A Tale of Two Non-Fictions: Founding Myths by Ray Raphael (Unfinished) and Beyond Heaving Bosoms by Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan (#5)

A Tale of Two Non-Fictions: Founding Myths by Ray Raphael (Unfinished) and Beyond Heaving Bosoms by Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan (#5)

Hey, I really like long post titles!

Will you all think I’m shallow if I say I don’t read much non-fiction? I mostly read for entertainment, and about 80% of my reading is done on the subway as I commute to/from work. That means that, in the morning, I’m bleary-eyed and haven’t yet had coffee (it’s all I can do to manage simple things like getting out of bed, showering, and getting dressed for the first 45 minutes or so after I wake up; coffee gets made and consumed at work), so it’s much easier to just stick on my iPod and stare at the wall than it is to open a book. On the way home, it’s about a 50/50 shot whether I want to open a book or just play games on my iPod. So the book has to have really caught my attention to make me want to crack it open at all.

Fiction holds a serious advantage over non-fiction in that regard. Most fiction — stories, basically — is designed to make you want to come back to it, to wonder what will happen the characters and if it’s all going to turn out okay in the end. Wondering about those things makes me more likely to fight my internal laziness and pick up the book. Non-fiction, on the other hand, has to be something I’m really interested in, or very compellingly presented (or both) to get to that point.

Founding Myths: Stories That Hide Our Patriotic PastFor example — or, I guess, non-example — Founding Myths: Stories That Hide Our Patriotic Past by Ray Raphael. I picked this up because it looked interesting. And it was! But the thing is, I know how the Revolutionary War ended1 so there weren’t a lot of narrative questions gripping me and bringing me back for page after page. I enjoyed it well enough. I quite liked some of the myths that Raphael dissected, and getting a glimpse at the actual events they were based on. (Though I wasn’t 100% sold on the book’s main conceit, that the stories that have evolved hide the real and very patriotic acts that led to the country’s founding; some of the arguments towards that were more convincing than others, but overall the actual history segments of the book were more interesting to me than the arguments made about patriotism.)

But ultimately… I don’t know. I feel bad even putting out there that I didn’t finish it, because the book was interesting! I feel comfortable giving it 3 stars on GoodReads, regardless! But after a couple weeks during which I kept it in my purse, but never pulled it out, I decided it was time to set it aside and move on. (This is not helped by my own neurotic rule of reading only one book at a time; growing up, if I read multiple things at once, I tended to get the characters and plots confused, which made things pretty difficult. So basically, for a couple weeks I wasn’t reading this, but wouldn’t let myself read anything else, and so didn’t read anything at all. To combat this, I’m confessing it to the internet, and moving right along with my life.)

Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches' Guide to Romance NovelsOn the other hand, my sister handed me Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels a few days ago, and I devoured it. I’ve only read a handful of romance novels, and only occasionally skim the Smart Bitches website, but I do love good media and cultural analyses. And despite its very casual tone, this book is that. (In fact, I loved its casual tone. I tend to be turned off by a Look How Academic And Serious This Book Is tone.) The book gets into sex and sexuality as presented by romance novels, in a wider cultural scope — for example, the way rape in romance novels fell out of common use with the rise of the “No means no” mantra, and how that changed the genre as a whole. They delve quickly into race and the segregation of African-American romance novels, which I wish they’d spent more time on. And they get into the structure of most of the books, which I looooooooove. (I am kind of obsessed with narrative structure. IDK.)

The book included a lot of frills (games, puzzles, illustrations) that I don’t think it needed, but they didn’t take away from it, really. Overall, it was smart and very entertaining, and reminded me of why I was an American Studies major, back in the day. It’s an insightful look at a part of the culture that is often dismissed, and it not only looks at romance, it spends a lot of time on why the genre is dismissed, and why people the people who love it embrace it anyway.

  1. Hint: Rebels won. USA! USA! … Errrr, I’ve been watching a lot of Olympics lately. Sorry.

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