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.
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?