Romance novels need a canon
"Bet Me" by Jennifer Crusie
A contemporary romantic comedy set to Elvis Costello and lots of luxurious and sinful sugary treats. Read the whole essay.
On a recent morning in New York City (like so many recent mornings in New York City), as temperatures hovered in the low teens and a fresh layer of snow coated the streets, I set off for work the same way I do almost every day: on my bike.
Yeah, I’m one of those crazy bikers who choose to pedal no matter what the weather. I grew up in a car-averse household in Toronto, and on mornings when most kids were being driven to school, my parents told me to bundle up and get on my bike. I didn’t like it at the time, but thanks to them, I’ve never seen cold weather as a reason not to ride.
And here’s the thing—though many commuters can’t imagine making the trip to work without climate control, I’m not alone in my determination to keep riding, no matter the road conditions. Across the United States, many of the cities that boast the highest percentage of bike commuters are also known for nasty winters—places like Minneapolis and Madison, Wisconsin. Warm-weather cities like Austin and San Diego, where the sun always seems to shine, have far fewer regular riders.
It’s a puzzling phenomenon, but less so when you consider which cities have extensive bike lanes and actively promote cycling, explains Caroline Szczepanski, a spokesperson for the League of American Bicyclists.
“What we’ve found is that weather actually isn’t much of an issue if there’s a strong bike culture,” she says.
Minneapolis, for instance, has a phenomenal trail system, downtown bike share, and tons of organized events like bike-to-work days and group rides. Urban planning makes a difference, too. If the nearest grocery store is 10 miles away, you’re less likely to hop on your bike—regardless if it’s 5 degrees or 100.
Even in New York City, and with the help of a city-wide bike sharing program, more and more riders seem ready and willing to brave the elements. On January 7, NYC temperatures plummeted to 4 degrees Fahrenheit, the coldest day on record since 1896. That same day, CITI Bike proudly announced via Twitter that the bike share program had logged 6,669 trips. That number is far below the daily average of 35,000, sure, but it’s still evidence that not everyone sees a frozen thermostat and heads for the subway.
True, on the coldest mornings, my ride along the Hudson River bike path is less crowded. In balmier weather, the trail is buzzing with commuters pedaling downtown. But on that particular morning, with temperatures in the single digits, I had the trail mostly to myself, with my own personal views of the ice chunk soup forming alongside the river’s edge. The path was plowed—but only sort of. Worse, it was unsalted, leaving occasional patches of black ice, which for a cyclist means certain disaster.
And it was. Less than half a mile from my apartment, I wound up sprawled in a two-inch layer of snow and cursing the man who had walked across my path without looking. I swerved to avoid him, realizing too late that my tires had zero traction. The result was an unpleasant meeting with the cold, wet pavement.
OK, I thought, maybe I SHOULD take the subway.
But soon enough, I felt the satisfying crunch of salt crystals beneath me, and the snow and ice disappeared. I even saw a few more cyclists. Best of all, I felt sun on my face—sunlight I might otherwise have gone without during the dark winter days spent indoors. Maybe snow cycling isn’t so crazy after all.
This week, the 2nd-annual Winter Cycling Congress is being held in Winnipeg, a place known—even by Canadian standards—for its frosty winters. More than 170 participants, from engineers to urban planners to artists, will gather to discuss ways to make cold-weather cycling as mainstream as skiing and skating.
To do that, Anders Swanson, the director of the congress, says “people need to realize it’s actually possible—that there are, in fact, places in the world where many people ride throughout the winter and it’s totally normal.” After that, he says, ensuring bike lanes are well plowed and free from ice is essential so riders feel safe.
When I asked Swanson what city most resembles winter cycling heaven, he mentioned Oulu, Finland. “There’s something special,” he says, “about seeing grandmas passing you on a bike in the middle of February, going to bingo, or whole families riding home from the grocery store.”
Oulu, by the way, is located just 124 just miles south of the Arctic Circle.
"Bet Me" by Jennifer Crusie
"Welcome to Temptation" by Jennifer Crusie
Another of Crusie's romantic comedies, this one in the shadow of an ostentatiously phallic water tower. Read the whole essay.
"A Gentleman Undone" by Cecilia Grant
A Regency romance with beautifully broken people and some seriously steamy sex. Read the whole essay.
"Black Silk" by Judith Ivory
A beautifully written, exquisitely slow-building Regency; the plot is centered on a box with some very curious images, as Edward Gorey might say. Read the whole essay.
"For My Lady's Heart" by Laura Kinsale
A medieval romance, the period piece functions much like a dystopia, with the courageous lady and noble knight struggling to find happiness despite the authoritarian society. Read the whole essay.
"Sweet Disorder" by Rose Lerner
A Regency that uses the limitations on women of the time to good effect; the main character is poor and needs to sell her vote ... or rather her husband's vote. But to sell it, she needs to get a husband first ... Read the whole essay.
"Frenemy of the People" by Nora Olsen
Clarissa is sitting at an awards banquet when she suddenly realizes she likes pictures of Kimye for both Kim and Kanye and she is totally bi. So she texts to all her friends, "I am totally bi!" Drama and romance ensue ... but not quite with who she expects. I got an advanced copy of this YA lesbian romance, and I’d urge folks to reserve a copy; it’s a delight. Read the whole essay.
"The Slightest Provocation" by Pam Rosenthal
A separated couple works to reconcile against a background of political intrigue; sort of "His Gal Friday" as a spy novel set in the Regency. Read the whole essay.
"Again" by Kathleen Gilles Seidel
Set among workers on a period soap opera, it manages to be contemporary and historical both at the same time. Read the whole essay.
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