Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Nicholas Sparks is a Dick

I never set out to compose these rants, please believe me - these things just fall into my lap & I know of no other way to address them. Case in point, I have been following the annual Tournament of Books over at The Morning News - a brilliant, insightful, hilarious book competition that's set up as a literary counter to March Madness. In addition to a judge's decision on each round, there is an attached color commentary on the decision written by contributing writers, Kevin Guilfoile and John Warner. Today's commentary was totally off topic, truly insightful, and uproariously hilarious. It seems that my baseless assumption that "author" Nicholas Sparks is a total asshole is not baseless after all.

Mr. Sparks, author of such tearjerking tripe as The Last Song, The Notebook, Dear John, blah blah blah, gave an interview (in LA's Book Soup) to Anthony Breznican of USA Today which ran on March 10th. Over the course of the interview, Sparks revealed his shocking, evil, twisted, labyrinthine world view:

"'I don't write romance novels....(they're) love stories — it's a very different genre.' Asked what he likes in his own genre, Sparks replies: 'There are no authors in my genre. No one is doing what I do.'"

I don't understand.

"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."

Alright, it's true that he does dominate in this genre (whatever it is) but if you believe that you're the only one working in a particular field, it's not very sporting to announce that you're the best around, is it?  "Hey, look at me! I invented this new thing and I'm the best at using it! Up yours!"  And how can he be "evoking genuine emotion" in a novel? Doesn't a work of fiction manipulate your emotions, almost by definition? Let's move on.

"'A Farewell to Arms, by Hemingway. Good stuff. That's what I write,' he says, putting it back (on the shelf). 'That's what I write.'"

Holy shit, what?

Sparks' favorite tale of youth? "I think A Walk to Remember," he says, citing his own novel. "That's my version of a coming-of-age."

Stop it, stop it! You maniac!

"Horrible," he says, looking at Blood Meridian. "This is probably the most pulpy, overwrought, melodramatic cowboy vs. Indians story ever written."

Well, asdkljji qohyd5nhasd%, iiiweo89!

I'm sorry, I think I just passed out. What can I possibly say to that? He's clearly delusional. Stabbing him repeatedly would do no one any good - he'd be dead & I'd just be tired.

In their TMN commentary, Guilfoile and Warner go on to include (as backup) excerpts from an interview Sparks gave to the Chicago Tribune in February (available online only for Tribune subscribers) that echoes these sociopathic ideas, perhaps more so: “The Notebook is a good novel. There are no flaws with that novel,” he said. “That’s a novel that will stay around for a long, long time. That’s a novel that is taught in schools - that is out in Cliffs Notes. Classics just choose themselves.”

Taught in schools? Are you fucking kidding me?! A fictional school set in a Nicholas Sparks novel? What is happening?!

I'm okay. Sorry. Just read Kevin and John's commentary, as they are much more adept than I at bringing Sparksy to task. I've read it more than once (several times out loud to whoever's in the room with me) and it makes me laugh really hard every time.

Friday, March 19, 2010

More James Welch

I'm on a James Welch kick again, sorry.  I just now finished reading his taut, powerful, & sad little novel, The Death of Jim Loney and felt the need to share a little of it. Welch is a writer who's never received the due he deserves, I don't believe - although I've just recently discovered him, via a friend's direction. Perhaps that's what I'm getting at - how did I miss this guy for so long? In life (he died in 2003) he never received much acclaim beyond some critical success for The Heartsong of Charging Elk and Fools Crow, yet grew a large following amongst his writing brethren. In the introduction to Loney, Jim Harrison blames this lack of national literary parity on the general historical mindset of the country - "why should I expect parity for a possibly major American writer when the Supreme Court has never managed parity for our lower citizens, the blacks and Chicanos and Indians, or the poor whites for that matter?" - as well as Welch's self-imposed "exile" in Montana, far from the lights of the big city.

The Death of Jim Loney is a story of isolation and lack of identity that simmers with an almost unfocused anger just below the surface. As half-white, half-Native American, Loney has one foot in each culture, yet is not fully embraced (or rejected) by either. For the obvious titular reason, the ending is never in doubt, yet Welch has such an elegance to his prose as to keep you interested in this man, Loney, who is so heartbreakingly adrift that you want to take him in, feed him, let him warm by your fire. Even though the world he inhabits is very, very small, he is hopelessly lost in it, without the friend or family connections that keep the rest of us breathing. For this reason, we love him, unconditionally, and hope that he eventually find what he is looking for - "a place where those pasts merged into one and everything was all right and it was like everything was beginning again without a past."

I'll leave this topic with this excerpt, which I really loved, as I think it encapsulates the man that is Jim Loney rather beautifully:

"Loney was watching the river in his mind, the loops and bends as gracefully etched in the winter cover as a blue racer snake frozen in the grass. Loney always wondered how that river knew where to bend, why it wandered with such feckless purpose. He wondered if it always sought the lowest ground, or was his mind such a shambles that he assumed there was a reason behind its constant shifting? From the highway it looked aimless and vaguely malevolent and Loney thought there was something of that river in his own life and he didn't think about it."

*The photo used in this post is of Crow Flies High of the Gros Ventre people (Jim Loney's mother was Gros Ventre) - courtesy of http://www.firstpeople.us/

***James Welch news update 3/20/10 - I just stumbled on this: www.winterinthebloodfilm.com. It's for real, apparently, and has the blessing of Welch's widow, Lois, according to the Missoulian

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


I have been sworn to secrecy concerning specifics, but I felt the need to share the excitement a little - forgive the fawning. A handful of my fellow booksellers and I had the distinct honor and privilege of visiting with Caldecott Medal-winning author/illustrator/artist and great friend of Warwick's, Brian Selznick in his La Jolla home last night, where Brian treated us to a sneak peek at his next book. For those not familiar with Brian's artwork, go immediately to theinventionofhugocabret.com. The work he has been producing for his next project is simply jaw-dropping - I can't tell you anything about it (at all, really) except that it is ambitious, beautiful, meticulous, and destined to launch Brian into the extraordinary, distinguished group of multiple Caldecott winners. Bravo!

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Review Envy

I read fairly quickly, I'll grant you, but I look around the interweb and I can't believe how many books some people can not only read, but write full-on reviews for. I've read the better part of ten books through the first 2 months of 2010 - a respectable number, I think - but only written about two of them. So, as a way to keep abreast of my own readings, here's a recap of the first 10 of '10 - as much for my benefit as for yours.

Papa Hemingway's A Moveable Feast - I have spent a lot of time in the past few years not reading older books because I felt that part of my job - both as bookseller and blogger - was to stay current, reading things that are not yet published or are more contemporary.  Screw that.  There's room for both, I now realize. I had been meaning to read A Moveable Feast for the longest time, so when I was browsing the stacks at Raven Used Books in Northampton, MA on an insanely cold January afternoon, I bought a copy and read the whole thing on the plane ride back to California. I'm glad I did. (By the way, F. Scott Fitzgerald? Douchebag.)

The Good Son by Russel D. McLean - debut Scottish crime novel with a Bruen blurb on the back jacket. (Why would I ever pick that one up?) It's a fairly solid crime novel, not perfect, but I'd like to see how McLean (a well-respected short story writer) develops as a novelist over time, especially as this series progresses (there is at least one more on the way). His protagonist, J. McNee, is a private-eye with his share of personal demons - yeah, I know, blah-blah-blah - but McLean has a certain spark, for sure, especially in his dialogue (often the driving force behind these kinds of novel, ala Bruen) which crackles with authenticity and Scottish bitterness. Well worth the read, but (with sincere apologies to Mr. McLean) at 25 bucks, you could wait until the paperback, to be honest.

The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris - I read about half of this before I set it aside. Tim Farnsworth has an undefinable medical condition - doctors aren't sure if it is physical or psychological - that causes him to just get up and walk, sort of like a perpetual motion machine. This is disruptive behavior, to say the least, as he tends to walk for miles and miles before stopping, completely exhausted, far from home. Tim's episodes have begun to put a strain on his marriage (his wife is the one who gets the call in the middle of the night from his new location), his job, his relationship with his daughter - to the point where he's caught in this miserable loop of uncontrollable behavior and the novelty of his bizarre condition begins to wear off, leaving his profoundly sad story stripped bare. I had just about reached that point of empathy when I read Janet Maslin's NYT review ("Compelled to Wander, Nowhere to Go") that made me lose hope that Tim would ever stop. This wasn't leaving me with a great feeling, so I stopped instead.

Tuna: Love, Death, and Mercury by Richard Ellis - still dipping into this one, but enjoying it. If you've read Mark Kurlansky's Cod.... Ellis (well known for his marine-themed works of nonfiction as well as his piscine paintings) has done a phenomenal amount of research on the massive industry that tuna fishing has become. (In fact, it's mostly refered to as "farming", to give you an idea of the scale.) From the huge, lucrative tuna market in Japan, the circular "tuna pens" in the Mediterranean, and the rampant overfishing and subsequent rapid decline of the global stock, Ellis covers the whole broad spectrum of the history and future of this magnificent, important species.

Already Dead: A California Gothic by Denis Johnson - the best book I've read this year and it's over a decade old. (See, I'm mending my ways.) 

"So...where do you come from originally?"
The man said nothing.
"Come on. Where are you from?"
"That's a shitty state," Thompson said.

(I'm a Nutmeger-transplant to Cali, so that scene was especially funny.) I loved Tree of Smoke, Johnson's 2007 National Book Award-winning novel of the Vietnam War, and his collection of twisted, drug-addled short stories,
Jesus' Son (read in one sitting in October) so a friend recommended this to me. Set along in a small town on the northern California coast, amongst the redwoods, secret valleys of ganja, and vast expanses of rocky beaches, it's populated by a wide array of odd people who do bad things to one another - much like a Coen brother's plot. If Johnson wasn't such an amazing wordsmith, he never would've been able to pull this story off. Beautifully written and absolutely hilarious.

Point Omega by Don DeLillo - still don't get it. One of Ted Burke's several takes on DeLillo - and while I agree that Don is neither "tedious, wordy, or pretentious", I still had a hard time grasping the greater themes of Omega. Although, this is only the 3rd of his novels I've read, so perhaps Ted is right in suggesting that one needs the greater thematic scope of DeLillo's body of work in order to fully appreciate Omega. Whatever.

The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession by David Grann - essay pieces by the author The Lost City of Z (#3 on the 2009 Catapult Notable List). Not all perfect - and none nearly as compelling as Z - but a good collection with some decent sections. "Trial By Fire" is an exposé, of sorts, on the Texas state legal system - focusing on the possible wrongful execution of a man convicted of killing his children in a fire. "The Squid Hunter" follows a scientist tracking the elusive Giant Squid - since I'm into the fish thing lately. My favorite: the fascinating "City of Water" chronicles the lives of the men who've been toiling under the streets of New York for the last 30 years to complete the construction of City Tunnel #3 - the conduit for the 1.3 billion gallons of water used by the city's residents every day.

Zulu by Caryl Férey - reviewed in my last post. Since then, I've had a bizarre email correspondence with someone at Férey's publisher, Europa Editions, who is mildly upset at my calling their company "Penguin's Europa Editions" in the review.  In the United States, Penguin distributes Europa (thankfully), so to my eye, as a reader, reviewer, and book buyer, Europa is under Penguin USA's umbrella - calling them "Penguin's" is pretty accurate and quite harmless. She asked me to change my wording, which I have not, since I'm waiting for her to just say, "Hey, by the way, thanks for reviewing this obscure book! Glad you liked it."  I'm a simple man.

The Routes of Man: How Roads Are Changing the World and the Way We Live Today by Ted Conover - I tend to not be able to read through nonfiction books at one go - I need to break them up with novels for some reason - so I'm chipping away at this one. Conover may very well be my favorite nonfiction author - check out his previous Newjack (when he was denied entry into Sing Sing prison for a story, he got a job as a prison guard there instead), Rolling Nowhere (he spent a season literally riding the rails with the last of America's hobos), and Coyotes (of particular interest in my neck of the woods, about his travels crossing the Mexican border with illegal immigrants). Routes is a series of loosely linked essays about the culture of the road across the globe. So far the first is my favorite - "Forest Primeval to Park Avenue" - in which Conover travels the route taken by Peruvian mahogany as it is cut (often illegally) and taken overland through mountains and jungles to be processed and sold as furniture, crown moldings, and cabinet doors in the United States. The reviews I have read have all complained about the overall cohesiveness of this book - Conover struggles to link all the narratives into his greater theme - but even the slightly negative press has recognized Conover's skill at writing the adventure/travelogue, so just go with that.

Truth by Peter Temple - just finished this over the past weekend. Taut, gritty, and great - my next review, I swear.