When I was acing all the questions while watching a March 4 “Jeopardy” show, and checking on Alex Trebek’s health when I don’t even check on my own relatives’ health very often, a question came up about Nora Roberts.

The question: “Part of this author’s nearly $400 million fortune came from books she wrote under the J.D. Robb pseudonym.” The answer they didn’t get: Nora Roberts.

What I know about Nora Roberts, who started out as Eleanor Marie Robertson in Silver Spring, is that she’s a wildly successful writer of romance novels for women, lives in nearby Boonsboro, restored an old hotel in that town, and is really, really rich.

I thought it was time to find out why her books are so popular and took the radical step of checking one out of the library. “It’s not for me,” I was ready to tell the library’s checkout lady at the county’s main branch. “I like books on chain saw sharpening, war books with bombs and stuff, and demolition derbies. You know — with lots of pictures.” A true library professional, she never asked.

It was the early stages of the coronavirus panic/social distancing/shelter in place, and indoor reading seemed like the order of the day. After all, we’d already stocked up with a 54-gallon drum of hand sanitizer and a full tractor-trailer load of toilet paper stacked neatly in the garage. We were all set for a short while, anyway.

Well, sir, I got comfortable in the cushioned window seat with our cat and a hot cup of rose hip tea and proceeded with my research project of reading “Under Currents.” (Full disclosure: We don’t have a window seat or a cat — just squirrels — we do like tea, but not the rose hip variety.)

Got about halfway through this gripping drama, this adult comic book without the artwork, when I suddenly realized it was time to organize the sock drawer. So I reluctantly turned toward the bedroom, brushing back the hair that used to be there, and with a meaningful sigh, left the town of Lakeview Terrace behind. I also left to their fictional fate a huge cast of strong women, understanding men and resilient children. I’m sure they’ll be OK.

Here I was expecting steamy — no bodice ripping on this book cover, though — and got soggy instead. Typical soap opera stuff, with the same kind of language occasionally thrown in that you could hear any day from grocery store customers when they can’t find any hand sanitizer. Sure, I can criticize the writer of a zillion best-selling books, but don’t ask me how many books I’ve written. After all, they do aim these best-sellers at women.

Still, it seems like a waste when you could spend your valuable time on nonfiction substance. I’ve mentioned it before, but my favorite source for readable books is the America Library Association’s annual Notable Book List.

Or how about some local writers of nonfiction? Here’s a short list, and I’m sure to miss some:

John Ashbury — “And All Our Yesterdays: A Chronicle of Frederick County,” “As Long as We Remember,” and “Frederick County Characters: Innovators, Pioneers and Patriots of Western Maryland.”

Nancy Willman Bodmer — “Buckeystown, An Amble About Town,” with some interesting current and historical photos.

William M. Brish — “Growing up in Frederick in the Early Years of the Twentieth Century. Recollections of an Octogenarian.”

Don DeArmon — “Keep Going: A Teenage Hitchhiking Odyssey Through the 1970s.”

Marie Anne Erickson — “Frederick County Chronicles: The Crossroads of Maryland.”

Paul and Rita Gordon — “Frederick County Maryland: Never the Like Again,” and “A Textbook History of Frederick County.”

Paul Gordon — “The Jews Beneath the Clustered Spires,“ “Frederick County, Maryland. A Playground of the Civil War,” and others, on the local fire and police departments.

Nancy Luse — “More Than the Meal,” featuring food and family traditions.

Antonio Mendez — “The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA.”

Frances A. Randall — “Mirror on Frederick, Through 250 Years.”

Robert P. Savitt — “The Blue Ridge League,” “Middletown Valley” and “The National Road in Maryland.”

Some of these authors aren’t with us anymore, but their work lives on. You have to appreciate the hard work that goes into all these books. The authors follow the advice of “blooming where you’re planted,” and actually have something to say.

Bill Pritchard, who likes books with a limited number of big words and lots of colorful pictures, writes from Frederick. Reach him at billpritchard.1@gmail.com.

(1) comment


She has a following, and dilligently researches. I looked into writing formula romances way back, about the time she started, and struggled with maintaining focus just reading examples to emulate. Decades later, I cannot say, "Welcome to my historic contribution to this town, a restored hotel!" Her writing entertains many at no expense or insult to anyone else. I saw the fork, and chose to fast. Kudos, "Nora!"

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