I picked up my first romance novel at the age of 12, and just like that I was hooked. By the time I was in high school, I read romance almost exclusively and, during a productive week, could read (or re-read) 5-7 books. And yet, I was made to feel ashamed. My guy friends would grab them from my hands and flip through them until they found a sex scene and attempt to read it out loud. I get it. They were 16 and it was sex and boys pick on you to show their affection at that age. Yet, it still hurt, and I still felt like I needed to hide my reading habits. Or at least my book covers. And as I’ve grown, I’ve learned a thing or two about not being ashamed of my books, but romance is still tragically not recognized by many as something smart women read.
When I was reading Everything I Know About Love I Learned from Romance Novels (heretofore known as EIKAL) by Sarah Wendell, goddess of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, I sent a friend a text message that said “this book is validating my entire existence.” And then I tweeted the same sentiment to both Sarah and every one of my Twitter followers. This is it, I thought, this is the information and explanation I needed for those teenage douchecanoes all those years ago. She knows all the ways that being a romance fiend has made me a better person, a better friend, and quite a catch, frankly. Yes, it was probably dramatic of me, but there was a great deal of truth to it. Wendell is offering something fantastic to romance readers in EIKAL.
In her previous book, Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches Guide to Romance Novels, Wendell & her co-author Candy Tan offered a kind of Romance Novel 101. They answered the questions of ‘What exactly is a romance novel, how long have they been around, and what are the themes and archetypes embodied in them?’ In EIKAL, Wendell tackles something akin to Romance Novel 201, taking a look at how romance readers are affected by the romances they read.
Throwing out the idea, as she did in Beyond Heaving Bosoms, that romances are meaningless bits of fluff, Wendell clearly and with great humor gives voice to all the things romance readers have long known about their beloved genre but may not have been able to articulate: these books teach us something. They give us safe spaces to explore what we want out of real life relationships. They help us learn communication and problem solving skills. They teach us a thing or two about good sex. And they do it while entertaining our pants off.
If you’ve read any of Wendell’s work for Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, you’ll recognize her writing voice in this book. She’s quite often funny, delightfully direct, and always insightful. Quotes from popular romances and from authors themselves serve as Wendell’s source material, and I dare you to read this book without making a shopping list. In fact, Wendell includes one at the end, because she’s got our backs like that.
If you’re a long-time lover of romance or even a recent convert, you’ll like this book. Like me, you’ll thrill when Wendell quotes an author or book you like or mentions a character that you’ve been in love with for years. If you’re one of those people who thinks romances are trashy and useless: you’re wrong, you should let me smack you about the head, and you should read this book to find out why you‘re a wrong meany-head. My only complaint? This book should come in a big box with all the books Wendell has on the shopping list! I’d buy it.