Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches' Guide to Romance Novels
by Sarah Wendell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Beyond Heaving Bosoms / 1416571221
I don't really read romance, but I love the writing styles of Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan as seen on their website "Smart Bitches, Trashy Books". When one of my online friends mentioned they were reading this book, I couldn't snap up a copy fast enough, and I finished it in a day. It's that good.
This isn't just a book for romance fans, although I'm certain that romance fans will enjoy the heck out of it. But even for non-romance readers like me, it was eye-opening to see just how much the genre of romance has informed and influenced the non-romance books that I do read. Probably 90% of the fiction books I read have at least some romance and/or sexual tension in there alongside the 'main' plot, and as the romance genre has grown and evolved, their cousins in other genres have grown in similar ways.
If you're a fan of genre-deconstruction and trope discussions, I think you will love this book as much as I did. The parsing of Old Skool and New Skool romances was particularly informative for me, and I love the chapters which discuss hero-and-heroine archetypes and motivations. There is an entire chapter devoted to rape in romance, where it came from as a trope, why it is dying out now, and how it is being in some ways sublimated into non-consensual paranormal transformations in some sub-genres, and the whole chapter is extremely well written and handles this delicate topic well -- the authors don't flinch from calling rape "rape" while still acknowledging that the issue is more complicated than it might appear from the outside. And the discussion on romance covers and why they are the way they are was fascinating for me; I hadn't realized that many of the "classic" covers were made to appeal to male book distributors rather than female buyers.
I really, highly recommend this book if you're interested in the history of genres and the tropes that inform it. However, while "Beyond Heaving Bosoms" isn't getting out of here without a recommendation, I have a few caveats. One, there's a lot of hilarious salty language in here that may not be hilarious to all readers. Check the website before you buy and see if you like that sort of thing, would be my suggestion. Two, the e-book version of this excellent book makes me very sad and a little ragey at points -- the publisher should be ashamed of themselves for butchering an e-book like this. Issues confined to the e-book include:
* None of the images-with-text in this e-book are remotely readable. (This includes the Old Skool / New Skool Flowchart, the Big Misunderstanding Game, the Sweeping Genre Generalizations matching game, and the Spot The Bullshit Regency Term answers.) The issue is not with the e-reader, but with the images included in the e-book -- even if your unit lets you zoom in, the pictures are such a low resolution that you'll just get blurred gibberish.
* The columns in this e-book (and there are many, including the mix-and-match Virginity & Neurosis heroine chart and the Shady vs. Legit Publisher columns) are almost unreadable because of formatting issues. Column contents have been set to justified text rather than left-oriented, and with no white space between columns, which means that the whole column looks like a jumble of random words on a page and it's up to the reader to try to determine which words go where.
* Similarly, the Write Your Own Romance section at the end has justified text (as opposed to left-oriented text) on the "Foreign term of endearment: _______ " fill-in-the-blanks which wreaks havoc on the final result.
* The silly footnotes in this e-book -- and 99% of all the footnotes are a variation on "pun intended!" -- have been retained. This sort of thing is sort of cute in a paper book where the reader just has to glance down, but in an e-book where following the footnote means linking to the end and back, it means a roughly 10 second delay before the reader can get back to what they were reading. It breaks the reading flow, and I wish digital publishers would realize that and transform the "funny" footnotes into in-line parenthetical statements.
* There are a number of typos and missing words in this version of the book that may or may not be present in the print edition. I don't usually even notice typos, but in this case there were at least 1-2 flow-breaking ones per chapter, and that was enough for me to notice. Some of these appear to be OCR errors due to a conversion process that wasn't thoroughly checked over afterwards, but I can't be sure.
As I said before, "Beyond Heaving Bosoms" isn't getting out of here without a strong recommendation from me. I can really only read e-books, and so I'm glad that this book exists in electronic form even if the publisher couldn't be arsed to treat the book like the lady it is. But if you prefer print books to electronic ones, I recommend going that route so that you can enjoy all the lovely pictures.
~ Ana Mardoll