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Friday, September 26, 2008

From the Pop Culture Trenches: Popcorn-Lit

On the Barnes& website, 2004 Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Known World by Edward P. Jones has a rating of three-and-a-half stars. A decent review. On the same website, the 2004 novel by Nicholas Sparks Nights in Rodanthe pulled together four stars.

I'm sorry, what?

The two novels cannot even be properly compared to one another because their respective literary leagues are so drastically different, but if someone actually did compare, the review would most likely not come out favoring Sparks. To put it lightly, it would be like comparing popcorn to a dinner of roast pork loin with sweet potato purée and lightly seasoned steamed broccoli. It’s easy to see, for those who are accustomed to decent eating, that the latter is a more satisfying choice.

But, then, people like popcorn. Not everyone likes broccoli. And it seems, in general, that more people like popcorn than broccoli. It’s hard to deny this easy treat’s appeal to the mass public, and even though most at this blog are familiarized with finer literary dining, I am venturing into the realm of literary snack food to recognize what pop culture is serving up and, even more importantly, to find out how it fits into a balanced diet.

For this week, popcorn pop-lit may be a good place to start…

Nights in Rodanthe is a more poignant story than most Sparks tells, discussing the importance of being a person and a parent, and how to balance both when being one seems to interfere so much with the other. It describes the hardship of loss and how we can think we know someone but never know them at all. Or how we can only have just met someone, and know that person entirely.

Of course, being a Nicholas Sparks book also means that it's a romance story lasting only long enough to present the characters, have them make love, and have some horrifying circumstances tear them apart. With your slightly defiant, lovely, and completely sexy (always unbeknownst to her) female lead, the manly but truly ridiculously tender male lead, SOUL MATES ALERT, and all the for-plot-purposes characters who are never more than flat, it's a wonder they don't just print the same reviews for all the books. Oh, but, well... "This novel's unabashed emotion--and an unexpected turn--will put tears in your eyes" (Message in a Bottle). "Sparks knows how to tug at a reader's heartstrings" (The Wedding). And, for Rodanthe, "Bittersweet... romance blooms... You'll cry in spite of yourself." Well good.

Other new book/movies to watch out for this year:

Miracle at St. Anna; by James McBride, starring Derek Luke, John Turturro, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt
The Soloist; by Steve Lopez, starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx
Ballet Shoes; by Noel Streatfeild, starring Emma Watson
The Informers; by Bret Easton Ellis, starring Amber Heard, Winona Ryder, Mickey Rourke, Kim Basinger, Billy Bob Thornton, and Brad Renfro
Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist; by Rachel Cohn, starring Michael Cera and Kat Dennings
and He's Just Not That Into You; by Greg Behrendt, starring Ben Affleck, Jennifer Aniston, Scarlett Johansson, Drew Barrymore, and Justin Long

more on these and many more HERE...

Final food for thought:
As long as Sparks keeps writing the same story, Hollywood will have an excuse to keep making the same movies. Is there room for original ideas in pop-culture? Some argue there's nothing wrong with a popcorn pop-lit diet, but maybe people just can't stomach anything new. If that's the case, go see Nights in Rodanthe, admire Diane Lane (perhaps cry a little in spite of yourself), then go out for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz to make sure you're ingesting something more filling than an addictive salty snack.

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