Best of Smart Pop essays: Editors picks

By May 3rd, 2010

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.

From Leah:

My three picks today have a theme: they’re all essays that changed the way I think about storytelling.

1. “The Night that Alias Reinvented Itself,” from Alias Assumed

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.

2. “Story Structure and Veronica Mars,” from Neptune Noir

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.

3. “Dating the Monsters,” from Ardeur

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.

From Jennifer:

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:

1. “The Search for Spike’s Balls,” from Seven Seasons of Buffy

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.

2. “In Defense of Emily Gilmore,” from Coffee at Luke’s

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.

3. “Batman in the Real World,” from Batman Unauthorized

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?

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No Comments On "Best of Smart Pop essays: Editors picks"

  1. Tiffany

    Three of my all time favorite essays are:

    “I’m in Love With My Car” by Lawrence Watt-Evans (“Neptune Noir”)
    “Boom Goes the Dynamite” by Misty K. Hook (“Neptune Noir”)
    “Matchmaking on the Hellmouth” by Lawrence Watt-Evans (“Seven Seasons of Buffy”)

    But these are just a few of all the ones I love. I also loved the entire collections of “Finding Serenity” and “Serenity Lost.”


  2. orangehands

    These are really hard to narrow down.

    “A Slayer Comes to Town” by Scott Westerfeld & “The Assassination of Cordelia Chase” by Jennifer Crusie for the craft of writing.

    “Batman in the Real World” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, “Jack Bauer Syndrome” by Eric Greene and “Alcohol-The Cause of, and Solution to, All Life’s Problems” by Denis M. McCarthy for the message gleaned from the show.

    “Boom Goes the Dynamite : Why I Love Veronica and Logan” by Misty K. Hook because it has been the only essay that makes me want to watch a show I wasn’t interested in watching.


    • Leah

      Hard to argue with the recommendations of Scott Westerfeld’s essay from Seven Seasons of Buffy and Jennifer Crusie’s from Five Seasons of Angel! Both definitely fantastic.


  3. Diane

    You can’t blame Buffy for the fact that her boyfriends become less stereotypically macho/testosterone-driven…’Cos, y’know, there’s personal responsibility, free will, feminism… and the show’s writers ;)

    But I SO agree about Alias going off the boil midway through S2 (I clung on for another season or so then gave up).

    I can’t believe I haven’t read the Gilmore Girls anthology yet – it’s one of my favourite shows of all time and as awful as Emily can be (and she really can be), she is a fabulously-drawn (and acted) character, totally 3 dimensional. Sometimes when I really need to be confident bordering on impervious, I even think: WWEGD? :)


    • Diane

      Ps: I meant imperious, not impervious – though she can be that, too.


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