I love to read. Reading provides a means of escape. I can absorb someone else's story. Lose myself in the character's lives. Forget about my own situation and problems. It is less destructive than drugs or alcohol, but still a means of escape. It's much more affordable too.
I have a love/hate attitude towards romances. Romances require some conflict that keep the lovers apart. I'm not talking about the stupid plots where the conflict is based upon one person getting jealous because their mate talked to a member of the opposite sex and therefore must be cheating. Where one feels deceived because their new love hasn't divulged information about every single aspect of their past. Or even where one person keeps themselves at a disctance, vowing never to let anyone close to them again because they've been hurt once before. Once. Before. Try a lifetime of painful relationships. Where even a trusted family member has betrayed and taken advantange of your trust. A life of so much deception and betrayal that you don't even trust God to not let you down anymore. No, those type of plots are just unimaginative and worthy of my disdain.
I'm talking about the books of epic conflict. Where the pair are in an accident and one has amnesia with no memory of their love. Or meddling family members convince one or both that the other didn't survive such an accident. Family disputes that keep the lovestruck pair apart. Tragic epic conflict. The kind that is deep and intricate enough to consume my attention and make me forget all about my own problems. These are the books that I love to read. But I also hate them.
No matter how tragic the situation is, I would still give my eye teeth to trade places with them. Their situations is still better than my own. They have the sense of belonging to someone. Someone belongs to them in return. It is a romance, they are guaranteed a happy ending. No matter what they go through, they will eventually sail off into the sunset and live happily ever after.
I'll admit that my hate is based solely on the green eyed monster and sour grapes. Probably what I hate the most about these books is that I can't help myself and read them, knowing they will put me in a deep dark funk for days after reading them. Life is not a romance novel and not only am I not guaranteed a happy ending, there isn't one in sight.
I'm currently reading The Last Song by Nicholas Sparks. A book that sent me spiralling into my dark funk before I had even finished reading it. I wrote the above maybe a chapter before running across the following sentence. "Something about the Russian writers appealed to her: the epic quality of their stories, perhaps; bleak tragedy and doomed love affairs painted on a grand canvas, so far removed from her own ordinary life." Except that bleak tragedy and doomed love affairs are not so far removed from my life. It wasn't enough that Ronnie had found her epic love at the age of 18. She pushed him away when she found out that her father was dying of cancer. She stuck by her dad's side and cared for him as he progressively got sicker. She realized that she didn't know they little things about her dad, the things that mean so little in everyday life yet show how much we really know about a person. His favorite color. His favorite song. His favorite author. The little things. The things that I didn't know about my dad when he died from cancer. The things I was too wrapped up in my own denial to bother learning. Instead of getting to know him, I refused to visit him in the hospital. It was too hard to maintain my denial that he could possibly die when he was wasting away right before my eyes.
So why do I subject myself to books that I know are going to depress me? Why don't I avoid them like the plague? I used to, I did. But the difference between a good story and great literature is that ability to evoke deep emotions and passion within us. It takes great talent to bring a story to life to such a degree. They say that great artists must suffer for their art. Maybe the true connoisseur must also suffer to truly appreciate and empathize with such beauty. This is why I love such stories. Because it IS beautiful. It IS great art and talent. It IS great literature. Even when it brings pain similar to ripping off a bandage and digging around in old wounds. Sometimes the soul needs to reopen those wounds so that we can experience the pain and emotions that were never properly dealt with. Until we do, those wounds will continue to fester.