I've been a reader all my life; 43 years. With weekly visits to the library as a child, it's a tradition I still adhere to almost every Saturday with my husband at our local branch. Of course, I also work at a library but my weekly visits are my library time.
Sometimes, reading tastes change and, over the years, mine definitely have. In my teens, I unabashedly read those quaint paperback teen romances of the late 1970s/early 1980s that you just can't find anymore except through used book stores or interlibrary loan: P.S. I Love You and Forever, for example. Today, they almost have a cult following. Some popular authors I enjoyed around this time include Norma Klein, Judy Blume, and Lois Duncan. I was also into ballet, so I read Karen Strickler Dean's Mariana and Maggie Adams: Dancer. Bruce and Carol Hart stole my heart with the wildly popular Sooner or Later which was made into a 1979 made-for-tv movie starring then-heart throb Rex Smith, quickly followed by the will-they-or-won't-they Waiting Games. As an adult, I later discovered that the Harts had written a final novel about lovers Jesse & Michael in 1991, the out-of-print, hard-to-find, and quite pricey Now or Never.
In my twenties, I enjoyed Elizabeth Berg, Sandra Dallas, and Anne Tyler and read everything I could get my hands on by them but, gradually, their books started to seem all the same to me (women rediscovering themselves). I was looking for more spice, more action, something more daring.
Along the way, I became a Jane Austen student and, in addition to reading a chapter of one of her six novels every night before I go to sleep, I also read critical analyses of her works. Sometimes I go back and forth with exclusively reading Austen and about Austen; this usually happens when I'm in a reading drought, when everything I check out of the library just doesn't catch me.
Some newer authors I've found I now enjoy, however, are Carol Goodman*, Laura Kasischke*, Emily Giffin, and Stephanie Laurens. I have to admit I came to reading the latter two with a definite preconceived prejudice that their works were chick lit and bodice rippers respectively and, thus, not worthy of my attention.I was wrong.
Giffin is a wonderful writer, with interesting plots, well-developed characters, and real-life issues and situations that don't make me think, "oh, yeah, right. That would never happen." The problem I have with Giffin's books, however, are their covers and I wish her publisher did a better job. They look too "chick lit" (hence my initial turnoff). And, before people get upset with me and think I have something against "chick lit," I want to explain that it just has a bad name/reputation. And, with a bad name, comes preconceived ideas, like mine. But the few books I've read have really surprised me in a good way. I really enjoyed Baby Proof and Heart of the Matter. Baby Proof has a horrible cover in pink with baby booties on it. The book is about a couple who weds only to discover that the woman does not want children while her husband does. The best part is that the woman actually sticks to her guns. Heart of the Matter is her latest book (as of 2010) and the topic is marriage and infidelity. Again, a serious topic with a terribly simplistic cutesy cover that belies its serious topic and writing.
On a completely different plane is Stephanie Laurens. She's a (gasp!) romance writer and she is an impressively good storyteller. Her plots are set around the same Regency/Georgian era as Jane Austen's novels (early 1800s England, which was the initial attraction--that and her consistently good reviews) and there is a surprising amount of history in the plot lines. Of course, she is not Jane Austen but she can tell a wonderful story. There's romance, of course, intrigue, some adventure, and lots of sex. But I have to say that the sex scenes are very well written; fantastic in some parts but, hey, sex is hot and it's a normal part of life. In her books, they are believable and a well-developed part of the stories. I'm reading her books in published order so that I can trace her development as a writer. She also has some nice little mini-series in there, such as The Black Cobra Quartet and the Cynster novels, and many of her characters appear in more than one story. The covers of most of her books, however, are bodice-ripper-like so I admit I read them in a fabric book cover (what? reading tastes are private). Her newer novels, though, have beautiful covers.
*More on these two in an upcoming post.