Since this site gives us the opportunity to highlight not just our books, but the individual essays our authors have written for us (and, okay, since it also gives you the opportunity to buy those individual essays), we wanted to figure out more ways to showcase them. Thus: Editors Picks. Periodically we—and/or some of our past guest editors or book contributors—will select 3 essays we particularly love from our Smart Pop titles and offer a little commentary on why we think you’ll love them, too.
My three picks today have a theme: they’re all essays that changed the way I think about storytelling.
This essay, by media studies professor and tv reviewer-about-the-web Paul Levinson—in addition to presenting a pretty great argument for why Alias’ first season and a half was so brilliant and why after SD-1 fell things were never quite the same—introduces a metaphor that completely revolutionized my conception of plot construction. He describes the original premise of the show as “an elegant box within boxes”—which makes the progression of the first season a process of opening a continuous series of boxes, where the contents of each reveal more about the real truth even as they highlight how much more is still concealed.
You may know Geoff Klock from the weekly Lost reviews he does for us; I know him from this fabulous essay he did for us on Veronica Mars, where he breaks down the season one finale, “Leave It to Beaver,” using the basics of screenwriting to increase our appreciation of just how brilliant the episode is. Along the way, he shows how neatly it manages to address and bring to a satisfying conclusion just about every theme and storyline that first season contained.
This essay is less about structure and more about the source of a story’s emotional tension—the engine that makes it go. Here, writer L. Jagi Lamplighter uses the early Anita Blake books (and Richard and Jean-Claude) to explain the modern appeal of paranormal romance in a way that, while not always 100% feminist-friendly, is undeniably compelling. But what really struck me about this essay was its suggestion that the true key to romance is taboo: the barrier it presents, the thrill of breaking it, and the triumph of overcoming it.
I tried to follow Leah’s lead by picking a theme, but I quite impressively failed. So, here, in no particular order because there is none to be found, are my three hand-picked essays:
Sherrilyn Kenyon picks up on a theme that die-hard Buffy fans might find hard to hear: Buffy seems hell-bent on emasculating her love interests throughout the show’s seven years. Sadly, this is most obvious in her final relationship of the series: with Spike, once-evil-doer-turned-softie. Hey, almost no one loves a strong female lead more than me (see Veronica Mars), but Buffy sure does know how to take a bad boy and rid him of all the naughty qualities the viewers once loved. Although I’m currently re-watching this show and loving it as much as I did when I watched the early seasons as a teenager, it’s obvious this show is less about the many loves of Buffy and more about the many ways in which Buffy gains the upper hand in almost all her relationships.
I often sing the praises of our Gilmore Girls anthology Coffee at Luke’s because it did what nothing else could: it got me to watch the show. I’m not your average Gilmore Girls fan. I never particularly cared for the fast-paced unrealistic dialogue or Lorelai’s parenting style or even Luke Danes (he was so damn grouchy, my god), but there were a few things that charmed me quickly and often and one of them was, surprisingly, Emily Gilmore. This is a great essay for any closeted Emily fans. But, seriously, get the whole book. It’s absolutely worth it.
This is a really interesting essay on Batman (obviously) and how he matches up against your typical American hero (hates authority but loves violence). More specifically, how he stacks up against George W. Bush. (Fascinating!) Now, I’m not a huge fan of the superhero genre in general, but one great aspect of our anthologies is how relatable the essays tend to be across the board. If you don’t love Batman, you can still love (and relate to) a Batman essay. Enjoying a Smart Pop essay can be as much about the tone and author as it is about the property, and that’s why buying individual essays is such a great new development: you don’t have to commit to 200+ pages about a superhero you’re not all that jazzed about, but you can buy one interesting essay written in a really accessible and enjoyable way.
Tell us, if you have one: what’s your favorite Smart Pop essay?