Monday, April 20, 2009

Trying to Make Sense of the "Twilight" Phenomena

As a teacher, I make a serious effort to read every book a student recommends to me. I see it as a matter of respect; if a teenager is willing to put him- or herself out there and say, “Gee, I think you’ll like this book,” I feel a responsibility to take the time to at least give it a shot.

Still, I was reluctant to take up Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, despite the growing number of students telling me how amazing it was. I can’t explain why this was, although I think the apple on the cover (and the idea of a town called Forks) just randomly irked me.

Between Addie jumping on the Meyer bandwagon and one of my students pointing out, “You didn’t want to read Harry Potter either, but you ended up loving them,” I finally decided to give the book a fair shake … and got sucked in.

I read the first three books—Twilight, New Moon, and Eclipse—in one frenzied weekend. I was captivated by the seemingly impossible love story between awkward, recently-uprooted from-Arizona-to-Washington-state Bella and the human-respecting vampire, Edward. I found Edward’s “vegetarian vampire” family fascinating, their struggles different (but no less difficult) than when they were human. The development of a love triangle between Bella, Edward, and a werewolf (along with unspeakably awful villains) kept me turning pages late into the night.

All right, I have to confess, I was one of those freaks panting to get a midnight copy of Breaking Dawn when it was first released. In fact, I was tempted to buy two copies since Addie had made it clear that she would be reading it first (only fair, as she’d gotten into the series long before I had). When I finally got my hands on it, I ate up the conclusion in one night.

Okay, another confession. Once I’ve read a book, the odds are pretty good that I’ll reread it at some point in time. After all, I seem to get something different out of a work of literature every time I open it up. Therefore, when I found myself looking for a book to read in late August and my eyes happened upon Twilight, it seemed like a great opportunity to revisit some old friends.

I didn’t even make it fifty pages before closing the book and moving on, something that I almost never do. I made a mental note that Stephenie Meyer’s vampire series was on a short list—books that I could only read and enjoy once.

Stephen King has taken a lot of heat for saying to a USA Today journalist about J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame and Meyer, “They’re speaking directly to young people. The real difference is that Jo Rowling is a terrific writer and Stephenie Meyer can’t write worth a darn. She’s not very good.”

This stood out to me because I couldn’t put my thumb on why I can reread Rowling’s Harry Potter books over and over, while Meyer’s series was a one-shot deal for me. With that being said, though, I was unquestionably bitten by the Twilight bug, obsessed with finding out exactly what was going to happen. I could not put those books down while in the midst of the world Meyer created. Even if my visit was short-lived, Meyer’s writing had the power to keep me turning pages, so I think dismissing her as “not very good” is not really fair.

Ultimately, Meyer has inspired kids to read. Her books may not go down in history as fine works of literature, but they have sparked an interest in people of all ages and for that they deserve a measure of respect.

If you haven’t read the Twilight series, you should. Like popcorn at the movies and the center of a Tootsie Roll pop, you’ll enjoy it … just bear in mind that the pleasure associated with reading these books may well be gone (like a lollipop) when you are done.


  1. I read it. Sorry, the story was interesting, characters were cool, the writing was sloppy IHMO. I wikipedia'd the rest of the books for the synopsis.

    I'll wait for the movies. The first one was pretty good.

  2. Hi, thanks for the comment over at my blog, A Novel Idea. There is definitely enough history explained in A Foreign Affair for readers to understand what's going on. I knew next to nothing about Queen Victoria's ascension to the throne in 1837, and although there isn't a big history info dump anywhere in the novel, Peacock gives you enough basics so you're not left confused. Plus there's no objectionable material so it's suitable for high school readers (one villain is hinted at being a molester of younger boys, but never overtly so, and nothing graphic is mentioned).

  3. I tell people she sprinkles crack onto the pages. I can't otherwise explain my compulsion to read her books in one sitting in any other way. I will admit that I found myself irked at the repetition of adjectives and the many editorial mistakes. I've seen a mistake or two here and there in other works, but either she was so overrun with mistakes that this was a cleaned up version or her editor just fell asleep at the switch, because there were... a lot.

    Still, I was compelled to read on. However, I literally LOATHED the final installment. Hated everything about the plot turn, the character massacre, the Jacob-in-love-with-baby stuff. It took me awhile to force through it, not like the first three which I'd run through.

    She's not a good writer, but she's original. Unique in a genre that's saturated with vampire stories-- I think she kept hers fresh and that is saying something, but in the end, I agree with King.

  4. I felt exactly the same way about Twilight, and I came to this conclusion: while the characterization leave A LOT to be desired and the plot is all but non-existent at certain points in the series, Meyer created a story that was addictive. I didn't care about Bella, Edward, Jacob...well, anyone. I wasn't invested in their success or failure. I sure as heck wasn't hoping to learn lessons with them as they matured (since no one learned anything as far as I could tell). BUT, in a completely Mary Sue-ish way, I had to know what happened next. I will probably never read them again, but at the time I would have sworn the pages were laced with heroin.

    Meyer understood (or more likely lucked into) what many great, but underselling authors don't. To achieve huge sales, you have to tell a stories that sucks people in. Fantastically complex characters, rich and diverse plotlines and eloquent prose will get you nothing if no one cares.

  5. I completely agree with your assessment. I also picked up the Twilight books with reluctance and found myself in a reading frenzy. I've been disappointed by the rush of literati to condemn Meyer as a poor writer - certainly there are fair critiques to be made, but at the end of the day it all tastes of sour grapes to me.

  6. I think I'm going to have to break down and watch the movie of "Twilight" (I almost never seen movies based on books, just on general principle). My experience with Meyer's books was just so unusual--devoured them the first time, couldn't get through them the second time--that I might just like the movie : )

    I think Samantha hit the nail on the head with Meyer being not a world-class writer, but what an idea ...

    And if I didn't say it before, as an English teacher, I can't be TOO harsh on any book that gets kids to read ...

  7. If you enjoyed Twilight (even if it was only once) you have to read Meyer's other book, "The Host". It's a bit tougher to get into, but I found it just as addicting...

  8. I'm thinking Twilight doesn't send the best message to the children. They LOVE to read it though! Sheesh....if a guy says he wants to suck your blood, and that you are his herione. RUN!

  9. Thanks for your comment on my blog, KLo. I'm very much enjoying reading yours... I haven't succumbed to twilight yet, but have oh so many literary friends who have. The all seem to say something similar: I didn't want to do it, I'm still not sure it's very good, but once I started I got sucked in and had to read the whole thing as quickly as possible! It sounds very much like an insatiable craving, no? Maybe Vampires don't only infect by biting...

  10. Thanks for the Comment on my blog, KLo. I loved Twilight! Meyers book The Host is also very good but not as additive as Twilight. Its an enjoyable read however you won't be up at all hours of the night reading it. I still recommend it though.

  11. LOLOL! I read the series the whole time going, "I hate bella. Why do I have to be in bella's head? Why am I reading this???" LOL! Meanwhile I read and read and read and couldn't stop. The most addicting books on the planet. They are so amazing and many times I've asked people what they thought made the series so addcitive. I've had some good answers, but all in all I think it was just that forbidden love aspect and the question of what's going to happen... I haven't tried to read them again yet, I should though. I'm curious if I'll like bella better the second time around. LOL! And ALSO, since I've been working on getting myself published it's dawned on me that I better be prepared to hear negative reviews about my Jane Austen rewrites--because you really can't please everyone. Jenni

  12. I felt the same way, Jenni, the whole time I was reading them ... but still couldn't stop. I guess there must be some sort of literary value if so very many people just cannot put them down. I'm curious to see what your reaction to a rereading would be : )

  13. Ha ha!! You know my feelings on it! Just like the Mummy...entertaining, but not good. I have to concur with some of the character issues. I often don't like Bella. I often think she is surprised by things that are patently obvious. I think that she is pathetically self-loathing and subservient to Edward, and thus not the best heroine for young ladies. Yet I still read them. I am halfway through Eclipse, and I know I'll finish it and then read Breaking Dawn. I guess I'm the pathetically subservient one...