"This looks sexy," the President said, looking at the book the author had just handed him.
Geri Krotow blushed. "It's a World War II romance. I signed it for Michelle."
President Obama was already running late, by more than three hours. Krotow, former naval intelligence officer, Annapolis graduate, and author, is the wife of the current naval attache stationed at the American Embassy in Moscow. Standing behind the barrier earlier this month with dozens of other people, she expected the President to hand off her book to his body man and move on, but instead he stopped, turned it over, read the back flap, and began thumbing the pages (see photo at bottom of this post). When Michelle Obama came by moments later, Krotow thanked her for supporting military families ("You know we love you guys," was the First Lady's response), and told her about the book.
Will Michelle Obama read Krotow's A Rendezvous to Remember? The traditional literary establishment might not want to picture the First Lady of the United States spending her down time reading genre fiction, especially a romance. Said Joanne Rendell earlier this month here on The Huffington Post, "popular romance fiction has long been shunned, ignored, and seen by many in the ivory tower as the errant and sex-craved stepdaughter of 'real' literature." And as a high-profile role model, shouldn't the President's wife be reading The Grapes of Wrath or some other canonical classic? Or something by a present-day literary star like Toni Morrison or Michael Chabon?
Well, not necessarily. First of all, I hope that Michelle Obama reads a wide variety of work, be it high-brow or genre fiction. But as a role model, let's hope she is reading at least a sampling of what the populace is enjoying. And even an unstudied glance at the New York Times list of bestselling paperback mass-market fiction assures us that if Michelle Obama reads a romance novel this week, she would be in good company - two of the top five spots are romances. And of the other three spots, one is a thriller and another a mystery. Only one of the top five would be shelved in 'general fiction.'
I am not saying that popularity equates to good, quality reading. Sometimes the books that do well are not all that worthwhile. But there is something about reading a good book with rich narrative. Says Julia Quinn, recently featured in USAToday as one of the romance industry's cadre of Harvard-educated writers, and one of this week's NYT bestselling authors (What Happens in London, #5): "It's not just that this is a well-selling genre, it's what I like to read: character-rich stories in which women discover inner power and fall in love." It's this basic idea behind Share The Love, a non-profit founded by romance authors Maya Rodale and Ann Bleakley that collects gently-used romance novels and distributes them to women in crisis through domestic violence shelters, homeless shelters, and prisons. As share-the-love.org proudly asks, "Doesn't everyone deserve the pleasure of a good story with a happy ending?"
Yes, everyone does... And that includes working mothers with hectic schedules, not unlike, for instance, the First Lady of the United States.
Photos: top and bottom, the President holding Krotow's book: Kristi Stephens. Middle photo with the First Lady and Krotow's book in the President's hand (Krotow is the blond head behind the woman with her cheek in her hand): official White House photo