The last week in September was Banned Books week, when readers and writers celebrate a list of books groups or individuals have tried to ban from classrooms and libraries. I’m always up for a good celebration for books. Keep in mind a basic fact about a banned book: it has gotten attention. Someone somewhere cares enough to make sure other people don’t read it—which, naturally, piques a lot of interest in the book.
Many obscure authors would love it if some group somewhere went public with a “don’t read this book!” announcement but no, we not going to take that route. This week we’re going to go the opposite direction to get people interested. I hereby declare this Unbanned, Unsung, and/or Underappreciated Book Week, otherwise known as the 3U Book Week. We have to make lists of favorite 3U books and go all out (tweet? Face book ‘em? Knock on doors? Call people up? Put ads in local papers?) to try to get people to read them.
I think everyone has a list of books that came and went without making so much as a ripple but that the few readers love and champion, even years after the book vanished. Maybe it was a book you discovered at the library cast-off sale or on the 90 percent off table. These are the books or authors you read when you need a pick-me-up or who never fails to move you or make you laugh.
I asked a few writing friends and acquaintances for their favorite 3U authors. They answered almost immediately and most answers made it clear they were readers who could support the Unbanned Unsung and/or Underappreciated cause.
Linda Ingmanson, an editor—“The book I always think of is Cecelia Holland's Great Maria. I recommend it often. It's not really a romance, but it does have a great, realistic couple at its center. It’s been a couple of years so it’s about time for me to reread it.” Yup, rereading is a sign of a real 3U book promoter.
Author K.A. Mitchell—answering without pause: “L.B. Gregg is an autobuy for me. I don’t even bother reading the cover copy. I just buy it.” When I pointed out Gregg isn’t entirely obscure in the m/m community, Mitchell said, “she should sell even more.” Mitchell was a true proselytizer—a strong mark of a 3U supporter.
Author Jessica Andersen: “Linnea Sinclair.” And when I pointed out Sinclair is fairly well known, Andersen said yes, but more people need to read her. Yup. Another evangelist.
Author Anna Bowling—“Tracy MacNish. She’s so wonderful. Just..just…Oh, I’ll have to email you to tell you why.” Yes, that’s another sign of a genuine 3U’er; she wants to tell you exactly why you need to read her fave immediately.
Author Valerie Parv—“The Far Arena by Richard Ben Sapir (1975). .. stayed in my mind long after other books have faded. It tells of a Roman gladiator frozen in the permafrost in the time of Domitian, found by oil prospectors and revived... The book also has one of the best chapter opening lines I've come across, ”No-one should have to see how a gladiator kills.“ Simple yet so vivid that I can quote it from memory to this day.” Another rule for a 3U book and reader? Time does not matter. The book stays with you.
Sarah Frantz, a professor who teaches romance novels in her classes—“Madeleine Brent, who is actually Peter O'Donnell. S/he wrote historical romances set all over the world. They're colonialist fantasies, sure, but deeply layered stories about the power and resilience of women not only to survive but also to solve problems and save the world.” She had another name and title, but I picked one per customer. Coming up with a list of works and authors almost immediately? She’s a real 3U supporter for sure.
Want to know mine? Tough, I’m telling you anyway. (Does it take little or no impetus for you to talk about your favorites? You’re an authentic 3U celebrant)
I frequently mention Diane Farr, who usually writes historical romances. Her book, Once Upon a Christmas, is one of my favorite holiday books. Yes, she’s won RITAs but not enough people read her books. And I really like Marie Treanor’s voice. No matter what sort of hero or heroine she’s writing about, I’ll buy the book. And then there’s a bunch of others I’ve mentioned all over the place for years, RA MacAvoy, Edith Layton, Judith Merkle Light and. . . Yeah, my list is longer—and the rules about “only one” don’t apply to me.
By the way, I asked Diane Farr about her favorite 3U. She remembered the book that really turned her onto romance. For Christmas, someone gave her a bottle of perfume—Aviance perhaps?— that came packaged with a little book called Masked Deception. “It was by an author I'd never heard of...at the time, I think she really WAS an author few had heard of.”
Mary Balogh is no longer a 3U author, but Farr loves her still. To be the real thing, you can’t abandon your favorites even if they become successful.
Kate Rothwell writes romance using her own name and the pseudonym Summer Devon. She lives in Connecticut with four men (three of whom are her sons). You can out more about her at KateRothwell.com and SummerDevon.com.