My kind of criticism
I’m inspired by a couple clever commentaries about two of today’s most popular authors. Like these critics, I don’t understand why the authors in question are so damn popular.
First, Roger Ebert (one of my favorite critics of all time, and one of the best culture writers operating today), takes on Nicholas Sparks in this review of the latest Nicholas Sparks movie.
“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…. I resent the sacrilege Nicholas Sparks commits by mentioning himself in the same sentence as Cormac McCarthy. I would not even allow him to say “Hello, bookstore? This is Nicholas Sparks. Could you send over the new Cormac McCarthy novel?” He should show respect by ordering anonymously.”
I have to admit I’ve never made it through a Nicholas Sparks novel, for the same reason that I’ve never made it through a triathlon: my puking would get really old, really fast. (For the record, I’m not a big fan of Cormac McCarthy, either, but that’s a different story.)
Sparks also raised the ire of romance writers by claiming he’s not one of them. That may be true, but not in the way he thinks. Most romance novels are less predictable and better written than the schlock Sparks writes. The Seattle RWA chapter is thinking of retaliating by holding a “Write Like Sparks” contest, in the tradition of the Bulwer-Lytton contest for opening lines (a la “It was a dark and stormy night”).
NPR, another favorite source for insightful criticism, recently took on the Queen Bee of the publishing world: Stephenie Meyer, author of the “Twilight” series. On Linda Holmes’ Monkey See blog, Marc Hirsh complains:
I’m 220 pages in, and so far Bella has moved to Washington, started school, been saved from an accident, gone to the beach and gone to Seattle. How is that 200 pages of content? It would be fine if she had an interesting internal life or if Meyer were a perceptive observer (or a sharp describer). But none of these things are true. She is spinning her wheels like a car stuck in mud. (See what I just did there?)
I’m thrilled if that life is interesting enough to make for a good novel, because it describes a pretty typical week in my own existence, which until now I thought was fairly pedestrian.
Both Sparks and Meyer are worth reading for one reason: To learn how they do it. How do they get so many readers? What is it they appeal to? Is is that women have some kind of deep conviction that they don’t deserve happiness unless it comes with a lot of angst? That men have to be unavailable (emotionally, if not physically) to be desirable? That we really do like the “bad boys,” but not if they’re described vividly enough to make them seem truly bad?
I don’t know, but I do know this: I would like those readers to be my readers someday. I’m cheered by the fact that apparently, I already have one thing going for me: I’m not terrific at writing fiction.