News broke today that after eighteen years The Romance Reader was shuttering it's cyberspace doors forever. For you young whipper-snappers out there, TRR was the first online website to turn an unflinching eye towards reviewing romance novels. This seems like not-so-much a big deal now, but in 1996? Gather round ye young whipper-snappers and let Auntie Wendy tell you a story.....
In 1996 romance readers essentially relied on word of mouth and RT Book Reviews (then still going by the name Romantic Times). Romantic Times was, and has always been, great with giving you the rundown of what is published every month. But in 1996? It was very rare to find reviews that were, shall we say, critical. Every book was good, very good or super-great-squee! As for other review outlets? No Amazon, no GoodReads, Publisher's Weekly gave you four mass market reviews a week (for all mass market originals, not just romance! Yes, four!), Kirkus = you must be joking right, and while Booklist and Library Journal were starting to cover romance, these were not household names that your Average Jane Romance Reader was going to have access too. So yeah, word of mouth assuming you were lucky enough to have another romance reader in your life or Romantic Times, which loved damn near everything.
TRR coming on the scene can be likened to a bomb going off. It's why I tend to roll my eyes when authors start crying "Bully! Those Mean Girl Bullies!" when they get a 3-star rating over at GoodReads. TRR heard it all, most of it revolving around being staffed by "unqualified reviewers" who were "frustrated writers who couldn't get their crappy stories published so they spent their free time tearing down published authors."
All this sounds vaguely familiar, doesn't it? Yeah, some things never change.
Anyway, TRR was the first and a few years after, Laurie Gold (originally a TRR reviewer) broke away to start All About Romance, which featured a more interactive vibe that TRR never adopted. And from there we got Mrs. Giggles, blogs, Twitter, GoodReads and so on.
As some of you may know, I was a TRR reviewer for many years, from 1999 through 2007. So you'll forgive this old codger fuddy-duddy if I wax poetic for a few moments on the site closing down. My discovery of the romance genre is forever linked with TRR. You see, in 1999 I was a wee baby Super Librarian. Sort of like Spider-Man before he was bit by the radioactive spider (or whatever). I had landed my first real professional job and they expected me to purchase adult fiction. No problem, accept my adult fiction knowledge was a wee bit rusty after 5+ years of academia (my entire course-load consisted of reading things that weren't fun). I also, naturally, had developed a healthy disdain for the romance genre. As one does when they earn two college degrees in 5.5 years. I learned quickly though. Romance circulated well at the new job. Hey, some of these books don't even have Fabio on the cover! Of course I had no clue who Nora Roberts was (true story), but I was willing to learn. Which is where TRR comes in.
Watermelon by Marian Keyes. OK, technically chick lit - but I loved it. I inhaled it. I then went on to read My Dearest Enemy by Connie Brockway, the Born In trilogy by Nora, Patterns of Love by Robin Lee Hatcher (the original heathen mass-market version, she later rewrote it for the inspy market) and some others that I now can't recall specifically.
I was hooked. And even though my knowledge wasn't extensive, I wanted more. So I e-mailed TRR, I sent in some sample reviews, and Dede Anderson "hired" me. When I probably should have been reading through popular authors (you would be shocked the "big" authors Wendy still hasn't read.....) I was learning the genre in a trial-by-fire way. Which is to say, Dede sent me random books and Wendy read them. The great, the good, the bad, the OMG I Think My Eyes Are Bleeding books. Every last word.
The romance reader that blogs before you today was raised up by TRR. It's where I discovered category romance, my love of western historicals, and my insatiable need for erotic-just-about-anything. Oh the authors I read! The books I read! The reviews I wrote! I used to write great reviews. Sometimes I go back to TRR, read my great reviews and wonder what the heck happened. Actually the answer is pretty simple: I burned out.
After eight years of reading whatever random books TRR sent my way, I just couldn't do it anymore. I had started my blog in 2003, in part because I wanted some place where I could talk, not necessarily about books, and I was starting to get the itch to do more reviews here. TRR reviewing took up a lot of my reading time, and I wanted to focus my reviewing efforts more on stuff I was interested in. Was I going to miss out on those gems I might not discover on my own? Yes. And that gave me pause. But I was ready. I got to the point where my attitude was starting to go a little sour, and that's not a good thing when you do that sort of reviewing. So TRR and I parted ways, on good terms. They soldiered on, and so did I.
In 2011 RWA came calling, having lost their collective mind and deciding I should get their annual Librarian Of The Year award. More than a little part of me was slightly floored. I used to review for TRR! Wait, I'm not blacklisted? People, like me?!?! Hell, I remember attending those first few RWA conferences that I went to and not telling a soul that I reviewed for TRR. So I did what Wendy knew she had to do - I literally thanked Dede Anderson and The Romance Reader in my acceptance speech. Part of me expected someone to yank me off stage, but oh how times have changed. The simple truth is, there is no Romance Reading SuperWendy without TRR. I may have discovered the genre some other way. But it was a listserv and a message from some random librarian that had me clicking on that link way back in 1999. It got me hooked. It got me writing book reviews, or in the immortal words of My Man "so you're going to do book reports for free?" I often say this blog is responsible for a lot of the good that has happened in my life, but really - it all started with TRR.
Note: TRR will eventually cease to exist and there will be no collective archive - which means Wendy needs to think about all the reviews she has over there. Jury still out, but I'm considering trolling through and "reprinting" some of my personal favorites (good and bad) here at the blog or possibly GoodReads. But I'm still undecided.....