Friday 23 April 2010

Nicholas Sparks launches broadside at Cormac McCarthy

I must admit I love it when an author slaps another author down - especially when they make a bit of a prat of themselves while doing it. Especially when they risk committing career suicide.

Which is exactly what Nicholas Sparks has done, after revealing - among other things - that he's not the biggest fan of Cormac McCarthy:

"Cormac McCarthy? Horrible...This is probably the most pulpy, overwrought, melodramatic cowboy vs. Indians story ever written."

Sparks was referring to McCarthy's novel Blood Meridian - the same novel that Time magazine voted as being one of the top 100 English-language novels published between 1923 and 2005, and that finished as runner-up in the 2006 New York Times poll of the most important American fiction of the last 25 years. The same novel that - as far as I understand - is widely regarded as McCarthy's finest work.

Of course, Sparks is entitled to his opinion...though he really ought to have kept it to himself - attacking other authors (especially those with the stature of McCarthy) is generally considered to be poor form; you can only really get away with it if you're a highly successful and respected author in your own right (i.e, Stephen King dismissing Stephanie Meyer, and Terry Pratchett having a dig at J. K. Rowling). The general online reaction to Sparks's comment involves repeated use of the word 'douchebag'.

Sparks can't have any complaints: he hardly comes across well in the interview. At times, he sounds alarmingly like that renowned ego-monster, Terry Goodkind:
"There are no authors in my genre. No one is doing what I do."
Sure, no one else is writing novels about people falling in love and then losing each other. Sparks must be some kind of genius to come up with such an original, groundbreaking premise. As if that wasn't enough, Sparks actually has the audacity to compare himself with Hemingway:
"A Farewell to Arms, by Hemingway. Good stuff. That's what I write," he says, putting it back. "That's what I write."
I doubt it. The only person that writes like Hemingway is Hemingway. Still, at least Sparks acknowledges his influences:
"I write in a genre that was not defined by me. The examples were not set out by me. They were set out 2,000 years ago by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides."
Come on...I mean, seriously. Likening yourself to the great ancient Greek tragedians is just...well, it's laughable.

Perhaps Sparks should stop writing his romance novels - sorry, love stories, to use his own term - and write a book called "How to Destroy your Reputation in Thirty Seconds", since he's clearly an expert on the subject.


Anonymous said...

Wow... Hemingway? The classics? Bloody hell what a massive ego! Has he ever read his own stuff??


Unknown said...

"attacking other authors (especially those with the stature of McCarthy) is generally considered to be poor form; you can only really get away with it if you're a highly successful and respected author in your own right (i.e, Stephen King dismissing Stephanie Meyer, and Terry Pratchett having a dig at J. K. Rowling)."

To be fair to this point, Sparks is pretty much up there with those guys.

That said, he's definitely just earned him The Douchebag Award of 2010 for this crap...he's not at all the kind of person one should look up to. Stick him in the Goodkind and Atwood box, shake it up, and see what happens.

Anonymous said...

@ S.M.D. – The big difference is that King and Pratchett actually have the talent to match their snark, and they weren't going after Pulitzer Prize winning authors with near-unanimously positive literary acclaim. This is something more like Tom Clancy calling Kurt Vonnegut a hack.

This is career suicide.

Helpful relevant article, by the by:

Unknown said...

Austin: I suppose. I don't think McCarthy is as good as everyone says he is though. The Road was entertaining, but it was not Pulitzer Prize material to me. Overrated in terms of literary merit and completely unoriginal. I don't agree with Sparks that McCarthy is awful, though. He's just not as great as people keep telling me.

And to be fair, this is likely going to do sod all to Sparks' career. He's still going to sell loads of books, which will be turned into movies, and so on. If he were a young pup with no credit to his name, I'd agree that it was career suicide, but he's in a position where he can spew this crap and it won't significantly affect him as a writer.

I also don't think it matters all that much whether one has significant writing talent in terms of being able to criticize other authors. If that were so, literary criticism would be dead, because the only people who could ever say something negatively about a popular writer, or about a particular text would be people who have the writing talent to create material of their own.

That said, Sparks is definitely being a jackass.

Wilette M Youkey said...

He calls McCarthy overwrought and melodramatic? Has he ever read his own stuff? Case in point, The Notebook. Geez, what an ego.

The Dude said...

@ S.M.D.: everybody's entitled to his opinion yada yada yada.

But McCarthy really is as good as people say he is. Especially in Blood Meridian. Which wasn't pulpy at all, I don't know where Sparks got that notion.

The Road was a post-apocalyptic book. Not original, I agree. But it was original on the handling of the subject. As for literary merit, I don't know what to say to make you change your mind. If there ever was a book in recent years that deserved a Pulitzer, it was that one.

I do agree with you on the fact that this won't affect Sparks' career. His readership doesn't overlap with McCarthy's. You don't really see 14-year old girls reading All the Pretty Horses

Unknown said...

The Dude: The Road was not original by any stretch of the imagination. Not in form, nor content. It's been done before, in similar fashion. The best one can say is that it has a McCarthy stamp on it (whatever that is), but that stamp does not take away from the fact that it has more relation to the lesser novels of the post-apocalyptic subgenre than it does to the best of them, nor does it somehow make it more original than the work that proceeded it. It's a novel that distinctly resembles a number of novels and short stories that gained prominence in the last 50 years and much more interesting novels in that genre being written today deserve the same attention and love that The Road has achieved.

The Road is still enjoyable, but it is enjoyable in the same way that every other mainstream popcorn fiction book is. If it deserved the Pulitzer Prize, then I guess the Pulitzer is even more meaningless to American fiction as the Nobel.

As to the last point: exactly :P.

Unknown said...

On a side note: I will read Blood Meridian over the summer to see why everyone likes that one too :P

Shannon Morgan said...

I wanted to branch out into genres this year that I rarely read, so I set up a personal reading challenge. BLOOD MERIDIAN and THE NOTEBOOK are both part of the challenge. Now I won't be able to resist comparing the writing styles.

The Dude said...

@ S.M.D. : yeah, you should give Blood Meridian a try, although I'll admit that it took me a while to like that novel.

As for the Pulitzer, you may be right about the award being meaningless. I remember reading The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and even though I enjoyed the book a lot, I was left scratching my head at how it had won the Pulitzer. So I just thought "well, if this book won a Pulitzer, The Road should've won two" :P

@nomadshan: that's a great experiment :) the equivalent in the fantasy genre would probably be comparing Gene Wolfe with Robert Stanek :p

Unknown said...

The Dude: I need to read the Oscar Wao book. Folks say it is good. You didn't think it deserved the Pulitzer, though? Why? Just curious (since I haven't read it, I can't say I disagree or anything).

I think it would be fair to also note that I'm not really a part of the "literary" writing/reading world. I read "literary" novels from time to time, but I know genre fiction so much better than the rest (which explains why the magazine I edit is now doing a steampunk issue instead of another general "anything goes" issue).

Enough ranting from me...

Nathaniel Katz said...

I can't see this affecting Sparks's career at all for the simple reason that I doubt there's much (if any) overlap between his and McCarthy's fans. Odds are, the vast majority of Nicholas Sparks fans have never read one of McCarthy's novels and couldn't care less if Sparks trashed him. Oh, and I really need to read Blood Meridian, having loved the Road.

Anonymous said...

To be honest, I never appreciated Stephen King's and Terry Pratchett's comments on Meyer and Rowling.

Everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion and to criticize, but if you can't do it tactfully, you end up sounding like an idiot, no matter how acclaimed books or whatever you have done.

Correspondingly, you can always make a good impression if you have refined and friendly manners, even if you've written the worst book ever

The Dude said...

@ S.M.D.:we're pretty much the same. 90% of the books I read are genre books, but I've been trying to put more "literary" novels on my diet :)

Like I said, I loved Oscar Wao. The reason why I can't understand why it won the Pulitzer isn't really because of the quality of the book.

I'll explain: Oscar, the main character, is a guy that I'm sure most guys that visit this blog, myself included, identify: he loves fantasy,SF,comic books, Star Wars, etc. The book has a serious subject and theme, but after reading it I couldn't understand how a book that quotes the Fantastic Four, Watchmen and Lord of the Rings could win a Pulitzer, given how literary critics view those types of things.

I made the comparison with The Road, because The Road is exactly the type of book that wins Pulitzers and makes literary critics cream their pants (sorry for putting that image in your head:p)

Unknown said...

The Dude: The Pulitzer is actually far more genre friendly than the Nobel, though. A lot of SF/F-inclined writers have won that award, though not necessarily for SF/F work. The same cannot be said about the Nobel.

Aarti said...

He DOES sound like Terry Goodkind! Good comparison. I read that interview in its entirety when it came out because #iheartthespark, and it's so ridiculous. He doesn't write in a genre, but if he MUST choose a genre, it is one defined by Greek tragedians. And... Miley Cyrus.

David Wagner said...

Having never read a Sparks or a McCarthy novel, I can't really speak to fan overlap, or even to writing quality... but man, if I was a Sparks fan and heard him so confidently compare himself to Hemingway and the Greek classics, I'd probably injure my eyes rolling them so hard.

I'm trying to imagine a favorite author of mine saying that... Steven Pressfield, perhaps. I mean, Gates of Fire is among my favorite books of all time... but if I heard Pressfield drop the same quotes Sparks did, I'd have to wonder about him... I guess it shouldn't matter. I mean, either he's a good writer or not, whether he's a douche or not in "real life"... still, I can't imagine the nad it takes to believe that about himself. And I can't imagine that level of narcissism on display not negatively affecting his career in some manner.

Anonymous said...

Regarding this sniping at McCarthy, one need only consider the source. A miniature poodle gnawing the ankle of a pit bull. It's good for a laugh, at least.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I'd heard of Sparks doing this sort of thing on other occasions as well.

Kristopher A. Denby said...

This will not have the slightest bit of an affect on Sparks' ability to sell novels. And I find it pretty interesting that an sf&f genre blogger is calling out another genre's legitimacy. I guess every genre has to have something to look down its nose at, huh?

As for Sparks himself, I could care less, really. About him or his writing. But I agree with S.M.D. McCarthy is overrated. I thoroughly enjoyed 'The Road', and found it to be quite moving. But I don't believe that he is deserving of all the praise that is foisted upon him.

I agree that Sparks ranks right up there with Goodkind as far as egos go, but ultimately I think that it will have no affect on his career. Douchebag comments aside.

James said...

"And I find it pretty interesting that an sf&f genre blogger is calling out another genre's legitimacy. I guess every genre has to have something to look down its nose at, huh?"

I'm a bit puzzled by this - how exactly have I questioned another genre's legitimacy? I certainly didn't mean to. I was taking a swipe at Sparks for claiming to have invented his own genre, but I'm certainly not attacking the romance genre as a whole. Sure, it's not my bag at all, but each to their own.

And you're right, it won't affect his sales. But from a critical point of view, he's dug his own grave...though I doubt that a) he was held in high esteem anyway, and b) he probably couldn't give a shit.

Adam Whitehead said...

Pratchett called out Rowling on her comment she wasn't writing fantasy, and Rowling reconsidered her position and said he was right. They later hung out at publishing events together, and seem to be cool now. The only other point of disagreement was a brief flamewar between respective fans when some Rowling fans accused Pratchett of ripping off Rowling because EQUAL RITES (published 1987) is set in a wizards' school, just like HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER'S STONE (published 1997), but the authors didn't really comment on that (I think Pratchett has said before he wasn't exactly using original ideas in the first place either).

Ashley said...

Great post! Hilarious!