I don’t normally read any book identified as a romance. I read some romances when I was a teenager and decided that they were not only a waste of time and money, but probably also an unhealthy form of escapism. I have made a few exceptions, such as the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, and The Time Traveler’s Wife, and enjoyed them. There are probably some other good romances out there, but there’s too much junk to be worth sorting through.
I learned about A Log Cabin Christmas from the writer of one of the novellas in this collection. I’ve never met Michelle Ule in person, but we’ve communicated by email, as well as interacting in the Community area at WORLD Magazine. I decided that if I could get the book from the library, I’d at least read Michelle’s “Dogtrot Christmas” even if I skipped the rest.
As it happened, I got the book from the library at about the same time as I was trying to find a book to give to a co-worker. A couple dozen of us at work were doing Secret Santas, and I was buying for someone who likes to read “any kind of book.” That should make it easy, but instead I was stumped. If someone reads just about anything, what are the chances I pick out a book she already has? And I couldn’t feel comfortable buying a book I wouldn’t want to read myself.
Then I noticed A Log Cabin Christmas at Walmart. It was unlikely she had read it. It’s Christmas, so that made it a good Christmas gift. And while I don’t know her well, my guess was that a book with a Christian perspective would go over well. But I still wasn’t going to buy the book without having read at least most of it myself.
I had just finished reading The Sparrow (see my post about it from yesterday). The contrast between the two books is striking. They are very different books, with different goals, but I’m afraid most of these romances seemed pretty shallow in comparison. I enjoyed some of the historical detail, and there were a few interesting characters, but not much to make me think.
I can’t say it didn’t make me think at all, but perhaps not along the lines the authors might have intended. I found myself thinking things like “Did those people in pioneer days really sound that much like modern Evangelical Christians?” And “Is there a rule that romances have to have a happy ending?” (It depends on who you ask. Some people would say yes, others say the genre just requires that the story center on the development of a romantic relationship.)
It’s not that I disliked the book. I did end up buying it for my co-worker, even before I finished all nine stories, and I did finish reading the book anyway. (Not having internet access at the time was, I admit, a factor in this.)
But on the whole, my reaction was along the lines of “not as bad as I thought it might be.” I don’t know how much it’s the quality of the writing (or lack thereof), how much the genre and its penchant for happy endings, how much the contrast between this book and the one I had just read, and how much my own difficulty in having the kind of unquestioning faith in God that some of these characters had. (Some characters did question for a time, but then came around to greater faith, though what led to that was not exactly clear.)
I remind myself that every writer plays God to a certain extent. One story shows that faith is rewarded, another shows that it does not appear to be. Both are statements of the writers’ opinions about life and faith, and the reader has to decide whether which depictions accurately reflect reality. Yet how much do we know of reality ourselves, when most of what we think we know is based on other people’s stories, whether written in books or shared over a cup of coffee?
One thing I can say for sure: if I ever do write a book myself, I would want it to be more like The Sparrow than A Log Cabin Christmas.