When mingling with her fans, Roberts deftly shifts her persona between down-to-earth everywoman and vampy celebrity. At a signing last Saturday at Turn the Page bookstore in Boonsboro, which she co-owns with her husband, Roberts, clad in a body-skimming leather dress and spiky leopard-print heels, buddied around with her readers, talking about clothes and her new jewelry and posing for pictures. The line to see her snaked around the store for hours, allowing people to check out the Nora paraphernalia — tote bags and T-shirts emblazoned with zingers from her books, scented toiletries and necklaces named after her characters — and, of course, stacks and stacks of her books.
The crowd of more than 200 — most of them women, some with camera-toting husbands — clutched their books lovingly. For many Roberts fans at the event, the books were more than just stories; they were prized possessions.
“I don’t give up my books for anything,” said Alice McGuckin, 46, a payroll clerk from Erial, N.J., who says she owns all of Roberts’s books. (Her daughter, a 21-year-old University of Maryland student, has all of Roberts’s future books pre-ordered on her Kindle.)
Janell Pulido, 36, a nurse from Potomac, said she kept the books in trunks in the basement of her 5,000-square-foot-house. Pat Christopher, a 58-year-old retired federal government employee from Stevensville, Md., said she has two bookcases in her bedroom devoted to Roberts’s books. “I’ve reread all of them,” she says. “You dive right in, and she carries you on every page.”
The appeal of Roberts is simple, says Sarah Wendell, co-founder of the romance-review blog Smart B-------, Trashy Books: “She’s consistent. She’s ubiquitous. Readers know that if they take a Nora Roberts on vacation, they won’t be disappointed.”
Many critics haven’t been so kind — when they bother to take notice. Like many romance novels, Roberts’s books are typically overlooked in the mainstream media, and the silence is often more complimentary than the reviews. Writing in the New York Times, Janet Maslin dismissed Roberts’s 2001 novel “The Villa” as an example of “feminine wish fulfillment.” Maureen Corrigan wrote in The Washington Post that Roberts’s 2009 novel “Black Hills” “isn’t much of a suspense story, and the romance is so silly that it isn’t even good fantasy fodder.”
Roberts claims not to care about what she calls the “literati war on women.” Just because many women “like to read about emotions,” she says, “doesn’t mean we don’t have intellect.” And anyway, she adds, “Why is it not healthy to believe in love? Why is it not valuable to write about strong, healthy women finding a strong, healthy relationship?”
Such battles don’t interest Roberts much. She says she’s living her own romance novel — and the sunset is still off in the distance. How many more books does that mean? “It depends how long I live,” she says. God willing, and based on her current rate of output, we can probably expect her 300th novel sometime around 2032.
Krug writes the monthly New in Paperback column for The Post.