Sunday, September 7, 2008


I finished reading Twilight last night. It's the first book in a series written by Stephenie Meyer, and has been a best seller in the young adult category for a couple years now. I've been hearing comparisons to the Harry Potter phenomenon when Meyer has done television appearances, and there's hype building for the movie, which is due out this fall, so decided to see what all the fuss was about.

So, what did I think of Twilight? Well, in the category of damning with faint praise, I do have to concede it's a heck of a lot better than any of the Sweet Valley High books that were popular when my girls were going through the young adult stage in reading material. It was also light years beyond the uniformly mediocre Potter books. Unlike J. K. Rowlings, Meyer can actually write.

On the other hand, Stephenie Meyer is no Paula Danziger -- although it's pretty obvious she's read a lot of Danziger (probably when she was in Danziger's target demographic herself and not as an adult). Twilight was undoubtedly influenced by Danziger classics like The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, except I found Meyer's self-centered and clueless heroine Bella a lot less likable than any of the misfits Danziger created. Danziger's characters have real problems -- as far as I could tell, the only problem Meyer's heroine has is she's so full of herself that she doesn't realize just how good her life is.

I can understand the appeal of Twilight: every tween/teen is totally convinced he or she is the one person on the planet that doesn't fit in anywhere, everyone's gone through stages where they're complete klutzes tripping over nonexistent cracks in the sidewalk and walking into doorframes, and everyone's also gone through the unable to talk honestly with parents about anything because they think the parents are too incompetent or too stupid to deal with reality. And every kid also fantasizes about being the positive center of attention even while they're feeling like the exact opposite -- and that's what Bella is in the book. She's a 17-year-old who thinks she's an unattractive outsider who will have zero friends at her new school when the reality is the opposite.

Her first day at the new school she has multiple male classmates tripping over themselves to hit on her, and she sits in classes feeling out of place not because she's feeling inadequate but because as an AP student at her huge urban high school she's already covered all the material that this pathetic little rural school is just getting to and she's having to go through the motions of needing to read any of it. Talk about catering to the ultimate tween/teen fantasy: superiority, not inferiority. Smartest kid in the school, not the dumbest. Not just one boy hitting on her, but a whole herd. There's this definite air of condescension throughout -- she's smarter than her classmates, she's smarter than her parents, she is the center of the universe.

And then she hooks up with a vampire. That's where the book definitely slides off into complete improbability, which is what fantasy is supposed to do, but there are limits. Meyer makes her vampires so over-the-top in the invulnerability category as to be unbelievable, and at the same time makes them so conspicuous in their not-quite-human auras and behavior that a whole lot of willful suspension of disbelief was required to keep reading.

Introducing the vampire does bring in the "Bella truly is the dumbest heroine ever" element. The boyfriend admits to her that he was attracted not because of her stellar personality, her sparkling wit, or even the fact she's a hottie, but because she smells good, kind of like a really prime T-Bone on the grill. He was drawn to her because she's food, kind of like a gourmet lunch unexpectedly appearing on a McDonald's menu. And then once she figures out that he truly is a vampire, what does self-centered Bella decide she wants?

To be a vampire, too, even after hearing all the downsides: having to move every couple of years because there's that awkward never growing old thing, having to constantly fight the urge to lunch on humans, not being able to go out in sun light, the ennui that sets in after a couple centuries go by and you realize that if you read one more bad piece of vampire fiction you're going to self-immolate, . . . I know Bella's rationale is that she really truly loves Edward and wants to be with him forever, but, hey, it's fairly obvious she's just dazzled by the glitzy side of vampire life: looking really good with minimal effort.

Bottom line: I'm glad I read the book, Meyer writes reasonably skillfully so it flowed easily and never felt like work (unlike those hideous Harry Potter clunkers) (or, on the adult level, the truly bad Sherilyn Kenyon fantasies), and I'm sure it won't sit very long on the Friends of the Library sale table. Am I going to bother with the rest of the series? No.


  1. I've never read Twilight, saw one Harry Potter movie and thought it was really stupid.

    I'm more into reading things about Einstein and other great men. Richard Bach books are interesting also.

    I have a set of 24 books written in the Michener style about the history of the settling of the west. They are a very interesting read.

  2. I have fairly eclectic tastes in reading, including fantasy and science fiction, so appreciate it when it's well done. Harry Potter wasn't, although the movies do have nifty special effects.

    I've been told that I shouldn't expect the same literary qualities in young adult or kids' lit that you find in adult fiction, but I think that's crap. It doesn't matter what the genre is there's no excuse for mediocre writing.

  3. anne rice ruined it for me when it comes to vampire books..then she got religion and now jesus is her new vampire..

  4. Well, considering the ritual cannibalism Christianity includes in its rites, Jebus as vampire isn't much of a stretch.

  5. I'm halfway through the book right now. The writing is good, but the story is silly. Pure escapism, I guess. Which, right now, is just what I need.

  6. Dcup is right, people love to escape instead of facing reality.

    Reality is of course stranger than fiction.

  7. Meh... the first few Harry Potter books were fun, before Rowling started turning out boat anchors. They worked well for our evening read-aloud ritual. (Ranger Sue cooks, Ranger Bob reads.)


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