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.


Revisited Reviews: Does My Head Look Big In This by Randa Abdel-Fattah

So, do we all remember when I said I was going to read some of those horrible young adult novels for women and how horrible they were? Upon reconsideration, I thought, what’s the point? After all, one merely has to look at the cover and read the dust jacket to leave with the unfailing opinion that these are books that grossly glamorize “slut” culture, “cattishness,” infighting, female competition, the beauty myth, etc (hell, the series are called “the gossip girls” and “clique”). And I thought: a la the world of PR, why not something positive rather than something negative?

Randa Abdel-Fattah is an Australian and Muslim writer and her book Does My Head Look Big In This? is the story of a teenage girl Amal who chooses to wear the hijab. The book deals quite well with three larger social themes, one specifically is about choice in religion and one example of what it’s like for a Muslim girl in a westernized society. The other larger social theme, which was quite well done regards identity, how we see ourselves, with a specific nod to dislodging the beauty myth. And finally, a critique of the sexual pressures placed on young girls to have sex.

At the same time, I did struggle with some ideas in the book. Early on, Abdel-Fattah takes a knock at feminism, which is rather well deserved in the sense of “hard-core feminists” (her words, not mine) making an issue out of wearing the hijab when choice is involved. Point taken, but this isn’t so much a feminist stance as much as western perceptions and xenophobia pertaining specifically to women of eastern cultures or cultural descent. Additionally, she also ensures a knock at atheism. This sort of misrepresentation (or misinterpretation) carries through the book in not identifying social issues as the root of the problem. After all, in a book that deals with the problematic scenarios of misrepresenting and misinterpreting Islam – well, pot kettle black.

Likewise, every page was detailed by a mass consumer mindset of shopping and buying and consuming. I did start to find this problematic and particularly as the book completely fails to escape the female young adult novel entrenched idea of female competition. Because, you know, a young adult novel can’t exist without two girls verbally (if not physically) abusing each other.

Overall it was an enjoyable read (spiced up with the usual young adult fair of crushes and family issues) and one I would recommend with some reservations. The social issue critique and discussion are brilliant, but my hope of finding a novel for young women to read that resists the plague of negative young adult diatribe was not found in this book.

While I did and do have some issues with this book, memory serves that it was a fun read and it seems one of the few books to come out in recent years attempting to deal with a more serious current issue. Particularly when we live in a society where media loses control when Rachel Ray wears a scarf/“keffiyeh” in a Dunkin’ Donuts ad, I think younger people can use anything they have to understand other cultures!

Randa also has a new book titled Ten Things I Hate About Me that looks like it’s being published in January 2009.

Other opinions: Tiny Little Reading Room.