The XX Factor

Nora Roberts, Cool Chick

Nora Roberts has written 182 novels. Last year alone she sold 8 million copies of her new romance titles, 5.5 million books off her backlist, and 4.5 million copies of her mystery books. Her work has been on the New York Times bestseller list for more than 700 weeks, but she’s been reviewed in its pages only once. This week Lauren Collins at The New Yorker throws Roberts a highbrow lifeline in the form of a charming, funny profile that fully convinced me 1) I should read a Nora Roberts book and 2) I really want to hang out with Nora Roberts.

There are clear sociological motivations for reading Roberts (one in five readers is reading romance; Roberts is the Goliath of romance; she sold 17 million books last year , almost all, one assumes to American women), but Collins makes the case, without ever overselling, that Roberts’ books might not be totally devoid of artistic merit. Her novels will always have a relatable main character, always have a plot, always include sex (sez Roberts, “Sex is important in the books because, without it, it would be like eating a rice cake instead of a cupcake”), and, most compellingly, contain dialogue that could be delivered by Hepburn-Tracy, Grant-Russell, or Hepburn-Grant, e.g. “I’ve decided to hate you.” “Oh? Again?” and “I’m informed that you and the deceased had a relationship.” “What we had was sex.” Snap, crackle, pop.

More charming even than these screwball exchanges is Roberts herself, who comes across as a down-to-earth, foul-mouthed, self-deprecating, extremely grounded, extremely disciplined woman whose key commandment of writing is “Ass in the chair.” This may not help turn a girl into Proust, but I think I’m going to tape it on my refrigerator anyway. Roberts also has advice for Susan Orlean, who Twittered last week about the trials and tribulations of being a working, writing-from-home mom. With respect to her own kids, Roberts’ rule was, “Don’t bother me unless it’s blood or fire. And, as they grew more responsible, arterial blood and active fire.” Arterial blood! I need to go start a Nora Roberts book, stat.