure.  If a woman exhibited the same behavior, I'd say, "Well, duh.  That's what we do."  Sinclair's heroes aren't self-abnegating, they just know they find the greatest satisfaction when they identify and address her needs.  They see something that unerringly tells them, "Ah, this is what she wants" and they are never wrong.  Her heroes like being sexual Santa Clauses!  That's what gets them off.

I finished the last of Sinclair's books a couple days ago, and immediately wanted to reread them.  Another author can provide a similar sexual dynamic, but Sinclair's heroes are dreamy, and the romances are just angsty enough to be emotionally satisfying.  She moved away from heroines with body or self-esteem issues to ones with The Doubtful Past, something they are convinced the hero won't forgive or understand.  But we watch as the hero learns he is emotionally vulnerable without this specific woman.

And that's the distillation of a lot of romance novels:  Strong, uber-competent male discovers his future will be a lifeless husk if this particular woman doesn't agree to be with him.


When an author can do that, it's glom-worthy.

Postscript:  What's the antidote to the urge to glom?  Another glom-worthy book.  I'm reading Carolyn Crane's Double Cross even though I know I'll be frantic for Book Three (which will have a Kick-Ass Title but which does not yet have a pub date) when I finish.  And then I'll probably give in to temptation and reread all the Cherise Sinclair books.  Because I have no will power.

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