Spoiler: They Make Babies

Heaven forfend!

Posted in General Talk by spoilerbaby on March 16, 2010

Nicholas Sparks recently gave an interview with USA Today, putatively addressing his most recent book-to-movie transition, Last Song.  The interview begins, however, with the line, “Nicholas Sparks has no love for people who call his stories ‘romances.'”

“If you look for me, I’m in the fiction section. Romance has its own section,” he says toward the end of a long conversation. Sunshine streams in from Sunset Boulevard. He’s smiling. Hard.

“I don’t write romance novels.” His preferred terminology: “Love stories — it’s a very different genre. I would be rejected if I submitted any of my novels as romance novels.”

This would  explain why I don’t enjoy Nicholas Sparks’ “love stories.”  I always thought it was because they were treacly pap with pain-pornography, but it’s because they’re not part of my preferred genre!

Later in the interview, Sparks snottily distinguishes his work — authentically emotional drama — from melodrama.  The origin of melodrama, however, was in authentically emotional drama.  If you look at the history of sentimental fiction (see, for example, Jane Tompkins’s work, or read more here), it was dominated by women, and it was meant to provoke tears and emotional responses on the part of readers.  It was supposed to be popular.  Ideally, it was even supposed to effect political change (see the well-known example of Uncle Tom’s Cabin).  Romance is one child of domestic fiction; sentimental drama is another.  Sparks seems intent on denying any familial resemblance.

It’s a very gender-defined move.  “Sentimental” and “romance” are now associated with women, even though it wasn’t always so.  Even worse, “sentimental” and “romance” are seen as sub-par, weak, and superficial.  So instead of comparing himself to romance authors, Sparks compares his work to Greek tragedy.  It’s not only to save (manly) face, though.  It’s a smart business decision, although Sparks only alludes to it.  After all, as he says, his work would have been rejected if he had submitted it as romance.  Romance is a gated community, and publishers, booksellers, and even readers are careful to monitor its borders.

He has one weirdly interesting observation:

“(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.”

It appears that he’s read a romance or two.  Bad ones, mind you, but apparently he’s read them.  If he hadn’t read any romances, he wouldn’t dismiss the whole genre like that.  Right?  Right!

Kudos to The Pursuit of Harpyness for the link.

— First Mate Jess

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Jezebel reviews Danielle Steel (so I don’t have to).

Posted in Things To Read by spoilerbaby on March 1, 2010

Over at Jezebel, Sadie reviews Danielle Steel’s Big Girl: A Novel.

I had a moment of intrigue when I first saw the cover for this novel.  The cover’s design steers away from Steel’s previous gold-plated cover style and toward a “contemporary romance” style.  (Probably aiming for the “chick lit” crowd, but I recognized it first and foremost as a romance genre.)  The title, too, gave me that familiar flare of hope I have for romance novels that feature women with some heft.

Thank goodness that I shook off that temporary mental paroxysm and reminded myself that this was Danielle Steel.

I once bought a novel by Steel at the airport, since I had read every other romance novel in the store.*  I can’t remember the title, or the characters, or what was happening; it was so boring that I immediately lost interest.  It was so boring that I didn’t read it.  I didn’t read anything at all, rather than pick it back up.  That’s right, nothing.  I read during the commercials before a movie starts at the theater, for fuck’s holy sake.  I have been known to read and enjoy things like Casca the Warrior when I have nothing better to hand.**  Steel was seriously, seriously boring.

Anyway, I’m rather pleased that Sadie agrees:

So, are all Steel’s novels written like they’re for remedial readers? I’m not being snide (I mean, I am, but I’m also serious.) Because short of YA, I can’t imagine what the market is. Clearly, she’s onto something, being the 7th-most popular author of all time, but seriously? I mean, I’ll read trash, but the whole point is, it’s usually entertaining.

Read the rest of Sadie’s brief review here. Then buy something more interesting.  Hell, I’d pick Glenn Beck over this.  At least Glenn Beck is loathsome.***

— First Mate Jess

* – I am in earnest! I had read every other romance novel in the airport bookstore.  This is the problem with being a speed reader.  Well, that, and the massive backlog of novels I have to review.

** – My fencing coach had the whole Casca series up on the balcony level of the club, and I would read them during our summer and winter training camps (rather than talk to people during lunch break, obviously).  They were about this guy Casca, who was the Roman soldier who stabbed Jesus in the side and whom Jesus DOOMED TO ETERNAL LIFE, and his travels THROUGH HISTORY, mostly violent war-related history.  There were sex scenes with FALLEN WOMEN.  The books were all gloriously ridiculous and sexist and violent and pro-Christian, and I would sit there and giggle delightedly over them.  Tiny ten year-old me, hip-deep in terrible dime novels, was a very happy creature. For example, there was one where Casca ended up in Nazi Germany, fighting for the Fuhrer! And his unit ended up rebelling, because they saw what was happening to the Jews!  They had no idea before that!  Oh man, giggling again.  I love things that are that wrong.

*** – Not that I would ever give Glenn Beck money.  I might steal his book rather than deal with Steel, though.  Or maybe I would just read the back of the free packet of peanuts, over and over and over again.  Yeah, probably that.

The missing link.

Posted in General Talk, Things To Read by spoilerbaby on February 19, 2010

I’ve added a blogroll to the sidebar of S:TMB.  At the moment, it’s got most of the predictable popular sites, but I figure I’ll keep researching and adding links from time to time.  If you have a suggestion, please speak up!

I went to the library the other day and took out four romance novels, which I have been steadily plowing (heh) through since.  One of them I just sort-of-reviewed; I’m going to finish Breathing Room by Susan Elizabeth Phillips next, and then move on to a romance by Mary Jo Putney that I borrowed based on a reader recommendation.

Two more links:

  • Apparently recessions lead to a rise in romance sales.  It makes sense.  Graduate school is sort of like a recession — depressing, difficult to overcome, impoverishing — and I’ve been reading romances at a breakneck pace.
  • The Guardian has an article featuring two prominent Harlequin writers, describing the process and requirements of writing a successful short romance.

Now I should really get back to that whole “writing my dissertation” thing, huh?

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