How and why did “reliable” become something not to be desired, something to be avoided, something nearly pejorative? In a chaotic, confusing, always changing world that asks more and more of us every day (when it isn’t scaring us to pieces), isn’t there something wonderful about reliability?

Contemplating Julia Quinn’s romance novels is what started me to wondering about the negative connotations of “reliable.” Over the weekend, I finished the latest Bridgerton book with a happy and satisfied sigh, and then I imagined telling people about it. I imagined describing Julia Quinn’s books to them, and in my mind’s ear, I heard myself say, in a grateful tone, “She’s reliable.”

Almost immediately, my internal editor, who also acts as a general censor and guardian of good manners, shrieked, “You can’t say that!” The general sense was that I’d be committing some awful, very public act of professional discourtesy, not much shy of calling someone a hack. Which seems excessive.
I suppose I could define what I mean when I say Julia Quinn is reliable. But that seems… I don’t know, kind of silly. If you have to explain it, why say it at all? Just use the explanation.

Still, I wish I could say “reliable” and have people understand that I offer it in gratitude and mean it as a compliment. It’s not code for “dull” or “predictable” or “boring.”

What reliable in this context means is that I start one of Julia Quinn’s books knowing I’ll read it with a great deal of pleasure and that when I finish it, I’ll sigh happily and think, “That was good.” I open her books knowing there won’t be any word choices that make me wince, there won’t be characters behaving stupidly because the plot demands it, and the plot will arc in a satisfying way.

Reliable means that, by now, I trust Julia Quinn, and that means I buy her books because of her name, not because of the story.

I just wish it sounded like more of a compliment and less like I was damning her with faint praise.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Cherry Red
    Aug 17, 2006 @ 01:43:00

    It really does sound like a compliment. If someone said that about my writing I would feel very good about it indeed. I feel that way about everything you write Katy. 🙂

    I’ve seen Julia speak 3 times now and she’s darling and really funny. I keep meaning to pick up one of her books because I love historicals and I figure if she comes off that great speaking at conferences, I’d probably enjoy her writing voice as well. Do you have a title you sugest I start with?



  2. Katy Cooper
    Aug 18, 2006 @ 18:45:00

    I started with The Duke and I, so I’m gonna recommend that one.

    One of the things I like about that book–and I think about her work in general–is that she’s not afraid to focus on the nitty-gritty truth of relationships. Daphne gets what she wants: a husband…and then she finds out that she wants more, and that she’s not willing to settle for less, and watching her fight for what she believes is her due is exhilarating.

    Okay, I need to reread that one…


  3. Cherry Red
    Aug 19, 2006 @ 01:39:00

    The Duke and I. Got it. thanls! I must go check and see if it’s still in print…


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