Friday, April 10, 2009

Beyond Heaving Bosoms

The title: Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches' Guide to Romance Novels
The authors: Sarah Wendall and Candy Tan
Publication: Fireside, 2009
Got it from: Amazon

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the website Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, here's the rundown: it's basically two women singing the praises of the good and trashing the bad of the romance novel industry. The site features book reviews, cover snarking, lots of swearing, contests where readers can earn dubious-sounding peerage titles (see my sidebar for details) and, well, man titty. This is their book.

If you're looking for a dead serious outline of the genre, complete with reading lists, I'm afraid you're out of luck. If you've ever been teased for your love of romance novels, don't take them too seriously and enjoy things that make you laugh, this book is for you.

And oh, did it make me laugh. I kept going into my husband's office with, "you have to hear this!" so many times, eventually he grabbed the book from me and started reading it himself. I knew when the back cover promised to examine, in detail, the "hero's untamable Wang of Mighty Lovin'" that it was going to be a good time.

The SB's are at their best when they're (lovingly) tearing apart the worst of the worst. You know all the clich├ęs about romance novels: the impossibly beautiful women, the oiled men sporting mullets, the stock storylines: they're all examined with much snarkage. They hit the nail on the head in their discussion of Old Skool vs. New Skool romances and why women today wouldn't put up with the heroes of Old Skool romance (raping ahoy!). Their discussion of how romance covers are made is actually quite informative and I loved their interview with John DeSalvo, who's posed for approximately 1 trillion romance novel covers. (He's right behind Nathan Kamp, who's posed for 1 scrillion covers. My goodness, that man is everywhere!)

The weakest chapter by far is Chapter WTF: Defending the Genre. I've always been a little dubious about the SB's claims of being feminists. Anyone who admits to admiring Dan Savage and giving her husband's friends Playboys as gifts (ew! And gross!) is immediately suspect in my opinion. They give a good analysis of why the genre is degraded by so many but fail to offer any really good comebacks. I was really disappointed in their discussion of how to defend yourself against charges that romance is chick porn. Their answer (porn is in the eye of the beholder) was lame. I can think of two good defences: the sole purpose of romance novels is not to titillate, and it doesn't do so at the humiliation and degradation of another human being. Oh well. I can't expect everyone to have the same grasp of Feminism 101.

That chapter aside, there's some great stuff in this book. The Choose Your Own Adventure parody at the end, "Choose Your Own Man Titty," was worth the price of the book alone ("How angry is the captain when you're finally unceremoniously dumped back in his cabin? a) coldy furious or b) blazingly angry?") Hilarity aside, the writing was actually quite good. They may just have a career for themselves should should they decide to give up their website.

Rating: Eight man titties out of ten.

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