Friday, June 29, 2012

On Nicholas Sparks and Similar Writers

After a certain blog post, I've developed a bit of a reputation for disliking Nicholas Sparks. And I feel the need to clear the air a bit, and clarify what I think of Sparks.

First, I acknowledge that it is difficult to get published. Anybody who is published is either really amazingly talented, really lucky or a total sell-out. Most of the time, it's a combination of the first two, with a very heavy emphasis on the talent. And I can't bring myself to judge the writers in the third column too harshly because, let's face it, everybody has to make a living, and I'm certain there are a lot things I'd be willing to do for a few million* dollars. In the grand scheme of things, having principles about writing a certain kind of story is a lot lower on the list of priorities than, say, being a good person.

Also, I'm using Sparks as the example here, but this line of thinking could very easily apply to any writer, in any genre, and I'm sure you can find another author whose name would fit very neatly in Sparks' place in this post.

And if you're a Sparks fan, and it hurts your heart to think badly of him, go right ahead an plug somebody else's name in, the concept will apply anyway.


So here we go. The Clarification of How I Feel About Nicholas Sparks:

I've read two of Sparks' books, The Notebook and A Walk to Remember, both of which were fine. I don't think they're terrible, but I don't think they're amazing. They're escapism, and I'm fine with that.

I actually like one particular aspect of The Notebook. I like that their love story didn't end when he got the girl; the real love story happened afterward. They married, had children, had hard times and good times. But mostly, they lived quiet, simple lives and shared their time together. It spoke of reality and true love in a way that a lot of other books just don't.

However.

It was really schmoopy.

I'm not a die-hard romantic. I don't like big speeches, declarations of undying love and grand gestures. So, consequently, I don't enjoy ooey-gooey lines about being kissed every minute of every day for forever. It makes me roll my eyes, mostly because men aren't actually like that.

Men aren't Sparks' main audience, of course, women are. Women who either a) are single and waiting for the "perfect" man to come along, or b) are in a committed relationship and feel like the romance has fizzled. Either way, women idealize the men in Sparks' novels and hold every real-life man to this ridiculous standard that nobody can live up to.

Therein lies his success, of course. He has created "perfect" men, men which women will fall all over themselves to spend money to read about/watch on a screen.

And THAT is why I really dislike him as an author. He's found a formula that "works." His stories all revolve around a more-than-perfect man, a perfectly normal woman, a deeper-than-deep love/attraction that overcomes some insignificant social constraint (class distinctions, popularity, etc). Then he adds in  a life-threatening illness and/or situation that is really just there to make you cry.

And crying means you feel something, right? And feeling any emotion, no matter how false it is, is better than none at all, right?

Instead of creating stories that he cares about, or that anybody finds interesting, he churns out one story with tiny permutations and different titles, over and over again, in pursuit of an easy dollar.

Again, this applies to a LOT of authors out there, and I am sure you can find one that you feel this way about.

I think it's interesting to note that I've spoken to many people who are fans of Nicholas Sparks. I've never once heard any of them say they really enjoy his work, his writing, his characters or anything else. The universal reason that women like his books (and I am not making this up)... "It's easy to read." Sometimes they say it a little differently, and it sounds more like, "I don't have to think too hard when I'm reading his books." or "I don't like having to decipher** what I'm reading, and his stuff doesn't need deciphering."

But it all comes down to the same thing: His writing is overly simplistic and I don't care because I cry (therefore I am "feeling" something) and I can put myself in the heroine's shoes and pretend I am loved by a perfect man.

If that's what floats your boat, great. Read all the Nicholas Sparks you can get your hands on. I'm not into it, and I won't read any more of his work. I've given it more than a fair shake, and I don't want to discuss it at length with you anymore.

* Thirty. Thirty million dollars. That's what Sparks is worth.
**No, I'm not entirely sure what she meant by this.

19 comments:

  1. For fifteen million, I'll start a line of brown people embracing books. Screw standards.

    Also, that white people embracing thing made me snort. Amazing.

    Also, I've never read a Sparks book so I can't actually give an opinion on it, but I can say that I've never been tempted to pick one up. I'm semi-romantic, but I'm more into plot and characters than just romance for romance's sake.

    I understand escapism, and I've read my fair share of "easy reads" but I'm not sure that means the same for me as other people. Decipher? Really?

    ReplyDelete
  2. The only one of his book I've read is "Dear John" and that's because someone sent it to me for one of those book trade things. It was awful. I wrote down this quote, ""Her hand was warm, velvety soft in places but callused in others., I was suddenly conscious of how long it had been since I'd touched a woman.", just in case I ever wanted to read another one of his books. So awful.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I've never read his novels, but mostly because romance doesn't intrigue me. I do cry every time I watch the Notebook, but it's mostly because I've had 5 concussions, Alzheimer's is a distinct possibility, and the idea of not remembering my family absolutely kills me. *insert smart sassy joke here, cause I can't think of anything*

    I don't think there's anything wrong with brainless reads - I prefer it to brainless tv - just as long as people don't try to say it is something it's not.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I agree. I listened to one as an audiobook and it had me rolling my eyes. The romance book/movie ending right when the real romance is beginning is one of the major flaws of the genre, IMHO. And I HATE emotional manipulation when I read. The older I get the more I resent it because I can tell what they're doing and I still tear up.

    I have to admit that I do read a certain author that plugs out formulaic books. They are mysteries and they drive me a little nuts, but when I see one I haven't written, I pick it up and read it.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I've read Dear John. I read it after seeing the movie. Or was it before I saw the movie? I can't remember. Either way, I really enjoyed it. I don't, however, enjoy books that are so sappy you can't see straight (i.e. you're crying, the man is too perfect, etc.). I'm a writer myself, and I can definitely say my male character is 'so perfect', but he isn't real. Granted he's a character in the book, but even in my series, the character himself isn't real. ...It takes reading the entire series to find out, and I keep changing how I want the audience to figure it out.

    I'm getting off topic. Um... I don't think I could read another one of his books, though. I like authors who let me think about how something happens... I think his novels just flat out explain things, thus disallowing the audience to have an imagination of their own throughout the entire novel.

    Maybe I'm not understanding your post altogether, either. I'm not exactly a fan, but I wouldn't say I dislike him, either. I just don't think I'd read another one of his books. :P

    ReplyDelete
  6. I never understood what he meant by that line, so I just tried to ignore it. It didn't make any sense to me.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I read A Walk to Remember after seeing the movie, and I was surprised and disappointed at how flat it was. I felt like the movie did a much better job of showing the characters developing and growing over time. The book was like, "Oh, hey, you're a Christian? Now I'm going to be too and we're going to read the Bible together because I'm the perfect boyfriend." It was strange and not at all realistic.

    Funny story about the movie A Walk to Remember: Mike insisted for the longest time that it was the stupidest movie ever because he had flipped to it on TV one time right at the point where Landon's dad is like, "But I'm a cardiologist!" and then Landon is crying in the car. Then he finally watched the entire movie and admitted it was actually a really good movie. Now he insists that The Notebook is the stupidest movie because we watched it one time when he was sick and he slept through most of it. Apparently he has a thing for judging Nicholas Sparks movies he's seen small bits of.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I, too, felt the movies were better than the books. Maybe because too much schmaltz wears thin after awhile, and in a movie it can only last for 2 hours? I don't know. But it is much easier to swallow in movie format. Which, of course, is part of why Sparks is a millionaire.

    I don't think Mike is alone in this behavior. It sounds very American-Man to me ;)

    ReplyDelete
  9. You're understanding the post perfectly, and you summed up my opinion quite nicely: I'm not a fan, but I don't hate him, and I'll never read another of his books.

    I wrote this post because I've somehow gotten a reputation for hating Sparks and I wanted to clarify that he's just not my cup of tea :)

    ReplyDelete
  10. Isn't it weird how we have that compulsion to read everything in a series or by an author??? Even if the book bugs you, you keep reaching for the next one. Glad to know I'm not alone on that one.

    And you said it perfectly: "I HATE emotional manipulation when I read. The older I get the more I resent it because I can tell what they're doing and I still tear up"

    Perfect.

    ReplyDelete
  11. This is one the things he does that specifically annoyed me- he writes compound sentences like that, where the second part has absolutely nothing to do with the first part.

    Like, okay, the weird "it was soft" but "it was calloused" is dumb, and I don't actually know anybody whose skin is "velvety" (think about it... slightly fuzzy???). But then what does that really have to do with how long it's been since he touched a woman...? It's disjointed, but to put them together is stupid.

    / Rant.

    I won't read any more of his books. Ever.

    ReplyDelete
  12. For. Reals. If I knew that I'd make that kind of money, I'd churn out all kinds of schmaltz, too. But... there's never a guarantee, and there's always the very real chance that I wouldn't sell a single book, but I'd still be writing idiotic stories and getting nothing out of it.

    You can thank Kirsti. She sent it to me first.

    Agreed. Give me strong characters over "I wanna love you forever" any day of the week.

    I read YA, so I can't really frown on people reading "easy" books (and I don't). But, in my defense, I don't read them BECAUSE they're easy reads. I read them because I really enjoy that coming-of-age-and-figuring-out-how-I-fit-in-the-world feeling. Also, "decipher" ... I don't know. But that's a direct quote. The author she specifically had to "decipher" was Jane Austen... so... *shrug*

    ReplyDelete
  13. Okay, well that makes sense. ^^

    ReplyDelete
  14. ...my husband's not perfect, but he does say sweet things like that, and do nice things for me. I've never read any of Sparks's work, and I've only seen A Walk to Remember, not any of the others.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I couldn't agree more. He's found a formula and he's going to keep churning it out until one or ten of his books flops. And my guess is eventually the rest of the reading world will "cotton on" and get sick of him. Not that it's going to stop him from laughing all the way to the bank in the meantime.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Not sure how I missed the fact that you had a separate blog from your family blog, Gina, but I'm glad I finally caught on! Anyway, in reference to Nicholas Sparks, I've never read any of his books. I did see The Notebook and thought it was well done--sweet love story and all that jazz. I am a bit of a romantic, but I gravitate to the gothic novels, like Jane Eyre, Rebecca, etc. I guess I'm a bit dramatic. The schmaltzy stuff of today just makes me angry, and who needs that? Anyway, I need some new books to read, so feel free to recommend some, YA or otherwise. :)

    ReplyDelete
  17. First, I don't really publicize this blog among my real-life friends, though I'm not hiding it, either. Don't feel bad at you didn't know it was here, but feel free to stay now that you do know :)

    I can recommend books all day long. In fact it's one of my favorite things to do. What have you read recently that you enjoyed? What are you in the mood for?

    ReplyDelete