I’ve always been a reader. To this day, I prefer reading a book to perhaps almost any other activity. I prefer reading books to going to parties and bars. And I prefer books to interacting with most people. My perfect day includes at least six hours sitting on my couch with a book (or two) with my puppy and my cat cuddled around me.
My mother never denied me a book. I never got an American Girl doll –being from Minnesota, I wanted Kirsten — but I had groaning bookshelves and I could count on a trip to the library every Saturday. During summers, when my peers were running through sprinklers and biking to the playground, I was probably reading in a corner somewhere. When I visited my grandparents, who had a house on Lake Mille Lacs, my grandfather could often be heard saying, “You eat good, you sleep good, and you read good. You sure as sh*t don’t work good.” (He was mostly kidding. I always volunteered to help him pick raspberries. I couldn’t help it if most of the yield ended up in my belly.) And who wants to do work when you have a hammock, a bag of books, and the quiet sound of waves coming ashore on a tiny little bay of a vast lake.
My aunt, Jean, took to calling me “the horizontal kid” the summer she watched me during my mom’s work hours because I was always laying down, reading a book.
It’s not that I didn’t come by reading honestly. Though my grandmother never went to college, she was one of the most widely-read people I’ve ever met. Fiction, non-fiction, genre books, literary works — she’d give it all a try. Especially if people were talking about it. Because she always had an opinion. I can still picture her perfectly-combed dome of silver hair bent over a book. A plume of cigarette smoke billowing through the porch and a she took intermittent sips from cold glass of Fresca (possibly with a smidge of brandy).
My mom and aunts took after my grandmother, and my mother was downright political about reading. She never once told me that a book was off limits, not even when I picked up something seriously raunchy at age 10. (To her relief, I set it down because I deemed it “boring” at the time.) My mom even marched into my sixth grade reading teacher’s classroom during conferences when Mrs. Larson insisted that the reading material I’d brought to class — I believe it was Mary Higgins Clark — was not appropriate for little girls. She suggested I read something like The Secret Garden or The Little Princess instead. I can only imagine the full-on read that my mother served that poor teacher, but I was allowed to read anything I wanted after that.
Prolific bibliophile that I was, it was only a matter of time before I discovered the romance genre, but I treasure the way it happened because it gave me a special bond with my grandmother that lasted until she had a series of strokes. What happened? I ran out of books to read during the first part of a summer vacation week at their house. And I’d read most of the other books. The tiny library in town didn’t have much of a selection, but Grandma Wilda had a bag full of Harlequin Romance novels. The first one I read was The Cloud Holders by Bethany Campbell. It was an emenies-to-lovers story with a Native American hero, and it was set in Hawaii. There was kissing and boob touching. And I was completely hooked.
From that visit on, Grandma always had a bag full of Harlequins waiting for me when I went to visit, ensuring that I’d remain “the horizontal kid” forevermore. I know my grandmother would be extremely proud of the fact that I’m now writing romance novels. I feel that it’s something I still share with her, which makes it even more special than it would be otherwise.