As a regular reader of the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books blog, I was happy to buy this book. Having read it, I found myself wishing it had been better. A blog of its nature - and quite reasonably - is a bitsy beast and can, like the curate's egg, be good in parts, because tomorrow is another entry: a book needs greater cohesion, particularly if the publisher describes it as a 'guide', with all that implies.
In some ways, I'm not sure if the book quite knows what it's trying to do: raise a snicker with uninhibited language, amusing observations and romance-related games? analyse a best-selling but often disregarded genre with academic language and reference to research/surveys/articles? share the passion of the authors as readers of this hugely-popular genre? All of the above, even if the combination doesn't quite hold together?
The chapters cover some main features of the romance genre - heroes, heroines, plot devices and so forth; and yet I felt that there were assumptions about the readership of the book which might limit its audience. Perhaps this is something carried over from the blog, which has its own distinct community, which will no doubt embrace this book as a continuation of something they already know and love. Sarah and Candy have engaging and distinctive voices and opinions, and the comments on their blog entries are entertaining and informative discussions too.
I wondered about the assumption that 'Old Skool' romance meant old like, the 1970s. The genre has existed for far longer - Mills and Boon/Harlequin's publishing history goes back further, even if you step away from the 'romance is as old as stories' argument. Perhaps the focus on the more recent years of the genre accounts for odd factual errors/sweeping assumptions. I am a dabbler-reader in the genre, rather than any sort of expert, but found myself disagreeing with some statements/assumptions, even with my limited knowledge. I'm sure I didn't get all the in-jokes in the book, either; entertaining for the cognescenti, but excluding others from sharing the hilarity.
I wondered about the assumption that readers would know the whole genre - a guide to its main strands would seem a likely inclusion to a, well, guide to the romance genre, from category romances to Regencies to paranormal to the rest, with reading recommendations for each. While any such lists would, by their nature, be subjective, the point is of course that if you respect the authors, you're happy to be informed by their recommendations/opinions on the books they review/suggest.
There are recommendations within the text, but one of my frustrations, having read the book, was my difficulty in finding sections again to which I wished to refer - what was that recommended author/title? Where was that list of authors' favourites? There is a list of works cited at the end of the book, but this is a list of works about romance novels; there is no list or index covering romance titles or romance authors mentioned in the text. This is something the publishers should have seen as being necessary/important. I have found myself skidding through the text, looking for this mention or that, a search not facilitated by the structure the publisher/editors have chosen for the book.
There are some important issues covered, such as plagiarism, and race (where to shelve the African-American romances, the for and against of various options). The book also includes some games/choose-your-own romance sections which I found not especially engaging - I flicked through them; devoting about a third of the book to these seemed indulgent for a 'guide'.
There are some hilarious issues covered, such as snarkable cover cliches - the authors are undoubtedly witty and observant, and the covers are ripe for their style of ribald analysis. I don't think the authors have been well-served by the illustrations, which I found banal and not especially well-done.
Sarah and Candy have, through their blog, done much to raise the profile of the romance genre, raise awareness of issues, authors, books; and have provided a lively and amusing focus for a diverse and intelligent community of readers.
I wish I had enjoyed this book as much as I enjoy the blog.