Nicholas Sparks: You are Not as Cool as You Think You Are

by Kim on April 19, 2010 · 56 comments

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I don’t generally like reading books by the Nicholas Sparks of the world because I find them melodramatic and overwritten in a way that tugs at your emotions using clichéd and obvious methods. I’m not opposed to tugging on heart-strings (The Time Traveler’s Wife made me cry like a baby), I’m just opposed to it being accompanied with a smack to the head designed to dull my intellect into submission.

But I try not to be mean by arguing about Authors I Think Are Ridiculous (except among people I’m close to like my sister), because I’m lazy, tend to avoid controversy, and I try to be respectful of reading differences and not insult people for having different tastes than I do. And trust me, I’m ripe for teasing because of my love of High School Musical, all inspirational sports movies, and ’90s high school dance music.

But sometimes an author can’t just accept what he or she writes and tries to pretentiously pretend they are writers for Great Literature. That annoys me because I think it is insulting to people who actually write Great Literature and people who like to read it.

Enter, Nicholas Sparks. I now bring you the story of why #iheartthespark.

It started with a story in USA Today where Nicholas Sparks was interviewed with Miley Cyrus about their new movie The Last Song. Before I share the quotes, here’s what you need to know about The Last Song – it was Sparks’ fifteenth novel in about as many years and was written specifically as the starting point of a film adaptation. Sparks wrote it as part of a deal with Disney so that Miley Cyrus could be a a movie like A Walk to Remember, so he wrote it with Miley Cyrus in mind the ENTIRE TIME.

If that’s not the formula for something silly and emotional smack-over-the-head worthiness, I’m not sure what is.

So when USA Today interviewed the two film buffs, Sparks’ didn’t just do the right thing and acknowledge how trite and absurd this book (and really, most of his other books) are. He tried to argue he’s something more:

Sparks says: “I’m going to interrupt you there. There’s a difference between drama and melodrama; evoking genuine emotion, or manipulating emotion. It’s a very fine eye-of-the-needle to thread. And it’s very rare that it works. That’s why I tend to dominate this particular genre. There is this fine line. And I do not verge into melodrama. It’s all drama. I try to generate authentic emotional power.”

I’m not getting how any of the stories he’s written evoke “genuine” emotion. Genuine emotion is built of strong characters and put in compelling and complicated situations, not choosing the most tragic or unfair ideas that can happen in life then setting stock characters in those situations and letting the chips fall where they may. Given the formulaic way most of his stories work out, I can’t believe they meet the standards of true drama.

Sparks cringes at the word: romance. But since it comes up again, isn’t he kind of splitting hairs with this whole “love story” vs. “romance” thing?

“No, it’s the difference between Cinderella and Romeo and Juliet,” he says. “(Romances) are all essentially the same story: You’ve got a woman, she’s down on her luck, she meets the handsome stranger who falls desperately in love with her, but he’s got these quirks, she must change him, and they have their conflicts, and then they end up happily ever after.”

Some might say that’s the plot to Nights in Rodanthe, apart from the happy ending.

Sparks disagrees. “No, the themes in love stories are different. In mine, you never know if it’s going to be a happy ending, sad ending, bittersweet or tragic. You read a romance because you know what to expect. You read a love story because you don’t know what to expect.”

Ahh, but see, if I go see a Sparks movie or read a Sparks book, I know exactly what to expect. My emotions will be manipulated by love and tragedy via the plight of two young people just trying to be in love. The only difference between Sparks’ definition of a “romance” and a “love story” is that in his “love stories” someone end up dead. I guess it’s sometimes hard to tell who will die or what illness will befall them (plot twist!), but doesn’t knowing tragedy is coming take away the sense of drama Sparks says he is trying to create?

In any case, because of that story and that interview, I decided that I don’t care anymore. I can’t wait to share all the awesome things I find online that point out how absurd Nicholas Sparks actually is. Here are some of my recent favorites:

Cracked.com — Nicholas Sparks
This is the best post on Nicholas Sparks. It goes through the plot of four recent movies, shows how they are all EXACTLY the same, and even puts up the posters to prove it. The bottom line:

  1. Nicholas Sparks is an author who churns out about one romance novel a year.
  2. All of these books are almost immediately made into movies.
  3. All of these books are the same book.

Roger Ebert Reviews The Last Song
What I like about this review is that Ebert doesn’t go into the movie expecting it to be bad — he tries to judge the movie on it’s merits and what it tried to do. And he was fair to Miley Cyrus, which I liked also. But of course he got some good (and much more articulate) jabs on Sparks:

“The Last Song” is based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks, who also wrote the screenplay. Sparks recently went on record as saying he is a greater novelist than Cormac McCarthy. This is true in the same sense that I am a better novelist than William Shakespeare. Sparks also said his novels are like Greek Tragedies. This may actually be true. I can’t check it out because, tragically, no really bad Greek tragedies have survived. His story here amounts to soft porn for teenage girls, which the acting and the abilities of director Julie Anne Robinson have promoted over its pay scale.

This post is getting long, and potentially straying into unnecessarily mean, so I’m going to wrap it up now. But trust me, this will not be the last time I share, with glee, anything and everything I find about how truly absurd the notion that Nicholas Sparks is a writer of Great Literature actually is.

Photo Credit: Keith Ivey via Flickr

P.S. If Nicholas Sparks wrote to me and said, “Dear Kim: You are Not as Cool as You Think You Are.” I would probably agree. The difference is I don’t pretend to be or actually think I am cooler than I am. That’s my problem here.

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