Adventures in Reading

Fiction: Twilight by Stephanie Meyers

When I decided to finally pick up a copy of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, half of my co-workers cheered while the others half groaned. This sensationally popular young adult series has been flying off the shelf, but I confess I have had relatively little attraction to it. First, I’m not much of a fan of vampires and particularly when these mythic creatures are explored in the traditional manner. That is strong, ethereal beauty, stylish, almost immortal – too near-perfect for my taste. I have similar sentiments towards werewolves, which is why I did find Sharp Teeth such an appealing book.

So imagine my surprise when I found myself swept away by Twilight. Bella has decided to move in with her estranged stepfather in Forks, Washington. Bella’s experience at her new school is dramatic and enticing to most any reader; she is immediately popular—particularly with her male peers—and attracts the attention of the bad boy of the school Edward Culleton: who happens to be a vampire. Meyer’s vampire story is not traditional in every sense as it unfolds in a suburban, high school environment and some vampires have acquired special characteristics, dare I say superpowers, carried over from their past human life.

Bella is the normal outsider favored in contemporary novels. Though placed on the edge of peer acceptance, she is an attractive, slender, intelligent, well-read, and well-spoken teenager. Her one flaw, beautifully represented throughout the novel by Meyers, is her clumsiness. Perhaps Bella’s most endearing quality is Meyer’s quality ability to inject high-school desires into Bella believably and simultaneously pulling (even long stagnant) heartstrings of the reader.

Vampire violence itself has a sexual connotation to it through penetration, passion, and spilling blood. Twilight is not exempt from this interpretation. Repeatedly throughout the text, Edward comments on how he must control himself from “taking [Bella],” which literally refers to drinking her blood but is a barely disguised euphemism for sex. The sexual tension throughout the book is taught and is one of the more alluring and well-written tensions in the book. Likewise, at the conclusion when the traditionally virginal Bella pleads with Edward to “change” her it’s likewise a reference of offering herself to Edward.

But Bella is no longer a “virgin.” Andrea Dworkin describes in her book Intercourse, when discussing Bram Stoker’s Dracula, “The place of sex is moved to the throat; and the meaning of sex is in draining her body of all its blood.” When Bella is lured by the vampire James to the dance studio, is violently attacked, is bitten by him (though in the hand), and all while being videotaped—it’s an experience synonymous with a violent rape and at that a recorded violent rape.

The “vegetarianism” that the Culleton family has resigned themselves to, that is rather than attack humans they hunt and drink the blood of animals, is a rejection of vampirical violence and in a sense the sexual violence that accompanies it. The Culleton’s have refused the misogyny of their kind, which is an interesting parallel to Bella’s English report on the misogynistic tendencies of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

I admit, I am taken with the series and am looking forward to picking up the next book in the series Eclipse. Perhaps what I am even more impressed with though is that I would disagree with the oft heard banter that it’s a fun or fluff series: candy for the brain. An argument that too often cuts the legs out from under “children’s books” and refuses said books to be considered seriously. Though I still think roughly 50-pages could have been chopped from Twilight to make it a tighter novel, it really is a sensational book to read for pure enjoyment or literary interpretation.

Other opinions: books i done read, Necromancy Never Pays, Two-Legged Animal, and the Lit Connection.


Revisted Reviews: Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked by Orenstein

In my experience of feminist discourse, now and again fairy tales and their influence on people as children and as adults just seem to pop up. Orenstein gives us an entire book on the Little Red Riding Hood tale including the original tale, different versions that have cropped up, a multitude of interpretations that have been viewed, as well as the modern use of the tale. I loved this book right up to the end where I felt Orenstein took an easy cop out through a poorly argued use of women’s empowerment with red riding hood and porn/fantasy.

I definitely want to reread Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked. I picked up this book shortly after concluding a course in children’s literature where a good portion of the course, or at least my involvement in it, was spent looking at the agenda of children’s literature and the influence it has on children versus adults. In retrospect, I think Orenstein did a terrific job building up to a conclusion that poorly dismissed many of the earlier arguments. From what I recall, the final chapter attempts an argument of reclamation and specifically that women can reclaim, redescribe, and reinvent this fairy tale to suit our own needs. I can’t say I completely disagree but after such a well-written and researched book I felt it was presented in a poor manner.

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Revisited Reviews: Woman of Independent Means by Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey

The first time I read Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey’s A Woman of Independent Means I was a sophomore in high school and read it with other members of a book club. At the time I greatly enjoyed the book. Trying to relax my brain from schoolwork I picked it up again the other afternoon but found the book a bit more problematic on the second reading. Hailey wanted to write a book about a woman finding her independence and as her husband assured her that a woman going out to find her independence was a dried up story line, he encouraged her to write a book about a woman finding her independence within a domestic setting. The book is largely based off of her grandmother, in epistolary format, and takes place from 1899 to 1968.

If A Woman of Independent Means is meant to achieve an understanding of a woman in a domestic setting and her independence I fear it fails greatly. The main character Elizabeth has two marriages, which both are largely unhappy and the only money she has is a result of her mother’s death and the fact that another man made financial decisions for her even though they were against her wishes. She does travel abroad a lot, which seems to imply that a woman cannot find independence within a domestic setting. She has three children who in later life reject her for smothering them (though amends are made before she dies) and she never really seems to do anything. An interesting read but quite the damming story of the domestic experience.

I’m still confused at the intentions of this book expressed in the author’s forward and the story produced by the end of the book. Can women find independence in a domestic setting? It’s a great question and Hailey, or at least her husband, believes it can work out. But Elizabeth, the character, only seems to discover dependency on her parents, the men in her life, and her children. An interesting contrast to this is the sister who takes in and raises the main character of Allende’s Daughter of Fortune – a woman who anonymously publishes erotica and leads the social influence of her group.

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