So here we are, in the week between the terrorist attacks against my beloved Paris and a national holiday that celebrates gratitude and abundance—you know, the one that’s so often skipped over between bats and witches and Santas and elves.
Since my column will fall on Thanksgiving next week, I’ll write more about that holiday later, but this seems a good time to focus on the spirit of the holiday: gratitude.
Then again, it’s always a good time to focus on gratitude.
Before I moved to Madison, Wisconsin, I lived for 20 years in Washington, D.C., with one year in Paris. I lived in D.C. on 9/11 and I saw how much that city changed after the attacks. Then, just barely a year later, the D.C. area was rocked by the Beltway sniper attacks (which was in fact even closer to home for me—many of those shootings happened within a 3-mile radius of my actual home.)
I can guarantee you that I know what mass fear looks like, and feels like. I spent a month in a city that felt under siege, and yet, even at the time, I remember thinking, “Wow, look how crushed we are by one gunman. How lucky we are not to know the true devastation of war—like Beirut or Sarajevo or Rwanda.” And we were. We are.
But here’s the thing. While we think of hate as the opposite of love, in many ways, the opposite of love is fear. And when we give in to fear, we give up so much of the best parts of who we are. The parts that walk in the sun and smile to our neighbors, no matter who they are, where they come from, the color of their skin, or what language they speak.
Fear loses, in the grand scheme. We devolve into people who live in the dark, frightened of and angry at our government, or their government; of people we don’t know, or who carry guns, or don’t want to carry guns; or anyone who doesn’t look like us, or cheers for a different soccer team—or whatever it is that we cling to that makes us different or stand apart.
So why not find the common ground, the place where we are the same? The shared humanity in a child’s smile, no matter what nation, religion or neighborhood that child comes from.
I know many people think this idea is naive and simplistic, and I understand that. But really, if you study most religions, love and human unity is at the heart of them. It’s the central theme of most of the stories that make us tear up and take notice—humans making strides, overcoming, falling in love, protecting their children, being brave, taking care of each other.
The best stories are the ones that express love.
That’s the reason I love romance novels. It’s the central message that so many people who don’t read them, yet look down their noses at them, don’t get. It’s not just about sex, or even the love relationship in any given story, though both of those things are very satisfying in a good book.
But it’s about love. Love of friends and community as much as the potential partner. Love of self, as our heroes and heroines change and learn how to be better versions of themselves.
Romance novels offer hope, redemption, forgiveness, and positive change.
They offer the always-empowering idea that love can overcome.
So, in this week between acts of hate and our Day of Thanks, let’s focus on that message, that feeling, these books that, more than any others, reflect the belief that love is the strongest power in the world.
Here are a few books about the power of love and how it can change us:
Bridget Asher’s clever and entertaining All of Us and Everything comes out next week, with a fun, unpredictable plot, and three generations of women in a family unlike any you’ve met before. Set against the destructive backdrop of Hurricane Sandy, the book keeps you turning pages, but is also a thought-provoking take on how we are formed and reinvented by the stories we choose to tell ourselves.
I love Beth Kendrick’s novels and her latest, Put a Ring On It, just came out. Featuring intriguing and attractive local millionaire Jake Sorensen and Brighton Smith, a buttoned-up actuary recently dumped by her fiance, the story is a little far-fetched (what smart rich guy is truly going to marry a girl he just met without a prenup?), but Kendrick is so good with character that we’re almost convinced. Watching them fall in love in spite of themselves is entertaining and poignant, while witnessing Brighton reclaim some much-loved but buried facets of herself is inspiring. Plus we get to check in with the friends we’ve met in the two previous Black Dog Bay books.
Katharine Ashe’s Again, My Lord came out in late September, which prompted me to read the first in her indie-pubbed Twist series, My Lady, My Lord (a 2015 Rita™ nominee). Lady Corinna and Lord Ian have been neighbors since they were born, and have been at each other’s throats almost as long. When an odd twist of fate—or magic?—has them getting closer than either ever could have dreamed possible, they fall for each other, hard. But it’s hard to expose your heart to an old enemy after so many years of antipathy, and the two suffer in silence before they decide to risk everything for a chance at happiness. (I’m a little over 2/3 through and am really enjoying it!)
What recent books have you read that made you feel that love conquers all?
Do share, and happy reading!