Sunday, August 5, 2012

Defending Twilight

This week's theme is books we hate to admit we love. I'm picking Twilight.

But maybe not for the reason you think.

I read Twilight, the first book of the series, a long time ago. Long before the hype and just before the first surge of wild popularity. One of my very good friends, a sister writer and book store owner, said she'd emailed with one of her long time friends who was an editor in New York. She forwarded me the email which said something like "I spent Sunday devouring this YA book, with a completely chaste hero and I think I'm in love. I don't know how this is possible."

My friend knew I was into genre, especially anyone who did something new and different, so she offered to order the book for me. (She was also an excellent bookseller.) I read the book and agreed. It drew me in. The romantic and sexual tension mesmerized me - all created without the least amount of sex. I gave the book to several friends who liked romance and they gobbled it up, too. More, the children of my friends - both boys and girls - read and loved it, which gave us interesting things to talk about.

Then the wild surge happened. The movies happened. And the opinions.

Now it's terribly unfashionable to admit you like these books. Writers bitch about the prose style. Women hate the heroine for being weak and whiny. The hero is a stalker. The heroine does self-destructive things to keep a boy. Vampires shouldn't sparkle.

Interestingly, most of these opinions are held by people who've never read the book. And don't tell me that, well, you saw the movie. If every book was judged by the movie version, then books would all be in serious trouble.

And, frankly, if we reduced the theme of many romantic/paranormal novels to models of psychological behavior, I don't think many would pass. It's just that most aren't subjected to the scrutiny Twilight has been.

Really, I think this often occurs when anything reaches a high level of success - especially with romance, which is easily disparaged. You can say this vilification hasn't happened with Hunger Games or Harry Potter. I'm pointing at Fifty Shades of Grey. You might note that very similar accusations - except the sparkly bit - are leveled against it.

I loved this book when I read it. I still think Stephenie Meyer accomplished something amazing with it - and not just because she got huge numbers of people reading and finding that they loved romance and vampires. Why do I hate to admit it? Not because I'm embarrassed or ashamed. I'm a big girl and I stand by my opinions.

I hate it because I'm heartily tired of the sniping remarks. The big dogpile of hate. The comparisons of Katniss to Bella, as if a teenage girl in love is sneerworthy. No, the only admirable heroine is one who has to learn to kill to survive. Never mind which experience more closely parallels that of most teenage girls. Good thing none of us ever fell obsessively in love during those passionate and vulnerable years.

And don't get me started on the "vampires don't sparkle" bitching. I have news for you folks: until a vampire is examined by modern science and definitively described, it belongs to the realm of fiction. Which means any writer can have them be whatever they want them to be. In Stephenie Meyer's world, they do sparkle. End of story.

End of rant.

34 comments:

  1. I read them. I read them all. I had a 14 year old (at the time, she turns 18 in 10 days and goes away to college in 12) who loved them. So I read them to have one more thing to talk with her about.
    I did not like them.
    BUT
    I could see where I might have liked them with a different author at the helm. I can understand why they were popular. I get it.

    I still don't like sparkly vampires, but then I wrote my own books and used the vicious, bloodthirsty, "traditional" vamps I did love.

    :)

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    1. I think it's important for authors to "get it" on that kind of thing, Tuck. Kudos to you for reading and having that to talk with your daughter about. And writing your own damn vampires? Best answer ever!

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  2. I will confess I haven't read Twilight. I did try to watch the movie, but didn't get past the first 10 minutes. What I've heard about Twilight makes me think it's not for me. I would never hate on anyone who does love it though. What doesn't work for me can easily work for someone else and vice versa.

    I'm reading the Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy at the moment and I'm loving it. The slow pacing, the way the story is more about mood than action... I've read reviews where people absolutely hated the books for those same reasons though.

    What I'm trying to say is that we all have different interests nd tastes. Not everyone will like the same things you do. We should just accept that and not exclude people or hate them because they like a book/object/... that we don't like.

    As for books I hate to admit I love: I decided years ago that if people don't want to know me because I love a certain book or type of book they're not the kind of people I should try to please by keeping mum about my books.

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    1. Actually, Carien, I think you would like it - a lot more than you think. But it might not be worth trying now, because you'd be thinking about the movie and all the stuff people have said. It wouldn't be an unspoiled experience.

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    2. Hmm.... If you say I might like it, I should give it a try perhaps. The thing that bugs me the most isn't the sparkling or Bella. It's the vampire/immortal going to school trope that keeps me from reading it.

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    3. Yeah... that part is annoying. But - it is justified by the circumstances of the story and it's really a small part of the events, overall. I was able to overlook it.

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  3. Love this post! I do really want to read Twilight. A lot of people I respect really enjoyed it.

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    1. I should bring my copy when I visit you, CC. I do think it's worth reading, if only to understand why it speaks so strongly to so many.

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    2. Thanks, but you don't have to! I picked up a copy at a garage sale recently! Yay!

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  4. This! I didn't love, love, love Twilight, but I certainly liked it enough and was sucked in enough that I read all four books. I think that what all of the books that become smash hits have in common is that they are accessible to the average reader. I've tried some of those "literary masterpieces" and I'm sorry, but I usually put them down halfway through because they are so darned HARD to read that they are not enjoyable to me.

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    1. Exactly Jen. I didn't love love love it and I read all four, which I wouldn't do with a series I like very well. And I never *could* get through Great Expectations!

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  5. You keep fighting the good fight, Jeffe! This is everything I never put into words. I read Twilight when it wasn't huge. I re-read it, loved it, and couldn't quite figure out how to move on from it. It was my first paranormal romance and it led me to other paranormal YA, which led me to adult paranormal romance. Eventually I moved on, created my own stories, etc. But I thank Harry Potter and Twilight for being an inspiration when I was a teen/young twenties.

    We want to show strong heroines in YA to inspire young women, but I think we need to take a long look at what strength means. There is vulnerability and a lack of confidence inherent with youth. Giving a teenager a weapon/destined prophecy/witch powers isn't going to erase their internal struggle. I hope we don't forget that. I hope in our pursuit of pushing what should be, we don't lose sight of what is.

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    1. What a great response, Kinley! I think a lot people forget how many young women - and men - in their 20s discovered these genres via the Twilight books. I've been thinking more since I wrote this and the Katniss vs. Bella comparisons often seem to honor Katniss's more masculine qualities and pursuits while vilifying Bella's more feminine ones. Does a girl have to stick to a feminine role? Absolutely not. But does dealing with more feminine struggles make Bella a weak heroine? I really feel that females should not have to be like males in order to be interesting or admirable.

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  7. I did read it. I hated it. I'm allowed.

    It's not because a teenager is in love. It's not because it's a wildly successful book and I feel a need to sneer in hipster fashion at it. It's not even because the vampires sparkle, per se.

    It's because I've never liked obvious Mary Sues. I'll sneer at any obvious Mary Sue. It's because the writing was far too embroidered for my taste and far too contrived.

    And the vampires sparkling? I've loved the vampire myth since I was tiny. My vampires have weakness and they can't go out in daylight. I don't have to like Twilight vampires just because they're called "vampires" for the convenience of the story. And what really embodies the difference between the vampires I love and the Twilight vampires I hate is the sparkles. So... stupid, sparkly vampires.

    So let me assure you I'm not just piling on hate of some cultural phenomenon I never personally experienced. Let me assure you I know vampires are fictional, but I'm allowed to enjoy the archetypical vampire. And let me assure you I neither feel ashamed, nor do I feel I should keep my opinion to myself.

    As a wise woman once said, "I'm a big girl and I stand by my opinions."

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    1. I totally get your opinion and respect it, as one big girl to another. An honestly-arrived at take is always worth listening to - and debating. Cuz these vampires DO drink blood and have a good reason to not go out in the daylight. Just saying... for the sake of argument. ;-)

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    2. I get your opinion, but Dracula could actually go out in the sunlight no problem, along with many other vampires. Bella is not a Mary-Sue (and many literature academics can't even come to an agreement on what a Mary-Sue actually is). And as for the sparkling, it's not really a focal point of the book series enough for me to hate a entire series over it.

      With all do respect,
      Lay

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  8. I've read them all. I felt the first one was a good effort but it just went downhill from there. (Don't even get me started on the over-explanations and boatload of tertiary characters in the fourth book.)
    Regarding Twilight specifically: it reads very "Mary Sue". I get why teen/tweens love this plot. It's what every girl dreams of: "I'd be popular and well-liked if I just lived somewhere else." So said girl moves to new place and voila, instant boy-magnet. Not only is said girl a boy magnet, she meets the man of her dreams who will not pressure her into a physical relationship. His family adores her, oh and let's add a big bad villain that instantly sends dream-man into protection mode. It's trite to the point of nearly being a Disney vehicle.
    I get that when you're writing about vampires and werewolves there's an expectation of reality suspension, but that doesn't need to be at the cost of character development. I always felt like Bella was the pawn being moved about, always reacting. I've read many other fantasy books that really engaged me via the depth of the characters that I just didn't get here.
    Do I hate these books? No.
    But I do dislike the very low standard of writing and character.

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    1. I agree that the first was the best. I was forced to read Book 4, by one of the very people I gave Book 1 to, so we could talk about it. Paying for my sins!

      I've heard other people say that - that Bella just reacts. I didn't tweak to that, so it didn't bother me. But I can see how it would!

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  9. Twilight was my gateway series. I discovered it right as the last one came out. I read all 4 books within a week and then went looking for more! I think those who had already read some awesome PNR and UF might be disappointed in Twilight, but for someone like me who hadn't read anything like it since Interview with a Vampire (20 years earlier) I was spellbound, there was nothing else to compare it too at the time. I raise my hand and say YES, I LOVED TWILIGHT! but the movies suck

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    1. LOL, Sharon. I love a good gateway series! I agree - hard core PNR/UF readers won't get much from these books. But for a newbie? Whole new world!

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  10. I read them. I loved them. I read them again (and again and again). I am not ashamed, either. Stephenie Meyer wrote characters that gripped me and I couldn't get them out of my head. I only hope some day my characters affect readers in the same way.

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    1. I agree, Stacy - we should be so lucky!

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  11. I've read the first page of Twilight. I put it down and walked away and that was that. I may attempt it again at some point, but there's a perverse side of me that doesn't like reading "blockbusters" when they're super hot. I haven't read Hunger Games yet. I refused to read Harry Potter until book 5 or 6 came out. I didn't have anything against it, but I part of me just didn't want to deal with the hype. (And obviously the hype hadn't died down by the time I *did* read it, but some of the initial stuff did.) I read it and liked it - not to the same extent as some, but they were enjoyable.

    So it could be I will pick up Twilight again at some point, but there are other books on my TBR that I'll definitely get to first.

    And don't get me started on 50 Shades. I've read enough passages of that on Tumblr to realize that I have no desire to ever read it - but chances are, even if I *did* want to read it, I wouldn't. Principle of the matter - I have a real issue with stealing people's IP and making a profit off of it.

    (I don't judge people by what they like or don't like, btw - as long as you find them enjoyable and they make you happy? Works for me.) :D

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    1. I'll be doing my post on 50 shades. lol. Unless somebody beats me to it!! Looks like it won't be you!

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    2. I haven't read 50 Shades and I don't think I will. I think that is like Twilight. If you have nothing else to compare it too then it is probably OMG! kind of how I felt when I first read Anita Blake's series can't wait to hear what you have to say about 50 Shades Carolyn

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    3. loved Hunger Games...it was so depressing, but powerful...my 11 year old daughter read them and now she runs around making bow and arrows in the woods :)

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    4. I read Fifty Shades, and I think it's powerful for a lot of the same reasons Twilight is - no surprise there. I agree, Sharon, that both rely a lot on the newbie reader.

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    5. here, here for the gateway books! For they will bring them to your doorstep eventually ;)

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  12. Wow. Loads of comments while I was off twiddling my thumbs. Cool.

    I never read Twilight. It's on my list and I'll try to read it with an open mind, though. My daughter has read them all and loves them. (Okay, maybe not the last book as much as the others, but still...) And like you, she's really tired of all the Twilight bashing out there.

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  13. I guess that's the bit that bothers me, B.E. - all the people who just honestly love it. It's a pretty cheap shot at this point.

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