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October 14, 2011

Book Notes - Sarah Wendell ("Everything I Know about Love I Learned from Romance Novels")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book. Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, and many others.

Occasionally I am asked about the blogs and bloggers I most admire, and Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and its co-founder Sarah Wendell are always at the top of the lists. Though I rarely read romance novels, I adore the site's comprehensive coverage of the genre, intelligence, wit, and engaged readership and visit often.

Sarah Wendell's new book not surprisingly shares Smart Bitches' strengths. Everything I Know about Love I Learned from Romance Novels is bitingly funny, thorough, and smart throughout, and peppered with input from authors and readers alike.

Monkey See wrote of the book:

"What Sarah ultimately identifies is not a one-way transfer in which books teach women (because it is mostly women) about romance. It's more of a feedback loop. That’s the trick to the book's title. If it were entirely, totally accurate, it would be Everything I Know About What I Already Think About Love, I Learned From Romance Novels. While her thesis is not that a romance novel indoctrinates readers into believing in certain kinds of relationships — that would be creepy — there's a strong argument here that the genre helps readers identify and articulate needs and feelings they already have, as they notice what kinds of books and heroes they gravitate toward."

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.

In her own words, here is Sarah Wendell's Book Notes music playlist for her book, Everything I Know about Love I Learned from Romance Novels :

While writing Everything I Know about Love I Learned from Romance Novels , or while writing anything, I can't have music with lyrics playing. I get distracted by those words and am not able to listen to what I want to say. Most of my playlists are in English, but I also have a pretty good knowledge of Spanish, so I can't listen to Spanish language lyrics either. But there are a few songs I had on repeat while writing, and songs that I adore when I need to kick my own ass to the finish line.

Everything I Know about Love I Learned from Romance Novels is a book that's about the romance genre, and the women who read and write it. Popular depictions of romance readers often rely on outdated or erroneous stereotypes: undersexed, under-satisfied, unintelligent, possibly surrounded by eight too many cats. The truth is that romance readers are very wise and intelligent, and statistics from the Romance Writers of America reveal that most of us are in happy long-term relationships. This book examines the lessons we readers have learned from reading romances, and discusses why our favorite books are truly important to us. And it's more than just me talking about romance - there are so many writers and readers featured, it's a book that represents, I hope, the best of the romance community talking about the genre we love.

So you'd probably expect I'd be listening to The Most Romantic Music Ever. I'm not really sure what qualifies as romantic music, but here's the playlist for Everything I Know About Love, I Learned from Romance Novels. Some have lyrics, but most don't, as that was what I had in the background while I wrote.

"My Romance," Carly Simon: It's the book in song form! This song is so simple and elegant and rests on the power of Simon's voice. It can seem schmaltzy, but the lyrics are perfection. There is no accessory or decoration that can stand equal to the feeling of being with someone you love. "Wide awake, I can make my most fantastic dreams come true.... My romance doesn't need one thing but you."

"Straight to My Heart," Sting

I love Sting. But this song is my 'kick my own pants' song - I listen to it, and I can keep going, doing whatever I'm doing. Plus the lyrics are all about how someday science might take over the simplicity of human romance - but won't do a very good job of it.

"Everything You Want," Vertical Horizon

It's bleak and sad at the beginning, and so lonely. The song is all about thinking you know what you want, and still searching for more - and maybe learning to appreciate what you have.

"Your Lasagna Ate My Lasagna," The Fastest Steed on Earth

I first heard this song on a podcast called "Josh in Japan," which I don't think is active any more. It makes me type faster so I can keep up with the beat, and even though I've heard it a hundred times, it still surprises me. The melodies never go in the direction I think they will.

"The Countess Cathleen/Woman of the Sidhe" and "Riverdance," Riverdance Soundtrack, Bill Whelan

Ok, don't laugh. Oh, fine, laugh. It's funny. These are holdovers from when I was a registrar, and had a LOT of typing and data entry to do. I would put on the Riverdance soundtrack and try to keep my typing in rhythm to the amplified tap dancing. Seriously. Made me one hell of a typist.

"Captain Jack Sparrow," Pirates of the Caribbean Soundtrack, Klaus Badelt

Pirates! Mullets! Questionable dental work! Swashbuckling! I was writing a book about romances after all. I needed some pirates.

Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, 2nd Movement

Everyone knows the first movement, but the second is my favorite. It's lyrical and friendly and romantic. I used to listen to it while I read romances on my commute home.

"Choctaw Hayride," Alison Krauss and Union Station

I love bluegrass, and though Alison Krauss's voice is unreal in its clarity, if I put on any of their songs with lyrics, I get nothing done. But this instrumental piece makes me smile and work a little faster -- plus, on the album, at the end, there's an outtake of the band playing this song where one of the banjo strings breaks audibly, and it's so jarring and painful and funny. So as perfectly wonderful as this song is, mistakes happened, and the finished product was worth it. I hope that string snapping didn't break the skin, though. OUCH.

"Foggy Mountain Breakdown," Earl Scruggs and Co.

This is actually a live performance from The David Letterman Show, and can be seen here. I have the audio and the video file, and I love them both. The song jumps from one to the other without a seam, and the musicians seem to be genuinely enjoying one another's performances. I love that. Since I was working with so many contributions from writers and authors, I was inspired by the way all of them combined to create something magnificent. I was aiming for a piece of that.

Twilight Score, Carter Burwell

Twilight, the movie, is "tree porn." You don't have to watch the actors or listen to them - just look at the trees. It's stunningly beautiful - and the score works for me, too. It's got enough ethereal sounds and rock and minor key themes to create wonderful background music. I didn't really love any of the songs on the soundtrack, but the score is melodious ear porn for me.

"Wachet Auf," Johann Sebastian Bach

Sleepers, Wake! I love the organ version, because playing a pipe organ is a feat: both hands, maybe four keyboards PLUS your feet on a separate keyboard. That's dexterity. This particular piece of music is optimistic to me. Since romances are all about the happy ever after, that no matter how bad it gets, it will all be ok in the end, this music fits perfectly.

Sarah Wendell and Everything I Know about Love I Learned from Romance Novels links:

the author's website
the author's blog

Book a Week with Jen review
Book Goat review
Chrisbookarama review
Heroes and Heartbreakers review
Kirkus Reviews review
Linda Banche review
Monkey See review
Once Upon a Chapter review
Shelf Awareness for Readers review

Argh Ink interview with the author
BookTrib interview with the author
The Gayle King Show interview with the author
USA Today interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists

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