Thursday, December 4, 2008

My Take on Twilight

I'd never given much thought to how I would die - I'd had reason enough in the last few months - but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this...
How many people do you know have read this? Have you?

(And come on, that's a pretty good opener. Caught my attention.)

I didn't even hear about this book until last August. Again, it was because I finally allowed myself to step into a Barnes and Noble, let the smell of books seep deep into my pores, and breathe. Before that day, if I had need to step into a bookstore, it was quick. The smell made my writing instincts and inclinations go wild, but I would ignore it, make a beeline for the section I needed, and get the hell out of there as quickly as possible.

Last August I wanted to just breathe. And browse.

I'd done a little homework online, looking at the best sellers list on sites such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble. I even checked out Deseret Books. There were a few that caught my eye, one of them was on every list - Twilight.

Of course the idea that this #1 New York Times Bestseller was written by a Mormon woman intrigued me. Number one! And the New York Times status meant it wasn't necessarily an LDS book. As I didn't want to write an LDS book, and this was a research trip to see what was out there, that was a huge plus.

While I knew nothing about vampires, I knew I'd always felt inclined to write Young Adult stories. When I went to the store, I picked up the book and began reading.

The first chapter hardly grabbed my attention, to be honest, but I carried that book with me as I browsed, debating. The "prologue" caught my attention, though and it just felt like something I should get. I had to know what made it so amazing. So I took a chance and brought it home.

...and finished it in less than two days. I've three kids; my oldest was four at the time. My husband was in school full time (including 6 hours of student teaching a day) and working at night. I assure you reading a 500 page novel in less than two days was not an easy feat. Going to bed at 1 or 2 a.m. to get up again at six wasn't easy, but oh was it worth it.

A classic? No, but a good book. Entertaining. Something I needed very much.

To tell you the truth, I wasn't a drooling fan of Edward. He wasn't what caught my attention. What caught my attention, and scoff if you will, was that I could relate so well to Bella and Edward. That tension was all-too familiar, that love and passion was mine and Eric's. The idea that I'd found my one. Yeah. It was like Meyer got it.

Again, scoff if you will. I would too.

Not only that, but I enjoyed Meyer's easy writing style and recognized something of my own style within it. Later I would look at it with a more critical eye and see what could be improved, but the story and the characters were what got me.

I liked at first that Meyer didn't fall into the trap of sex and profanity, that she found a way to write a good, clean book. I laughed the first time I read "holy crow!" because I'd never heard it before, and it seemed to fit Bella. By the second mention of the phrase, I had to roll my eyes though. It started to seem...lame. But forgivable.

The sexual tension *fans self* Good stuff. And all without crossing any lines.


I'll admit, the serial repetition of the adjectives "dazzling" and "velvet" really started to rub me wrong, but all was forgivable. I chalked all that up to learning what I would absolutely not do in my own stories.

But I digress.

I went back to the store to pick up "New Moon."

Oof. What a labor intensive novel. It didn't get good until the last hundred or so pages.

After quite some time (talking a few months), I finished it and moved on to Eclipse which caught my attention quickly. Sex?! Would they have sex?! A few times I hesitated to turn the page. Sad, I know. The end of that book was killer - and I had to wait an entire year to figure out how it would all end.

While the plot of the final book, Breaking Dawn, often caught me off guard and kept my attention that way, and while I'm thrilled to death Meyer tied up all loose ends rather nicely (I've read books that left me bereft. What about ____?), ultimately the whole book was...convenient. And too happy. Unrealistically so.


When I found "they" were making this series into a movie, I was thrilled. Yay! Then they started announcing the cast members. For the most part I didn't like the cast. The trailers didn't impress - the acting was amateurish at best from what I could tell. And chemistry! I didn't sense any chemistry between the two main characters.

In the end, the movie was slightly better than I expected, but being that my expectations were rather low, that doesn't say too much. As huge as the Twilight series was, you'd think they would've had access to a larger budget. Truth is, they were probably more interested in just getting the thing out to make money. No matter how awful the movie, they were going to make money just because it was Twilight and its main audience, besides LDS women, were fourteen-year-old girls who generally don't know what a good movie is.

After the movie, the girls I went with and I went to a Twilight party. Eh, you know. It surprised me who was there, though. Unobservant as I can be, I didn't realize how many 30-something LDS women loved this series.

It struck me as rather funny - and yes, I'm saying this as one who is almost a thirty-something LDS woman.

I had no idea. I'd never liked trends - it's why I rejected Harry Potter so fiercely for so long. You might think I'd have gotten over that by then, but I guess not. The sight of all these older moms with their mom hair and mom clothes gushing over this teen vampire romance, coyly admitting to how much they loved the steamy scenes tickled me to death. Let's just say it: Meyer can write a damn good love scene. She flirted with what many might consider the line between appropriate and inappropriate. Finally! Women could breathe heavily through those pages and not feel as if they needed to speak with their bishop about it (although Bella and Edward alone in her bedroom? tsk tsk, Stephenie) haha

I also wondered how many of these women would have been so enamored had this book been written by an agnostic Stephenie Meyer? A Catholic Stephenie Meyer?

I understand the book would or might have been markedly different, but for the sake of argument let's assume it wouldn't be. Would there have been a party? Would all of these women read a teen vampire romance? I doubt it. But again, I think it was a matter of admiration and support - and the story was good. Could have been amazing, but it was good.

I mean, how many LDS women out there are doing little side jobs in an attempt to make some extra cash for their families? Jewelry making? That sort of thing, right? Meyer was able to take a hobby and be wildly successful with it.

I'll freely admit a large part of the reason I gave this book a shot at first was because Meyer was an LDS mom. I wanted to know what she did and how she did it. I was stoked beyond reason that there was another woman out there like me - it just felt amazing, liberating. It was more a research project and observance in that aspect for me.

The series probably won't ever be considered a classic, but - and I say this with all due respect - it's quite popular literary junk food.

I just hope teens in particular get Meyer's core message. If you've read the books, you know about the triangle between Bella, Edward, and Jacob. Bella fell in love with Jacob, too. I'll leave you with this quote from Meyer, found on her official website:

"First of all, let me say that I do believe in true love. But I also deeply believe in the complexity, variety, and downright insanity of love. A lucky person loves hundreds of people in their lives, all in different ways, family love, friendship love, romantic love, all in so many shades and depths. I don't think you lose your ability-or right-to have true love by loving more than one person. In part, this is true because you never love two people the same way. Another part is that, if you're lucky, you learn to love better with practice. The bottom line is that you have to choose who you are going to commit to--that's the foundation of true love, not a lack of other options.

"...Does this love [with Jacob] devaluate her love for Edward? Not for me. For me, it makes that perfect true love stronger. Bella has another option. She has a really good one. An option that's easier in many ways, that takes nothing-like her family, present or future-away from her. She would have love, and friendship, and family--an enviable human future. But she chooses Edward over all of this. This makes it real for me."

And that, I think, gives this book value. I don't think Meyer was trying to be overly philosophical. I don't believe she was trying to push any weird LDS or anti-feminist agenda. If it came out that way, I doubt she meant for it to. People interpret how they will. I believe she wrote the story according to and adhering to her values, imagination, and ideas. I like the quote above. I like that it was a good, entertaining read that inspired me to do what I hadn't done in years but was just wired to do. She obviously related to the teen crowd, and that's what angsty teens crave: someone to "get it" to at least some degree. People pick and make fun, but you can't say that her message on love and commitment is wrong or untimely.

I just hope it's not lost on the young girls who read it. And if it is, I hope it at least opens them up to reading other books of more substance. I heard one reviewer say that, much like that of Harry Potter, Twilight's ability to get non-readers to read is akin to praising an anorexic for eating cotton candy. But you know, if it gets them to move onto something meatier, then, well, isn't that worth something, too?


Amanda said...

I've put this book on hold at our library, but it'll be some months before i get it. I promised an exchange with a friend - she'll give Harry Potter a try and I'll give this a try. I don't think I'm going ot like, but then again, I thought I'd hate Harry Potter. I'm not one for trends, myself. We'll see what comes of this.

And I think the HP movies are the same as you describe here. The only one I've actually liked so far was #5, and it still wasn't the greatest. Of course, that doesn't stop me from owning all of them, and looking forward to the next one...

illogically logical said...

I had never heard of these books until I became a leader for the Young Women in my ward. They were raving about this book, so I figured, "hey, I'm 25, I can read this. It'll give me something else to talk to these girls about." I absolutely loved the first one. Yes, it was corny and I did roll my eyes a lot, but I think deep down I liked it because it filled a void. My husband was gone doing some training and I couldn't even talk to him for two months. I think Edward and this sill love story helped fill the void. I liked the rest of the books less and less everytime I read the next one. They just seemed repetative and amateurish. Stephanie Meyer just seems cornball to me. I won't read anymore books that she writes.

About the movie, I had low expectations as well, so I was pleasently surprised. The thin that bothered me was the people that I went. I got invited by a lady in my ward. When she picked me up, I was sitting in a van with a group of 35+ year old women. I'm 26, so I felt a little out of place.

Natalie said...

Ah, that book smell.

I work at my school's Fine Arts library. It's in this GORGEOUS old building - and That second picture is about 10 yards away from where I'm sitting right now. I get paid to sit here. Yeah. Anyway, its an amazing building, and the books are all kept in the back, in big long rooms built of cement and filled with dusty pages. The smell is amazing. I wrote a descriptive piece about it once. If I can find it, I'll send it your way. Basically, every time I go into the library and get that smell, I feel a little giddy. I once dated a guy who used to go into bookstores and smell books with his eyes closed as he flipped through the pages. Seriously. Book smell. It should be a candle.

As for Twilight. I'd never heard of it until this summer when everyone spontaneously freaked out about the newest book. Now, I can't read it for a few years at least, because a kajillion people have ruined the ending for me, and I need to forget it before I can read it. :) So I'll let you know what I think in 2015.

Natalie said...

Oh... speaking of almost erotic libraries..... I highly recommend this:

Hot Library Smut

(Don't worry, its LDS appropriate)

Lisa said...

Amanda: I hope you like it! And yes, those Harry Potter movies. Ah they could do so much better.

Illogical: I think a lot of it is the romance genre. I'm under the impression, because this is really my first romance, that it's supposed to be over the top. Though Meyer was inspired by the likes of Wuthering Heights, "Heights" was gothic in a very traditional sense. I know they like to try to pin the "gothic romance" on "Twilight" but I don't buy it ;)

Her other book, The Host was okay. I wouldn't necessarily recommend running out and buying it, but if you happened upon it and had nothing else, eh. The themes are much the same, and that's what got to me - like "Seriously?" Oh well. The premise of a love triangle involving two bodies was interesting.

But I get you on the left out part! Yeesh.

Natalie: lol! Thanks for the link, that was a crackup.

A book smell candle . You know, I hear some scents help relieve anxiety - that would definitely be a scent that would relieve some of mine. It's a fabulous smell.

As for everyone ruining the ending, I'm so sorry! Oy, I hate that.

Grégoire said...

I'll freely admit a large part of the reason I gave this book a shot at first was because Meyer was an LDS mom.

This is all so interesting.

For the last 19 years or so, I haven't set foot inside any religious service, with the exception of a few events (weddings and funerals) which are impossible to avoid. My kids didn't know there was such a person as Jesus until they heard about him from friends at school. I asked my daughter what a Mormon was earlier this year. She told me she thought it was "like a Catholic who hates Black people". It was only after she suffered me to buy her the whole series and I read the first two dozen pages of Twilight that I knew (burning in the bosom?) that the author was a Latter-Day Saint.

I don't think Meyer was trying to be overly philosophical. I don't believe she was trying to push any weird LDS or anti-feminist agenda. If it came out that way, I doubt she meant for it to. People interpret how they will.

The protagonist's mother abandons her child to follow a man (a wannabe sports star, IIRC) so the daughter is forced to leave Deseret for godless Cascadia (where I emigrated too, thankyaverymuch) and an emotionally distant biological father. She gloms on to the first boy she can find. On prom night she decides she wants to copulate, but he gallantly refuses. In the second book, the girl is away from her boyfriend/father-figure briefly and becomes completely dysfunctional. Women can not live without men. Women need men to sanitize them. Sex is death. Outsiders are slaves to their basest lusts. Yep: It's something that's sold at Deseret Book, all right. It reads like something my mom would have bought me as a teenager in St. George.

We might not set out to propagate these values, but they're so encoded in our collective consciousness that we project them whenever we explore the outer world.

Anyway, I appreciate you expounding on it all.

Lisa said...

Gregoire: I agree. There were many underlying tones that were undoubtedly LDS - but then there were some that weren't, like Edward and Bella spending the night together. No, they didn't do anything, but try that out at BYU and you'll likely get kicked out. Try that at home and your bishop will likely have a chat.

So it was definitely there, but in other ways not. I'm not so sure any bishop would be comfortable with Edward and Bella's sexual tension. It's not exactly meeting the For The Strength of Youth standards ;)

I mean, I even had a friend say that she felt E&B's relationship was "inappropriate." After I finished laughing, I asked her if she didn't feel that way and have moments with her husband before they married. I think she got over that soon after.

Glad you liked the post.