Friday, December 29, 2017

Lessons from Romance Novels and Kristen Ashley

Hmm, my reading life has undergone a bit of a change since this summer. I update Goodreads sporadically, adding a bunch of books at a time, dates inaccurate. I miss many that I've read, maybe remembering to add them later. And then, there are the actual books I've been reading. Definitely not reading for my seventh grade students right now, no way. As a matter of fact, if you were to look on my Kindle reader on my phone, you might notice some commonalities among the books I've been reading. Let's look...

Lots of books by Kristen Ashley. Lots of romance. Nary a young adult or middle grade book in sight.

It all began this summer with the recommendation from a friend of Ashley's book Breathe. I read it, was a bit surprised by the amount of "romance", having not read anything written for adults in this genre for about twenty years. That being said, I loved the book. I loved the quirky characters, the small town, etc. When I found out that I had accidentally read the fifth book in a series, and ever the completionist, I went back and read the series from beginning to end. And then the next series, and the next, and a stand alone book here and there. So while I've not been reading for my students this semester, I have been reading for me. While doing so, I've learned some lessons along the way. So, in no particular order, here's a few of the lessons I've gleaned from Kristen Ashley's books this semester.

Never Say Never
In the last few years I've had great friends who have given me some grief for my single minded devotion to reading for my students. I love middle grade and YA books, so I'd tell them it was no hardship. Truly, it isn't. I do love those books. But when they'd tell me to read romance, to read something for adults, I'd say no, romance wasn't my favorite genre. Now, I've reconsidered. Reading these romance books has reminded me not to box myself in, but try all sorts of books - and remind my students to do the same. You never know when you will find a favorite book or author that you wouldn't have "met" before.

Series Reading
I love reading books in a series and I remember being appalled when a friend's daughter was told "series reading" was not allowed to "count" in their middle school classroom. I'm not sure if that teacher is a reader because that makes zero sense to me. Kristen Ashley writes a lot of books that can stand alone, but are part of a series. I have always hated finishing a book because I grow to care about the characters and don't want them to be done. Seeing them appear in other books not only gets me more attached to the new book, but makes me fall into that world faster. The same is true for my students. 

While I'm the teacher who totally cheers on series books, I also am a huge advocate for rereading books. This is why I buy so many books vs. checking them out from the library. My favorite books are ones I return to again and again. I read crazy fast the first time through. As a result, I will go back and read an entire book (or series) again. And then I will often go back and read parts of books - especially if I'm bored and standing in line somewhere. These books are on my phone, so I can pull up sections and read while I wait. (Speaking of never say never, I hate reading on an e-reader..., but not for these books.) 

Character Driven
Another colleague and I have talked about plot driven vs. character driven books. This colleague is a plot driven reader, while I often say if I love the characters, I'm hooked on the book. Ashley's books reinforce that notion for me. I told my husband that her characters reminded me of Gilmore Girls, with super racy romance thrown in for good measure. I love quirky characters that I can completely visualize. I feel like I know these people - their likes, favorite foods, clothes, etc. My students know that I cannot stand a long exposition in a book (a term I only learned when moving from 5th to 7th grade last year.) No fear here, Ashley jumps right in at the start of every book. The character's voice pulls me in immediately. Through these books I've learned more about myself as a reader.

Pop Culture
When I was in high school as a freshman, the mini series Lonesome Dove was on TV. My sister and I watched it many times. I bought the book and read, and reread it, until it fell apart. We mapped out the cattle drive on an atlas. I looked at where they'd be at certain points in the book/ show. I immersed myself in the story. 

Ashley's books allow me to do that too. She talks about restaurants the characters go to, clothes they wear, songs they listen to. For the most part, they are real places, real songs, real items. I can look them up, check out some images, listen to some music, and the character's world is built even stronger. On Ashley's website she even includes recipes from some of the books. She also adds many images that inspired her to her Pinterest page. In this era of technology, I need to remind my students of these resources. I want them to realize that they could look up things mentioned in their books, if they'd like, and that might give them a more immersive experience while reading. 

Life Lessons
I joked with my classes the other day about romance books. Many of my students are currently reading YA romance. After a book talk from one student, a boy said he wouldn't read "x" because it's for girls. I reminded him that there are no boy books, no girl books, just books. I also pointed out that YA romance books might teach you some lessons about how to be a good partner in a relationship.

After coming home to begin my break, I read Ashley's newest book, The Hookup. I laughed when one character explains to another what it means to women when a man will come in, hold a baby, change a diaper, etc. She says, "Men don't get it. If they knew how much women like it when they took care of babies, the moms wouldn't get anywhere near their child." See, even husbands could learn something here. Maybe then they'd quickly grab the crying baby in the middle of the night, or take the dogs out in the morning. Life lessons indeed.

Oxygen Masks
Overall, my five month reading binge of forty-seven of Ashely's books (many over 500 pages) have reminded me of the lesson from the flight attendants when you get on the airplanes - we need to put on our oxygen masks first. For at least the past seven years my reading life has been completely geared toward my beautiful students. This doesn't, by any means, mean I need to stop reading for them. The constantly tell me that the reason they read so much in our classroom room is because I read what they read, I can talk to them about the insanity of the end of a book, the pain of waiting for the next one, the love (or hatred) of a certain character, etc. So yes, I'm still planning on reading YA and middle grade. But I'm adding back in books just for me. Books that I can become addicted to. Books that I wait for, impatiently, even though Ms. Ashley writes at a crazy fast pace. My oxygen mask is firmly back in place and not going anywhere again.

And I need to plan a trip to Colorado.
Or maybe move there.
Oh gracious, what fun reading.

If you want to try any of Kristen Ashley's books, I highly recommend starting with The Rock Chicks series and reading them in order.