Sunday, January 18, 2009

Book 12 of 52: Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches' Guide to Romance Novels

Over the last week or so, I have been working on two features about the romance novel industry (as regular readers well know). One thing these stories must have is the all knowing 'expert opinion' from someone who is not biased (e.g. doesn't work at a publishing house) and critical (e.g. doesn't run Romance Writers of America).

Imagine how lucky I got with Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches' Guide to Romance Novels(pub date April 14) by Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan -- luckier still because the book is everything I hoped it would be. It's a history and overview of the romance novel industry written by the women behind The book covers e v e r y t h i n g from the old stereotypes of readers that no longer apply (the cat lady/fanny pack drawings are priceless) to genres within the genre to what the heck is up with all those Fabio covers.

It's also incredibly funny. If you've poked around their website, you can guess the tone that this book has. My favorite part, even above the Q&A with my favorite author Nora Roberts, are the words and phrases that they've either altered or made up.

If you've got kids in the room, shield their eyes because here's a few of my favorites (and they're not exactly PG, though I have edited things down to PG-13):

man titty
shit#uckton of people
holy ##ntmonkeys
bug #uck
#uckcakes of crap
bitch money
hymn to the hymen
man root
chest pillows
rumpy pumpiness
heroic wang of mighty lovin

FUN! As someone with a BA and MA in English literature AND enjoys the occasional romance novel, it was a relief to read a book that defends the genre for what it is: a genre that's not much different than mysteries, thrillers of John Clancy novels -- just with more, um, man titty. Plus the book lead me down a few author paths that I might follow up on for this blog.

I didn't even realize until the end of the book that Wendell and Tan were at the center of a major publishing controversy. A year ago, they published a post about how one of their readers found passages of romance novelist Cassie Edwards' work were lifted from other sources. The thing snowballed and lead to Edwards getting dropped by her publisher and Wendell and Tan being both celebrated and reviled within the industry for speaking out of turn.

I'd read about the controversy when it happened last year, and never put two and two together. This book marks the first time they're speaking out about the controversy. They write, "We don't care if you like us or you like what we say. It should not matter who says it at all: plagiarism is wrong." Yes, yes it is.

Now, the timing of this book being published isn't perfect just for me, but for a major publisher in the industry: Harlequin is turning 60 this year. In honor of their birthday, they're giving out free books (well, e-books) to anyone who signs up to this site. Downloads start on January 29. They'll also be having a gallery show in New York City of 60 years of covers (I'll pass along details when I have them). Can't get to New York this spring to see them? Get yourself a 2009 Harlequin Vintage Cover Calendar.

I got mine from a kind soul who was getting rid of hers via I'm guessing it was a promotional item because it's not for sale other than on ebay.

Goodness, these covers are saucy. My favorite, based on the title and sheer oddity, is Virgin with Butterflies by Tom Powers.

Let's analyze, shall we? We've got a woman sitting on a chair that's only drawn in outline. Her skirt is hiked up around her waist so we see her thigh high stockings and garters. The stockings appear to be fishnet, and paired with red peep toe pumps. That's a bit silly if you ask me, but it's nothing compared to what is around her: heads. Floating heads. Floating heads that are floating because butterfly wings are coming out of their ears.





Fun calendar, eh? It's been some 60 years for Harlequin.

Anyway, back to the book actually being reviewed: I liked it. I could have done without some of the final chapters, like the make your own romance and coloring guide, but overall, it's a great read, especially if you like the genre and are tired of being made fun of for it.

I try to post a review of a book as soon as I finish read it, but that didn't happen this time. Why? Check it out.

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Vera Marie said...

What a fun book that is! I'm not even a romance fan and I might read it. Thanks for the great review.

Vera Marie Badertscher

Jen A. Miller said...

Exactly, Vera! I'm not a huge huge fan of the industry but I still found this book very interesting, which is why I think it's so good.

suburbanbeatnik said...

Hi there Jen! It's Joanne Renaud here, one of the illustrators that worked with Sarah and Candy on "Bosoms." I'm so glad you liked the cat lady "Mavis" drawings I did- they were so much fun to do, and it was so awesome working with the Smart Bitches. I can't wait until I can get a copy of my own!