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Criticism, Fiction, Humor, Reading, The Writer's Life

Bring Me the Head of Nicholas Sparks

Bring it to me on a platter, for I am done with sentimentality, and shall endure his writing no longer.

It offends me, as a writer, as an adult, as a thinking human being.

Where is the stuff that matters—the writing that used to awaken readers to injustice, greed and oppression, the novels that made people think as much as feel? What is this pabulum that he feeds his audience, this passive escape into warrens of schmaltz, to read not about human struggle, but childish yearning?

It is not so much that Sparks exists, for in every society there are writers who pass off such tripe as literature, but that his success has spawned others who follow his example and appeal to the pre-pubescent sensibilities that rule our mass culture, the people who torture us with sappy tear-jerkers about single moms still looking for love, abysmal tomes about lonely vampires, softcore porn novels immersed in cheap titillation.

You say he merely provides the public with what it wants, fills a need, and by the way his books generate immense profit. But I will not have my tastes dictated by those of the market.

I can no longer contain my anger, my disgust. It is no longer enough to ignore his assault on good writing and literary decency.

Why, you may ask.

Because I could not believe what I saw over the holidays: my own sainted mother, when she visited, clutching his latest waste of ink and paper, intending to read it, and—gasp!—enjoy it! Say it is not so, that she is one of the deluded, the lost souls.

Here, a sample, from the opening chapter of his latest screed, Safe Haven, a book whose cover of a young couple gazing into each other’s eyes nearly matches the sappiness of the writing within:

Her short hair was chestnut brown. She’d been dyeing it in the kitchen sink of the tiny cottage she rented. She wore no makeup and knew her face would pick up a bit of color, maybe too much. She reminded herself to buy sunscreen, but after paying rent and utilities on the cottage, there wasn’t much left for luxuries. Even sunscreen was a stretch. Ivan’s was a good job, and she was glad to have it, but the food was inexpensive, which meant the tips weren’t great. On her steady diet of rice, beans, pasta and oatmeal, she’d lost weight in the past four months. She could feel her ribs beneath her shirt, and until a few weeks ago, she’d had dark circles under her eyes that she thought would never go away.

“I think those guys are checking you out,” Melody said, nodding toward the table with the four men from the movie studio. “Especially the brown haired one. The cute one.”

P.U. I mean P fucking U. There is not enough room in this blog to adequately describe all the literary shortcomings of that passage—the triviality, the senseless backstory, the unearned emotion, the banal dialog, the torrent of copulas, the just plain bad writing. Excuse me while I gouge out my eyes for forcing them to look upon those terrible words.

But no. Not yet. Do not blind me until I have seen the head, the brain detached from the body, separated from the hands that type the words that burn me, the sticky syrup of his prose stoppered, the poisoned tongue at last stilled. Only this will release my mother from the grip of the demon, and allow me to rest.

So bring me the head of Nicholas Sparks. I will stomach no more of this.

Note: Thought I’d start the year out with something fun :-)

My new gig, and more news on the home page.


About Joe Ponepinto

Co-publisher, with Kelly Davio, of Tahoma Literary Review. Author of "Curtain Calls," a featured Kirkus Review. Married to Dona. Dad to Henry, the coffee-drinkin' dog.


32 thoughts on “Bring Me the Head of Nicholas Sparks

  1. Dear Jpon, Now at last you’re on the way! Congratulations on all the acceptances and new work and adulation. It’s highly deserved. Just please keep your Saturday morning blogs coming, as they are among my favorites. And about Nicholas Sparks–he’s best read aloud, accompanied by overacting and ridiculous gesticulations and etc. (i.e., as comedy or travesty).

    Posted by shadowoperator | January 5, 2013, 2:23 PM
    • I love the idea of a Nicky Sparks party: people get in groups and act out scenes, and everyone votes for the best… I mean worst. And thanks for the kind comments. The time off gave me a bunch of blog ideas, so keep tuning in.

      Posted by jpon | January 5, 2013, 2:51 PM
      • I was listening to Chelsea Handler last night as she talked about how horrible Fifty Shades was. She said she read about 20 pages and thought, Are you kidding me? The writing is horrible and story is ridiculous, who would read this trash? She went on to say that when a friend recommends it or claims to be reading it, she gets right in their face and says, Oh my god, you’re an idiot.


        Posted by Teri | January 5, 2013, 6:49 PM
      • Have I passed this one along yet? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hqy8zAdfNEU Washington Post critic Ron Charles takes on Publishers Weekly’s choice of E.L. James (Fifty Shades of Grey) as the Publishing Person of the Year. Funniest thing I’ve seen in a long, long time.

        Posted by jpon | January 5, 2013, 8:37 PM
  2. Welcome back jpon! And this is a fine way to start the new year. Bring us his head indeed.

    Posted by Teri | January 5, 2013, 2:28 PM
    • I was trying to find a picture of a head on a platter, to which I would Photoshop Sparks’ dome, but I figured that might be too much.

      Posted by jpon | January 5, 2013, 2:52 PM
  3. Welcome back and congratulations on the new gig, short story and review acceptance, Joe! Also hope (the above notwithstanding) your “Holiday Season” went well!

    Yes, I too, have “waxed Medieval” on the state of publishing. Quite a humorous read, I must say, but it seems to me that (and do forgive me the employment of a sporting platitude) it might be more of a “Hate the Game, Not The Playah” kinda thing? I mean, perhaps Nick Sparks was one day gedanken-ing “Dang it, maaan! What’s up with all this thinky fiction shit? Why isn’t there just some good old emotional yanky-banky material out there, so people can just unwind and cry after a hard day of being on their feet, for Chrissakes?”

    I’m not a fan of much out there myself. I used to think of myself as an “easy reader,” but I’ve found, the closer to the grave I get, that…I’m not. I’m fricking picky as hell. Most of the fiction I picked up last year…I put back down with varying degrees of force and direction (though I will note one book in particular that REALLY grabbed me, was Marc Schuster’s, The Grievers; I mention it because it really did stand out from all the rest of the wide-ranging material I picked up!). My agent and I have had a relationship, going on it’s 4th year, I believe, and what have we sold? Zilch. I write (in her words) “thinky fiction.” I don’t know what to tell you, but I’m happy for the writer who CAN land a gig. I may not be thrilled with the genre and/or content (yeah, the sexy/vapid-vampire thing), but that ain’t my problem. There are *billions and billions* of people out there, so there’s an audience for all of us. The problem, as I see it, is that those PUBLISHING the books are publishing what they’re publishing, it’s not really the writers at fault. We all do what we’re made to do, and some of us find our audiences easier than others, and if we all liked the same thing, it’d be boring as hell. But, even PUBLISHERS aren’t evil, Joe. They’re just doing what they FEEL is the right thing to do—in THEIR world. Sure, it pisses off the rest of us…but face it, YOU get your books out there, and someone’ll eventually start fitting their guillotine for your neck size, decrying: “OFF WITH PONEPINTO’S HEAD! The guy’s too damn good! He keeps breathing MY oxygen, taking up MY shelf space, and damn it if he isn’t using MY words! MY WORDS! I can do justasgoodifnotbetter job! Why him and NOT me?!”

    So—have you considered creating a pseudonym? ;-]

    Posted by fpdorchak | January 5, 2013, 3:43 PM
  4. Thank you for the much-needed laugh! I couldn’t agree more.

    Posted by Kelly Davio | January 5, 2013, 3:55 PM
  5. Funny post, Joe. I’d like to believe that there are many people who wouldn’t read at all, if it weren’t for writers like Nicholas Sparks, and that reading anything is better than not reading at all. Congratulations on the acceptances; it’s good to see some great stories find a home.

    Posted by michellemorouse | January 5, 2013, 4:15 PM
  6. Whine some more, you lucky SOB. You should see the crap visiting relatives leave at our house.

    Posted by Brian santo | January 5, 2013, 5:18 PM
    • Yes, I’ve been meaning to apologize for leaving that copy of James Patterson’s latest book behind.

      Posted by jpon | January 5, 2013, 9:06 PM
  7. Hot dogs. People eat hot dogs. Every variety of foodie finds this repugnant. They preach on free range, organic, sprout filled, vegetarian, vegan, grass fed, locally grown good food. But people eat hot dogs in the face of all this goodness. Untrained palates? Limited budget? Scant availability? Lack of social awareness? Maybe. But a lot of folks just like hot dogs. I’ll even eat a hot dog once in a while (Kosher, all beef, Amish made, but still hot dogs.) Look. I don’t mean to get all existential on your ass, but let it go. They’re going to eat what they’re going to eat. Better than starving. Now I have to go. My Kraft instant, microwave, bright orange, macaroni and cheese is almost ready.

    Posted by Jon Zech | January 5, 2013, 5:21 PM
    • Yum. Funny about these comments–I was working earlier today on a story that has a section on Coney Island hotdogs. I kid you not.

      Posted by jpon | January 5, 2013, 9:08 PM
  8. Oh, gawd, how I’ve missed you. So glad you’re back. I’ve never read Nicky Sparks. But I’m off to your home page to read more of you.

    Posted by Darrelyn Saloom | January 5, 2013, 5:53 PM
  9. I say we crown you King Joe and revel in your imperial decree that we will have no more drek posing as literature in the realm of real writing.

    Posted by Cristina | January 5, 2013, 8:02 PM
    • Who was it that said, “If nominated I will not run; if crowned I will not serve.” I do not wish to be king. However, I might consider Chancellor of the Exchequer. Always thought it had a nice sound to it.

      Posted by jpon | January 5, 2013, 9:11 PM
      • It was a dark and stormy night, so I went to the store for milk, eggs, a baguette, dental floss, OJ, 3 cans Friskie’s Pacific Salmon Entree with sauce, a bag of Tidy Cat and a copy of the Weekly World News. It was real, and gritty. And I say this from experience as an actual ex-chequer.

        Posted by socalsoxman | January 6, 2013, 6:54 AM
      • Oy. Jokes like that belong in the Weekly World News.

        Posted by jpon | January 7, 2013, 11:16 AM
  10. There he is, the old Joe on his soapbox, calling for heads. Love it!
    Never read this guy before. He’s not on my radar, but he sounds like a driveling panderer. I can imagine the shame of having your mother read it. How could she!?
    (I have to admit, though, I have read all the True Blood books. For shame! I’m now reading Auster’s autobiography and loving it, but I do like an occasional fling in the mud.)

    Posted by girl in the hat | January 5, 2013, 8:13 PM
  11. Glad to see you back in the ring & swinging, Joe! Looking forward to reading more of your observations in the new year, and to checking out Delphi Quarterly.

    Posted by Marc Schuster | January 5, 2013, 8:14 PM
    • I’m excited about Delphi. Writers interviewing writers. Nice and simple, and no slush pile to wade through.

      And thanks for the props, both here and on Twitter.

      Posted by jpon | January 5, 2013, 9:14 PM
  12. Great post, as usual. Over the past few weeks, I read Louise Erdrich’s “The Round House” and “The Bad Girl” by nobel prize winner, Mario Vargas Llosa.I also read James Patterson’s “Zoo ” and Tess Gerritsen latest novel to see what “people” are reading. I honestly don’t remember the title of Tess Gerritsen’s novel , and I was horrified at how unrewarding Patterson’s novel was. Nevertheless, people vote with their checkbooks. I try not to stay disconnected from the mainstream, but I find that literary fictionand commercial fiction are different animals. Congratulations on your well-earned publications.

    Posted by Nadia Ibrashi | January 7, 2013, 6:07 AM
    • Every time I think about caving in and trying to write commercial fiction I have to slap myself. And I understand Patterson doesn’t even write his own books anymore. He has a team of “writers” do it for him.

      Posted by jpon | January 7, 2013, 11:14 AM

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