As much as we live for happily ever after, folks who read romance books are no strangers to pain.  Often, we turn to romance fiction to struggle or work through unimaginable emotional challenges – or those inevitable ones life throws into our paths simply because we own human bodies and souls.

So it’s only natural we’re moved by the havoc wrecked this week when Haiti was devastated by a massive earthquake.  The Red Cross reports as many as 50,000 people died, and survivors face grave odds of remaining alive because Haiti’s already-compromised fresh water and health-care systems were fairly obliterated in the quake.

Kettly Mars survived the earthquake, and the member of PEN, the international group that works to unite writers from all cultures and defend freedom of expression, wants us to know how things stand.  “Our situation is serious,” she writes in a message to PEN International, her parent organization. “We urgently need aid. Medicine, water, food. International aid is starting to come but there will never be enough. Thank you for relaying this."

The founder of PEN Haiti and his wife also died in the earthquake, news of which rocked the organization and, perhaps, brings Haiti’s story even closer to those of us who don’t have loved ones or colleagues living, working or providing aid there.  For as readers and writers, we tend to find commonality through our avocation and vocation.  And I’ve wondered whether to a Haitian, the loss of a manuscript or collection of novels or children’s primers means anything next to the loss of one’s home, kids, lover or parents.

Yet when I saw a photo this morning of a young Haitian girl reading amidst the rubble that was her house, it occurred to me that I’m probably naïve in assuming a reader wouldn’t think about escaping into a book during the most dramatic, horrific experience of her life. Maybe it’s disingenuous of me to think she’d have bigger fish to fry, when I know I use books to block stresses insignificant when compared to hers.

Often world events we have no control over affect us deeply. Many readers turned to genre fiction after 9/11.  Now, after we’ve made donations to groups who are hoping to eke away at the seemingly insurmountable aftermath in Haiti, I’m thinking about how we might turn to – or turn away from – reading because of Haiti's nightmare, and why.

How does crisis affect your reading? How do you use reading to respond to crisis? Does reading genre fiction to escape seem frivolous in light of what's going on in Haiti, or does it make even more sense?


The photo mentioned above appeared on the index page of NYTimes.com w/in a rights-protected photo gallery. 

Comments
by Moderator dhaupt on ‎01-15-2010 11:29 AM

My heart and some of my cash goes out to the victims of the Haitian earthquake.

 

A great article Michelle and how right you are. As in fact my husband's battle with cancer is what got me reading romance in the first place. While he was ill and my wondering when or if he'd recover left it too hard for me to read my previous favorite genre which was crime drama. Too many times in that genre the author kills off characters that we readers come to love or care about and when facing a serious life altering illness I just had to find some other kind of entertainment. Then I found my HEA in romance and I've been a true fan ever since. Don't get me wrong I still love crime mysteries, but I tend to sway toward romantic suspense now. I still have my old favorite authors that I have to read like Connelley, Sandford and Pearson, but there are many many more of my new favorite authors who really got me through a tough situation.

Deb

by Moderator becke_davis on ‎01-15-2010 11:35 AM

It's funny, I was talking to my daughter about this last night. There's a dark paranormal I started last week but had to set aside. My dad had major surgery yesterday and the past few weeks have been a nightmare as some of his blood work revealed other problems. I've been on the phone with family all over the country constantly, and it's been hard to focus on anything. I still need my books for escape, and my daughter and I both turn to lighter books when we're under a lot of stress. I had to set aside the paranormal, much as I liked it, and pick up some contemporary romances and lighter mysteries. 

 

The girl reading in the rubble makes me want to cry. My daughter works at Disney, and she has several friends whose families are in Haiti. One of them is devastated because he still hasn't been able to get in touch with his family. It could be a communication problem, but he's in agony because . . . it might not.

by Author Jessa_Slade on ‎01-15-2010 02:27 PM

The news coming out of Haiti is just terrible.  I hope the people there can write a new story out of the dust and blood.  Right now, the tragedy -- not just the earthquake, but the endemic problems the earthquake has underscored -- seems insurmountable.  I heard an interview with a former U.S. ambassador to Haiti and he sounded... hopeless.  But I guess that's what genre fiction -- romance, fantasy, science fiction, mystery -- does best: Offers hope, love, justice, and the chance of a better tomorrow.  Obviously a book is not enough, but along with fresh water, medical supplies, food, and shelter, hope has to rank right up there.

by PrincessBumblebee on ‎01-15-2010 03:40 PM

I don't really think bad things have too great affect on my reading, just a thankful reminder that I'm alive and well and have the time and resources to write. Although the problems in Haiti are devistating and certainly need addressed, need our support, I don't believe turning away from the joys in life is the answer. After all, a thunderstorm doesn't make us turn away from the rainbow afterward. Instead, it seems to emphasize it, make us appreciate it and the sun more.

My heart and prayers go out to those who survived this tragedy. They could definately use a couple of romance novels right now.

Wow, am I sentamental today or what?

by amyskf on ‎01-15-2010 04:42 PM

Thanks Michelle, you've said in such a heartfelt way what, I'm sure, so many of us feel.

 

When I had children I could no longer read Steven King. After 9/11 I could no longer read literary heartbreakers -- I turned to romance, but I also understand Becke's take, sometimes you have to go to the lightest there is, or the furthest from your own life, just to get away from your own heartaches.

 

My sympathies (and my cash too dhaupt) are with the peopla of Haiti, and all who are touched by this.

by keristevens on ‎01-15-2010 07:03 PM

When it's really bad--when it's personal, I stop reading. Can't concentrate and it doesn't distract me. If it lasts more than two weeks, it's a marker for me that I may be clinically depressed again (likewise when I'm reading too much--2-3 books a day w/o dealing w/daily life). So what I read doesn't change, but how much I read can tell me whether it's time to call the doctor/therapist.

by on ‎01-15-2010 07:12 PM

Me I sent water.

by Author Tracey_Devlyn on ‎01-15-2010 09:05 PM

Thank you for the thought-provoking post, Michelle. I'm torn between wanting to see the picture of the little girl huddled over a book and not wanting to see her. I think it would be inspiring and heartbreaking at the same time. That book might be the only familiar, comfortable thing in the little girl's life at the moment.

 

My favorite subgenres are the ones that take me away from the present. I want to live in a different reality, if only for a few hours.

 

Thank you for the link to the relief efforts. I'm going to check those out next.

by 1lovealways on ‎01-15-2010 09:07 PM

My heart is just breaking for the Haitian people.  In particular, the children.  I have two grand nieces and a grand nephew and many little cousins.  They mean the world to me.  I have to stop myself from bursting into tears thinking about this heartbreaking crises.  It's on every channel at all times of the day and night.

 

When it gets to the point where I just can't stand one more word or picture, I resort to my books.  I've never really thought about how much they help me, but they do.  The few hours I spend lost in another place between the pages of a book frees my mind and gives it peace just for a little while.  Another place, another time and a beautiful story of love always makes me smile.  It brings me down from a stressed out reality and just soothes and calms me.  It takes my reality and puts it into perspective for me to deal with.

 

The picture of that little girl gives me hope.  I have learned to always have faith and believe in the goodness of God.  We as humans can't understand these tragic events, but the higher power knows why.  It is up to us to take up the mantle and help our brothers and sisters as much as we can.  When I think of all the help, love and concern being extended in this crisis, it reminds me that the human spirit is indomitable and very much alive.  For all that we have going on in this country in the form of our own economic crisis, we still have hope and caring for others.  We still give from our hearts and souls.  It makes me proud of us all. 

 

If I could, I'd literally be over there doing what I could to help.  Since I can't, I'm sending prayers and donating what I can as others are.  I'm definitely keeping hope alive.  That little girl sitting in the midst of chaos is our revelation that hope is alive.  She hasn't given up.  Like us, she finds peace amongst the ruins of her reality in her book.  That book will sustain her as ours do us when we need them.  :smileyhappy:

by CharlieG31 on ‎01-16-2010 12:03 AM

I usually read fiction to get away from all the problems in this world, its my little refugee where I can run away and relax.

by pjpuppymom on ‎01-16-2010 10:04 AM

A very heartfelt and thought provoking post, Michelle.  My thoughts, prayers and money are with the Haitian people.  This is a horrible, horrible tragedy and recovery will be neither easy nor fast. 

 

The image of that little girl with her book breaks my heart but I'm so glad for her that she was able to find a book to escape into, if only for a little while.  Books, especially romance books, are my salvation during times of emotional stress.  They allow me to set aside the pain and worry for a bit and allow myself to dream and hope.  They comfort me.  Before my husband's death, he spent five weeks in the Critical Care Unit of our local hospital.  He was unconscious the entire time.  I sat next to his bed every day of those five weeks.  Much of that time was spent holding his hand and talking to him but a great deal was also spent sitting next to him and reading romance.  Those stories of hope, love and joy were my lifeline.  They allowed me to escape into another world for a short while and gave me the strength to then return to my reality and carry on.  For me, a life without the books that offer hope and happiness would be unimaginable. 

 

~PJ

 

by pjpuppymom on ‎01-16-2010 10:06 AM

Becke, sending hugs to you and prayers for your father. 

by Moderator becke_davis on ‎01-16-2010 12:26 PM

Thanks, PJ. They moved him out of intensive care today. His throat is sore from the ventilator, but he's not too bad. My son and his girlfriend snuck in for a quick visit at 11 o'clock last night and he liked that.

by 1lovealways on ‎01-16-2010 04:37 PM

Becke,

 

My sincerest best wishes for a speedy recovery for your Father. 

by on ‎01-16-2010 05:19 PM

Becke, I came to this blog, just now, after I got a letter from our Calif. Senator, Barbara Boxer, concerning Haiti's disastrous situation.  I wanted to post something to address my feelings about these tragedies, and find you are in the midst of your own situation at home.  My love, and prayers, are always with you and your family.  Know that.

 

I see, also, that so many, here, have already expressed what my feelings are on this subject, dealing with a situation so terrible as this devastation in Haiti, but would like to add what Senator Boxer had sent to me.  I won't post her letter, just the Red Cross contacts that she had put in her letter.  I wanted to text what the news media is showing:  Haiti 909999, to donate via text message, and be billed to my phone.  But I'm so inept at texting, I couldn't figure it out!  My phone is an inept person's nightmare, too!  So, I wanted to share these contacts with you all, here, in writing.  I was jolted up at 4:00 this morning, by an  earthquake...just another wake-up call from California!   Donate to the Red Cross

 

Kathy

by on ‎01-16-2010 05:52 PM

Michelle,

 

In this subject, your beautiful article you wrote, in reference to the Haiti devastation, I couldn't even compare my life to something such as this.  The reading material in the wake of tragedy, how we all deal with tragedy, is so personal.   When your mind is so full of events, and heartache, it is sometimes hard to read about other people's mundane lives.  Sometimes lighthearted reading is the best, and at other times you want to know what others feel, in these same circumstances, feeling a kinship, someone feeling the way you feel at that moment.  

 

After my father's death, preparing for the funeral, I was asked to find a poem for the minister to read, a poem by Robert Burns.  I was told that my father liked Burns' poems, which I never knew.  And I'd never read him.  I went to the library and checked his book out.  I sat and read these poems, over and over, until one of his poems struck me.  It was difficult, knowing my dad had read these at some point in his life, a part of his life I knew nothing about.  I finally selected that one that I liked, and gave it to the minister.  After the funeral, my mother came up to me and told me that that poem, the one I had selected, was my dad's favorite of all of Burns' poems.  I was left speechless, and in tears.  I think, in some ways, reading material, during these times of sadness, is always going to reflect something about what we're feeling at those moments.

 

If it's romance novel's, then I think hope in love is what you want to feel at those moments.  Love can never let you down during these times of grief.  I say, let whatever you read touch your heart.

by Moderator becke_davis on ‎01-16-2010 08:46 PM

Kathy - thanks so much for your comments. Thanks again, Michelle, for such a thought-provoking blog.

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