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When was the last time you read a romance novel? This week, I hope, or at least this month, because the benefits of reading romance are powerful.

Here’s my top ten list of reasons to be an avid reader of romances:

  1. Blissful escapism.

Romance is pure, heavenly escapism. Whatever’s happening in your life, you can step away from it with just the turn of a page – you can put aside being a wife or a mother or an employee for a little while and be transported into another time and place. It’s the ultimate little break, a form of meditation, and when you put down the book you’re calmer and better equipped to live reality once more.

  1. A chance to ‘meet’ Mr Right.

It may be fantasy, but fantasy is a lot of fun. When you read a romance novel and click with the hero, you enjoy the reading so much. Love is a beautiful thing, and falling in love a little with a character can only make you feel happy.

  1. Simple therapy.

At its core each romance novel is a story of two people struggling with emotions, just as we all do. ‘Gives me the feels’ has become a common description in romance book reviews: we read not simply to observe, but to engage – to feel. Reading romance novels is cathartic, and the very best novels can restore wavering faith in love and life.

  1. A guarantee of happy closure.

When life hands you lemons, put them down and pick up a romance book. In happy-ever-after romance novels, you can truly escape and unwind, knowing that the ending will not leave you dangling, uncertain and frustrated, and will reinforce the message that life is good.

  1. A long and distinguished history.

Look at the great works of literature. Almost every story that has stood the test of time in some way relates to love. People have been engaging with romance stories for centuries. When you read romance, you’re part of a strong tradition.

  1. A plentiful supply.

Romance is the biggest genre in publishing, in terms of volume of books published and sales. That means your ‘to read’ pile never need be anything less than teetering. Whenever you’re in the mood to read, you can get hold of a romance book.

  1. So much choice.

Whatever your particular brand of romance, someone somewhere is writing it. Whether you like sassy, steamy rollercoaster rides or beautiful, evocative love stories (like mine), you can find plenty of books to read. And if you feel like dipping your toe into the water of a different style of romance, you have plenty to choose from.

  1. A chance to learn and grow.

The best romances offer an opportunity for readers to learn about something new, such as an interesting occupation or a place. In my own romance, I take readers to fascinating locations around the world, like Venice and Cadiz and the plains of Kenya, so that my books are like a passport to travel virtually.

  1. An inexpensive habit.

My novels Burning Embers and The Echoes of Love are currently just 99 pence/cents in ebook format. Compare that to the price of a cup of coffee! Clearly, developing a romance reading habit isn’t going to break the bank.

  1. Membership of a community.

No romance reader is an island. There are so many ways to share your love of romance books with others, from book clubs to Goodreads groups. The international community of romance readers is friendly and inspirational, and I’m very proud to belong.

Do you have any reasons to add to my list? Do you read romance novels – exclusively, or as well as other genres? What do romance novels mean to you?

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Last week in the UK, in the county of Devon on the south-west coast, a single name echoed on the breeze: ‘Flaviu’. The county’s attention – and, indeed, that of the wider country – was captured by the news that Flaviu the Carpathian lynx was loose somewhere among the population.

Dartmoor Zoological Park is no stranger to media attention: it is the zoo on which the popular movie We Bought a Zoo, starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson, is based. Last week, the media were drawn like moths to a flame to the announcement that Flaviu the lynx had escaped his enclosure by chewing through a board, and was now at large in the area.

Despite the fact that the zoo staff were confident the animal was on nearby farmland, all kinds of sightings farther afield were reported. For example, the Plymouth Herald reported that a distraught driver had called staff at the zoo claiming to have run over the missing lynx with her car. The zoo owner said:

‘We tried to reassure her that it was very unlikely. We were still collecting sightings at this point and we were a bit alarmed that apparently someone had seen a lynx as far away as Saltash.

‘We were thinking these ‘sightings’ could get really out of hand so we started to discount the more far-fetched ones, including this one from the driver…’

Quite simply, the idea of a wild, dangerous animal loose in the county stirred imaginations. How wonderful, I thought, reading the stories. No doubt it was distressing for the motorist who thought she had killed the lynx (but presumably killed some other animal), but as a general phenomenon, this stirring of imagination is surely a positive demonstration of the magic of the mind.

Albert Einstein said, ‘Imagination… is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.’ The field of psychology has long accepted that imagination – ‘the ability to form new images and sensations in the mind that are not perceived through senses’ – is an essential and healthy aspect of the human condition. Imagination fosters creativity, problem solving, cognitive processing and, essentially, empathy with others.

How, as humans, do we develop the ability to imagine? Through listening to stories at a young age and then, when we are able, reading them. The more you imagine, the better you think, feel, behave, achieve: what better reason to read and read and read!

Allow me to revisit for a moment the definition of imagination: ‘the ability to form new images and sensations in the mind that are not perceived through senses’. Thus, when we read fiction we are seeking actively to form new images and sensations in the mind that are not perceived through senses. As a writer, I always have this in mind when I am storytelling: I endeavour to really transport my readers into the story by providing all manner of sensory-rich detail that they can use to imagine vividly.

Take, for example, this description of the gypsy camp in Masquerade:

As he made his way through the gypsy camp, he watched the dark clouds drift towards the large shining moon as if intent on devouring it whole. So vibrant by day, the camp was now bleached of colour in the pale light. The fires were almost out, copper pots lay discarded and some caravans and makeshift improvised tents glowed from the lamps inside. The place smelt of burnt wood and petrol. A few figures were huddled round the dying embers, murmuring to one another, and some were passed out next to the dogs on the ground. The sound of a donkey braying somewhere was replaced with the harsh miaow of squabbling cats.

Can you picture the scene, in the pale moonlight? Can you smell the wood and petrol, hear the men murmuring and the cats miaowing?

If you can, then you are imagining; and what is most powerful about imagination is this, as evoked by the great Pablo Picasso: ‘Everything you can imagine is real’. The lynx was real to all who ‘saw’ it in Devon. My characters can be real to those who read my novels.

If you open your mind when you read a story, it is no longer a story but a real world into which you can step. Such adventures at your fingertips when you read books!

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Lipstick, powder, compact, hairbrush, breath freshener, eau de toilette… the contents of a woman’s handbag are myriad and many. Now, according to a recent study reported in the media, if the woman in question wishes to be attractive to a potential mate, her handbag arsenal needs an essential addition: a book.

Dating app My Bae released a report indicating that those users who put reading-related tags in their profiles are more likely to find a match. Tags relating to books have created more matches than those relating to music, films and TV, and the profiles of users who declared reading as an interest were viewed for longer by potential matches.

The conclusion reached by My Bae, based on the findings, is that ‘the more you read, the more attractive you are to potential partners’. A slight generalisation, perhaps, but one can see the logic to it. My Bae also found that specific books bring people together (for example, a shared love of Game of Thrones), and that the most ‘attractive’ genres in terms of number of matches are psychological thriller, travel and – you guessed it – romance.

Honestly, this report doesn’t surprise me in the least, because when a person identifies themselves as a reader, a book lover, they are saying so much about themselves. They are saying, ‘I am a reader; ergo I am…’

* intelligent

* imaginative

* thoughtful

* focused

* cultured

* interested in the world around

The latter strikes me as particularly important. We all ultimately want to be with someone who is open to the world around them, and readers continually explore relationships and psychology and the big questions of life through stories and educational books.

Much has been written in recent years on the correlation between reading and mental health, to the point that some doctors now prescribe books to improve wellbeing. So it strikes me that reading is also an attractive quality for this reason: it suggests an ability to take time out and recharge, and to look after oneself.

Interestingly, My Bae reports that 64% of women users define themselves as readers, and only 39% of men. Is this a true reflection of readership? I suspect, in fact, some men simply don’t list reading as an interest, for fear that it makes them unattractive.

If that’s the case, perhaps this news will go some way to encouraging openness over reading. The article has sparked a lengthy debate over on Reddit (more than a thousand comments), with young men in particular considering the idea. (The comment ‘Good to know chicks dig books’ says it all.)

What do you think of this report? Do you agree that a love of reading is an attractive quality in a potential partner? Are there any books you’d be put off by? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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Recently, a friend asked: ‘Have you read the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon?’

I thought for a moment and then replied, ‘No, I haven’t.’

‘Oh,’ she said at once, ‘you must! You’ll love them.’

I trust my friend; she knows my reading tastes well.So I bought the first book and am thoroughly enjoying it (review to follow soon). The power of a book recommendation!

I discovered many new books to read through recommendations – through friends and family, and of course online through reading book bloggers’ reviews and scouring Goodreads and Amazon. ‘Have you read…?’ is first and foremost a joyful question to hear, because it heralds either a new fictional world to discover or, if I have read the book already, it precipitates a conversation in which a love of books may be shared.

But there is another side to the ‘Have you read…?’ question which I have been pondering. Back in the initial conversation with my friend, I paused before replying that I had not read the Outlander series. Why?

It is human nature to want to belong, to want to be a part of a collective. So to admit you haven’t read a book that so many people have is to bravely confess yourself to be – if I may borrow from Diana Gabaldon – an Outlander. I wished I had read the book. I wished I had joined the conversation on Outlander much earlier. I wished I had read all the books and joined all the conversations!

This strikes at the heart of a very real predicament for readers which is best encapsulated by musician Frank Zappa: ‘So many books, so little time.’ We read often; we read many, many books. But we cannot read anywhere near enough books to satisfy the need and desire to learn, to experience and, most significantly, to belong.

Sylvia Plath wrote in her journal:

“I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in my life. And I am horribly limited.” 

I think she perfectly conveys the emotion in ourhaving to select only some, not all, books. But those of us who feel as she did may comfort ourselves with a vision of heaven as described by Jorge Luis Borges: ‘I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.’ Someday, we will have access to all the books, and have the time to read them.

In the meantime, what is required, I think, is a having faith in your reading choices and that serendipity will lead you to what you most need to read at a point in time, whether that is stumbling upon an old book in a second-hand store, or reading of one in a newspaper, or having a friend ask, ‘Have you read…?’

And remember, it is okay to stand apart sometimes as an Outlander. As the Japanese writer Haruki Murakami said, ‘If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.’

best of

Welcome, and thanks for visiting. I am giving away a paperback copy of The Other Daughter by Lauren Willig, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading this year (see my review at http://hannahfielding.net/the-other-daughter-by-lauren-willig/). Entry is open to all; I will post internationally.

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