Sunday, September 12, 2010

Old-Fashioned Love

by Caren Crane

First, a confession: I love antique furniture, high-necked blouses, floor-length skirts and men in waistcoats and fedoras. The kind of date my husband and I love is dinner and a movie - not necessarily outside our home, either. My perfect lazy day includes curling up in the padded window seat of a picture window, reading a book, sipping tea and daydreaming. I love my house and, once home in the evening, I am loathe to leave it. I love mom, apple pie and white picket fences. I am old-fashioned to my cornball core.

I guess it should come as no surprise, then, that I adore old-fashioned love stories. The kind that are far more than 400 pages, rife with multiple points of view, myriad secondary plots and a countless secondary characters. I am, perhaps, the last, lone reader who enjoys a slow introduction to a thick, well-crafted novel. I enjoy meandering through a solidly-developed plot with characters so three-dimensional you feel you know them inside and out. My ultimate is the kind of story where the romance is just one aspect of a fantastic and sweeping tale.

In other words, I love the sort of story that is rarely published anymore.

I know how scarce these books are, since I look for them periodically. I try to find new favorites, but few authors tell the kind of story I am after when I want a slow meander. I have found a few authors who manage it, notably Deanna Raybourn in her Lady Julia Grey series, which began with Silent in the Grave. Because I savored every word of the series, it was doomed to end too soon, of course. The publisher was impatient for soaring sales, which apparently it did not have - at least, not high enough for them. Too bad for us. Lady Julia's family, the Marches, are an entity unto themselves. Each one more interesting and eccentric than the last, they should have an endless stream of books in which to live their lives. Alas, HQN killed that one!

I also recently found - thanks to my lovely sister, Holli - A Private Hotel For Gentle Ladies by Ellen Cooney. Curious about what others thought of this lovely, rather old-fashioned tale, I found many reviewers did not understand the story. Without the obvious signposts in most of today's fiction (Hero! Villain! Black moment!) and an immediate statement of the heroine's ultimate goal (which, according to the reviews, should be unchanging), some readers were lost. It was, at heart, a story about a woman coming into her own and learning who she is and what she wants outside her Victorian marriage. Yes, friends, it was about that least popular theme - a death knell in fiction today - personal growth. It was a book that begged for sequels, yet none have been published. Another one bites the dust.

I like books where people are flawed, cranky, imperfect and trying really hard to do the best they can, like I am most days. I don't always need or want action, murder, mayhem, shape-shifters, magic or smoking hot sexy time in my reading. Sometimes, I just want to observe the beauty of a summer day in Cornwall with Judith Dunbar, the heroine of Rosamunde Pilcher's exceptional book, Coming Home. I want to witness her loves and losses, trials and joys and heartbreak over the 15 or so years covered in the story.

Or I want to witness the struggle of a young, uneducated mother trying her best to keep her family together in LaVyrle Spencer's Morning Glory. To see Ellie learn that love can be something different and more than she never knew existed (and certainly didn't have in her first marriage). I want to linger, at times, over the possibility of a first kiss, to agonize over an unbidden and inadvisable attraction, to dally with the notion of a forever kind of love.

I want books where I smile and sigh at the end, because things are beautiful, satisfying and full of promise, just as love should be and would be if I could design it. I want old-fashioned tales of love enjoyed in intricate, elaborate, gorgeous detail (along with observations from the cook, the gardener and Great Aunt Lavinia, if I can get them). My love of these stories has garnered much disdain from relatives and friends who prefer serious fiction. What, I ask, is more serious than establishing a love that will last a lifetime? I will happily remain a cockeyed, old-fashioned optimist.

Do you have some old-fashioned love story recommendations? Any long, detailed and fulfilling stories that have filled your heart and brought tears of sorrow and joy to your eyes? I am always looking for new favorites, so please share!


Natalie Hatch said...


Natalie Hatch said...

Look at that, after months I finally snazzle that chook.
As for old fashion love, my favourite story has always been Gilbert Bligh's love for Anne in Anne of Green Gables. Even though she's head strong and refuses to believe that she needs anyone he sees through her outer shell and loves her anyway. *sigh*

flchen1 said...

Ooh, Caren, I've recently "discovered" LaVyrle Spencer, too--I just enjoyed The Endearment... what a lovely, lovely book! I have quite a few of her others on my TBR, but haven't gotten to all of them yet.

I think there's a tenderness and sweetness to her stories that I don't always find elsewhere. I've enjoyed quite a few of Maeve Binchy's books too--she's a wonderful writer of people's lives, but her stories don't always have that same core to me.

A women's fiction title that left me with a similar feeling is Beth Hoffman's Saving CeeCee Honeycutt.

I've had some people recommend Catherine Anderson's stories, too, as having some of that similar feel--I haven't had the chance to try hers myself yet. :) Hope you find some good new-to-you authors!

Have fun with the GR, Natalie!

Daz said...

Wow this brings back memories. I can't remember the last time I read LaVyrle Spencer. It was such a long time ago and I was so much younger ... could be at least 18 years ago. Thanks for the reminder. I might dig her back up. I've got Deanna Raybourn in my TBR pile. Might dig that one out soon too.

Daz said...

Natalie, congrats on the GR. He's a flighty one. Best keep him close.

Christine Wells said...

What an extraordinarily beautiful post, Caren. You made me long for exactly that kind of story when in fact I don't tend to look for them any more. I think I read a lot more of them pre-children, but now I find that a meandering story also has to be very compelling for me to stick with it through a myriad interruptions. I used to love Mary Wesley's novels. I think you might like them, too. And have you read Jennifer Donnelly's "Rose" books? I found The Winter Rose in a book exchange when traveling and couldn't put it down. Jennifer has been a guest here, actually. Her writing is absolutely stunning.

Christine Wells said...

Wow, I'm starting to feel sorry for that poor rooster. First he gets Nancy giving him the rounds of the bathroom and now the twins! Nat, be gentle, won't you?

Pissenlit said...

Oh, that makes me want to go reread the Lady Julia Grey books. I think there's another one coming out next month. *rubs hands together* I'll have to check out the other titles you mentioned.

Like Natalie, my favourite old-fashioned love story is that of Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe from the Anne of Green Gables series by Lucy Maud Montgomery. I also really liked Mrs. Mike by Benedict Freedman and Nancy Mars Freedman.

Caren Crane said...

Natalie! Congratulations on your dazzling chook nabbing! I'm not sure you'll be glad to have him, though. He's a mess!

Oh, I adore Anne of Green Gables. I had almost forgotten it. I read it to my girls years ago and they loved it, too. We all wanted to move to Prince Edward Island! I may have to dig that one out and take it for another spin.

Um...good luck with that bird. Watch your crystal and china...

Caren Crane said...

Fedora, isn't LaVyrle Spencer just heavenly? She can take the smallest of lives and make them incredibly important - just as all of our small lives are to us. I think that is a real gift for a writer. To make the reader care for ordinary people and their everyday existence. To convince us that love can transform the world for the lovers. *sigh*

I have read Catherine Anderson and enjoyed her greatly, but not recently. I will have to pick her back up, since I'm in an old-fashioned mood these days!

I've never read Maeve Binchy, but I think I tried once. I think you hit it dead on with the "core" of the story not being the same. I think she is more about the town and community than a person or couple. Is that true?

I will check out Beth Hoffman, for sure. Thank you for the recommendations!

Caren Crane said...

Daz, I dust off my LaVyrle Spencers every few years and read them all again. She is magical! If you enjoy Victorian stories, I think you'll love Deanna Raybourn. I haven't read anything since the last Lady Julia Grey novel, but want to give her new ones a try, too.

Caren Crane said...

Christine, I think you pegged it. I read longer, more in-depth stories before I had children (long, long ago). I have begun to read them again since my children are almost grown. (Had the 16th birthday party for the baby last night!)

These days, I have more mental space (though not that much more time) to devote to reading. When the kids were younger, it was a triumph just to get people fed, bathed and dressed! Not to mention bottles and diapers and all that rot. Glad it's far behind me, though I do miss having babies around!

I will definitely pick up Jennifer's books. I meant to read them after she guested with us, but it fell off my to-do list. Thank you for the reminder!

Caren Crane said...

Oh, and I've never read Mary Wesley. Will check her out, as well!

Caren Crane said...

Pissenlit, I think I may have to re-read all my Deanna Raybourn stuff, too. Can't wait for the new release!

I've never read Mrs. Mike, but now want to check it out!

Caren Crane said...

Back after church, everyone. Byee!

jo robertson said...

What a beautifully written post, Caren! I'm afraid that the kind of books you mentioned are unfashionable in this fast paced world. I love the classics, the Nineteenth Century writers especially, but even I find myself growing impatient with their sheer denseness.

At the heart of these books, I think, is the concept of "linger longer" when today's audience wants to "linger less"!

catslady said...

I use to buy books according to size lol. The bigger the better. I have so many old favorites - James Clavell, James Michener, Taylor Caldwell, R.F.Delderfield, and Ken Follett.

Louisa Cornell said...

Yay, Natalie !! He is in for some trouble at your house! Good for him!

What a lovely, lovely post, Caren. How funny because I just pulled all of my Deanna Raeburn's out with the idea of rereading them just for sheer entertainment.

Mary Balogh writes some lovely sweet romances and one of my all time favorites of hers is A Precious Jewel. It is just the sweetest love story and both the hero and heroine are really on an emotional journey toward each other. I reread it again and again for just that reason.

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Hey Caren! Wonderful post! and Natalie you got the chookie. He's a rascal. He's now, frequently, sporting an eyepatch.

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Thanx for a FUN post, Posh!

I gotta tell ya, I LURVED Deanna Raybourn's first two books, Silent in the Grave, and Silent in the Sanctuary. The third one... not so much. :-P

I think Jo-Mama is onto something about everyone being in such a hurry that books need to have a fast pace to keep up with the readers' busy lives. Too bad... But I admit, that unless I'm on a cruise (which I do A LOT) or some other leisurely activity, I don't wanna devote a lot of time to just one book.


Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Raznits! Hit SEND too soon. I meant to say that Natalie already voted in my contender.

I've read Anne of Green Gables so many times I can quote long bits of it. It's so rich and deliciously descriptive. And Anne and Gilbert? Sigh. Fab.

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Fedora, I've had Susan Anderson's books recommended to me too. Need to try her.

*makes note*

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Oh, Christine! You reminded me! I bought Jennifer Connoly's Winter Rose after she guested with us. I hadn't started it yet because guessed it...too many interruptions! :> It deserves a good long sluuurp.

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Hey Natalie!

Nice to see you today, AND you captured the chook! He is definitely one headstrong character ;-) but I have great faith that you can keep him in line for the day.


Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Daz, I've had Deanna Raybourne recommended to me a lot. Obviously now, from Caren too. Must look HER up too!

Caren, the only books of this type that seem to remain popular now are the ones in mystery and fantasy. Readers in those genres seem to be much more willing to wait for the punchline, so to speak.

Caren Crane said...

Jo, I know the world is moving faster and there seems to be a real push in all aspects of marketing to make us believe this is how life is meant to be - as if there is no alternative.

I find myself, however, wanting to slow down more. It may be a function of how hard the economic downturn has been on my family or it may just be my personality (old-fashioned at heart, you know). I do like to linger longer, though. I like to sit and talk with friends for hours. I enjoy long walks, especially with a friend or relative. I prefer face-to-face conversations rather than e-mail or even the phone. I love to get letters written in longhand and, inspired by Rosamunde Pilcher herself, I've decided to make an effort to write more letters and cards in longhand.

I don't think I'm alone in enjoying a slower pace, no matter what the marketers want me to think. It may be a diminishing percentage of people, but I think there will always be people who occasionally enjoy stories that are deep and long rather than shallow and short. And, though I'm sure some will disagree with me, you cannot get the depth of character, time and place in a breakneck-paced, short novel.

There is a time and place for those in my life, but I want options. I want my longer, deeper, richer stories. I hope someone in New York agrees with me and publishes some!

Caren Crane said...

Catslady, I know what you mean. We should have bought those books by the pound! I read LOTS of Taylor Caldwell and James Michener back when I was a teenager. I had endless (read "long, dreadfully dull") summers to fill. I would go to the library and check out stacks of books and haul them home in bags.

Once I graduated to those long, dense books, I was in Heaven. It was wonderful to lose myself in those worlds and leave hot, humid middle TN behind. *g*

I haven't read Clavell and Follett, though my husband has. They don't usually sound like my kind of books. I haven't heard of Delderfield, so I'll be sure to look those up!

Caren Crane said...

Louisa, thank you for suggesting Mary Balogh. She was an author I read even before I started writing. I don't think I've read A Precious Jewel, though. If it's your favorite and a definite re-read, it's going on the To Be Acquired list for sure!

Caren Crane said...

Aunty Cindy, do you think everyday life is just too busy for people to slow down and linger over a book? I often think so. Though I have found, over the three years my department at work has been in our new building that reading seems to be contagious.

We have a smallish break room that only seats about 24 people at a time. There are a number of us who eat lunch there almost daily. At first, I was the only person reading on a daily basis. Then, other books started popping up when people sat down to lunch. Now, even the guys who used to just read the paper and talk have started reading novels.

It's been nice to see, especially with all the scare talk about the large percentage of US citizens who never read a book after they graduate. I keep expecting people to come in with e-readers, but so far I haven't seen any.

I'm sure, eventually, I'll have an e-reader with my favorite tomes on it! Meanwhile, I'll keep schlepping my fat books around with me. Though I read plenty of shorter ones, they just don't last long enough to satisfy me!

Caren Crane said...

Jeanne, Anne of Green Gables is getting off the bookshelf and onto my night stand forthwith! *g* I'm jealous that you have Jennifer Connelly's book in your TBR. I have a feeling one of my many Regency writer friends probably has it lying about. I think I'm going to e-mail them right now to see if someone can bring it to me when we meet for dinner tomorrow!

Caren Crane said...

Jeanne, if you like Victorian tales, some good old Gothic creepiness and eccentric secondary characters in a murder mystery, I think you'll love Deanna Raybourn. She quickly became a favorite of mine!

You know, I had the same thought when I was writing this post. Mystery and sff seem to be havens for long, rich stories. Especially sff. The longer, the better there. Mysteries seem to be a natural fit for longer, more intricately crafted tales. I'm not sure if it's a function of the type of story being told or the type of reader drawn to them. My frustration is that I can't seem to find just a plain old women's fiction or romance that is given the same leeway.

I know editors buy books they love, so maybe part of the issue is the Short Attention Span syndrome afflicting the young editors!

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Hey Caren,
That is GOOD NEWS that so many people in your workplace are now reading! That is one thing I LOVE on a cruise. So many people are sitting around 'lost' in a book. :-) I have a fantasy that one of these days I will see someone sitting on a chaise by the pool reading one of MY books.

I totally agree with you that you can NOT get the emotional depth and character development in shorter, faster paced novels. And that fantasy novels seem to have more of this lately than romance or women's fiction. :-(

Forgot to mention one of my fave "big books" to linger over is "Evergreen" by Belva Plain. Those characters never fail to break my heart!


Caren Crane said...

AC, would you believe I have never read Belva Plain? She's been around forever, but I never picked one up. I think I would enjoy her, though. So many books, so little time! I am getting GREAT suggestions today. I should be set for the LONG decades ahead when my house will be quiet and my evenings free!

Okay, Jo, stop snickering. It's my fantasy that my kids won't move back home after college and that my grandchildren will never live with me on a permanent basis. Oh, and that I won't say YES to every volunteer opportunity that heads my way. It's a dream, but it's one I'm clinging to!

Anna Campbell said...

Hey, Nat, congrats! Well done! He's been bouncing between America and Australia lately so he might be a bit jetlagged!

Anna Campbell said...

Wow, Caren, what a lovely post. I've got to say you had me at hello with that gorgeous photo from A Room with a View to open. Such a romantic movie!

I loved the Julia Grey books - I got the second one as a freebie at RWA in Washington and then glommed the others. Nicholas is a lovely hero!

It's nice to go back to old-fashioned reading now and again, isn't it? I must say my favorite books of all time are the Francis Crawford books by Dorothy Dunnett. This tale of a tormented but brilliant man in mid-16th century England, Scotland, France, Russia and the Meditteranean is mindbogglingly wide in its scope and packs the most enormous emotional punch. You're on the edge of your seat for all six volumes. And each volume is hundreds of pages long. What a writer! And there's a couple of wonderful romances in that span too to make my heart beat faster. I sometimes wonder whether those books would be published today and you know, the world would be a much poorer place if they hadn't been!

Anna Campbell said...

Caren, to back up Christine's suggestion, Mary Wesley wrote a beautiful romance called Harnessing Peacocks that I think you'd really like.

PJ said...

Congrats, Nat!

Caren, what a lovely blog. Like so many others, I've gotten into the habit of "fast reads" as opposed to the long, leisurely stories that I used to enjoy. I loved reading the sagas that would span generations and, frequently, 800 or more pages. Books by Michener, John Jakes and James Clavell were frequent companions.

One of my all-time favorite books is ...And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer. It requires a time commitment (1184 pages) but is worth every single minute. The author's story is every bit as interesting as the book and proof that it's never too late to pursue your dream.

Caren Crane said...

Anna, I was waiting for someone to mention Dorothy Dunnett. There's another author I have never read and have meant to. Must put her on the short list. I really need to visit the library soon and pick up some lengthy tomes. I'm in a slow down mode these days.

I think it's because time is flying so fast and my older daughter is a senior this year. It will be over before I know it!

Caren Crane said...

Fo, I think I'll have to make sure Mary Wesley is on the radar as well. Will add Harnessing Peacocks. The name alone is intriguing!

Caren Crane said...

PJ, I didn't read John Jakes but loved the miniserioes "North and South" (not to be confused with the movie starring Richard Armitage!).

I put Santmyer's novel on my "must read" list I have been composing today. Having just finished Rosamunde Pilcher's Coming Home, which was 977 fabulous pages, I am undaunted by the length. *g*

I'm also going to go read her story. I saw a post recently by a granddaughter of Rosamunde Pilcher's. She said Rosamunde is exactly like her books. Warm, loving and a dedicated letter-writer. Mrs. Pilcher is about to turn 86 (on Sept. 22) and still writes long, newsy letters to her family and friends. I hope to be like that someday!

Caren Crane said...

PJ, what a great story about Helen Santmyer! Though she had a long and varied work life, she never lost sight of her love of writing. Managing to write while she held all those other jobs is amazing. Of course, so was graduating from college for a woman in 1918! An amazing woman.

PJ said...

I put Santmyer's novel on my "must read" list I have been composing today. Having just finished Rosamunde Pilcher's Coming Home, which was 977 fabulous pages, I am undaunted by the length. *g*

Hope you enjoy it, Caren! I loved it so much that I've actually read it twice ~ once when it was first published in 1984 and again about five years ago.

I read Pilcher's Coming Home back in '96 when it was first released. Such a good read!

Caren Crane said...

PJ, I'm so excited. I feel like ...And Ladies Of the Club is a thick, juicy steak just waiting for me to take a bite! It's kind of like Christmas, having a great book just waiting for me to crack the cover. Must get my hands on a copy!

PJ said...

Caren, you shouldn't have any trouble finding it. Amazon has it in stock in trade size and most libraries have it in their inventory.

Helen said...

Well done Natalie have fun with him


What a great post unfortunatley I am not going to be able to help with any recomendations as I don't remember reading any of these books or similar but you have wet my appetite for them and I will be adding these to my must have list.

Have Fun

Caren Crane said...

PJ, I'll definitely look for it. I recall when it was on all the bestseller lists. I think that was when I had young children and read nothing but instructions on the formula can. *g*

Caren Crane said...

Helen, if you enjoy slower-paced stories with lots and lots of exposition, then I think you'll like any of the books that have been recommended today. I am sure that you had years, like most of us, when you were raising a family and working with little time to read. I think I missed enough books to fill a decade or two and I plan to try to catch up! *g*

If you get to read any of them, you should drop me a line and let me know how you enjoyed them!

Janga said...

Caren, have you tried Marcia Willett? Her books are not as long as Pilcher's, but I think the two have much in common. Mary Jo Putney recommended A Week in Winter on the RRA list back in 2002. I read it and haven't missed a Willett since.

I was talking with someone about Pilcher last week and said I always pull out Coming Home and September for a reread when I want a long, satisfying book.

Have you read Susam Meissner's The Shape of Mercy? It was A Rita finalist in the romantic Elements category in 2009. It's a wonderful read that blends the historical and the contemporary, an inspirational but blessedly free of tractarianism and didacticism. It was one of my top reads of 2008.

Caren Crane said...

Ooh, Janga, thank you for the suggestions! I haven't read Willett, but she's going on my list. I love MaryJo Putney, so I'm sure I'll love any book she recommends. I'll also look for The Shape of Mercy. It sounds like it will be wonderful!

You guys know there is nothing more thrilling than finding new authors - especially ones with back lists. I think I'm in for many treats to come!

Caren Crane said...

Thanks to everyone for the wonderful recommendations! I am sure I'll find some new "keepers" from the list I've compiled. My husband says I have to go to bed now and I know the alarm will ring too soon in the morning. So nighty night!