Those of you who know me know I consider myself a pretty serious reader. I like the Tolstoy and the poetry and judging the reading choices of others. But, I have to admit I mostly like reading for the chance to get to be inside made-up peoples' heads as they do made-up things. And sometimes, I don't want those things to so serious and morally-complex and achingly well-written. Sometimes, I just want to escape.
So I am finally willing to confess that I am becoming addicted to romance novels. They are so cheesy and wonderful! I love to read them just before bed, when my mind is less likely to handle more sophisticated thinking (and, you know, having a hot-looking fictional dude be the last thing on your mind before sleep ain't so bad either). And now, I've found some compatriots in my newfound joy: Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan, the "Smart Bitches, Trashy Books" creators.
A couple weeks ago, I shared the link to Wendell and Tan's amazing website, which is hilarious but intelligent, celebrating the highest of the low-brow. Then, I found out they had a book. Naturally, I went right out and ordered it. And man, was it it worth it. Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches' Guide to Romance Novels was exactly what I needed to feel better about my secret habit. The guide is as funny as the website, and probably twice as smart. There are chapters about the development of romance literature (Old Skool vs. New Skool, according to Wendell and Tan), the importance of hero and heroine constructions, the way sex is used, and the terrifically terrible plots. There's even a chapter about the tragedy that is the romance novel cover.
The book was an absolute joy to read and exactly what I needed after the big ball of depressing from last week. Even better, Wendell and Tan know everything there is to know about romance novels and how they are constructed by writers, then enjoyed by readers. For example, there's this wonderful passage about constructing the perfect romance hero, which hits a little too close to home for ol' lecherous Beth (as any of you who know about my eyelash obsession can back up):
And after the eyes, there's one element you cannot forget: the eyelashes. No hero has stubby, forgettable eyelashes. They're always long, deceptively sooty, and visible from at least two to three acres away. When the heroine gives her survey of the hero, and notes the things about him that she cannot help but stare at, his eyes, and then his eyelashes, are nearly always mentioned. Long eyelashes are the first key that This Is the Hero because somehow eyelashes have become synonymous with some deeper, hidden sensitivity and kindness. No one who has long, sweeping eyelashes is evil, obviously.
Anyway, to make a long story short, this book is great. Even better, it provided me with the names of some romance writers to check out (since I'm stuck in a bit of a Nora Roberts rut). If you suddenly find yourself reading romance on the side, you absolutely have to check out Wendell and Tan's website and book.