Readers Anonymous

Hello, my name is Charity, and I am addicted to romance novels. Wow, that felt good to get off my chest. My addiction started when I was thirteen. I was snooping around the bookcases and found my mother's stash. At first, it was just the thin Harlequin novels with the typical plot of "boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy and girl fall madly in love and live happily ever after," but my addiction quickly got out of control. By my seventeenth birthday, I was on the "hard stuff"-single title historicals; soon I was reading three books a week.

I had to take on a job to support my habit. I started working part-time at the library where the supplies to satisfy my craving were readily available. I did not care that I didn't make much money - the books were free for me to read whenever I wanted - and what money I did make went back into sustaining my dependence on love stories.

Things got worse. My favorite authors were not putting out "product" fast enough. I decided to make my own. My first attempts were disastrous, but the text I produced kept the yearnings at bay while I waited for books to go on sale. I adored the sweeping historicals authored by writers such as Beatrice Small and Katherine Woodiwiss. I laughed until I cried at such works as Victoria Alexander's Believe, the story of a skeptical literature professor meeting King Arthur's Galahad - and falling in love with him - with the immortal Merlin along for the ride. Another novel I remember fondly is Nina Bangs' An Original Sin, a tale about a mischievous imp who takes a woman from the future - a future without men - and a man from thirteenth century Scotland and puts them in present day. It was during this time that I was introduced to what would be my downfall: Diana Gabaldon's series of time travel romances set in 18th century Scotland. The first book, Outlander, introduced me to Jamie, an exiled Highland chief, and Claire, the time traveling World War II nurse. The first three books covered twenty years of their lives from their meeting next to a circle of standing stones in the Highlands of Scotland, through the Jacobite rebellion of 1745, to the twentieth century and back, and to the newborn Colonies of North America. When I picked up the series, there were three books in print. Each was around 1,000 pages and took me more than a week to read. I was in heaven… until I realized that books of this quality were not mass-produced and easy to come by like all the others. I had to wait years between installments.

The withdrawals were excruciating. I didn't know what to do now that I had tasted the magnificence of these stories; the novels I read in the past paled by comparison. I tried reading other kinds of books, but was only able to find one other author that mixed time travel, history, romance and mysterious happenings into a book. Unfortunately, Katherine Neville wrote even slower than Diana Gabaldon; there is an eight-year (and counting) span between the first installment of The Eight-the story of a chess set engraved with alchemic symbols for a recipe that bestows immortality and the woman sworn to protect the secret falling in love with a man determined to destroy it - and the continuation of the story. I reached rock bottom.

My addiction worse than ever, I went back to my old routine of making my own narratives. I developed complicated plots to rival those of my favorite authors. I created characters, settings, and events that required reams of paper to keep track of. I collected articles on writing techniques and publication, wrote for months on end, bought dozens of books about historical periods. I told myself that it was all in the name of research. No one knew that I was feeding an addiction that, with luck, would never end.

I'm not sure why I was drawn to this kind of book for my reading entertainment. It could be hereditary; as I said, my mother read them. Then again, it could be that I was only looking for escape: my regular reading included encyclopedias, dictionaries, books of lists, and history books… something a little livelier was in order. But the real reason I am addicted to romance novels is because this type of book shows beauty, love, and happiness in an ugly, hateful, and depressed society; the "happily ever after" stories let the world know that, no matter what-whether the lovers be from different social castes or different time periods-true love can conquer all.