Apr 6 2012 9:03am

First Crush: Which is Your Cringe-Worthiest Book?

Now usually we celebrate the romance genre in all its iterations. But sometimes, we talk about The Filthiest Book You’ve Ever Read?or Books That Should Be Canned. The Awl recently polled a group of authors to ask What Books Make You Cringe to Remember Them, books that after the initial crush is over are embarrassing to recall you loved them so much. Many authors cited Ayn Rand, many also mentioned Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, as well as Anne Rice’s Vampire books, the Sweet Valley High series, with mentions here and there of Virginia Woolf, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and others.


So we’ll ask you—what book does it make you cringe to remember you loved? 

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Megan Frampton
1. MFrampton
So I have no idea the title or author of this book, but back in the '70s, I read (and reread, and reread) this book about a French girl, a virgin, and the pirate/captain/something? who took her virginity--savagely--and basically browbeat her. I read particular passages so many times the book fell open to those pages after awhile. I don't remember much except that her hair was white-blonde, I think it was set in revolutionary-period France, and it hurt the first time. Of course.
That memory definitely embarrasses me.
2. Valkyrierisen
I cringe to remember all the English ladies held captive/in isolation in Middle East states by Shieks or Berbers or whatnot. I loved those reads so much.
3. LindaD
I loved Sandra Brown's Mirror Image. It's about a reporter disfigured in a plane crash who is misidentified in the wreckage as a politician's bitchy wife. As she's recuperating, she has amnesia so doesn't remember that she is a journalist instead of the wife. But as she figures it out, she starts to realize someone is trying to assasinate the politician, and she falls in love with him. (He and his wife were only sticking together for his political career anyway.) It's ridiculous, as you can tell, but I loved it. I'd still recommend it for some totally mindless fun.
4. CTomlinson
I cringe now to think of all the Plains Indian romances I read as a teen. The heroes always had names that involved a bird (Night Hawk, Black Hawk, Windhawk, etc.) and the heroines were always blondes or redheads captured off of wagon trains. Naturally the hero was so captivated by her pale skin and bright hair that he had to have her. There were so many stereotypes in those books I'm ashamed that I enjoyed them so much (and tried to write one myself in the 7th grade). My breaking point came when the author of one of my faves wrote a sequel - which involved the previous characters now sleeping in a big wrough iron bed ... in their tipi. What?! I seriously doubt any nomadic people are going to travel with something so heavy.
5. LeaF
I would have to say Coulters' Woman by Maya Banks. lol It's a menage a many erotic aboout 3 brothers who have a relationship with one woman who was a virgin when initiated by the guys who are uber alpha's. There is a suspense subplot but its a smokin hot campy smexfest and I totally loved it the first time I read it a few years back, thinking about it now, I kinda *shiver*. The book has been expanded and re-pubbed and actually spawned a recent series.
6. Isabel C.
Gone With the Wind. Sort of continually cringing, actually. I still *like* it for the depictions of war and of the ways war *seriously* fucks people up, but oh my God the racism. Totally escaped me when I was twelve. Argh.
7. Lucy D
I love your choice of cover since when I was a preteen, I obsessively re-read my collection of Barbara Cartland books. When I found a copy recently of one of the books that I remembered reading, I had to buy it. I am embarassed now to say how much I enjoyed them back then. The books are only about 150 pages. The heroine being so young and naive that I can understand her falling in love with the first man she speaks to (some of who were rude and pompous), but when our worldly hero falls madly in love with her for her youthful innocense and kind heart after 50 pages...*blush* I loved these??
Megan Frampton
8. MFrampton
@LucyD--Like you, I started reading romance with Cartland also. Read a TON of them, and yes, picked one up a few years ago and was appalled at how awful it was. All these ellipses, and heart-shaped faces, and arrogant men who are referred to in their full title every time (to increase wordcount?). But the covers remain lovely, I wish I had some of the old Bantam books still.
Marian DeVol
9. ladyengineer
@LucyD and @MFrampton -- Barbara Cartland was also my cringe-worthiest reading obsession. Her novels were some of my earliest historical romance reads in high school. Georgette Heyer came first and for me continues to be on my to-be-re-read pile, but Cartland came shortly thereafter. I voraciously consumed everything she published there for a couple of years. Finally, however, I became bored and stopped reading them. A couple of years later, I looked through my collection and was horrified that I'd liked them at all. I got rid of all but one or two and am embarassed now to admit that I kept even one. ;->
10. KateRothwell
A Victoria Holt novel--it was the first book I read that had that "I AM A ROMANCE" cover. I can't remember the title. Google might tell me but I think I might have blocked it on purpose.
11. Janga
I cringe to remember the Cartlands I read too, and I cringe at the memory of all those early Harlequins with virginal, eighteen-year-old heroines and heroes more than a decade older who practically told them how many breaths they could take. Then there were the girl-in-jeopardy Gothics, practically interchangeable except for the characters' names. And I thought Heathcliff was romantic then. That also makes me cringe.
12. Jessa Slade
I know WHITNEY, MY LOVE has some, er, issues (rapey, spanky, virginy issues) but I refuse to cringe. Much. Ridiculous/dangerous/twisted passions have their place -- and that place is the pages of a book. Let the freak flag fly!
13. jsmom2
okay, it still embarrasses me how much I freaking loved this book... First romance I ever read, "Dangerous Obsession" by Natasha Peters. Rhawnie is just chock-full of bodice ripping awesomesauce!! Gypsy, liar, thief. Seth Garrett will always hold a place in my Bad Boy Hall of Fame :) which is definitely cringe worthy to the depths of my gentlemen loving heart
Robbie Thornton
14. Button
Honestly, I loved Barbara Cartland when I was a teenager. I think reading them gave me back an innocence that I'd lost too young during the tumultuous age of sexual experimentation in the 60's and 70's. Perhaps they aren't all that PC for todays consumption, but at that time they were the ideal of romance to me, and I simply can't be ashamed that I liked them. They were the exact right thing for me at the time.

That sentiment does not hold true for those "Old West Native American (only we called em Indians back then) captures uber white, uber blond female and they fall in lust/love forever" novels. Those were utter brain rot, and I shudder to think I ever even liked them. So great is my revulsion of myself for those sorts of books that I still cringe when I see the cover art for one.
Anna Bowling
15. AnnaBowling
I can't regret any book I've loved. Maybe if I'd read a particular book at a different time -earlier or later- in my life, I'd have a different reaction to it, but if a book and I connect on that special book-to-reader level, for that moment in time, it's wonderful.
16. Vol Fan
Sweet Savage Love-Rosemary Rogers. Steve Morgan. He was a horse's butt during most of the book, but so sexy. Remember, this was out during Clint Eastwood's spagetti western period and that is exactly who I pictured when I read the book.
rachel sternberg
17. rae70
i was 14 and it was my first "romance" book called "p.s. i love you", teenage love story, girl meets perfect boy and they got to prom and fall in love...and the boys dies at the end.. i remember just being heartbroken and crying over the ending for days...
Elizabeth Halliday
18. Ibbitts
"Wuthering Heights" by Emily Bronte is my cringe-worthy romance. I guess I should try to forgive my 12-year-old self; I was probably overly influenced by Lawrence Olivier at the time...
Samantha Lubrani
19. samlub88
The book that makes me cringe is one called Alyx. Can't remember the author's name, but it was set in some kind of a prison colony or something, and a lot of the action took place in the "breeding hut". I was way too young, and it should have scarred me for life, but it turns out it didn't turn me off romances at all, since here I am. . .
20. Shark with Lasers
I don't know if I'd call it regret. I have a love/cringe relationship with Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar novels. I stand by my love of the Last Herald Mage trilogy. Even with its flaws, it's still rereadable. The woman can do a black moment like none other, when she cares to. But in some of those novels, she doesn't care to. There's italics abuse going on, and telling-not-showing. I never know when I pick up a new one if it's gonna scratch my Valdemar itch or not. This does not ever seem to stop me from ordering each new one.
21. Merida
I can't remember the name of it but one of the first romance books I read was about a black girl sold into slavery and bought by a wealthy, disfigured lord. Its full of saucy, boddice ripping steamy stuff and the story is a great retelling of Beauty and the Beast but looking back now, it was also somewhat cringe-worthy, with the flowery prose, hero's self-abuse and the heroines rose-tinted glasses despite all she's been through. Mind you, the steamy stuff makes up for all that. I still fan myself when I think about it.
ann ivey
22. annie
@LucyD....I use to love reading Barbara Cartland...expecially when I got past the heroine* she says in a small, hesitant someone-needs-to-tell-me-how-to-walk,-talk-&-breathe voice..* lol. They are still guilty-pleasure books.

I also remember the earlier Harlequin series that were similar in style to Cartland's - 19 yr old girl who meets the wise, older man who then sweeps her off her feet and after a series of misunderstandings lives happily ever after. Sigh! Loved them @ the time but now I cringe thinking about them. I mean, other than the obvious, what do a 19 yr old & a 35 yr old have in common??
23. PamR
When I was in college and fighting my way through calculus proofs, I used to take breaks and read Barbara Cartland's books. Seriously. I had a ton of them, and absolutely loved them. One thing I noticed though, was how careful those girls were to pin the guy down to an actual proposal. All those breathy little questions... they were actually pretty mercenary, or perhaps a better way to put it would be that they were practical in securing their futures. No getting swept away for those girls!
24. rdsangel127117
@Anna Bowling - I'm with you. I don't regret any of the books I've read. In fact, I still have a lot of them on my "keeper shelf" including Sweet Savage Love. Even when I re-read them today, they take me right back to the time period when I first read them.

@samlub88 - I read Alyx. It was by an author named Lola Burford I think. I should have been scarred too, but instead I became a life long romance reader.
Hayley Hunter
25. Bookworm-at-Starbucks
I must say Twilight by Stephanie Meyers and the Nice Girls Don't Bite series. I used to love them so much and reread them like a hundred times, now I cringe at the thought of picking it up again. I tried, believe me, but it just didn't click ever again. Sad thing was, they were my first romance stories.
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