Dear Author

REVIEW: Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels...

Dear Ms. Wendell and Ms. Tan.

book review I spent Wednesday through Saturday last week at the Popular Culture Association Conference in New Orleans attending all the Romance Area panels. There were papers about domesticity as it constructs Eve’s character in JD Robb’s novels, and the moral construction of Sookie Stackhouse and the vampires she interacts with (from Jessica of Racy Romance Reviews, whom we have seduced to the dark side!), and how Milton’s Paradise Lost informs and creates the themes of Laura Kinsale’s Flowers from the Storm, and how sadomasochism is constructed and subverted by BDSM romances. An excerpt from this book would have fit right in at the conference, because it’s that insightful and well-researched. And a few “cuntmonkey”s and “fuck”s would certainly be no less inappropriate at an academic conference than me reading out loud “fisting his own cock desperately and sucking on his fingers like a whore sucking cock for a fix.”

You ladies need no introduction to the romance world, of course. You are the Smart Bitches, romance reviewers, fans, and advocates. (And Google-bombers extraordinaire.) Now, I consider Sarah a friend. I’ve eaten in your kitchen, seen your bedroom (lots of books), and wiped kid-spooge off your childrens’ faces as you have off mine. Candy, well, you’re 3000 miles away, although I’m sure you’re a lovely person. But I read this book as a scholar first and foremost and I have to say it’s invaluable to the academic romance field we’re working so hard to build, as well as hugely entertaining to everyone who might be lucky enough to pick it up.

With cleverly titled chapters (Chapter Cleavage, Chapter Codpiece, Chapter WTF), BHB moves through the history of romance, the history of analysis of romance, the problems with romance, the future of romance (digital, digital, digital), and — most importantly — the joys and delights of romance. You don’t defend romance, per se, so much as show why the romance genre is so far beyond need of defense as to laugh in the very face of defense. And although you’re funny as fuck, you’re still methodical and insightful. Your extensive knowledge of the romance genre, both past and present, is obvious, as is your analytical ability. Would that all scholars were as thorough and as entertaining as you.

We are introduced to Mavis, the stereotypical romance reader, bless her heart. And to the Romance Plot Flow Chart. And to other deliciously snarky lists and descriptions. (Although my favorite is a fabulous picture of the evolution of the hero that readers will have to buy the book to see.)

But we’re also introduced to concepts like the two camps in the discourse surrounding romance: those Who Just Don’t Get It vs. the Cheerleaders. You Bitches manage to summarize in two pages what a contributor to my (not yet published, but soon!) academic volume on popular romance fiction does in a 4000 word article. And your summary is much more entertaining, because you can use words like “bugfuck” and “Bitching picnic.”

A sampling of the Awesome: The Bitching Dictionary tells us that a Vampire is “1: Immortal, soulless animated corpse that drinks the blood of the living. This is for some reason, considered extremely sexy. 2: An excuse for authors to inflict their most Outrhageous Nhames on the reading populace. 3: IS MORE EMO THAN YOU.” A typology of the romance heroine that includes a “Hymn to the Hymen” and one of the romance hero that includes a discussion of “The Hero’s Wang of Mighty Lovin’” (and of course, emails from Lord Hawklencravenbearesfordvilleperegrineton). Two chapters on sex (rape and good sex). “Create Your Own Deflowering Scene” magnetic poetry kits! Interviews with Emma Holly and John DeSalvo! And a full chapter on Controversies, including, of course, the Cassie Edwards plagiarism scandal. The explanations of the chronology of the scandal and the discussion of the meaning and results of Edwards’ plagiarism were succinct and a worthwhile and necessary summary of the event.

The Choose Your Own Romance at the end of the novel integrates everything that you analyzed into a hysterically funny exploration of the romance genre (that goes on a teensy bit too long if you’re reading the whole thing from front to back, which I guess is my fault for being anal). The chapter on the future of romance discusses e-publishing and, as is the way of things, already seems just slightly out of date — because the Intarwebz moves at the speed of stupidity, after all, which can be very very quick.

But there’s nothing stupid about this book. It’s snigger and giggle and burst out loud laughing funny, it’s perceptive, it’s enlightening, it’s incredibly well-researched, and it’s just plain fun. It will convince your readers to shout out loud from the rooftops that they’re romance readers. Or at least to raise a suggestive eyebrow at the sneering bookstore clerk when they buy their books.

Grade: A-

-Joan/Sarah F.

This book can be purchased in trade format from your favorite independent bookstore or ebook format from the Sony Store and other etailers.