Thursday, July 17, 2008

3 books in 3 days (thanks, Stephenie Meyer)

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!


Jer said...

At last, an intelligent review of these books!! (I'm sure there are more out there, I just haven't stumbled on any myself.) I loved hearing what you had to say about the books, I've been waiting to hear what you think for a long time, and I find I agree with what you've said. It is interesting to look at it from a cultural standpoint, that's for sure!

So, will we be reading these for book club next year? (Just kidding.)

Oh, and Edward, definitely. I'm in the masochistic camp. Oh, and because he's so hot, I just wish my husband could be exactly like him! ;)

Heathie said...

hmmm. I fall into that tiny crack of "American's who know nothing of these books." I love your book reviews, though.

Lacey said...

I also really enjoyed your review of the books. You do read into them much more deeply than I ever have, but I can see where you're coming from and enjoy the insight you provide.

I'm definitely a Jacob lover. I can't imagine how on earth he could actually come out winner in the end, but it's his imperfections and humanity that draw me to him. I like Edward a lot, but there is such a thing as being too perfect.

Laura said...

You guys are too nice to me. Anyone else would run be out of town! It's a sickness, this over- analyzing of books. . . Anyway, that's one for Edward and one for Jacob (who is the one I'd pick for myself, but not necessarily for Bella. Weird, huh?)

Gypsy said...

I'm sorry but this comment is completely off subject, eventhough I have read all of Stephanie Meyer's books including "The Host". I have to say that she needs to stick with YA lit. Her books jut read that way.

Anyway back to the reason I decided to comment. Laura, I have read some of your posts about your depression. I am happy that your are writing about this subject because many LDS women are afraid about not looking perfect and admitting to themselves that they can't live up to the precieved expectations. I personally have struggled with a mental disorder for the passed 10 years. But I have struggled with emotional issues for a good part of my life. But this post isn't about me. I wanted to ask you about the measures you are taking to combate the disorder. How long do you think you have had this depression? What drugs have you taken. The reason I am asking you these questions is not because I am nosey, but because in my personal situation it took my from 1998-2004 to find the right combination of drugs to keep me stable. It may have been because I have Bi-Polar disorder( the deep depression plus parania,social anxiety).I may be able to help you in your quest to find the right drug. I have taken almost all of them. YAYA!

Laura said...

Gypsy--thanks for your concern! I'll try to answer your questions in a post--because, of course, I can't give a short answer :)

m said...

It has been mind-blowing that my literary buddy Laura took like 2 years to finally set time aside for these books...turns out she just needed a buddy to put them in her hot little hands. I found these books supremely entertaining. I found the story line to be fresh and exciting. Archetypal images are so impossible to avoid...yet as I read all three books, I never felt that "this is so cliche" feeling.

I vote for Jacob of course. At the end of book three there is definite passion between the two of them. If Bella wants a fulfilling life (as opposed to a damned one) she will trot off with Jacob and his pack. She'll be able to mother little pups and age gracefully. At some point she'll take her great granddaughter's face into her hands and share all her experiences with love/obsession.

Now, I just thought of this...but if she were to end up with Edward, an ending that shall be revealed in 8 days when the final book is released, the only way this could be possible, in my opinion, is if he is transformed through the power of love from an immortal damned blood sucker to a "real boy." This would be very "Beauty and the Beast" but it could totally happen. Super cliche. I'll puke allover the place if this does happens. Meyers needs to just be super daring and just let Edward transform Bella into a vampire and they can live in the underworld forever. The end.

Oh, one last thing. I can think of absolutely no reason why a very successful writer would have any reason to incorporate her Mormon faith into her craft. I mean, keep it clean and maintain some personal integrity, but I don't see any other professionals do their job with a Mormon flair. Do Mormon nurses do their job any different from any other registered nurse? Probably not...

Kelly said...

Good point, Maryam. If you want to be a great author, it doesn't necessarily have to be dripping with Mormonism. But there are authors who want to use their writing to explore and tell the Mormon story. Those writers would claim the title "Mormon Author" as opposed to author, who happens to be Mormon.

This happens in the music world too. There are plenty of composers, performers, musicians, who are LDS. Nobody cares about the religion of these musicians until they start writing unabashedly LDS works. Then they become a "Mormon Composer." Mack Wilberg is the epitome of this -- he is the most visible, name-able Mormon musician out there right now. The fact that he is an amazing composer, pianist, conductor, choral arranger, etc. is less significant than that he writes works that have "MORMON" stamped all over them.

Consider Orson Scott Card -- he is an author, and arguably a pretty good one. Mormons are proud of him, but he didn't go out there trying to be a great Mormon author -- just an author. And because most of his works don't have "MORMON" stamped all over them, so to speak, he is not considered by the LDS literary elite (if there really is such a thing) to be a Mormon author.

So Meyers will have to think through that for herself. Is she an author, or a Mormon author? That will change her goals, the way she writes, her subject matter, etc.

And while I would love to see exceptional Mormon works out there, I would rather see exceptional works that happen to have been created by a Mormon.

Nurse Heidi said...

Good review. I classify them as brain candy and nothing more. 900 pages of teenage angst is a little much for me. I read all three of them, but I'm not sure I'll go out of my way to read the new one - my reading time is very limited these days and I'd rather read something with substance. Like you, I dislike that she associates her religion with these books...not exactly what I want popping into peoples' heads first when they think of mormons!

Cambria said...

Laura you are awesome! I don't read your posts all the time, but I caught this one and LOVED it! You totally captured the book, and you really summed up what I felt reading the books so well. I couldn't have put it into better words!
Thanks, and by the way, hello and I hope you and your family are well!