Burying A Romance

On the airport shuttle from the Hyatt Regency O'Hare yesterday, I met a young woman who was traveling home to North Carolina. I didn't get a chance to get her name and write it down (it was an airport hotel after all, and we were too busy talking about books during the 8 minute ride) but she told me a very lovely story.

She traveled to Romantic Times to meet friends she knew only online, and she came only for the Saturday Book Fair. Her home is in North Carolina, so she flew to Atlanta, then to Chicago, just for one day in the Hyatt Regency. She wanted to meet her favorite authors, and her parents thought she was insane to travel so far to go buy books. (I told her she was perfectly sane and also awesome.)

Then she told me her grandmother had gotten her hooked on romance novels, though her grandma liked historicals and my new friend preferred paranormal and urban fantasy. They both loved Nora Roberts, though, and JD Robb. When her grandmother died last year, this woman made sure to put several romances in the casket when she said goodbye.

Last summer she'd traveled to meet several authors at a book signing (I am guessing it may have been RWA) and by the time she got to Victoria Alexander, a favorite author of her grandmother's, Alexander was out of books. So Alexander signed a card and my airport shuttle friend (it is driving me bonkers that I didn't get her name and I am kicking myself) brought it home to her grandmother. That card went into the casket, too.

I've heard stories before of romance fans being buried with their favorite books. Contrary Merry tweeted me that when her grandmother died, “we put the romance Gramma was reading when she passed in her casket. Loretta Chase. She discovered romance late, but she loved it!”

I love stories about how far readers travel to meet their favorite authors, and learning how vacations of a weekend or a week or more are built around the chance to meet and thank someone who has written books which have changed those readers' lives. But the idea of loving the genre so much you want to bury someone with their favorites really touched me.

The Pull My Finger Viking Cover Romances probably find their way into coffins every now and again. I once read an interview with Sandra Hill regarding her epic cover for The Bewitching Viking, which we've called the Pull My Finger Viking. A reader had once told Hill that book was displayed in the casket after that reader's close friend died, so that when family and relatives knelt down to pray, they looked up, saw the book, and laughed. 

I believe heaven is personal – by which I mean, if there is a heaven, my version is probably different from yours. I think we each have an ideal of paradise and perfection that is unique, and our visions of what that paradise is may not have much in common at all. But I am sure that mine includes romance novels, and that's probably true for some of you as well.

I think it is an amazing tribute to the depth and resonance of the novels we love that we bury our loved ones with copies of favorite books, surrounding them with the stories they loved.  It's a personal and thoughtful way to offer one final gesture of care. It also made me think differently about book signings: the people who come to book signings who seek out an author probably also bring with them the parents and grandparents and siblings and children who might share that love – either in person or in their intentions. For so many readers, it is a thrill to meet an author.

And it can be tough being a romance reader. Sunita from Dear Author, who I met during RT, said during our podcast recording that she thinks romance readers suffer a million little pin pricks every time someone dismisses our love of romance. But for every reader whose parents think she is insane for making a journey to buy books and meet authors, there is a grandmother who understands perfectly. Burying someone with a novel they loved may seem a strange tribute, but I think it's a place of great honor for a book and an author, and an indication of how much that book meant to the person who read it, and the person who placed it in the casket.

Have you ever buried someone with a romance novel, or a book they loved? Would you want to take a romance with you when you die? What books would hold that honor in your life, or in the life of someone you love?


Random Musings

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  1. 1
    Patricia Eimer says:

    I’d definitely take a romance novel but I haven’t had to bury anyone with one yet. Although when gram goes we may need a second coffin for all her Fern Michaels and Nora Roberts books. I wonder if the funeral home will give me a discount?

  2. 2
    JoanneL says:

    Now I’m thinking that I might bury three or four hundred of my books in the backyard –  just on the off chance that reincarnation happens and we come this way again.
    I just have to research whether or not bookworms are real and if so can they can eat through plastic storage bins.

    You know you’re a romance reader when “8 minutes on a shuttle” sounds like a great romantic plot for Harlequin.


  3. 3
    Screenplaydiva says:

    I never even thought of people being buried with their favorite books. What a lovely gesture. I definitely want a loved one to do this for me. I’m just starting to read romance novels so I don’t have any particular favorites at the moment. Nice post!

  4. 4
    Jewel says:

    Ancient Egyptians were all about being buried with the things you’ll need for the eternal afterlife, including their pets. I don’t wanna go if I can’t take my dogs and my Kindle.

    Here’s something else I’ve been wondering as I’ve been reading posts from RT – what if you only read e-books any more? I don’t remember the last paper book I bought, so how would I collect autographs? Did anyone have a solution for this? Just curious.

  5. 5
    Lenorejago says:

    I would suggest collecting autographs in a small unlined notebook, like the authograph books from days of yore.  You could even use a slightly bigger one and scrapbook bookmarks or other ephemera to personalize it more.

  6. 6
    Susan says:

    My sister and I buried my father with letters and Father’s Day cards.  One of my nephews remarked that it was very Egyptian of us!  (I don’t think it was intended as a compliment, rather a reflection on our peculiarity.)

    Sad to say, I don’t personally know anyone else who reads romances, so no favorite romance books going into the afterlife with anyone.

    I vaguely remembered some scheme where Kindle readers could collect “virtual” autographs, but it’s pretty hazy—and I can’t imagine that would be very appealing anyway.  I guess folks could print out a color copy of the cover and have an author sign it.  Meh.

  7. 7
    SarinaArahovas says:

    In a lost world, this is so beautiful. AMEN!

  8. 8
    SB Sarah says:

    Many people had notebooks, or had permanent markers that authors used to sign the cover or case of the reader. I saw a few covered with autographs – very cool.

  9. 9
    Emily A. says:

    We didn’t burry any romances with my grandmother. She had alzeheimer’s and I never got a chance to know her really. But after she died my mama told me her favorite author was Barbara Cartland. I tracked her down Cartland not knowing anything about her. I read some of the first romances I ever read because of that. I feel connected to my grandma, because she is the only person on either side of the family who loved romance. Its really important to me that not only is it a connection to her but it makes feel less alone in general.
    A couple weeks ago in the paper there was obituary which said “an avid reader she died with a book in her hands.” I found that to be beautiful and poetic.
    I’d like to leave my books for others to read but maybe a few L. M. Montgomerys will make into the coffin. Anne of the Islands, Rilla, The Blue Castle. not romances but all with strong romantic elements. maybe Little women. We’ll see…. That’s a long time…
    Not gonna happen any time soon…..

  10. 10
    Keziah Hill says:

    We didn’t buy my mother with books but with her radio and a good bottle of shiraz. She was an invalid for the last eight and a half years of her life but remained connected to the world through electronic media. She used a walking frame so would move from room to room in her house with this crappy old red radio in the basket. We had to bury her with it.

  11. 11
    Redux says:

    You know … that Bewitched Viking cover is just begging for a caption contest :)

  12. 12
    Becky says:

    I only read in ebook these days, but I shipped home two boxes of books.  Some of those books are signed by favorite authors.  Some are from authors I met last week, and they were so amazing I *could not* leave without getting a signed copy of one of their books.  A few are going to friends on the other side of the country and even all the way to the other side of the world.  These aren’t just books any more.  They’re mementos of an incredible week and the time I met the people who created some of my favorite worlds.  I don’t know what I’m going to do with them all.  There’s no shelf space for them.  (Really, seriously.  No. Space.)  I’ll frame them and hang them on the wall if I have to.  I have signed bookmarks from some authors, like Francine Pascal and Susan Elizabeth Phillips.  Those probably will end up framed and hanging on the wall.  They’re nice, but they aren’t quite as special as the signed books.

  13. 13
    Sarah Frantz says:

    My mother has a white canvas tote bag (I think from B&N) that she gets authors to sign with a Sharpie. She can then take her bag with her wherever she wants to go.

  14. 14
    Liz Talley says:

    This is a beautiful post and brought tears to my eyes likely because my grandmother and I shared a love of romance. In fact we shared it with her mother, too.  A big sack of Harlequin romances made its way from Gram to Aunt Jeannie then to my grandmother and me. New sack = a diet coke, cheetos and calling dibs. Such wonderful memories.

    Your thought about heaven reminded me of a poem by May Angelou – “Preacher, Don’t Send Me’ where the poet says “I’d call a place pure paradise where families are loyal
    and strangers are nice, where the music is jazz and the season is fall, Promise me that or nothing at all.” Her version of heaven sounds nice as long as I can add an enormous library full of good, juicy fiction :)

    Thanks for sharing that story.

  15. 15
    Linda Hilton says:

    My maternal grandmother only read cookbooks and Good Housekeeping and the Chicago Sun-Times (backwards from the sports page first).  When my first book was published in 1985, Mom Helene was 83 and physically limited due to a series of strokes, but her mind was as sharp as ever.  She loved being the little old Jewish lady in the Catholic nursing home.  I went to visit her with a copy of the book, which my mother said Mom would proudly show to everyone but would never read herself because she didn’t read books at all, and certainly not a big, sexy historical romance like mine. 

    My mother and my aunt, however, were avid readers and frequently swapped books.  A few days after my visit, Mom Helene called my mother and said she had read my book and liked it and was wondering if Mother had any more.  Surprised that Mom had even read the book, Mother and my aunt sorted out of their collections a bag full of books they thought appropriate for Mom and her friends in the nursing home.

    Several days after receiving the bag of books, Mom Helene called my mother and asked if she had any others. 

    “You can’t possibly have read all of those already,” my mother said.

    “Oh, we haven’t read them at all,” Mom Helene explained.  “We don’t like these books.  We like the books like Linda’s.  You know, the ones with more sex in them.”

    My mother took her the books they’d set aside as inappropriate and she was delighted.

    Mom Helene passed away a little less than a year later.  None of the books were ever seen again.

  16. 16
    lori stone says:

    When my husband died we placed a copy of his favorite Andre Norton novel and a copy of Escape of Escape to Witch Mountain in the casket. He loved them so much that our daughter was named for the main character in one and our son from another.  Why wouldn’t I honor something that was a life long love of his?  He surely was one of mine.

  17. 17
    Mary Grzesik says:

    Should I say your book since you signed it for me at RT? lol. I don’t know. Maybe I should choose my Kindle along with my tennis racket.

  18. 18
    Sofia Harper says:

    I am in love with that Sandra Hill story. Love it.

  19. 19
    Vestusta says:

    Romance novels always make me think of my grandmother, too – she gave me my first one for my 13th birthday. It was Connie Mason’s “The Lion’s Bride,” because I was obsessed with medieval history at the time and William the Conqueror was my favorite historical figure. I remember being completely fascinated by the sex scenes. We never talked about books, and she died a few years later, but I think I still have that book somewhere in my parent’s house and romance novels still may me think of her (well, that and golf, cross-stitch, and packs of elaborately decorated playing cards).

  20. 20
    Danielle TBQ says:

    And this is why I love the online romance community—we’re able to connect with one another, share stories such as these, and realize that, even if we may be the minority in our area, we’re not alone in our love of the genre! :)

    My own grandmother is also a fan, and if I ever get the chance to go to an event, she’d be the one going with me while the rest of my family stayed home and shook their heads at our crazy obsession. LOL :D

    I would love to be buried with books—but choosing them? Ha, that will not be fun. At all. Can’t we just dig a huuuge hole and put me and my whole library in it? :)

    Great post, thanks for sharing!


  21. 21
    Tonya says:

    My grandmother was my introduction into the world of romance.  In fact, one of the first books I remember reading was a romance.  In the afternoons that I would stay with her, we would sometimes lie on our backs on her bed, her current romance book over our heads as she read.  Once I started reading, I would read a few paragraphs to her.  After I figured out that they had “bad” stuff in them, I was always a little scared that I would start reading one of those parts.  HA—I’m sure my grandmother carefully selected the parts that she allowed me to read!  In high school, Granny and I would swap romance books back and forth, which always freaked my mother out since they had sex in them!  The books Granny had actually usually came from my great-great aunt, so that adds another generation to our swapping of our romance/sex books!

    Thanks for bringing some great memories to the front of my mind!

  22. 22
    Anna says:

    You guys are making me cry.  Knock it off.

  23. 23
    Chris says:

    This is actually a running joke in my family. It began way back when I was 13 and my maternal grandmother passed away. It was the first funeral me and my younger brother ever attended, and my father won the task of trying to talk to us afterwards, if we had any questions about what had happened, if we had understood the viewing etc.

    Always very blunt with my opinions, I told him that it was not my beloved grandmother in the casket. When he asked why, I explained that that woman was nothing like my grandmother. My dad then launched into a very patient explanation of how bodies change when they die and it’s just makeup. I had to clarify that I knew about how embalming was theoretically supposed to work; my issue was that my grandmother was buried holding a bible and a rosary. I said I had never seen my grandmother hold either in her life, so why was she buried with them? Dear old Dad, still keeping it together, proceeds to explain about gestures of faith until he sees he’s still getting nowhere. “Well, what would you have buried her with?” I told him I never saw her without one of those super market crossword puzzle books and a butterscotch krimpet (Philly shout-out!) and she should have been buried holding those as it would have been more fitting.

    Needless to say, Dad found it very amusing and shared with my mom, because she needed all the laughs she could get at that point. She sat me down, and after totally agreeing with me, asked me if there was anything that she should make note of that I considered necessary to take with me to the great beyond. As I was thinking, my mom, as she does, read my mind and was like, “Books right? How many books do you think will fit?” So the running joke has been that I will need weight lifters as pallbearers at my funeral, to carry me and my life’s library away. (Well, it was the joke up until I got a Kindle about a year ago – take that, hypothetical pall bearers!)

  24. 24
    Hydecat says:

    Chris, I love that story. I also have a Grandma who should be buried with a crossword puzzle book in one hand … and probably a mystery novel in the other. Most of the people who have passed away in my family have been cremated, so the idea of putting anything in a casket with the body hadn’t crossed my mind. But it might be just as nice to be cremated with a good book. There would be worse things than having my ashes mixed with the text of Pride & Prejudice.

  25. 25
    Rickys says:

    A little off topic but you guys gotta check out this wedding video i saw, hysterical, especially the dance at the end

  26. 26
    SB Sarah says:

    I really like that idea: cremation with a copy or two of a favorite book.

  27. 27
    Maria Brauer says:

    I haven’t had to bury anyone with romance novels yet, either, but when my grandma died we put her her lucky charm into the coffin. I think when someone you love dies it’s always a very personal way to say goodbye if you put something the deceased person loved into their grave, especially if there is something that person loved the most. So if her grandma loved romance novels the most it’s just the thing I would have done aswell. :)
    I really liked your post and the thoughts you shared

  28. 28
    Bnbsrose says:

    I find it so lovely that so many of us came to romance through our Grandmas. And how much they surprise us. Mine was a big reader as well and responsible for both Anya Seton’s “The Green Darkness” and Rosemary Roger’s “The Wildest Heart” making their way into my hands. 

    When my mother passed, the mortician said we could send anything we wanted to the crematorium with her. I cut a dozen white roses from the bush outside her bedroom window, but while he later said he got it, my dad drew the line at the Silhoutte romances.

  29. 29
    Gubymomma says:

    I just love this story.  I wish I had put a few in my Grandmother’s coffin.  She got me hooked on romance.  She would go to the used bookstore and get a big brown bag full of romance books.  I loved to read.  One Saturday I had finished my school library book and she pointed me to her bag.  I’ve been reading them ever since.  I think of her when I get a really good one.  My favorite ones would be Miss Emmaline and the Archangel by Rachel Lee and Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah MacLean.  They are my go to books.  Thanks for the smile and memory lane.

  30. 30
    julieinduvall says:

    I have an e-reader now, but I think I’ll keep my paper copies of LORD OF SCOUNDRELS and BET ME for this reason. After all, I’ll need something to read. ;-)

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