I’ve been doing a tiny bit of voice work for one of Phillip Kerman’s projects, and it’s reminded me of how much I really enjoyed reading things out loud.
Back in the mid-’80s, I did a brief volunteer stint as a night-time DJ at KRVM, an FM station owned by the 4J school district in Eugene, something that I wasn’t able to capitalize on once I’d moved to Portland. A vocal habit I did manage to bring with me, though, was something I’d started doing while unpacking boxes for Himber’s Books, though, which was reading the overheated prose from cover blurbs of romance novels for the entertainment (I hope) of some of my co-workers.
When I moved to Portland and went to work at Powell’s, I started off restocking the Popular Fiction section, which was basically the fiction bestsellers that you’d find in your local grocery or Fred Meyer: thrillers, suspense, and romance. Tom Clancy, Ken Follett, Danielle Steel, Barbara Taylor Bradford: that was my stuff. It wasn’t a section that got a lot of respect from most of the other employees, but despite it’s relatively small size compared to the Literature section, it moved stock.
Apparently, other people thought it was a good idea, because before a year was out, Diana Tuttle — who ran the Gold Room (pop fiction, sci-fi/fantasy, mysteries) and was my immediate supervisor — had collaborated with Anne Hughes in the Coffee Room to organize a Valentine’s romance reading. There was a drawing for a romantic weekend at the coast, chocolates on the chairs, and we ended up with a couple hundred spectators as Diana, Anne, local actress Vana O’Brien, and others read blurbs and sections of romances that they’d done an amazing amount of research to find, including one about a woman cross-dressing as a Union soldier who gets captured. All I remember is that when I was reading, with all the people crammed into the Coffee Room, it felt like the glass windows got awfully steamy and the air was moist and heavy.
This a picture from 1988, with me, Anne Hughes standing next to me, Vana O’Brien next to her, and Diana Tuttle second from the right.
The book I’m holding is a history of the romance novel: The Romance Revolution: Erotic Novels and the Quest for a New Sexual Identity by Carol Thurston.