Ra(w)R: Everything I Know About Love I Learned from Romance Novels by Sarah Wendell

Everything I Need to Know About Love I Learned From Romance Novels by Sarah Wendell

Release date: October 4, 2011

Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca

Allie stats:

Difficulty: Reading this books is about as difficult as eating chocolate.

Time to completion: Two days.

Rating: 8 stars out of 10.

Review:

This little book gave me so much more joy than I expected. What the wonderful Sarah Wendell did was break down the many intricacies (hahaha) of romance novels and write out some basic lessons about love, romance, and life.

Here are some of the things us romance readers know:

-we know who we are and what we are worth

-we know the difference between romance heroes and real-life heroes (because who would really want a romance hero anyway?! So much drama, too much attempting to be perfect, and there’s no way anyone has that much stamina)

-we know that lasting relationships have problems, and we know that there is almost always a way to solve them; we also know it won’t be easy, but it’ll totally be worth it

-we know that you have to be up front and ask for what you want, because the mind reading thing almost never works out

We also have some rules: don’t take people for granted, don’t be self-centered, etc. I loved reading this because it was just one big YES moment- I’m not totally insane for finding something worthwhile in romance novels! The writing at times was a little heavy with attempts at funny, but it did have me laughing quite a bit (“We’re not all looking for pirate kings who are secretly dukes, or tycoons of unspecified industry who need someone to pose as their fiancee to close a tricky business deal. We know these men don’t exist in plentiful supply, much less at all.” [pg 58]).

Everyone should read this. Every MAN I know should read this- it’s like a “here’s what many of your women-friends are thinking”-guide to the female brain-what’s really in those books extravaganza. There isn’t anything particularly shocking in it. Love yourself. Don’t be a douche. Follow through on what you say you’re going to do (personal Allie note: SO IMPORTANT). Use your abilities to the best of your ability. Love others. Don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t hurt other people on purpose. Really, romance novels are about the best parts of people coming out and making their own little corners of the world a better place.

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In which a theme is found and discussed.

I’m almost afraid to admit it on the internet, but this past weekend I read “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Not just the first one, but all three. I really, truly did. If you don’t know what that is, go look it up. Here’s the Amazon link. I tried to find a NYT article on it, but I didn’t find any that actually talked about the book, only about how women use e-readers to read porn.

Oh, interested now? Go read a synopsis and come back.

….

Ok. So why’d I do it?

Let’s start with this: I really, really like romance novels. I started reading them about two years back and really got into them last summer. I’d just go to the library, stuff 5 or 6 into a beach bag, and peace out for a few hours. I can get through one in about three hours, which makes them perfect for those afternoons that I really don’t want to do anything, but can’t commit more time than that to a book. (Or I really don’t want to.)

The first romance novel I ever read (I think) was Nell by Jeanette Baker. We were at a Games and she was signing books and for some reason Mom and I thought this sounded like fun. Actually, I’m pretty sure it was just Mom and I was there for the duration, but whatever. This book ended up at home and I read it. Then I put it down and forgot about romance for a good long while. (Probably a good thing; while I think there is NOTHING WRONG with reading romance novels, the fact that my more impressionable youth was influenced more by Robert Heinlein and science fiction and less by Nora Roberts and romance at least let’s me fool myself into thinking I’m a more reasonable, logical person. Somewhere my roommate is laughing herself to death.)

I eventually got my hands on my dad’s kindle, and just wanted to play around with it. And you know what’s really cheap (and mostly free) and very prolific in the Amazon kindle store? Romance novels. Boom, I’m a goner. There are these stories with women who know what they want, who don’t know what they want, who are smart, who have never gone to school, who have careers, who are just waiting to be married off, who don’t want to be married, who can’t have kids, who want to have kids but not really- there are women like me! Maybe a little prettier, maybe a little better off (grad student living can be fun, but not always glamorous), but they have emotions and thoughts that I can relate to.

Let’s be clear: sometimes romance novel heroines do really stupid shit. And romance novel heroes, handsome and rich as they are (but sometimes are not), can start as Grade-A asshats. There is rarely a book I don’t yell at, and if I don’t yell at it, it probably isn’t that good anyway. People do stupid stuff every day; that isn’t something romance writers made up. Most novels, last time I checked, have some problem that must be Dealt With, or else it’s pretty boring. But the point is, I find it easy to identify something in a romance novel that just clicks for me. And I can find the ones I love (then find more) and the ones I hate (and avoid those), and mix them into the rest of my library.

For a little clarification, romance is not the same as chick lit (which I hate). In my opinion romance has a hero, a heroine, a problem,  a solution, and a happily ever after. Chick lit has a main guy, a main gal, a best friend or three, a lost job, a misunderstanding, a separate-but-equally-important-problem, unpaid bills, and lots of other things that are just..ugh. I’m a little biased in that I don’t really like “modern” romances either (that is, set now as opposed to…like 200 years ago).

See what I did there? I didn’t mention sex. Yes, a romance novel OFTEN has some steamy sexytimes in there, but it isn’t a given every single time. Inspirational (aka Christian) romance? Nope, not really. Or at least everyone is married first. It isn’t my cup of tea, but for a lot people it does it for them. And you’d be amazed/flabbergasted at some of the creative ways authors describe a couple of people doing the dirty.

So what does this have to do with Fifty Shades? In case you’ve been under a rock, this book has exploded. It’s top of the charts for Amazon kindle and has been for some time, bouncing back and forth with the Hunger Games trilogy. I finally just broke down and read the silly things. (Short Ra(w)R: I wasn’t that impressed, but I read all three anyway because I needed to know how it ended. Dammit. I’m going to do an actual review on these, so no stress.) Then I found Sarah Wendell’s Everything I Know About Love I Learned From Romance Novels, which is brilliant and I highly recommend everyone read, because it’ll save a lot of stress later if we all work from the same set of rules. Wishful thinking. (I’m also going to post a review for that as well.) THEN I thought about the history of romance novels, which Sarah Wendell discusses a little bit in her book, mainly about the “bodice-rippers” that were popular for a good chunk of time and which were honestly really unhealthy. Sorry, but sex that starts as rape and ends with all parties involved declaring eternal love just isn’t believable. Or attractive.

But that isn’t where romance started. As a genre, it just isn’t that new. And that’s where my new project starts. I’m going to read Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure  by John Cleland, followed by Lady Chatterly’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence in an attempt to see how much or if at all, romance has changed over the centuries.

Fear not, my blog is not changing to a romance novel blog. For that, we have Smart Bitches, Trashy Books (see the link in the sidebar). I’m merely going to direct your attention to the fact that there will be some cross-posting discussion in the upcoming weeks. First I’m going to post a review of Sarah Wendell’s book, then Fifty Shades, then Fanny Hill, then Lady Chatterly. I estimate to be done with the romance thing by the middle of June, because what with finishing spring semester, my two week summer school class, B’s graduation, going home, R’s graduation, and starting an internship I think I’ll be wanting to spend my free time with more with my amigas and less with my kindle, but you never know. Lots of plane time in there.

 

Thoughts? Questions? Concerns? Leave ’em in the comments so we can all share!

Ra(w)R: Commune of Women

Commune of Women by Suzan Still
Release date: July 16, 2011
Publisher: Fiction Std.
Allie stats:
Difficulty level: Pleasant to read.
Time to completion: A couple of days.
Rating (1-10): 7.8 (just because I can)

Review:

 Commune of Women is about seven women, a terrorist attack, and how we can’t run away from our pasts and we can’t dictate our futures. I was pleasantly surprised by the style of the book, where we switch from perspective to perspective- it wasn’t just that now Heddi is speaking, or now Sophia is speaking, but the author clearly went out of her way to change vocabulary and style. One woman, Pearl, is a bag lady with a horrific past that made me sick to my stomach. Ondine floats on a cloud of poetry. Sophia makes me want to commune with nature, and so forth and so on. Six of our seven characters are stuck together during the terrorist attack in a small room at LAX; the seventh is one of the terrorists. At first I was a little…sickened by her story. I felt like the author was taking advantage of this fictional woman, but as the story played out, I was glad for this perspective I’d never thought about before.

The ending wasn’t my favorite. I mean, it ended fine, but I was so invested in these women that I really wanted more. That would be a separate story, but I don’t think it could ever be a separate book, so I understand why it ended where it did. Hallmark of a good book though, right? Another interesting point about this book is that I am definitely not the target audience. All of the characters except for two (the terrorist and another woman) are older, have kids, husbands, careers, and so reading about them was more like observing a foreign land than relating to their experiences. I sort of made mental notes like “oh, remember that before I get married,” “don’t let that bother me if/when I have kids,” etc. And of the two younger characters, one we didn’t really get to know as much as the other, so I can’t compare their lives to mine either.

This would make an excellent book club book, and a good summer book if you want something that isn’t fluffy and isn’t horrendously heavy (but fair warning, it is based around a terrorist attack at LAX. So there’s that).