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Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches' Guide to Romance Novels Paperback – 14 Apr 2009
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"Funny, irreverent, and insightful, this guide zeros in on the joys and woes of the romance genre... delivering both in delightful, readable style." -- Nora Roberts, New York Times bestselling author
"A high-octane, hilarious and revelatory look at the romance genre...It's too much fun to be missed!" -- Lisa Kleypas, New York Times bestselling author
"Sarah and Candy point out all that's ridiculous and annoying in the genre, while showcasing all that's good and valuable, with wit, style, intelligence, and snark." -- Jennifer Crusie, New York Times bestselling author of Welcome to Temptation and Crazy for You
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Though the sarcastic style, the humour, and the critical approach to romance made a welcome change from the 'romance community's' general closing of ranks, defensive style, I expected better.
I am sure most romance readers will love it, however. It deliberately adopts a 'low brow' 'foul mouthed, in your face' approach, and a lot of women readers will be delighted.
The approach is often superficial. The arguments are often not well thought out and sometimes contradictory.
I was already weary of the constant massaging of the romance readers' ego and savage attacks on its detractors to be found all over the web before I read it, and to be fair this was written long before all these. Sarah Wendell makes the inevitable assumption that anyone critical of the genre as a whole hasn't read one romance book.
I have read many, and I have written some, and I believe that there are many things wrong with the genre, including badly researched, badly written porn with rapist heroes in - or halfway out of - fancy dress passing as 'historical romance' .
The style was very accessible, but why ever have those daft 'exercises' at the back been included? Were they meant to be a joke?
They seemed rather a waste of space to me.
I was relieved to see that Wandell, instead of evading the issue of the rapist in romantic novels, particularly historical romances, has meant that unfortunately romances have in the past fully deserved their 'Bodice Ripper' label.
I was, however, disappointed that Wendell defends the rape fantasy on the grounds that: - 'The eventual taming of a sexually dangerous and aggressive creature... allow women a safe place to explore - and invert- the power relationship in a rape. Romance novel rape ultimately places the woman in control'.
Why romanticise such a horrible thing at all? She does not explore why so many women may have these masochistic fantasies - could it involve power relations, just possibly? Wendell defends the right of women to read and enjoy fantasy about any aspect of sexual behaviour. Really? I can't believe that includes for instance,child abuse or systematic racial abuse. I assume she would draw the line at that. Why is the abuse of women seen as OK to explore in romantic novels because unequal power relations give women a tendency to revel in masochism? Why, also, does Wendell take the unquestioning position that porn for women is a good thing in response to the 'Porn for Women' argument?
These questionable arguments in defence of rape fanstasy and 'reader control' have been trotted out in every book or article I have read defending romance and they never seek to define how women's sexuality must have been distorted under unequal power relations.
I was also disappointed that Wendell assumes that romantic novels that try to 'transcend the genre' and also abandon those ridiculous covers 'don't count as one anyway'. Why not? I believe there are a number of romance writers out there who oppose the Hearts and Flowers HEA and try to insert a bit more realism as much as I do.
Why do romantic novels have to be distinguishable by absurd covers of men whose over rounded pectorals need a bra?(I have even seen one of a Scottish Laird standing shirtless in the snow outside his baronial castle. Had his gambling debts even cost the shirt from his back?
I thought romance readers are eager to claim, for instance, Jane Austen as a writer of romance. Doesn't she 'transcend the genre'? We have yet to see her books (not the 'variations', that's sadly a different story) with covers with half decomposed looking. shirtless males on the cover.
This book is far more entertaining than Regis' solemn approach - but still unsatisfactory as a convincing defence of romance.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
They get down to business in every possible way. It is an hilarious overlook, analysis, and commentary on the media and the industry Forthright and funny, funny, funny. Thoughtful and a rush and a blush.
These ladies had fun with it.
And as long as you don't mind an irreverent, tongue-in-cheek look at the genre as a whole and how it has evolved over time, you will come out wiser for it and also highly amused along the way.
But don't read it in public. I tried to check out a friend's copy while we went walking. I nearly fell over laughing and probably shocked the people around me. Multiple times. Enjoy this one in a chair so you might at least have a shorter distance to the floor as you gasp for breath.
Yeah, it really is that fun. (But do realize, they swear, they warn you in advance but this isn't a prestigious peer-review. It's a down-and-dirty, in the mud, frank discussion about the romance genre. Still informative, but not gentle or kind about it.) Get it. It's amusing.
What joy this book has been to read! A few points:
-Chapter names of AWESOMENESS
Right from the start, BHB begins as it means to go on by kicking chapter numbers to the curb and giving us chapter names made of pure brilliance. From chapter Cleavage through chapters Secret Cowboy Baby and Love Grotto, I loved them all. My favorite, however, had to be chapter Phallus, not just for the name (though, c'mon) but for its content, part of which was a serious look at the inner working of the genre and the ways in which it hamstrings itself in the larger publishing world. Which brings me to...
-Niceness and what it means for policing one's own genre
I stand firmly with the Smart Bitches on this one, plagiarism is not sexy. Nor is it something to overlook or gloss over in the name of "Can't we all just get along?". This isn't a Ladies Aid Society meeting in 1810, people. It's not about making nice in order to save face in society. Your work had better be your own goddamn work, and your attributions regarding the work of others had better be writ large and unambiguous. In a genre that's long been under siege as worthless trash, nothing signals the larger literary world that you STILL aren't ready for the big kids' table than circling the wagons around an obvious plagiarist.
And no amount of, "the author didn't know better" or "if it's on the Internet, (or public domain) it's not really stealing" will change that. Plagiarism isn't new. You know what you've written and what you haven't, full stop. And saying that things published online are fair game for poaching is like saying that pilfering your neighbor's outdoor holiday decorations is acceptable because, "they were out there in public, so that must mean they're free to take." It's bullshit and everyone knows it.
-Old school romance, its lingering stigma and romance as a denigrated genre
This is where I admit that, while I used to read romance novels for the pure fun of finding the sex scenes amid the implausible plot devices, I stopped reading them in my early 20s. I stopped because that was the heyday of the Rapist Hero and after a time I just found the idea of rape-is-a-gateway-to-romance all too oppressive and vile.
Sadly, that image of romance novels persists to this very day. It's part of the easy dismissal the genre gets from, well, pretty much every other genre out there. "Hey, I my read ______," the reader says. "But at least I don't read crappy bodice rippers/lady porn/your epithet here." As if implausible plots and sex scenes only existed in one genre.
Happily, the Smart Bitches are here to exorcise the ghosts of plot devices past, and boy do they ever.
-It's okay to love books about love, sex and sexuality
Really, it is. Like the old school Hero rampaging across the Heroines personal landscape, the common idea is that emotions are weak, therefore anything that celebrates emotions (or emotionally charged human pursuits like sex) must be correspondingly weak. The Smart Bitches drag those dusty old notions out into the yard for a good beating in the fresh air.
They point out that, unlike any other genre, romance novels alone focus on female sexuality as pivotal, not only to the plot, but to the heroine as a fully realized human being. They give us a view of romance not as the unloved step-child of publishing, but as the subversive renegade, daring to openly embrace what everyone privately knows but refuses to admit in polite company. And ain't that just the best thing ever?
-And finally, a quibble
If I had one quibble with this book (and I did) it was the lack of editorial oversight with regard to the use of there's vs. there're. Yes, I know it's common vernacular now to default to there's in all situations. I also know that language is fluid, that it changes as society changes. But damn it all, common or not, it's still incorrect, and what I can forgive in conversation I cannot in print. Not yet, anyway.
You kids, get out of my yard.
There you have it. I thoroughly enjoyed the Smart Bitches and their guide to romance novels; part academic treatise, part adolescent snicker-fest, both sides of my brain reached the last page highly satisfied.