It's probably because my husband is out of town and I don't sleep well when he's not here, but I just read three books in three days. So much for being burned out on reading!
A friend of mine(Hi, Jerilyn!) wisely realized that I wasn't truly burned out on reading. I just needed a change of pace. So she brought me some books she'd been meaning to give me for quite some time now. What are the books? Well, they happen to be the Twilight books by Stephenie Meyer.
Now, I have had several lengthy conversations with friends and family about these Mormon vampire books so I will try to keep it brief here, but they really gave me a lot to think about.
Twilight was the 29th book I've read this year, New Moon the 30th, and Eclipse the 31st. I picked them up having read a lot of the internet stuff about it. How can you live in America and not know about these books? I was trying to keep an open mind though. After all, so many people think these books are the only thing to fill gaping void that Harry Potter has left in their hearts. However, plenty of people also seem to think these books are, well, bad--with the definition of that word ranging from poorly written to inspired by Satan. Well, after having FINALLY read them I don't sit in either camp.
Don't get me wrong. Stephenie Meyer is definitely talented, especially when it comes to finding a popular nerve and stiking it just right. If you are wondering if that is actually a talent just check out how many impoverished writers are haunting the coffee shops in Borders stores all over America. Knowing what a massive audience wants to hear and producing it fast enough to keep them happy is a huge talent and one that so many writers lack.
Also, as far her craft goes, I was able to appreciate how she seamlessly interwove archetypes from romance, horror, and fantasy genres. I didn't find any of the characters themselves new or original (Edward might as well be named Angel for the way he mirrors Buffy's exceptionally sensitive vampire lover and Bella is SUCH the stereotypical romance ingenue I could pracitically predict how many paragraphs it was unitl she was going to do something) but I do think the combinations are interesting. However, as Edward and Bella entwined their fingers in each other's hair and smacked their icy/hot lips together for the gagillionth time I found myself wondering about Carlisle's story or even Rosalie's. For me the books would have been a lot more fascinating had the story been about Carlisle's tranisition from pious preacher to bloodlusting monster to "vegetarian"-vampire-surgeon and spiritualist. Alice was a hoot until she got to be such an obvious foil for Bella that I thought I was the psychic one.
What really made the books interesting for me was not the story line or the characters (no surprise there, huh?) but the puzzle of their cultural significance. My mind seemed to come back to two questions: Why were these books so fascinating to so many readers? And how did they square with Meyer's being LDS?
As for the first question, I came to a couple of conclusions. First off the books are deliciously distracting. I read each one almost straight through not realizing how many hours ticked by. That was fun. Also, of course, the books are titillating and in some places, downright erotic. And pop culture loves eroticism like it loves Paris Hilton. It was the eroticism that led my mind to a darker, more complicated conclusion too.
Now, maybe this the literature degree in me, but I couldn't help but read Edward as a curious mix of the sexual predator and knight in shining armor. For as much as he is the classic abusive boyfriend he is also the classic prince charming. As I understand it, for as long as they have existed in literature vampires and their lethal bites have been thinly veiled versions of rape stories.(Poor Rosalie! What an ironic moment!) And, to me, Edward's physical affection with its intensity and roughness fits with this. The disturbing part to me was how hard Meyer worked to rescript all this as goodness and how much Bella liked the violence and desired it--with such fervency that it gave her ardor an almost pornographic air. To be sure, the books aren't pornographic nor are they dirty--if they were I wouldn't have read them--but they have a tone that seems similar to those things. And I wonder if that isn't why they are so popular. There is something about that aspect of the books that jives too well with the gender stereotypes presented in hip-hop music, the tabloids, and even in our politics. There is a level of sexual hype or stimulation that our current American culture demands--and is quickly normalizing--that these books tapped into. And I find that a little disturbing. Especially considering these are supposed to YA novels. I just couldn't shake the violence lurking behind every "loving" gesture--whether it came from Edward or Jacob, Bella was being crushed every time she was being "loved"--and that creeped me out. That's not what sex should be and that certainly isn't what "true love" is.
As for my second question, about Meyers' religion and the role her Mormon worldview plays in these books, I was a little disappointed. I remembering reading in an interview somewhere (I'm sure her superfans can cite the source for me) a statement by Meyers saying that these books were built on essentially Mormon themes of unconditional love and redemption. Those are definitely themes in these books, but only in the most general way and certainly not in any way that alluded to Mormon theology and doctrine. I don't hold that against her or anything. I just wish it had given me a little more to think about there. But really, her being Mormon had nothing to do with the books at all.
I know most of you readers have an opinion on these books so let me know what you think! Most of my friends tell me I think too hard and that's probably true in thise case too :) Oh, and just for Maryam, let's do a quick poll: Edward or Jacob? Be sure to comment!