Having tackled misconceptions (and a few unfortunate truths) about romance novels in the book Beyond Heaving Bosoms, Sarah Wendell goes on to the effect that romances have had on people in Everything I Know about Love I Learned from Romance Novels. This book collects not only Wendell's views on the positive aspects of the romance genre, but also comments from romance novel readers and authors (and many quotes from their books). The results are pretty impressive.

Everything I Know... doesn't suggest romance novels are a literal guide to finding love and happiness, urging women to wait for perfectly sculpted males with a fortune and, er Mighty Wang to sweep them off their feet. Instead, Wendell examines the more positive behaviors and messages that are common in romances. The nigh-inevitable Happily Ever After (HEA) may be predictable in romances, but it also promotes an optimism for many readers that there is a bright future ahead. Wendell also advises that happiness begins with oneself, and that the HEA must be both sought after (instead of waiting for it to just come to you) and maintained (instead of taking it for granted). Romance problems may be over-the-top, but readers can learn that all problems have a solution -- and maybe one's own problems seem small compared to the over-the-top dilemmas of the romances. As for men, Everything I Know... offers everything from the real-life qualities that make a man a hero to actual ways the books can teach people about communication and what really counts in a partner.

Wendell nicely supports most of her views with comments, either from romance authors talking about what they write and what they've learned from it, comments from romance novel readers and visitors to www.smartbitchestrashybooks.com (including me: I got two paragraphs in the book!), and appropriate quotes from the books themselves. These give a variety of voices that show how romance novels have actually helped a lot of people, from trivial difficulties to significant traumas and tragedies in their lives. And Everything I Know... does it with a sense of humor, from lighter terminology (like "hornypants" and "asshat") to various lists, to a "what kind of romance novel are you?" chart. (I think this book is an improvement over Beyond Heaving Bosoms, as these extras are brief and don't distract too much from the main material.)

I found Everything I Know about Love I Learned from Romance Novels to be both entertaining and informative. While this is far from a scholarly analysis of the romance genre, it makes an excellent case for the romance novel's positive impact on the lives of its readers. This may not get you to start digging through the romance section of the bookstore/library/retail chain, but it will convince you of the positives of the genre in the lives of its fans.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch

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