Thursday, November 10, 2011

Everything I Know about Love I Learned from Romance Novels by Sarah Wendell

iconiconI saw this book featured on NPR, and thought it looked like it would be funny, so I picked it up.

It was.  Sometimes.

On the whole, though, it was a much more serious book than I was expecting.  I thought it was going to be kind of tongue-in-cheek — the title makes you think of those humor posters that state "Everything I Know about Life I Learned from My [insert animal here]".  They aren't very serious, except perhaps the parts about sleeping instead of stressing out, and I was expecting this book to be kind of the same thing — especially since the author is one of the famed bloggers on Smart Bitches Trashy Books who exposed Cassie Edwards for plagiarism in her books.

I'm sorry to say that the book wasn't at all what I was expecting.  It was actually a rather serious look at how women learn to manage relationships by reading romance.  Wendell is essentially trying to disprove the idea that romance novels cause women to hold unrealistic ideas about love and relationships, and while I agree that that's a faulty argument (do those who read crime novels go out and commit crimes? do those who read fantasy novels run around with swords and cast spells on people who hold up the line at the grocery store? WHY do we think that only romance readers — read: women — are this weak-minded), I didn't much enjoy the book.

Most of the examples she gave involved learning what not to do in a relationship, what not to look for in a man, etc., because it doesn't work out very well for people in romance novels.  I do enjoy the occasional romance, but reading all about the "what not to do" lessons had me wondering why I like this genre so much!  On the whole, romance is much better now than it was when I was initially reading them in the 1990s, but I still get annoyed with weak heroines, ridiculous misunderstandings, and all the freaking angst in many romance novels.

The one thing I don't think this book addresses is the way that romance makes it seem like you have to be in a relationship in order to be whole and complete.  I was reading an article about genre novel guidelines the other day, and it said that romance novels always have to have a happy ending.  Of course they do, but this is partly why romance makes people focus on a relationship as being the center of their life and the sole requirement for happiness.  And it's that idea that leads many people to stay in relationships that are unhappy or abusive or just not good enough.

Of course, I think the romance genre is the product of society, rather than the other way around.  It's society that tells us (especially women) that our value is determined by whether we are in a relationship, and romance novels are simply catering to that desire that has been instilled in us.  Just for once, I'd love to see a romance novel in which the heroine falls in love, has glorious sex, and then when the conflict arises, decides he's not good enough for her and breaks it off.  Why does a happy ending always have to mean that they end up together?  Personally, I think with some of these fools, I'd be much happier riding off into the sunset all by myself!

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