Wherever you go, there you are.

19 Nov

This is one of those things that are self-evident, no? And yet, sometimes we fail to see what’s evident until something forces us to focus on it.

We bring all our baggage to our consumption of media and literature, and this is especially relevant for me, I’ve come to realize, when it comes to two very specific tropes of genre romance.

I cannot read Christian romance.

It’s not that I won’t, it’s that any and all mentions of obligation to the church/Jesus take me out of the book on the spot.

Perhaps because I was raised Catholic, perhaps because I can’ t put any faith in a divine being that allows the random suffering of children (from illness to war to familial or institutional abuse), the reason is moot. I, quite simply, can’t get into stories with Christian elements.

And do not get me started on stories where a Catholic priest gets it on. I know some people find them both hot and romantic, and to each their own, no judgement here.

Myself, I can’t get over the reality of many young girls and boys abused by Catholic priests, sexually and otherwise. I cannot get over the many children born to poor and powerless teenagers, who lived with the shame imposed on their mothers and the abuse of society. Sorry, I just can’t not know that while trying to read a Christian romance.

You’ll notice that I am limiting myself here to Christian-flavor genre romance (or, as they are generally known, ‘inspies’). I confess that I haven’ t read enough stories with different real-world faith frameworks to make statements about how they work for me as a class, but I’m overall game to try them on their own merits.

And I do make a distinction between real-world religions and those built in a paranormal/fantasy/science-fiction setting for genre romance, because in the latter case, I am always aware that I’m not expected to believe what the characters believe, only to accept that they do–this is not the case, ever, with Christian romances.

That distinction does make it possible for me to get into the characters’ world enough not to dwell as much on the cruelty of those deities towards their creatures. (Unless, of course, the fictional religious framework in question is thinly disguised Christianity, because then we are back to the top–and there are more of those than many people realize, even their devoted readers.)

For many years, decades even, I thought that this was the only type of genre romance I “do not read”. My one hard line.

But over time, I have come to realize that there’s another type of romance book that I can’t get into, and in fact actively avoid: the second chance romance that involves a failed marriage. I’m generally okay with, “they were a thing as teens/in their twenties, broke up because life, it’s now a decade later”. I can go there, I can lose myself in the story.

The baggage the characters carry there is their own, and while it can be significant and heavy, it’s never truly mine, so I can go on the journey with them, trust the author to get us all safely there, let the story succeed or fail, in my eyes, on its own merits.

But when the premise is, “they were married, something happened that was grave enough to get a divorce, now it’s however many years later, and oh, look, I like/want/love you again”, I just can’t.

Because when I try to get into that story, there I am, with my own baggage, and a flashing, blaring alarm going, “here there be many monsters, do no enter”.

And I have finally made peace with myself on this. It’s “not fair” to the stories or the authors, some will say (much as they say about judging books by their covers, or the back blurb, or knowing enough about a specific book or author to decide not to read it, to which I say, bullshit). At any rate, forcing myself to slog through a story that’s making me viscerally sick is harmful to me, when the entire point when I read fiction is for pleasure, relaxation, to be entertained and exercise my imagination, not to flagellate myself.

Which brings me to something else that has changed, pretty drastically, in the last five years or so: my tolerance for angst in genre romance is basically gone.

I mourn this change.

I used to love genre romances where the characters are put through living hell, sometimes repeatedly, before their happy ever after. I used to love the intensity of living through that hell with them, and feeling the reward at the end all the more keenly. Many of my life-long favorite novels are just this kind of story.

And yet, now, I can barely deal with the most superficial of bleak moment tropes. Since the toxic bag of orange waste that is Donald tRump came down that escalator in June 2015, when I realized how thin the veneer and structure of democracy is in the United States, now that the horrors of a world where white supremacy creeps into so many democracies, and where a murderous white theocracy is ever more likely to become a reality in the USA, all my stamina for angst goes into not screaming endlessly into the abyss in frustration, rage, and fear.

I hope, always hope, that things will get better, and that I will one day be able to enjoy angsty books again, but for now, I am just giving myself the grace of not forcing myself to endure something I “should” like, just because it once was the lion share of my preferred reading.

This too, is who I am.

At least for now.

16 Responses to “Wherever you go, there you are.”

  1. shallowreader 19/11/2021 at 8:50 AM #

    I agree with every single word you have written. I cannot with the Christian romance,

    I find second chance at love/divorce then reconnect romances horrifying. They are like the never ending on again/off again friend in a toxic relationship. I often think of the only remarriage couple telling their story in When Harry Met Sally. They are the only miserable couple, faces frowning, mouths puckered.

    I don’t like angsty romances either. The thought of someone being put through their paces until they are broken before telling them “I love you” would break me if I tried to read it at the moment.

    I think this is why I continue to struggle to find romances that are gentle, with conflicts that don’t harm. Oddly, the only romance author who I have been able to read from cover to cover this year is Lauren Layne. I read the blurbs, frown because I don’t like the characters who are very white and very 1%ers but still give the book a go because it is Layne and then discover gentle and lightness and a fun story that doesn’t feel like a twitter polemic (sadly, so many romances seem to proselytise to me).

    The current world and political situation you mention, with the pandemic as the cherry on top, is keeping me from reading most anything. It’s messing with my writing too. The only saving grace is finding graphic novel memoirs and memoirs written with vignettes rather than long form. Romance will just need to wait this one out.

    • azteclady 19/11/2021 at 9:09 AM #

      I am so sorry you too are struggling to read; this has been the case for me for almost six years. It’s been soul-destroying to me, as reading was my one constant support in all the decades before, through much emotional upheaval, but here we are.

      I have read a couple of lovely books recently, in the last six weeks or so, that I hope to write about at some point (this being almost unable to review bullshit is breaking me), but gah, it’s still so hard!

      On second hand romances, I think that a lot of the people who like them hope that time has allowed for character growth, but. Well. Like I said, personal baggage, I cannot suspend my disbelief enough.

      • shallowreader 19/11/2021 at 9:19 AM #

        Depression has slayed me this year. Add a faceplant on the way to picking up my library reservations resulting in a black eye and a “minor brain injury”. It took two months for the daily headaches and brain fog to abate by which time we were plunged into lockdown for 3 months. I didn’t read or watch or do much at all. Sometimes it is enough to just exist. I’m just grateful that I have a pleasant home, a comfortable bed, and food on the table. Reading can wait.

      • azteclady 19/11/2021 at 10:02 AM #

        Gah, Vassiliki, I am so sorry, I didn’t know about the brain injury! It’s enough on its own to bring on a depressive episode, but yeah, the pandemic, lockdowns, and the wider world situation…

      • shallowreader 19/11/2021 at 3:55 PM #

        To quote the doctors, it was “minor” but I did need to sleep it off for many months! My knee still sports the scar but thankfully all the facial cuts and bruises have healed well. The wider world situation didn’t help my recovery but weirdly the lockdown did. It forced me to rest. Silver linings and all that!

      • azteclady 19/11/2021 at 4:22 PM #

        I am glad the somewhat-forced rest helped you heal physically, but yeah, the mental and emotional stress (and scarring) will probably take somewhat longer, because ::gestures at wider world::

  2. twooldfartstalkingromance 19/11/2021 at 12:17 PM #

    I can no longer read any angst either. And for the same reason. Ever since the orange pustule, it feels like we’re skating on the edge of the world that’s angrier and uglier than I certainly ever knew it was.

    I can only take angst if it’s otherworldly. But my reading has become much more lighthearted and enjoyable. I also give up books much quicker when they’re not working for me.

    I’m just happy to hear that you’re reading ma’am. It makes me crazy that the tangerine menace took away the pleasures of reading and writing for so many people.

    • azteclady 19/11/2021 at 12:26 PM #

      Seriously, the Rump is like a before and after line for so much. It’s not that the ugliness wasn’t there, both here and abroad; white supremacy is hundreds of years old, as old as European imperialism. It’s that his election exposed just how large a percentage of the population are racists, bigots, xenophobes, antisemites, Islamophobes, open miosgynists, and all around hateful violent shits.

      And since the fig leaf of “oh, well, white supremacists are a minority, not a problem” has fallen, a goodly chunk of the other two thirds have woken up to a world they never knew they, actually, have always lived in.

  3. willaful 19/11/2021 at 3:40 PM #

    Oh Vassiliki! What a terrible thing to happen! *hugs*

    I started being not able to read OTT old skool romances some years ago — an Abuser in Chief will do that — and since the pandemic, I’ve been super sensitive. Just a whiff of “this plotline is making me uncomfortable” and the book is GONE.

    My tolerance for angst seems to be coming back a bit though, and I even read an old Harlequin. I think I needed the catharsis.

    • azteclady 19/11/2021 at 4:23 PM #

      Abuser in chief: he did bring to the surface a lot of trauma so many of us had learned to exist with, without acknowledging it.

      • Bonnie Heath 23/11/2021 at 10:33 PM #

        See the Jennifer flowers thing was why I couldn’t vote for Bill Clinton. The Tara Reade issue was a reason for Biden to step out of the race.

        It was white women who stood by Trump to get him elected and it was white women who aided Bill and then Joe to lead our country. Do we stand up for each other? Or is it only when it is comfortable? If it goes along with what party leadership is dictating to us?

        I’m liberal enough to push back on why women are continually handed scraps and will call out the hypocrisy to demand more. I think it is a disservice to unity among feminist women, to accept symbolic progress from men: wealthy men in particular.

        I think many feminist white women want to hold a spot on a pedestal where hard fought rights have been fought and won for them, but they are dead set on kicking down the ones who are still fighting for the same protections they have received. Notice I didn’t say ‘earned’. ‘Received’. The government deemed you worthy of an advancement. You and your peers feel it was ‘earned’ but until all women can stand freely and pursue goals on a level playing field, they are just competition who may usurp your position in society.

        Unity is what we need.But I think women will tear down all avenues to security for other women, it they think others are less deserving. We were all seen as undeserving at some point in our country’s history. We should listen more to struggles we don’t have to endure and demand that those who represent us ACTUALLY represent us. All.

      • azteclady 23/11/2021 at 10:53 PM #

        I am honestly more than a bit confused at the choice to post this as a reply to this particular post, but, okay.

  4. Jules Jones 23/11/2021 at 5:03 PM #

    As you know from occasional tweets, I’m a liberal Christian. A very, *very* liberal Christian who is an agnostic in the technical sense of “it is not possible to prove the existence or non-existence of God”. I will not touch romances that are marketed as Christian or inspie because it’s so likely that they will be from a very ugly side of Christianity that I loathe. (That vile thing about a Jewish woman in a concentration camp and the Nazi camp commander? That author has put herself aside from God.) Not all of them are, but I’m not willing to wade through muck to find the ones that aren’t. For someone who has more baggage than I do, I’d be worried for them if they didn’t just saddle up the nopetepus and ride on out of there. Other people have other triggers, and while it might be worth giving something a go to see if you like it, it is *never* worth doing so for something you already know will actively make you unhappy.

    I’ve found myself reading and re-reading a lot of Agatha Christie and other Golden Age mystery writers over the last five years, because whatever their many faults, for me they are comfort reads where the angst is of a type I can bear. I haven’t stopped reading other things altogether, but Miss Marple and Lord Peter and Inspectors Hemingway and Hannasyde are there for me when I need something that is oddly gentle for all that they are murder mysteries. And I’m a lot more willing to bail within a couple of chapters than I was ten years ago, because I’ve learned that starting a book does not oblige me to finish it. It’s not even necessarily a criticism of the book; often I can see why others have given it rave reviews, but it doesn’t work for me, and I have reached the age where I know there are already fewer reading hours in my future than my past. I’m not wasting them on books that don’t make me happy.

    • azteclady 23/11/2021 at 5:10 PM #

      Every word of this comment, literally every word.

      I too have been re-reading Dame Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers, and a lot of romantic suspense from the late 80s/early 90s, while often being unable to keep interest on newer stuff, even though I know it’s objectively good.


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