REBECCA ROBERTS, host:
Outside my office, it was a quiet spring day, but inside…
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ROBERTS: A savage tempest swirled. I could see the tantalizing book lying on my pristine desk, so tempting, so forbidden.
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ROBERTS: I should have resisted its wicked charms, but I, I was helpless against it. The book leapt into my quivering hands like a rutting stag. It claimed my mind in a punishing embrace.
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ROBERTS: Yes, dear listeners, I, a gently reared, young public radio host had just discovered "Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches' Guide to Romance Novels."
Candy Tan and Sarah Wendell blog about all things lurid, turgid and heaving. Their new book takes a loving look at the world of romance writing. And just a warning to our gentlest listeners, their language can get a bit blue.
I don't actually read romance novels, and I issued this challenge. Convince me why I shouldn't be a big snob about them. Sarah started.
Ms. SARAH WENDELL (Author, "Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches' Guide to Romance Novels"): Okay, classic, most essential romance novel, "Pride and Prejudice." Best there is. If you've read it, you've read a romance novel.
ROBERTS: Okay, so I've read all of Jane Austen. So Sarah says I've read romance novels. How about Bronte sisters? Probably them too.
Ms. WENDELL: Yeah, you're in the club.
ROBERTS: It does make me wonder, and Candy, maybe you can answer this, why all the shame? Why don't more people admit to loving the genre?
Ms. CANDY TAN (Author, "Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches' Guide to Romance Novels"): I think a lot of has to do with this cultural disdain for mushy stuff, you know, having messy emotions and displaying them. And there's this cultural squeamishness, too, about sex, and romance novels tend to deal pretty explicitly with emotions and sex.
And when you add all of that to the fact that there is a pretty clear genre structure, you know, boy meets girl, boy loses girl or girl loses boy, and then boy and girl get back together and bam, happily ever after. A lot of other genres have similar generic restrictions.
The mystery novel, the bad guy is going to be caught at the end, and the mystery is going to be solved, pretty much.
Ms. WENDELL: You hope.
ROBERTS: Well, you hold up romance novels to serious literary criticism, which you say is a gesture of respect, you know, rather than dismissing them as trash, but there are, as you say, you know, pretty recognizable characters and plots. What are your favorites, and what are some of the ones you hate, Sarah?
Ms. WENDELL: Well, the funny thing is the minute you ask me, I can think of what Candy likes best. Candy has a serious weakness for anything having to do with pirates, the good kind, not the kind that kidnap tankers.
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Ms. WENDELL: She has a serious, lusty love for anything having to do with buckling of swashes.
Ms. TAN: It's all about the tight pants.
Ms. WENDELL: Totally?
Ms. TAN: It's all about the tight pants and the cross-dressing. There's so much, like you know, the secret cabin boy. I am such a sucker for that, especially when the hero feels attracted, and he still thinks that she's a boy, and there's all this confusion. Like oh my god, am I gay?
Heteronormativity rears its ugly head, and then of course it's okay. He was just attracted to her magic, feminine love sauce that shown through, you know, her grubby britches, so to speak.
ROBERTS: Well, I have to say that, you know, you two are clearly sort of lit-crit geeks, and you assess - you just used the word heteronormativity, but the analysis that I really think is important that you all bring to this genre is that of the magic hoo-hoo, and I really would like to hear a little but more about that.
Ms. TAN: The magic hoo-hoo heals all psychic and emotional and physical ills, and it's addictive. Like, she can be the mousiest secretary in all of the office, but when the Greek billionaire doctor tycoon gets a taste of that, that's the only he can think about. It's the only thing he wants anymore. All his beautiful, icy, blonde French mistress with her perfect manicure, she does not possess the magic hoo-hoo. It is inadequate hoo-hoo.
Ms. WENDELL: The interesting thing is the untamable hero will be tamed merely by her being her, and that is all encapsulated in the magic hoo-hoo.
Ms. TAN: Yeah.
ROBERTS: You know, I read this week that romance novel sales are through the roof.
Ms. TAN: Yes. Mm-hmm.
ROBERTS: Harlequin, one publisher, has a 32-percent jump in fourth-quarter earnings compared to a year ago. Why do you think that is?
Ms. WENDELL: That's right. It is absolutely because of the economy. When everything is crappy, when everyone knows some who's lost their job or been furloughed or who's had a massive financial problem, and everyone is paying attention to what they spend, in a romance novel, you have happy endings. And happiness is not sexy. It's not stylish, but happiness is priceless, and for the price of a romance novel, everything is going to be okay in the end.
ROBERTS: Sarah Wendell joined us from member-station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut and Candy Tan from Portland, Oregon. They're the co-authors of the new book "Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches' Guide to Romance Novels." Thank you both so much.
Ms. WENDELL: Thank you.
Ms. TAN: Thank you.
ROBERTS: You can listen to Candy Tan and Sarah Wendell's recommendations for beginning romance readers at our Web site, npr.org.