Romance Panacea Part I: “Taking the Waters,” Searching for Paradise …

DontBeAfraidAbout a month ago, Miss Bates, stuck in afternoon traffic, listened to a favourite CBC Radio podcast, Tapestry, a show that self-describes as offering “the more subtle news of life – a thoughtful consideration of what it means to be human.” Their motto is Kant’s “The human heart refuses to believe in a universe without purpose” (which is also a darn good motto for the romance genre). One segment of that particular podcast was “The Novel Cure,” an interview with Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin who run Bibliotherapy at The School of Life in London, England, and have published a book called The Novel Cure: An A-Z of Literary Remedies. What a great idea, thought Miss Bates, a book recommendation for what ails you: feeling blue, out of sorts, plain pissed off, or having the “mean reds” as Holly Golightly said. Have you been dumped, are about to embark on a voyage, be married, divorced, change jobs, or cities? Berthoud and Elderkin’s prescribed book eases the transition, comforts, and diverts. Books as “prescription” medicine for the under-the-weather soul, mind, and heart.

She listened, rapt, as Berthoud and Elderkin suggested titles for a variety of moods and circumstances: H. E. Bates’s The Darling Buds Of May for cynicism; Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity for a recent break-up; Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Night Flight for fear of flying; and, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road for a new father. Miss Bates considered their choices lugubrious. Blatty’s The Exorcist for a loss of faith!? She’s read de Saint-Exupéry’s Vol de nuit and there’s nothing in it to comfort someone who’s afraid to fly (especially in light of de Saint-Exupéry’s night flight disappearance during WWII). What cheer is there for a new dad in the post-apocalyptic world of The Road? Great books all, but do they comfort and divert? They are intelligent, well-written, and challenging; they offer answers and considerations. They are great choices, BUT! Miss Bates protested WHERE ARE THE ROMANCE NOVELS? Do they not offer comfort, diversion, and thought to feeling blue, turning green, and seeing red? To despair, uncertainty, ennui, malaise? On the occasion of birth, death, and everything in between? Don’t they have a place in the prescriptive canon?

Anecdotal or not, Miss Bates has encountered many women who find respite in reading a romance novel (which is not to say men don’t, she simply hasn’t met any). For many, including Miss Bates, who can’t “take the waters” at Baden-Baden, cracking open a romance novel and being lost in it, laughing, crying, mourning, and celebrating with heroine and hero, thinking about its thematic implications, enjoying its wit and wisdom, serves as panacea to a day gone terribly wrong.

After the host’s, Mary Hines’, Tapestry episode set wheels turning and discontent churning, Miss Bates encountered evidence of the romance narrative’s efficacious effect in a moving, wonderful post by Elyse on Smart Bitches Trashy Books, “Chronic Pain and Coping: Why Romance Novels Are My Equipment for Living.” If you only have time for one post today, read Elyse’s. It brought everything home for Miss Bates as Elyse recounted her effort to understand the cause of debilitating physical pain. It was a long and complex journey to find the right doctor and diagnosis. It took years and those years were accompanied by the comfort and diversion of romance novels. When she finally met a doctor willing to listen, help, and prescribe, he validated her reading choice as one of the things that will help her live with the chronic condition. Elyse provides a  great list of romance novels, as do the many comments, that helped her cope. She offers them up to your blue moments and bad days. She also gives a fine poke against the genre’s naysayers, those who wag accusing fingers towards the genre’s chronic literature “lite” condition because of its HEA. Elyse argues, ” … it’s not about the end, it’s about how you get there.” Miss Bates cheered and cried and recalled “The Novel Cure” podcast. All the pleasure IS in “how you get there.”

Miss Bates has had her recent blogging blahs and she’s certainly had her share of daily-grind will-nothing-go-right days. Romance novels can NEVER replace medical advice and treatment, but they can work in tandem to divert, comfort, and give respite. They can simply make a day gone-to-hell-in-hand-basket better: when Miss Bates finally gets home to a cup of tea and footstool. Miss Bates will write about the romance novels and authors to which she returns/turns when, as Wordsworth wrote, “the world is too much with us.”

When Miss Bates has a bad day, when she feels put upon, or misunderstand, or her world has revealed itself to be a cruddy place after all, her retreat is to one particular romance novel, Judith McNaught’s Paradise. The peculiar thing about this is that she doesn’t even like McNaught all that much. The big-eyed ingenue heroine and harsh hero and right-wing politics implicit in the corporate world setting of Paradise (it reminds her of the 80s prime time soap, Dallas)  … most unappealing.

ParadiseIf you’re not familiar with the novel, here it is, in a nutshell. Matthew Farrell and Meredith Bancroft meet and share a one-night stand (into which innocent, virginal Meredith was swept by the power of her attraction for Matthew). When Meredith realizes she’s pregnant, she tells Matthew and he insists they marry. He is poor and ambitious and goes overseas to make his fortune. Yet, he and Meredith build a marriage, mainly over the telephone, despite their bad beginning, of affection, care, and desire. While he’s overseas, Meredith miscarries, nearly dying in the process. Her nasty father keeps Matthew away from her sickbed; he thinks she had an abortion. Matthew’s angry and believes she doesn’t want him; Meredith’s hurt and believes he doesn’t want her. They divorce. Years later, they meet when now-wealthy Matthew, corporate shark, is poised to take over Meredith’s department store empire. This is an iconic second-chance-at-love romance narrative.

Why does Miss Bates turn to Paradise when it is far removed from her schoolmarmish, frugal, lower-middle-class gentility? Because the heroine is gloriously vindicated, an idea she’s written about before. When vilified, she maintains her dignity. She’s no doormat, but she won’t fight with the hero’s weapons. When Meredith and Matthew meet again, their interactions are deliciously fraught with tension and nastiness. Harsh words are exchanged; threats are tossed. The key, for Miss Bates, lies in Meredith’s transformation: without losing her innocence, kindness, or dignity, Meredith has not allowed her baby’s loss or Matthew’s abandonment to turn her bitter, or angry, or mean. She mourned and still honours her lost baby’s memory: she also lives her life well. She’s engaged to a good man; she loves her work. She built a good life. On meeting Matthew again, she acknowledges that he still has the power to affect her physically and emotionally. When they are snowed in together in a remote cabin … only Miss Bates’ FAVOURITE ROMANCE SCENARIO … McNaught writes a wrenching scene of Meredith telling Matthew the truth about the night he returned to the States. The scene is the height of melodrama; it’s sentimental, the worst kind of corny: they call each other “darling.” What Miss Bates loves about the scene? Truth be told, she loves that Meredith is so so right and Matthew is sooooooooo wrong. Maybe it’s petty, but it’s comforting to a spinster who values emotional vindication, whose great literary heroine is that most vindicated of heroines, Jane Eyre. Matthew done her wrong and now, he’s humbled and contrite. Maybe there’s a Big Miz here, but still … he should have been a bigger man than he was. Matthew’s really quite lovely and makes up for what happened in sundry ways, but the novel lapses into ordinary after this scene. Miss Bates, however, reads the build-up to and that scene in the snowed-in cabin for comfort and vindication every time she’s had that kind of day.

What of you, dear reader, what do you read for comfort, diversion, respite, maybe even VINDICATION, when you’ve had a bad day?  (Not that it has to be a romance narrative.)

Or, consider Berthoud and Elderkin’s prescriptive choices: what romance narratives would you suggest as alternate prescriptive readings?

Cynicism: H. E. Bates’ Darling Buds of May (no relation to Miss B.)

Despair: Milan Kunera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Stuck in a rut: Rose Macauley’s The Towers of Trebizond

A recent break-up: Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity

Fear of flying: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Night Flight

For a new father: Cormac McCarthy’s The Road

Grieving: John Berger’s Here Is Where We Meet

Learning to be a good man: Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird (this is a near-perfect choice)

Alcoholism: Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano

Loss of faith: W. P. Blatty’s The Exorcist

Unnamed dread: Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes

A novel “cure-all”: John Berger’s To the Wedding

What romance narrative stands as a heal-all for you?

Please note that the above list is taken from Tapestry‘s website, to which Miss B. linked in the first paragraph of her post.

What romance narratives would you prescribe for disgrace, anger, listlessness, “overworked and underpaid,” feeling abandoned, lonely, and “seeking the ideal mate”? Or any other mood, or circumstance that strikes your fancy?

Please note that Miss B. is indebted to Wikipedia for the above image of reluctant sea-bather and coaxing “hero.”

(Miss Bates will follow this post with Romance Panacea Part II, stay tuned!)





21 thoughts on “Romance Panacea Part I: “Taking the Waters,” Searching for Paradise …

  1. I’ve enjoyed this blog for many months, so let me thank you for your entertaining posts. The best heal-all books for me are Gaskell’s North and South and Austen’s Persuasion. My panacea shelf also contains Gaskell’s Cranford and Wives and Daughters, the rest of Austen’s canon, all of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries, all of P. G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster novels, and many romances by Georgette Heyer, Loretta Chase, Mary Balogh, Jennifer Crusie, and Amanda Quick/Jayne Ann Krentz. I’ve just started reading Barbara Pym, but I can see her works becoming cure-alls for me as well.


    1. What kind words, thank you for reading MBRR! And thank you for a glimpse into your heal-all shelf: it’s a privilege. Miss Bates must say that Persuasion is her favourite of Austen’s too-few novels. For the second-chance-at-love, for the letter at the end, for Anne’s diffidence, for the moment when the Captain insists she take the ride. For so much. Gaskell’s North and South is another favourite, though Miss Bates admits to preferring to watch the BBC version over rereading the novel. She hasn’t read the Stout, but so many would agree with you. Loves P.G. Wodehouse, especially on audio. Heyer, a recent read and sole one at that, These Old Shades will most definitely go on the cure-all shelf. Chase’s Mr. Impossible may be Miss B’s favourite straight romance novel. Balogh and Crusie are also favourites: esp. Balogh’s early work and Crusie’s Bet Me.

      MissB. started reading Pym’s Excellent Women and hopes to write a post one day about Pym’s narrator and Bronte’s Jane. Pym is a writer who hasn’t received the recognition she deserves … also a famous spinster and kindred spirit to Miss Bates. 🙂


      1. From one spinster to another, I also recommend the curative powers of Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. Their tone reminds me of the one Pym I’ve read, which is Some Tame Gazelle. When I read STG I felt that, like you, I had found a kindred spirit in Pym. My favorite Heyers are Faro’s Daughter and The Quiet Gentleman. I, too, cherish Mr. Impossible, but I’m also quite fond of Last Night’s Scandal. (This surprised me, as I’m much more of a Daphne than an Olivia.) Looking forward to the second part of your panaceas post!


        1. How lovely to have you back, kindred spinsters!! Woot! Miss B. is so excited because she just bought an omnibus of the first three books of AMS’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series … at the Costco of all places. Books sure beat the life-time supply of paprika! She’s even more excited now that she knows it comes recommended by you as curative. She’d actually seen the episodes that PBS broadcast of the show and loved it, but alas only one season. 😦

          Ha! She loved that, “This surprised me, as I’m much more of a Daphne than an Olivia.” It’s strange what will strike a chord sometimes, Mr. Impossible is nearly usurped by Not Quite A Lady. Last Night’s Scandal was delightful, you’re right! Miss B. just loved their sheer youth and shenanigans at crumbling estates are her “thing.” She’d also highly recommend Rose Lerner’s In For A Penny as a potential panacea-statused novel for you. 🙂


          1. Funnily enough, my first Ladies’ Detective Agency book came from Sam’s Club. I should also recommend Heyer’s Sylvester, which contains my favorite romance narrative–bookish/shy heroine gets her man. In my opinion, this one is a bit more romantic than Faro’s Daughter (enemies-to-lovers comedy) and The Quiet Gentleman (mystery). Happy reading!


            1. LOL, Miss B. had to “google” Sam’s Club because we don’t have that chain in Canada! Very like her Costco omnibus purchase …

              Sylvester is a Heyer she is greatly looking forward to, as it is considered her best work … and, of course, bookish/shy heroine is her favourite. Another she really liked, it may be her favourite of the Pink Carnation series (which you might enjoy) is The Temptation of the Night Jasmine: bookish heroine, slightly broken hero returned from India.

              She’s also only recently discovered that Heyer wrote mysteries, but didn’t quite know where to start, so she’s glad for the rec of Quiet Gentleman.

              Your comments have been a reading boon for Miss B.: she humbly thanks you and wishes you happy reading too. 🙂


            2. The Quiet Gentleman is a regency, but it revolves around a mystery and has an unassuming, commonsense heroine whom I loved. The Reluctant Widow is another regency mystery, more in the gothic vein. I haven’t read Cousin Kate, but it’s a regency gothic as well. Thank you for the Lerner and Willig recommendations!


  2. Great post as always. Persuasion is very high on my comfort list also. But, weirdly, Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park are the two I’ve read more than Persuasion or even Pride & Prejudice.

    As a teenager, Northanger Abbey spoke to the slippery slopes of growing up I was experiencing as well as having a bookish heroine so I identified with so much of it. And, it was right there beside me after I moved away from my home town and family for the first time, learning how to cope as a stranger in a strange land. It was only much later that I was able to appreciate its finer points, like its satirical send-up of gothic novels.

    Mansfield Park is probably my favorite “go-to-comfort read” from Jane Austen. I identified so strongly with Fanny Price’s shyness when I first read it and, yes, even with her passivity (much to my horror). Fanny is very much a spectator rather than one who participates in life, and Mansfield Park, I think, urges us to find a balance between an active and passive nature. Too much of one and you have a mess like Maria Bertram and too much of the other and you’re constantly misunderstood like poor Fanny. So my struggles with those same issues resonated strongly time and again. My younger self sought comfort from the fact that shy, passive Fanny did, indeed, win the man she loved and got her HEA which was hopeful to me.

    I was intrigued later with the house itself which seemed to be almost another character as well as representative of the book’s theme of “home.” It’s the center of all action and most of the characters are connected to Mansfield Park through family, friendship or marriage. But it’s more than just a place, if you know what I mean, because it highlights that home can mean different things to different people. Mansfield Park can appear as a strange, frightening place or a safe haven, a prison or a place to love. I’ve had those same feelings about “home” from time to time. It has this odd chameleon-like quality that’s constantly evolving and changing as the characters interact with it.

    And I may be just blowing smoke here and am probably in the minority, but I am a little obsessed with Henry Crawford. I’ve always secretly cheered for him because he fell for the nerdy girl (another thing Fanny and I have in common) he tried so hard to make fall for him. Yes, he was vain, arrogant, and had way too much fun manipulating people, but each time I read Mansfield Park, I wondered if Fanny couldn’t have been the redemption of him. While his pursuit of her had it’s roots in just alleviating his ennui, and, of course, Fanny was a challenge he couldn’t resist, I believe he genuinely wanted to rescue her from being “dependent, helpless, friendless, neglected, forgotten” to someone of “consequence so justly her due.”

    Henry, as Marlon Brando once lamented, “coulda been a contender”, with so much potential to be Fanny’s hero – if she had been just a tad less judgmental of his past peccadilloes, or not in love with Edmund since forever, and, maybe if he hadn’t taken a sharp left turn from his pursuit of Fanny over the cliff that is known as Maria. (Poor Mr. Rushworth!) But I just never quite bought that Henry’s vanity was the only factor prompting his affair/scandal with Maria. He didn’t have a good role model in the Admiral so I had a great deal of sympathy for him, and I think Fanny could have had a definite improving effect on him as he could have mitigated her passivity. Anyway, I read it A LOT, and each time I allow myself to daydream about Henry Crawford and “what might have been.”

    From your list, I was elated to see To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. That’s another of my comfort reads because I think Atticus Finch is absolutely wonderful, and I recognized from the first time I read it that Atticus was very much like my grandfather. I’ve read it many times and remember summers with my Papa and what a very fine, good man he was. My nephew and I are reading it together now, but for entirely different reasons. It’s an assignment for him, but for me it’s sheer pleasure.

    As far as comfort romances, I would have to say the one I return to again and again is The Prince of Midnight by Laura Kinsale. I can totally lose myself and all my worries in this story each and every time. I love the combination of a Leigh Strachan who is so pragmatic and completely without sentiment paired with S. T. Maitland, a former highwayman who’s deaf in one ear, is debilitated by vertigo, keeps a wolf as a pet, and is a hopeless romantic to boot. And then there are several of Amanda Quick’s older titles (Mischief, Ravished, Deception) which sometimes are just what the doctor ordered, and my hand seems to automatically settle on one of those when I just want to read and enjoy without having to think so hard.

    Speaking of doctors and nurses and all things medical in romance, I have come to regard Betty Neels as my ultimate comfort read author as she almost unfailingly delivers a great story with crisp writing and characters I can cry with, or laugh with, cheer on from my comfy chair. I’ve already read Tulips For Augusta, Damsel In Green, Sister Peters in Amsterdam, and Visiting Consultant more than once, and there are many others queued up for a re-read. These little jewels are to be savored and are as much a restorative as a cup of tea in times of stress. You knew that was coming, I’m sure. 😉

    I’m stopping now because every time I take out one thing, I add two.


    1. Your additions are Miss Bates’ pleasure! Persuasion is her favourite Austen: more so than Pride and Prejudice. She thinks that for comic relief, nothing matches Emma! As for Mansfield Park, she read it quite late in life and found it more of an intellectual exercise than an emotional one. She read it mainly because she read this interesting article about Austen’s theology in First Things. You might enjoy it too, especially as it centres on Mansfield Park.

      Though one reading does not any depth make, Miss B., like you, was not indifferent to Henry, though she was glad that Fanny “got her man.” She thinks your analysis of the all-important balance between the passive and active life was brilliant and she feels very close to it, being like you, more inclined to the passive. 😉 This is why her favourite Gospel reading, among so many admittedly, is the Martha and Mary narrative … with its notion of neither passive nor active, but of actively listening, paying attention to the world around us, engagement with the most essential things, the one thing needful.

      Oh, and what a wonderful story of Atticus and your grand-father: what a valued and precious relationship you shared. MissB. read To Kill A Mockingbird when she was in high school and rereads it periodically for the coming-of-age of Scout, Dill, Jem … for “Boo” Radley and the addicted genteel ladies of Maycomb: it all must be so close to your heart. But, even MissB, child of European immigrants with ne’er a word of English, in Canada, whose history though aligned is so very different, was immersed in Harper’s world and, more than anything, set Atticus Finch as her ideal in a man. She especially loved the scene where he has to kill the dog. And the breakfast scenes …

      The restorative powers of Betty Neels: oh yes, and yes again. It is exactly that for Miss Bates too: restorative. And the subject of her next “Romance Panacea” post!!! She looks forward to hearing your thoughts on that. 🙂


  3. I have a very long list of restorative reads–including Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, A Room with a View, Howard’s End, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Anne’s House of Dreams, Emily Climbs, Emily’s Quest, All the King’s Men, Welcome to Temptation, Written on Your Skin, A Lady Awakened, The Winter Sea, and Lord of Scoundrels. I evidently need lots of restoring. ; )

    I have books I associate with certain times of year. So in the spring, I read Northanger and Room with a View and so on. I’m a pretty dedicated re-reader actually and it gives a lot of shape to my life.


    1. “I evidently need lots of restoring.” Miss B. hopes it’s all right that she had a chuckle with that comment, so pithy and cute! And so true for readers. Those are wonderfully restorative reads and some much beloved of Miss B. And what a wonderful idea to reread certain books at certain times of the year. Miss B. used to read Jane Eyre every summer, but she didn’t last year, maybe because she got caught up in MBRR, but she has missed it.

      Rereading is such a valuable and interesting activity and choice for readers: it seems so obvious and yet it deepens our relationship with a book with each rereading. Miss B. thinks that those things that we reread serve as anchors in the flux of time. Our responses may be different, we may be different with each reading, but somehow, the book is truly restorative … it brings us back and carries us forward and it holds us in place all at the same time. Miss B. is not making much sense, but there it is.

      Though she didn’t write about them in her panacea post, there are many poems and passages that also serve the same purpose for Miss B. For example, when she’s had that bad day at work, McNaught’s Paradise aside, when she’s wallowing in the sniffly stage of self-pity, she’ll read Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” speech. Not for the self-destructive bits that everyone focuses on, but for these lines, sorry she’s doing this from memory, “for who would bear the whips and scorns of time/the oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely/the pangs of despised love, the law’s delay/the insolence of office, and the spurns that patient merit of the unworthy takes”. She loves that: Shakespeare’s brilliant lines about all that “stuff” the world throws at us: an older person’s disillusion in Hamlet’s the young pup’s mouth.


  4. As always, I enjoyed every word of your post and feel we must find a way to make it required reading for all those naysayers who disparage the romance novel. I know many women (yes–all women–I have not yet met any men who read romance)–who turned to reading romances to revive and restore themselves no matter the stressor. I know I certainly have. My “romance therapy” began with _Jane Eyre_ at the age of 11. At 11, I was shy and small and frightened of the looming adult world, and Jane taught me how a shy and small girl could battle that world. I was inspired by her ferocity, how “tenacious of life” she was. _Jane Eyre_ was certainly a “novel cure” for me, as she seems to have been with you as well. How many of us, I wonder, have been so deeply affected by this novel?

    While I still read romances today, there is a series of books that relieved my stress as no other series has ever done: the Aubrey and Maturin nautical fiction of Patrick O’Brian. How strange, I tell myself! I am a seasick sailor and know nothing about boats. The thought of actually being at sea scares the living daylights out of me. I feel odd even admitting to an obsession with these books. And yet I binge read all 20 Aubrey and Maturin novels while writing my dissertation, and reread them afterward whenever I felt down in the dumps. They are funny and full of interesting men, and for someone like me who “reads for the hero,” they are all-hero, all the time, and the heroes could not be more different.

    Those novels also depict a world that fascinates and repels me at the same time, and I found myself imagining how I would fare in such a male-dominated culture. In fact, that may be what really fascinated and repelled me–that all male society where women are just afterthoughts or a “bother.” Ha! Jane Eyre goes to sea! Or should I say Jane Austen, since clearly O’Brian was channeling _that_ Jane when he wrote the series. In fact, the seminal novel in that series, _Post Captain_, is a very fine romance that could stand shoulder to shoulder with _Sense and Sensibility_.

    No matter what we read, I think the “cure” we experience when reading comes from the act of transportation that brings us out of our troubled world and into another, at no physical risk to ourselves. Prospero’s speech at the end of _The Tempest_ has a sadder take on this retreat into the “insubstantial,” but I think, and I’d wager that Shakespeare thought as well, that such retreats can restore and revive us.

    I hope you will keep blogging, despite the blogging blues! Your posts and tweets are “must reads” for me!


    1. What kind and gracious words you have for Miss B.; she humbly thanks you. 🙂

      Ah, Jane: what a moving story you tell. When MissB thinks back on her return to romance (after a 30-year hiatus), though she’d read and studied Jane Eyre, it was one particular summer in Greece when she reread her and she really reread her because that was the only book she had to read on an isolated island. The novel blossomed for her then. It was one of the most perfect author/reader encounters she’s ever had. She recalls 45C degree weather, lying on a divan, unable to move and reading, “There was no possibility of taking walk that day … ” As perfect an opening sentence as Miss B. has ever read. Jane’s power and meaningfulness are many: what does she say? she’s “small, obscure, plain, and little,” but not “soulless and heartless” She throws that at MisterAlphaMan Rochester and strikes a chord and sally in we who identify with her. As you did and MissB did and still do. For MissB, Jane’s fierceness lies in her ethical stance against both Rochester, the decadent, and St. John, the puritan (also exemplified in her two cousins when she returns for her aunt’s death and funeral) … like the best of the romance genre, a balance between pleasure and the ethics of community and commitment. And yet, she holds her own, never losing her compassion, humour, or kindness. MissB hopes you will consider reading Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault’s Jane, the Fox, and Me, a truly wonderful nod to CharlotteB and her Jane in the story of a lonely little girl (who lives and grew up pretty much like MissB in the shadow of the mountain you’ll see illustrated in the graphic novel) who reads Jane Eyre, meets a fox, makes a friend, and the world is less lonely, less frightening. It’s wonderful.

      MissB. loved your story about reading the Aubrey and Maturin books; they’re a series that she’s always wanted to read. She thought the first, Master and Commander, made for a pretty good film and set out to read the series … only to leave the first volume 😦 in a café. Alas, she never returned to it, but she’s more likely to now that you’ve told her about them so eloquently. She thoroughly understands what you mean about that male-dominated world and echoes your fascination in it with her own obsessive interest in trench warfare accounts and poetry of the Great War. It is not difficult to see how Jane would have been in that context either.

      Miss B. loved this: “No matter what we read, I think the “cure” we experience when reading comes from the act of transportation that brings us out of our troubled world and into another, at no physical risk to ourselves.” Fiction, no matter the genre, or mode, or type, lets us live so many lives. Shakespeare’s own response to his great characterization of Prospero, Miss B. would venture to say, lies in his immortalizing themes in the sonnets, weaving a world of love and yearning and fulfillment, like what the romance does when it does it well.

      What a lot of food for thought and consideration you’ve given MissB today. She’s very much enjoying her change in direction blogging and hopes to continue in this vein (and others to explore) as long as she can. 🙂


  5. Cynicism: Heyer’s Arabella or Sylvester.
    Despair: Rebecca Rogers Maher’s The Bridge. Or for a less head-on approach to the subject, I find hope in almost any romance novel, tbh.
    Stuck in a rut: Penny Reid’s Neanderthal Seeks Human. Or Theresa Weir’s Cat Tattoo books.
    A recent break-up: Betty Neels’ Tangled Autumn.
    Fear of flying: ????
    For a new father: I actually think Wolf Hall/Bring Up The Bodies would be great, but obviously not romance novels.
    Grieving: Laura Florand’s Snowkissed.
    Learning to be a good man: Sherry Thomas’s Not Quite A Husband.
    Alcoholism: Mary Jo Putney’s The Rake (aka The Rake and the Reformer).
    Loss of faith: Laura Kinsale’s Flowers from the Storm.
    Unnamed dread: Caitlin Crews’s Shameless Playboy.
    A novel “cure-all”: For me, there’s not much that isn’t made better by reading Heyer’s Devil’s Cub.


    1. This is a wonderful response and a great reading list if someone is looking to read a little romance as restorative. Miss Bates so agrees with what you say here: “I find hope in almost any romance novel, tbh.” She does too and that is why she was so nonplussed listening to the Berthoud and Elderkin suggestions. Miss Bates is most content that she has read, or has in TBR, most of the titles here, especially as Devil’s Cub is in the summer TBR.

      She hasn’t read it, so she can’t vouch for its goodness, but Carrie Lofty has a romance about WWII flyers called His Very Own Girl. Would any other reader/commentator recommend it for “fear of flying”?

      And she would add Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love for “loss of faith,” though of the born-again, proselytizing ilk of inspirational romance, it is powerful. The hero and heroine are larger-than-life and its obviously allegorical nature makes it a must-read if you only read one inspirational romance.


  6. The Road for new parents? THE ROAD?! Oh my goodness gracious, no. I had to take a two year break from Cormac McCarthy (whose books I love) when my son was born because McCarthy’s narratives do too much violence to my belief in the ultimate goodness of the world. I felt very vulnerable with my tiny new person and McCarthy’s words intensified that feeling. No, for a new parent, I would suggest Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year. It is full of black humor and notes of grace, and made me both laugh out loud on the El until people stared and cry like a baby while reading it over lunch at a McDonald’s. This also generated much staring, I must admit.

    Let’s see… Count me as yet another vote for Persuasion as a cure-all read. 🙂 It was my least favorite Austen when I was young, but (surprise, surprise) has vastly improved in my estimation with time, which just goes to show that I am indeed getting a little bit wiser with age. I also find Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody mysteries to be very restorative, when I want a narrative voice that makes me smile and gossips with me in bullishly confessional asides. When I want to marvel at the breadth of someone’s talent, I reread A.S. Byatt’s gorgeous Possession. When I wish to reimagine my college years as being vastly more interesting and privileged than they were, I reread Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. I read Daisy Summerfield’s Style, a slim little YA novelette that has been out of print for decades, when I want to feel like anything is possible.

    But for your romance topics! Disgrace – Deeper by Ruthie Knox, Listlessness – Sweet Liar by Jude Devereaux, Feeling abandoned – Brothers of the Wild North Sea by Harper Fox, Lonely – A Solid Core of Alpha by Amy Lane, and “Seeking the ideal mate” – Curio by Cara McKenna. Also, Unrequited Love – Opening Act by Suleikha Snyder. Ok, I really must stop now. This was fun though, thank you!


    1. Like you, Miss B. was kinda horrified with The Road rec. Like you, she thinks it’s a great book … and hey, Viggo in the film (though the film doesn’t do the book justice), but for a new parent?! Miss B. loved the story of your Lamott reading. She hasn’t read that one, but Traveling Mercies is on her religious keeper shelf next to Kathleen Norris’ The Cloister Walk.

      Persuasion is Miss B’s favourite Austen: second-chance at love, much adoration for The Captain and the sharp hurtful portrait of Anne’s caricature of a family. Byatt’s Possession fed Miss B’s grad school fantasies even if she spent three-odd years wandering the library stacks, procrastinating writing her thesis, and reading a lot of Derrida, in French. Those were strange times … until she picked up and read in one sitting two particular novels: Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, which she admires greatly and finds it equal to Austen’s Pride and Prejudice as an opposites-attract romance … and, Persuasion. These two novels gave her hope that there is life after grad school.

      Your list is wonderful … *scurries off to make note of some titles* and Deeper, a masterful suggestion for disgrace. She really really really wants to read Style.

      It IS fun to think of titles, isn’t it? Thank YOU for the great book recs!


  7. I felt the same way as you do when I first came across Bibliotherapy. It seemed so bland, all the choices predictable and boring. I feel saddened that the people who are paying for this service are given such a narrow range of books to choose from. They should head to their local library for a better service.

    Many years ago, I had a borrower and a friend both suffering from breast cancer (at the same time). Both of them had exactly the same request: I just want to read romances that will not make me cry. Firstly, I had to ascertain what triggered crying for both of them. I would carefully read every book before I recommended it to them. I had them on a rotating cycle of Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jennifer Crusie and Rachel Gibson. My borrower recovered and made her own way through the collection. I continued sending books to my friend. We were rarely able to meet up but the books would be returned with usually a note asking for more and telling me how much she enjoyed reading them. Sadly, my friend died. 2 months later, her husband passed on a paper bag with 4 of my books. 1 had a book mark still in it. I can’t remove the bookmark from its place but I know that romances brought her immense joy and escape from her pain.


    1. That is a remarkable story, MissB had tears. She’s so sorry for the loss of your friend; may her memory be eternal. (Zoe s’emas.) But you obviously gave her the most important thing we can offer the ill: we can’t make the pain or the end different, but we can offer respite on the journey. And that is exactly what you did. Miss B. would not be able to remove that bookmark either, however. You made the perfect choice in SEP, Crusie, and Gibson: they’re funny; they don’t take themselves seriously, but they take their books so. They’re good writers. They have something good to say about the world: the romance genre has something good to say about the world. MissB. just wishes, from our previous discussion, that the world would listen more often.

      My BFF is not ill, but she has the kind of job that sees a lot of pain and difficulty. She often arrives home, very late, at the end of her tether. A few years ago, Miss B. gave her Crusie’s Bet Me, Willig’s The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, and an early Balogh, Miss B. can’t remember which one. Also, the DVD of Gaskell’s North and South. A week later, she was ready for more and is now a regular romance reader.


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