So last Sunday when Arts articles were being assigned, it was suggested that I write the “In Defense Of” column for this week. The only problem is, as we soon discovered, I have impeccable taste. I doubt anyone would raise a ruckus about my assertions that “The Lord of the Rings” is the greatest fantasy epic of all time, or that I would sell my soul for five minutes alone with ’65 era Bob Dylan. Even my juvenile infatuation with Pokemon raises no eyebrows—everyone knows that shit is awesome. We delved deeper, until we finally found something I could (embarrassingly) write about in some detail: preteen-disaster-historical-romance novels.
These books first came into my life, like so many of my hobbies (sailing, collecting giant diamonds, pre-martial sex) after watching “Titanic.” I mean, come on, what second grader wasn’t riveted by that movie? I laughed, I cried, and it left me wanting more. So much more. The blossoming little bookworm that I was, I turned to my local bookstore for help. There I found what remains to this day one of my favorite books: “Titanic, The Long Night” by Diane Hoh.
This nautical adventure follows two young teenagers on their Titanic voyage. One, Katie, was a young Irish girl traveling third class and looking for a new life in America. The other, Elizabeth, was a spoiled rich New York socialite who was returning home to enter a loveless marriage with a boring banker, Alan Reed. Aboard that fateful ship, during a span of about four days, each discovers true love. Katie falls for Paddy, a young lad from her hometown, and Elizabeth with Max, a boy from New York society who was disinherited because he moved to Paris to be a starving artist. Of the two, my favorite by far was Katie’s romance, because it was much, much juicier. Plus, Elizabeth was sort of a bitch…poor little rich girls just aren’t as fascinating as sexually frustrated poor folks. Anyway, Katie was actually traveling with both Paddy and his older brother Brian, who had been charged by Katie’s father to watch over her on the way to America. Back in Ballyford, Paddy was known as somewhat of a rascal, breaking girls’ hearts, but as the journey progresses, he comes to truly care for Katie, a feeling she, against her better judgment, reciprocates.
He thought that Katie was actually in love with Brian, and since he didn’t want to steal anything away from his brother, he refuses to admit his love, leaving Katie put-out and confused. It even causes a feud between the brothers; when Paddy sees Brian flirting with another girl, he is consumed by fury because he thinks that Brian is cheating on Katie.
As you can imagine, my eight-year-old heart was positively bursting with all of this sexual tension and the complicated subplots. Everything is resolved as the ship is sinking when, faced with death, they can no longer hide their feelings from each other. THEN just when I think everything was going to turn out for the best (SPOILER ALERT), Brian DIES. Talk about heart-wrenching. I. Ate. This. Shit. Up. The sequel too! Which, by the way, was not as good: after a distressing separation Paddy and Katie do get back together after he saves her from a fire when she was trying to save the neighbor’s kids as a tenement goes up in flames!
But I craved MORE. Luckily I was able to find it in Simon & Schuster’s “Historical Romance Series.” Yep. It’s exactly what it sounds like. Hungrily I devoured such titles as “Hindenburg, 1937” (Nazis!), “Washington Avalanche, 1910” (Snow!), “San Francisco Earthquake, 1906” (California!), “Titanic, 1912” (SO not as good!), “Pearl Harbor, 1941” (Nazis in America!), “The Great Chicago Fire, 1871” (Fire!), and a personal favorite “Louisiana Hurricane, 1860” (their love is forbidden because he is a slave!). These stories all follow a similar pattern: a strong-willed girl is trying to break away from whatever restraints society or her family have imposed on her. First she’s got that feisty “me-against-the-world” thing going on, scorning help of any kind. But slowly, slowly, a certain young man will begin to wear down her hard exterior. Sometimes it was someone she never would have noticed, except that the boy she thought she was in love with turned out to be a Nazi! Then BAM! It’s a disaster! They have to escape using only their wits and their love!
I know what you’re thinking. But don’t judge me yet! I have a few points to make in my defense.
1. I learned a shitfuckton about history. Seriously. Especially the Titanic. I must have read that book at least 40 times. One of them may or may not have been last summer.
2. Clearly these girls were great role models. Did they accept their lot in life? No! Did they let men do everything for them? No! Did they get an incredibly good-looking and yet still sensitive man to fall madly in love with them? Yes!
3. This isn’t really a point in my defense, but there was also a great series of time-travel young adult romance novels by Caroline B. Cooney (author of “Girl On The Milk Carton”). The guy’s name was Strat. I feel that’s all I need to say.
4. I don’t like this kind of stuff now at all. I don’t even watch “Grey’s Anatomy.” Don’t talk to me about “Gossip Girl.”
5. I just realized how much better the guys in these books are then boys in real life, and thus discovered the root of all my relationship issues. You guys could at least TRY to live up to these standards. Goddamn.
6. At the time all this was happening, my parents were going through a divorce, and I was probably just letting the kind, handsome, and intelligent men in these books fill the hole left in my heart by my absentee father. Bet you feel like a little bit of a douche now, huh? I told you not to judge me yet.