Book Review: Beyond Heaving Bosoms

Image description: The cover of the book features an illustration of a masculine figure and a feminine figure embracing. His suit is disheveled and she is wearing a light pink, silky dress. The text of the title is red and the subtitle is blue. The book is held up in front of the stacks of romance paperbacks in a library.

If I ever die beneath a toppled pile of my Work-in-Progress manuscripts, please bury me with this book: Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches Guide to Romance Novels by Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan. As a hopeful erotic romance writer, this book was such an important piece in understanding my place in the history of romance and the development of the genre.

The authors are the founders of the website Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, which is its own empire of information and community and should be on any romance reader or writer’s resource list.

This book is categorized as “humor” on the back, and I have to say humor is a big part of the narrative voice. When I went to review this book, I randomly opened the book to the sub-section “The Irresistible Woman’s Magic Hoo Hoo Tames the Untamable Mighty Wang.” I mean, who wouldn’t want to read about that?

But this book is much, much more than just humorous takes on romance tropes. This book is history, analysis, sociology, and psychology. I absolutely believe you should read this book if you plan to write any book in the romance genre.

I learned a lot about the history of romance from this book and it is great to have a summarized source that I can return to in the future. The authors offer their analysis and opinions throughout the work alongside facts and explaining trends.

The authors do discuss tons of aspects of tropes and storytelling elements, but the book goes beyond the text of romance novels. There are discussions about cover art, the “types” of people who read romance, and sociological meaning or the “why’s” behind readership of the genre. There are also fun and humorous “exercises” throughout the text to break up passages heavy on history or analysis that I thought added to the flow of the book overall.

Along with the fun and interesting aspects of the genre, the authors do not shy away from confronting darker aspects as well. An entire chapter is dedicated to discussing rape in romance and some of the publishing and readership trends that contributed to this trope. (The authors talk about why this element fortunately disappeared from romance novels around the late 1980’s.) The following chapter explores good sex in romance novels and the social implications of positive representations of sexualities in the books we read. Yay!

I absolutely loved reading this book. I have many places throughout the text underlined, and since it’s been a while I plan to re-read a couple chapters again. If you are a fan of the romance genre you will likely really enjoy spending time with this book. And if you write romance, you simply, must spend some time with this book! I also recommend this book to any librarians who do romance reference for patrons.

Onward, Magic Hoo Hoos and Mighty Wangs! We’ve got books to read!

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