An Goris, postdoctoral research fellow at Princeton University, first began reading romance novels in Dutch. Frustrated with her inability to read the newest English-language releases her mother brought home from the U.S., Goris sat down with a dictionary and worked through the novels word by word. Goris tells how she went from avid reader to scholar and 2013 winner of the RWA Academic Research Grant.
When did you discover romance novels?
I started reading romances when I was I think 12, 13 maybe. My mom was a romance reader and her books were lying around the house. Some summer day I took one of them and started reading it—it was a category romance—and I loved it. I started reading category romances with my mom in Dutch at the time. I did that for a few years, and my mom and me both loved it.
At that point she started traveling to the United States more for her work. She started buying and reading some of the romances in English and brought some of them back with her. We started realizing that the translations were not necessarily very excellent. I, however, did not speak English, I was failing English at school [laughs]; I was 14 or 15 by that time and was literally failing English. But, I remember very vividly at some point I discovered Nora Roberts amongst my stack of category romances. I remember reading the Stanislaski series, I think it was, and reading perhaps the third or fourth novel in the series but I didn’t realize it was a series because in Dutch it wasn’t translated as a series. I was reading it and at some point I was like, “This is a character that I’ve read before. I’ve read the romance story of this character! Who’s this author?” I remember flipping open to the front cover and looking at “Nora Roberts” and thinking, “I need to remember the name of this author.”
So my mom and me both really liked her work and started looking for her novels in particular. We were mainly buying romances at a secondhand bookstore. We would go in every week religiously looking through shelves and shelves of them for Nora Roberts novels. But they weren’t translated as quickly as we were reading them! My mom started noticing when she traveled to the States for her work that there her name came up a little bit more and was more present in bookstores. So she started buying Nora Roberts novels there and brought them back.
I saw them lying there and I couldn’t speak English well enough to read them but I wanted so badly to read Nora’s novels that I eventually took a dictionary and a novel and just sat there and started reading them with the dictionary in my lap, because I really, really wanted to do that. In about six months I became—my English greatly improved. I got to be first in my class, and I devoured all of Nora’s books.
Eventually I went on to study English at university, which I really liked but I was very much convinced that I wasn’t going to be an academic because that was not what I wanted to do. I hadn’t even considered at that point that you could study romance novels, that was not something that was part of my setup—I did not at all realize that until I was in my Master’s and one of my professors said—we read Janice Radway in a literary theory course and I was shocked. ‘Cause I was like, This is what I’m reading?” I never talked about it because I was a literature student and I never talked about the fact that I read romance novels. But I realized, “Ooh, there are people who are studying this, very interesting.” And I went and talked to my professor and I said, “Is that possible, can you do that? Can you study that?” and he said, “Yes, yes, you can.” And so, I started writing an M.A. thesis on romance novels, on handbooks for writing romance novels, actually. After a while I realized, “This is really, really neat; I need to figure out how I can keep doing this because this is very fun!” So I developed a PhD project and wrote a dissertation on Nora Roberts, which was like a dream come true. Eventually I had the dissertation, I defended it, and then I went to Princeton. Now I’m at Princeton and I’m writing the first ever monograph on Nora Roberts. So yeah, that was a fun journey.