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.