My Steely Childhood Summer Reading Program

Hardback Danielle Steel books on a wooden shelf.
Even though hardback books were hard to come by in my small town, I could always find a few Danielle Steel books at home.

Most people remember reading Little Golden Books or Dr. Seuss as children. Not me. I grew up reading my Mama’s romance novels, most notably Danielle Steel.

Danielle Steel hardbacks could be found in small stacks all over our house – a couple on my mother’s nightstand, a few tucked under a silk floral arrangement by the bathtub, and one or two on a wooden bench in the hallway.

Hardbacks were hard to come by back then. We lived out in the country with no public library, much less a bookstore nearby. Mama and I aren’t sure where she got them. We think some were birthday or Christmas gifts from my Dad, while others were passed along to her by my Granny, my Aunt Lisa, and her mother, my Grandma Ginger.

Danielle Steel paperbacks, which could be purchased at the Food Lion or Kerr Drugs in town, were more plentiful in our house. Paperbacks with the distinctive Danielle Steel font on the spines lined the bottom shelf of our TV cabinet, along with a few Harlequin romance novels and VCR tapes.

During summer breaks, when I couldn’t check out books from my elementary or middle school library, I read Mama’s Danielle Steel novels. I would escape the heat of the North Carolina summers by sitting in the air conditioning, reading about the trials and tribulations of the wealthy women who were prominent in almost all of Ms. Steel’s books. 

Loving, with its hot pink cover featuring a gold plume, is one of the first Steel books I remember finding lying around the house. I was instantly engrossed in the story of teen-aged Bettina Daniels. Would she find success and happiness after her famous father’s death leaves her penniless and alone? The Ring, Star, and countless others followed.

When I started reading these books, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t old enough to be reading steamy romance novels, but I was reading — and they were no worse than the daytime soap operas that aired all afternoon on three of the 4 TV channels we could get through our rabbit ear antenna — so no one cared.

Matters of the Heart by Danielle Steel on a wicker shelf.
Danielle Steel’s books helped inspire a lifelong love of reading.

Some people scoff when I tell them I grew up reading Danielle Steel novels instead of classic literature or something more traditionally accepted as good writing. “How could that ‘fluff’ have inspired a lifelong love of reading?” they ask.

I don’t really understand what they mean. Her books transported this small-town kid to cities and places I’d never seen, and they tackled universal experiences of surviving heartbreak, betrayal, and overcoming loss. Her stories were interesting, and her characters were successful women of all ages finding their way in the world.

I will always be grateful to Ms. Steel, one of the best-selling fiction authors of all time, for her part in making me a book lover.  She helped pave the way for some of my favorite contemporary romance authors like Emily Henry and Colleen Hoover. And while I’ve broadened my reading interests since I was a kid, I still love a Danielle Steel-style romance novel every now and then!

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