Adventures in Reading

Bookends: Staggering Piles of Books and Stephenie Meyer’s Release Party

I always promise myself that I will never, ever do it again. But yet I do time and time again. What is this unnamed dysfunction of mine? Allowing books to pile up post reading that I really ought to write about but Procrastination (note the capital “P”) is my friend. The benefit to waiting is that it allows me time think of a book and to write about said book after I’ve had a period of detachment. This usually ensures a (somewhat) less subjective and opinionated commentary. However, this also makes it seem more like homework and another dreaded task (like the dishes stacking up) that I need to do. I’ve had a great accomplishment today and went ahead to clear out the pile.

One of the most vital and amazing occurrences resulting from J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter madness has to be the phenomena of midnight book release parties. On one hand it’s a marketing gimmick that allows for stress and tension to escalate around the book. “Well if you don’t reserve a copy now there’s no way I can guarantee when we’ll have another batch in…” Every time I have uttered this I have felt like a complete shit but it’s what lowly booksellers are supposed to do and it is more or less true. But on the positive side, how often do gads of people really become so excited and silly over a book? This type of mania I find empowering in the book world.

So I volunteered to work at my store’s Breaking Dawn party, which included debates, trivia, pictures, painting, costumes, music, prizes, food and drinks, and a monstrously good time. (Three hundred screaming female adolescents can’t be wrong! Just think about the Beatles.) And as annoying as the evening was at times and as frustrating as it is knowing that [1] a really amazing work of literature will never have the same reception, it was wonderful seeing so many readers come together for the event and spread their excitement. [2]

[1] I know I’m begging for a verbal bitch smack, but I really cannot seem to completely shatter the bounds of literature versus Literature.
[2] Granted, I was mostly simultaneously horrified at the sheer cattiness (despite the feminist in me there is no more apt description) that hissed out from many overheard comments. My suggestion to female adolescents: you’re all physically beautiful and every time you attempt to tear someone else down you’re really only hurting yourself and your friends.

Looking Back at Stephenie Meyer

Before picking up Meyer’s final book in the Twilight series, I wanted to reflect on these recently read books. I asked another blogger about the pathos driving the series and the response was along the lines that they didn’t feel emotionally manipulated by Meyer, but I must beg disagreement. In fact, the entire series revolves around emotional manipulation and Meyer’s talent at doing so.

I didn’t realize this at first and was so blinded by my own emotions, by my heart going pitter-pat over Bella’s love trysts, by the teenage fan girl quality of the books that I nearly missed it. But a friend and co-worker who happens to be an exuberant fan of all things vampire related pointed out that in her opinion one reason this series has become so popular is because the whole vampire thing doesn’t matter. (Meyer even seems to agree with this.) In fact, one of the major marketing points of this book could be amputated and the reader would still have an emotionally alluring novel. And when I gave this some thought, I realized with some relatively minor editing Twilight wouldn’t change that much if the whole vampire thing was taken out and was replaced with straight up teenage hormones and sex (adíos double entendres).

This is less true about the next two books in the series: New Moon and Eclipse. And that is because without something else (anything else) occurring they’re not well-developed novels. New Moon is five hundred pages of near-suicidal reflection of an angsty teenage girl after being dumped and Eclipse is a sexually charged soap opera that dares to defy some of the best love triangles on Spanish speaking television. In retrospect, I think a more strict editorial process could have helped the story. After reading these three books, I firmly believe that Meyer did not have enough plot for an entire series of books. Maybe she had two (depending on Breaking Dawn three books) encompassing these characters. But then, Meyer describes herself as being “character driven” and that “The plot comes from the characters. If you have interesting personalities, the stories write themselves. Some writers love intricate plotting, some love the beauty of language. For me it’s all about the people – always.” [1] Honestly though, the characters were not interesting enough for me but I still found myself pushing through these three novels.

This doesn’t necessarily make the series bad (and the cotton candy stickiness is undoubtedly what keeps me coming back). It depends mostly on your tastes. If you feel exploited and used when an artist depends on provoking a purely emotional response or if you feel that this sort of narrative is too easy then avoid this series. It reminds me of the movie reviewer Pauline Kael when she bashed one of the world’s most beloved movies: The Sound of Music. Kael described the film as: “the sugar-coated lie people seem to want to eat,” and “we have been turned into emotional and aesthetic imbeciles when we hear ourselves humming the sickly, goody-goody songs.” You see, The Sound of Music is a melodrama and one of the intentions of this movie is to make the audience cry and for the most part the film has been quite successful at doing so. (Seriously, how many people aren’t choked up by the time the Von Trapps are being chased through a nunnery by Nazis?) But Kael hated the movie for this very reason and there is something malicious in it and masochistic involved for the viewer.

Regardless, I still immensely enjoyed Twilight (and The Sound of Music) and I stand by my Dworkian interpretation of events (if only because I love to look for layers everywhere). But the remainder of the series has been too extended, too melodramatized, just too much. (And I suppose my interpretation isn’t even necessarily about a work being character driven. After all one of my favorite directors is Woody Allen and the majority of his films are character driven. But Allen’s characters say interesting things and prod interesting ideas for 90-minutes.) They’re fun books in that they offer an extended exploration of the characters. (Like when Pride & Prejudice is over, even the real Austen purists must have a tiny burning desire wondering now what’s in store for Elizabeth and Darcy?) I read these books with a similar mindset to my near-obsession to the X-Files or Moonlighting. These were television shows that were fun and interesting, but the one thing that kept viewers coming back was that magnificent animal-like sexual tension pouring off of the screen. Meyer is a master at this! The woman definitely knows how to write passion and tension and I admit I quickly got lost in it.
But like with X-Files and Moonlighting, once that tension was burst I didn’t really care anymore? And this is why I’m roughly 1,500 pages into a series that I am finding increasingly running cool on but that has allowed my emotions to stampede over my best intentions.
[1] On July 31st an interview with Stephenie Meyer was published by the Wall Street Journal.