Illustration: Toby Morris

Sparks vs Steel: A Valentine’s Day battle of love

Today is Valentine’s Day but for two very rich authors, every day is a day for romance. Nicholas Sparks and Danielle Steel go head-to-head in a battle for the trashy romance crown.

Ten year old me browsed the books tables at the school fair. At 3pm, stalls were winding down and the tired volunteer mums just wanted their stock gone so they wouldn’t have to carry it back to their cars. Four dollars to fill a bag with books. I was there with a Farmers bag – the biggest bag available – and going nuts, throwing in all the unwanted novels I could carry. When I got home, I emptied the bag on my bed and surveyed my findings. It was op shop bingo: The Lovely Bones? Check. Nicholas Sparks? Check. Danielle Steel? Double check. An earnest Mitch Albom novel that changed my tween life? Hell yes.

I read a lot as a child. But books are expensive so what I really did was read a lot of books you’d find at garage sales. By the time I went to high school I was well-versed in the Bryce Courtneys, Henning Mankells and Sidney Sheldons of the literary world. But boy oh boy did my tiny self love a good, trashy, romance novel.

I would go so far as to say that these books, while not even considered literature by some, are great learning tools for kids or teens. If you can handle your child reading one (1) mild sex scene per 500 page book, dramatic romance novels showcase storytelling in its most basic and digestible form. Knowing how to neatly wrap up the loose ends of a story without fanfare is something a lot of Men At Barbecues would do well to learn. It’s never too late to get into Danielle Steel.

No Greater Love, the 1991 story of a family struck by tragedy after sailing on the Titanic, was my first foray into the Danielle Steel universe. That soap opera of a novel was the perfect book for a kid who just wanted to read big stories and didn’t care too much about the prose. KEEP YOUR POETRY, JUST GIVE ME THE DRAMA, said ten year old me. Nicholas Sparks came by a little later because his books weren’t as readily available at Salvation Army but I identified him immediately as being a male Steel. But who is the supreme ruler of romance? Thanks to this entirely objective and not-at-all-based-off-my-own-experiences criteria, you’re about to find out.

VOLUME:

Both authors still release titles to this day and yet every photo of their books is offensively low res

Danielle Steel wins this one hands down. I refuse to believe that she typed out every word of every book published under her name but regardless, selling over 800 millions copies of 114 books is a stunning feat. Didn’t all those buyers know they could get one of her old books for $2 at any op shop and just pretend it was a new one? They’re all the same! This isn’t an insult. Or if it is, I’ve owned myself because I’ve read over 20 of them.

HOLIDAY READABILITY:

This is a tough one. Steel’s books are notoriously massive. This worked for me as a kid because being seen by my mum reading a book would get me out of helping out around the house. I managed to blur the line between reading and ‘doing homework’ for a few years before she realised that, for me, it was the equivalent of watching TV. But while it worked, the bigger the book, the better.

However, Sparks’s slimmer tales are hard to pass up when travelling. They’re pocket-sized, making it easier to hide in a towel when someone respectable walks by. Also I now read approximately one book a year (sad) so the thought of picking up a 600 page romance turns me right off. Sparks wins this round.

MOVIE ADAPTATIONS:

Despite writing over 100 romance novels perfect for a movie or mini series starring Hugh Grant, Kate Hudson, and Paul Giamatti, Steel’s works have been largely absent from the screen. Actually, there have been 25 movie adaptations but they were almost all between 1990-1995 and all rubbish.

Sparks has A Walk To Remember (2002), starring Mandy Moore and a guy who’s not famous anymore, to thank for his career taking off. Hollywood quickly recognised a winning formula and has since adapted nearly all his works into movies that can be summed up as straight white people suffer first world problems and fall in love to save themselves feat. an almost kiss on the cover.

What can I say, I’ve read and seen them all. But Steel wrote No Greater Love before James Cameron wrote Titanic so there’s still plenty of movie potential in her.

AVAILABILITY:

This is a tie. I would put a lot of money on a wager that every single op shop in the country has at least one book from each of these authors. If you find a Sallies or Vinnies that doesn’t, contact me and I’ll send you one of each free of charge. I’m nothing if not a patron of the arts.

SIZE OF NAME ON THE COVER:

Sparks might have a big, uniform name on his book covers but was it always in the same font, gold, and embossed? Didn’t think so.

LIKABILITY:

Danielle Steel lives in a 55-room mansion built by an old sugar tycoon and her writing desk is literally a giant sculpture of three of her books. She sounds like a legend. Sparks, meanwhile…well, let me check…

AAAHHH!!!! This fight can’t go on.

Congratulations to our winner by TKO, Danielle Steel. May you continue to publish three books a year from your ridiculous desk until you leave this trashy planet.


The Spinoff Review of Books is brought to you by Unity Books.

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