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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.

{ 53 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeanne April 19, 2010 at 7:37 am

I enjoyed this. To be fair, I think any published writer has to have a lot of ego, because it takes such persistence to get the first book published.

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Benjamin Wheeler April 19, 2010 at 10:30 pm

His first novel was picked out of an agency slush pile. Then he was given a $1 million dollar advance. I understand your sentiment, but this dude got lucky. Right editor, right time.

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Kim April 20, 2010 at 12:50 pm

Jeanne: There definitely is some ego to writing — you have to believe what you do is great in order to deal with the rejection and issues that come with that. But once you’re actually published, shouldn’t the need to put down other writers to stoke your own ego be over with?

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Rebecca @ The Book Lady's Blog April 19, 2010 at 7:39 am

Kim, you I love this and will always be here to validating the hilarity of #iheartthespark. When I had the *pleasure* of seeing him at the National Book Festival, ol’ Sparky actually said that he wrote the script of The Last Song first, then modeled the book on that (the movie was already in production before the book was even released). I just find that horrifying. You’ve nailed it. And if he does send you an email, please send him may way, too. I’m sure he’ll have a few things to say to me. :)

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Kim April 20, 2010 at 12:51 pm

Rebecca: I totally agree on the movie to book creation of The Last Song — that’s just silly. I’ve been meaning to watch the video from the National Book Festival, but haven’t found the time yet. I can’t wait though :)

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Rebecca @ The Book Lady's Blog April 22, 2010 at 8:09 am

Just a warning: it might make you want to claw your eyes out. :)

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Kate- Midnight Book Girl April 19, 2010 at 7:57 am

I hate Nicholas Spark with a burning passion (although I loved the movie Notebook). I don’t think I’d hate him quite so much if he weren’t such a pompous ass or if he just admitted that he is a formula writer (nothing wrong with that, especially if you’re a highly successful formulaic author), but the fact that he thinks he’s some kind of literary genius is a bit disturbing. I get why people like his books, we can all do with a good cry now and then- and that’s what you get from a Sparks novel- tears. He manipulates emotions just the same way a Hallmark movie does, but I can get my Hallmark movie cry for free. I will do nothing to fatten the wallet, or the overfed ego, of Nicholas Sparks.

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Kim April 20, 2010 at 12:52 pm

Kate: Spot on. If he’d admit what he is, accept what he is, I would not care at all. But going out of your way to put down other writers to feed your ego? Not cool!

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Steph April 19, 2010 at 8:11 am

Amazing! Loved the quotes from Ebert re: Sparks. I’ve only read one book by Sparks (The Notebook), and it was… well, not my glass of sweet tea (which, he of course described in detail, over and over throughout the whole book). Like you, I’d think more of Sparks if he was upfront about what he does, but obviously he’s on a completely different plane from the rest of us…

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Kim April 20, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Steph: I pretty much love that entire Ebert review. If I could write like that, my life would be set :)

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Jenny April 19, 2010 at 8:41 am

Teeheehee. I think it’s so funny when formulaic authors get all grandiose about their writing. Thing is, it’s obnoxious for ANYONE to say things like Nicholas Sparks says, even if they are legitimately superb writers. You’re never going to sound like a good person by comparing yourself favorably to another author. I feel like people should realize this! If you can’t manage sincere humility, at least aim for self-effacing humor.

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Kim April 20, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Jenny: That’s such a good point. There’s no excuse for a writer to be that ungracious about their work and the work of others. It just looks foolish (and especially foolish if you’re not that great in the first place!).

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Rachel April 19, 2010 at 8:57 am

I laughed so much at this, and the article you linked to! I watched Nights at Rodanthe and was loving it until the completely unnecessary ending that made me cry so much I got a headache. Why would you do that to people?! I saw the trailer for Dear John at the cinema a few weeks ago and I just KNEW it wouldn’t be good so I refuse to see it! Plus Amanda Seyfried scares me with her weird on the side of her head alien eyes.

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Kim April 20, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Rachel: That Cracked article is awesome. I considered writing a few of my own potential Sparks plots based on their assessment, but didn’t get there. I think I saw a preview of Dear John and immediately wondered if it was The Notebook — there’s a ton of letters in both, right?

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Wendi April 19, 2010 at 9:17 am

I was having a rough morning and then I read this and had to smile. I’ve read one Sparks novel and that was definitely enough. I don’t think poorly of anyone who loves his books but his opinion of himself does not match the poor quality of his writing. The Ebert quote is great. Thanks for putting a smile on my face.

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Kim April 20, 2010 at 12:56 pm

Wendi: So glad to have been able to make you smile :) You’re exactly right — nothing wrong with reading him, but his idea of who he is doe not match reality.

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softdrink April 19, 2010 at 9:31 am

“That’s why I tend to dominate this particular genre.” Urg. He really does have a ginormous ego, doesn’t he?

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Kim April 20, 2010 at 12:56 pm

softdrink: Ginormously ginormous.

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Louise April 19, 2010 at 10:29 am

I have never read a Nicholas Sparks book (and I don’t think I’ve seen any of his movies either), so I can’t really comment on that. Moreover he is not a household name in Denmark at all, although I have heard about him before, but mostly through my English speaking blog and online friends.

All that said, I think you should elaborate a bit on this post and turn it into an article. Its GREAT! Well done. I enjoyed reading it.

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Kim April 20, 2010 at 12:57 pm

Louise: Thanks Lou! There were lots of things I wanted to say or thought to add later, but of course that always happens. I think this would be a fun post to revise a bit, maybe expand on the idea of a writer’s ego and genre writing.

Be glad he’s not a household name in Denmark — it shows you all have good taste :)

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Amy April 19, 2010 at 6:07 pm

Ahhhhh I love this post! I read both of the articles you quote and laughed so much. I especially love the line about how it is hard to verify as no terribly Greek tragedies exist. Heh. Actually I had no intention of reading a Sparks book anyway but heard about #iheartthespark, those articles, and this post all from The Book Lady’s Blog and Twitter. Nothing like great marketing right :D

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Kim April 20, 2010 at 12:58 pm

Amy: Lol, exactly. At least we’ve got some #iheartthespark marketing going on even if he is a multi-million dollar, ego-driven industry all on his own.

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Elise April 19, 2010 at 6:55 pm

Haha I love a good Nicholas Sparks debate!! I am not particularly pro-Sparks as an author but I am definitely pro-Sparks in movie form! I have read a few of the books and been sorely disappointed in comparison to the movies and I think that the reason for this is the soundtrack!! In the movies a) you know it’s a cheesy movie because it’s based on a book by Sparky and b) the is a mega melodramatic soundtrack which ever-so-effectively pulls at the heartstrings. The books lack the soundtrack and therefore I feel like I am just reading something try-hard.

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Kim April 20, 2010 at 12:59 pm

Elise: Interesting comparison! I have seen The Notebook, and although it didn’t make me cry I can see what you mean. Maybe the soundtrack takes away a little bit of the ego and lets you accept the movie for what it is — emotion-tugging melodrama.

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Benjamin Wheeler April 19, 2010 at 10:26 pm

Holy crap. I actually had to Google that bit about him and Cormac McCarthy because I didn’t believe it.

Speaking as someone who writes, I think trying to explicate or embellish the importance of your own fiction is about the most pretentious, self-important thing a writer can do. Say nothing about the comparative quality between Sparks and McCarthy, the fact that Sparks has the audacity to come out and openly rip on a fellow novelist without provocation (ostentibly because McCarthy–with his Pulitzer–has been more or less accepted as a vital component of the American canon) is in extremely poor taste. I imagine McCarthy reading about this in the newspaper, having a quiet chuckle, and going back to writing his freakin’ books.

So, Nicholas Sparks, it’s cool that you think your books are masterpieces on the order of Greek tragedies. But, come on, man, keep it to yourself. Because you’re not making yourself look good, rather you’re only confirming yourself to be the self-involved jerk your book jackets make you out to be. You do not want to be a writer, you want to be an important writer. One should not write books because he wants to be important, rather one should only ever write books because one wants to. That’s it.

Nice piece, Kim.

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Kim April 20, 2010 at 1:01 pm

Ben: Oh yeah, that’s all true. I couldn’t believe that myself.

I think you’re exactly right — his comments were very much in poor taste and unnecessarily insulting to another well-accepted author. it’s really not classy.

“One should not write books because he wants to be important, rather one should only ever write books because one wants to.” — That should be on a t-shirt. We could make one and send it to him :)

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Benjamin Wheeler April 20, 2010 at 8:03 pm

Cafe Press does exist….*plotting*

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Literate Housewife April 20, 2010 at 10:58 am

After seeing The Spark at the National Book Festival along with Rebecca, nothing he said surprises me. I love your take on him! You made my day.

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Kim April 20, 2010 at 1:02 pm

Literate Housewife: Lol. After the USA Today interview, nothing will surprise me either. Glad you enjoyed the rant :)

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Jenn's Bookshelves April 20, 2010 at 11:03 am

Loved this! I agree…someone needs to burst Sparks’ ego bubble.

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Kim April 20, 2010 at 1:02 pm

Jenn: I imagine his ego bubble is made of steel, or at least a very strong type of plastic. There’s nothing that’s going to get through it.

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Care April 20, 2010 at 4:53 pm

awesomeness!

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Kim April 24, 2010 at 7:59 am

Care: Ha ha, thanks :)

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Lori L April 21, 2010 at 12:43 pm

I loved this! I purposefully haven’t read anything by Sparks and am not planning to. The Ebert quote was wonderful!

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Kim April 24, 2010 at 8:00 am

Lori L: I sometimes thing I should read something by him, just so I can officially say, “Yes, he is awful, and here is what I’ve read to prove it.” But then I don’t want to support him at all, so… dilemma.

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Chrisbookarama April 21, 2010 at 1:38 pm

I expect that any day now he will announce the he is the reincarnation of Shakespeare. He can only take it to that level now. That’s a whole lot of ego right there.

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Kim April 24, 2010 at 8:00 am

Chrisbookarama: There will be a whole lot of laughing and mocking the day that happens :)

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Jeanne April 22, 2010 at 12:07 pm

Yes, yes it should.

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Kari April 23, 2010 at 8:39 am

Hahahaha, this made me laugh out loud. I remember the day I read the USA Today interview, and I just laughed and said “Oh Nicholas Sparks, why do you suck so much?” And I recalled the blog posts from some book festival last summer where everyone said his “author discussion” was awful.

By the way, I love that you love HSM because I am the running butt of jokes about Efron and Miley in my office. Can we hang out at BBCon and discuss Disney pop stars?

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Kim April 24, 2010 at 8:02 am

Kari: Thanks! I’m glad it was a sort of funny rant :)

I get made fun of all the time because I have this not-so-secret love for HSM. I just thought it was such a funny and cute movie (although HSM 2 was awful). And the music, just so catchy! I would love to chat about it at BBCon :)

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Jen - Devourer of Books April 25, 2010 at 9:13 am

Yes! Love the thoughtful smackdown of Ole’ Sparky.

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Kim April 27, 2010 at 8:44 pm

Jen: Thanks — I try to be at least a little thoughtful when I’m being mean :)

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Jodie April 27, 2010 at 9:08 am

“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.”

There’s so much wrong with that I almost don’t know where to start, but how about gay romance Mr Sparks, or does that not count?

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Kim April 27, 2010 at 8:44 pm

Jodie: Such a good point. Ridiculous statement!

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Lisa April 27, 2010 at 8:20 pm

ROFLMAO!! Love the Cracked.com site!

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Kim April 27, 2010 at 8:45 pm

Lisa: That’s one of the best Sparks smackdowns I’ve read ever. I loved it too!

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Marie August 29, 2010 at 1:58 pm

Thank you so much for this! My mother in law, bless her heart, LOVES Nicholas Sparks and constantly tries to get me to read him. I can’t do it, I just can’t do it. It’s like the most melodramatic soap opera was crammed into a book. If anyone needs to read a heartwrenching love story, go read Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, or pick up some Austen. Sorry, I’m off my soap box now. Keep up the great work, Kim!

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Kim August 30, 2010 at 7:21 pm

Marie: I totally agree with you – join the soapbox :) I just really get bothered by books that manipulate emotions by situation rather than really good characters, and that’s pretty much all I see in Sparks. It’s very annoying.

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mustangpony.98 September 22, 2010 at 3:15 am

I have watched a lot of these movies but would never read his books! He is so arrogant and i would not waste my time reading these books and probably will never watch a movie based on one of his books again! You could not be more right about him. Who does he thing he is putting down other writers when he can barely write himself. I get so tired of unhappy endings regardless of what kind of writer he thinks he is. Someone always has to die in his movies, melodramatic or not I have wasted my time and money watching the movies to begin with!
TOO BAD I GUESS! Thanks for listening Kim.

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Kim September 22, 2010 at 7:22 pm

mustangpony.98: I’m glad you agree :) Thanks for leaving a comment!

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Alyce April 18, 2012 at 12:51 pm

I found this post via FizzyJill, and I have to say thank you so much for writing this post! I so needed a laugh today, and I agree with everything you said (and that excerpt from Ebert is priceless). When someone talks about hating writers who “manipulate emotions” Nicholas Sparks is who comes to mind. When our pastor tells a “chicken soup for the soul” type story to try to make the congregation cry I lean over to my husband and say, “He’s pulling a Nicholas Sparks again.”

The fact that he claims he’s a man of serious literature is just sad and ridiculous. His books are churned out in conveyor-belt fashion. The funny thing is, I like the first couple of his books that I read, but then around the third and fourth book I started to get seriously pissed off that he was manipulating my emotions with the same old tripe. I refuse to read his books now.

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Sheila (Book Journey) April 19, 2012 at 9:32 pm

Ahhhh yes!!! Slide over on the soap box, I need a little room…

agree with you on the whole Sparks thing… I always said with Sparks the books are the same… in the first few pages you meet a boy and a girl… the book is going to be how they get together.

I have actually used the word “sparky” in out book club reviews (much to the grumblings of a couple girls int he group who like Spark), if a book is fluffy, painfully forced love story (insert a tear here) I will call that a sparky read.

YAY for you Kim and this post!

*gets off the soap box an walks back to Minnesota* :)

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Clare June 9, 2013 at 10:13 pm

I have to agree with you. I’m in awe that Nicholas Sparks is so delusional. He’s successful because he serves the machine that wishes to dumb us all down. The gods of publishing have even turned his crap into Cliff notes and college courses. Yep, we are all being turned into mindless zombies. Thanks Nick!

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