Forever Unread: Thoughts for Valentine's Day

This originally appeared in Lost in Romance, 2012. 

A batch of submissions sits on the editor’s desk at Forever Unread. Among them is a well-plotted short story in which a man and woman, after a number of mysterious events, sip brandy at the Algonquin Hotel. Alongside it is another story in which two men, after any number of disgusting events, curse at one another at a dirty diner.
The ever-so-educated literary magazine editor reads both of these – one with pronounced boredom, the other with genuine gusto. It’s the second piece that excites him. To the cursing scribe, he gushes, “It’s edgy and gritty. It takes us to new places.”
To the other author (who naturally is an authoress), he writes, “Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately, this is not for us. You might consider submitting this to a romance genre publication.”
The romance author, having surveyed the contents of Forever Unread, is philosophical. She has no plans to write about dirty diners, street fights or toilets. Most definitely she wishes to avoid toilets.
She meets her dear friend, Dr. Jill Evans, esteemed head of the literature department at a prestigious university. “Are vomit and pee-pee the new literary status symbols?” the author wants to know—for she is curious about the editorial fascination with bodily excretions.
“People need things to be real,” opines the professor, who herself edits a magazine called Literary Ammonia. “Vomit is real.”

“I want magic,” our author admits. “I like landscape paintings. I like Chopin and Faure. I like movies like Casablanca, books like Green Mansions.”

“Romance has sappy Hallmark card happy endings,” Jill sighs.

The author is annoyed, but only mildly. “Casablanca doesn’t have a sappy ending--neither does Green Mansions. A lot of romance is sad, it’s just not ugly.”
Jill opens a bottle of fine Cabernet. “Life’s dark.” (The author suspects that Jill’s sole contact with the Dark Side comes from HBO, but she remains wisely silent.)
“Sewers aren’t any more real than parks. Anyway, you don’t lead a gritty life,” the author replies, sipping wine and admiring the view. “Take Laurie Colwin—she writes about women I might know. She writes about women who have affairs, but not because they’re unhappy. They have affairs because their life lacks… magic.”
Jill immediately writes the name, Laurie Colwin (Find her books now). “Any other suggestions, I mean for just guilty pleasure reading?” she asks, rather eagerly.
The author lists her favorites with delight. Nancy Lemann, whose dizzy Southern girls long for loony men and sometimes get them, but only sometimes; the conjurer of all things Gallic, Dianne Johnson with her dazzling array of schemers, sophisticates and naives; Cathleen Schine whose heroines bump into love like Buster Keaton in a fast-paced chase scene; and recently romantic Allegra Goodman whose heroine in The Cookbook Collector charms without effort.

“They are stories of love – it’s sometimes flawed and it’s often brief – and they’re dreamers, even if the dreams don’t come true,” the author concludes. “Sure, promises get broken and kisses are fleeting, but without them, life’s pretty humdrum.”
Jill Evans looks out of her window and notices how beautiful Central Park is, when seen at twilight—and how quickly the light changes. “Dreams,” she repeats, and wonders where her girlhood copy of Green Mansions might be.
The next day finds Dr. Jill Evans immersed in the books of Laurie Colwin-- a writer who died as young as Jane Austen and whose spirit was as generous. Jill opens Goodbye without Leaving and swoons along with the heroine when Len first appears—and Jill feels a pit in her stomach when the two part—and a wish that the book would go on.
Soon Jill is seduced by Nancy Lemann’s Lives of the Saints. She finds herself yearning for the French Quarter in New Orleans, jazz, and hot drunken nights. She is heartsick to learn that many of Nancy Lemann novels are out of print but consoles herself by re-reading The Fiery Pantheon.
To the author’s amusement, Dr. Jill Evan’s undergraduate syllabus now includes Barbara Pym’s  A Glass of Blessings Grateful undergraduates have nominated Jill as Teacher of the Year—and many young women are seen, on park benches, reading and laughing at Pym’s Excellent Women.
The romance author cannot help but notice that the latest copy of Forever Unread sits on Jill’s desk – unopened and, yes, forever unread.
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