Ahhhh, love. And books about love. Aren’t they both grand? And no one knows books about love better than Sarah Wendell, the woman behind Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. If you’ve never checked them out, don’t let the name fool you: this is a site about feminism, female empowerment, and encouraging and promoting the best of ourselves and our sisters, all under the guise of kissing books (and I love it all!). I’ve been listening to the podcast for two months now, slowly (I start it up as I get into bed, and then the next night, I start it again where I fell asleep…A single episode sometimes takes a few days!), I enjoy their cover snark posts, their reviews, their sense of humor and their ability to snark on anything, and I’ve learned so much from them. Years ago, I read and enjoyed Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels by Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan, and so I knew I’d also love Ms. Wendell’s Everything I Know About Love I Learned from Romance Novels.
Straight off, this is a love letter to the genre. It’s a book that emphasizes everything good about romance novels, from empowering women to take charge of their own lives and destinies, to helping women understand what they do and don’t want in a romantic partner. There are so many myths out there about romance books- that they raise women’s expectations in an unrealistic manner (trust us, we all know we’re not getting a mullet-haired, open-shirted, kilt-wearing beefcake whose abs have more waves and ripples than the Pacific, to bend us backwards for an almost-kiss in the moonlight with a snow-capped mountain in the background), that they’re so formulaic and predictable ANYONE could write them (the people who say this never seem to have author credits to their name, nor can they name any romance novels that they’ve read), etc, but Ms. Wendell blasts these myths out of the water with real-life examples from both readers and authors. It’s charming, it’s funny, it’s moving and inspiring, and I added a few books to my TBR list because of it. (And the podcast. Dear God, that podcast has added SO much to my TBR. I woke up the other morning around 4 am with the podcast still going in my ear, just in time to hear the guest talk about a book she recently loved and it was 100% right up my alley, and I added it to my Goodreads list at that very moment, in the dark, at 4 am. It’s a dangerous listen for the TBR!)
If you write romance or write books or stories with any kind of romantic element in it, you NEED to read this book. Trust me. There is SO much good advice in here when it comes to writing the kinds of healthy, realistic relationships that readers want in their books. I spent a lot of time reading this nodding my head, then staring off in the distance to think of how I was handling whatever issue was being discussed in my current WIP (on which I’m rarely able to W, because my daughter is engaged in an all-day-long monologue, broken up only by her need to have 27483274932 questions answered, and I’ve tried, but it’s utterly impossible to write when she’s here, so come August, I’ll hopefully get some writing done when she’s off to school!)
I definitely enjoyed the advice from the romance authors, but what stood out the most to me were the sections where the readers chimed in with the things they learned from the books they read: “That kind of hero makes for a good read, but I wouldn’t be able to stand him in real life,” “When the heroine was acting like that, I realized I do that too, and I immediately began to change my behavior,” and “It helped me to understand that I’m worthy of being treated better than I had been in my previous relationships” are all epiphanies that dawned on romance readers while they had their noses buried in a book. Who says you can’t learn anything from romance???
Everything I Learned About Love I Learned from Romance Novels is a fun, insightful look into a genre that has been demeaned since its inception but still marches on strong and never backs down. I for one am seriously glad that it does not, and I very much look forward to whatever Sarah Wendell offers us next, because her keen observations on the romance genre always strike the perfect chord with me.