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.

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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.



Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer
August 7, 2008, 9:57 am
Filed under: book reviews, fiction | Tags: , , , , , ,

A co-worker asked me to define my Stephenie Meyer experience up through the initial three books and the only way I could aptly describe it was by pointedly saying the series starts at a high point and proceeds to steeply decline. Meyer’s pumps Twilight full of teen angst and heartbreak that many people seem to relate with, but it has now been two additional novels and more than one thousand pages that she’s trying to string this out on.

Come on Meyer, I need more than that.

In Eclipse the reader delves into the drama of Bella’s love for both Edward (a vampire) and Jacob (a werewolf). Of course they’re arch-nemesis because of species but are now drawn into a selfish and long drawn out love triangle. Over these three books Bella has proven she is more than willing to alienate nearly everyone around her for her drug-like addiction of Edward. Eclipse is another book without a great deal of plot. Yes, Victoria reappears with a herd of newly turned vampires to kill Bella and you think this would be sensational but it’s not. In fact, it’s almost an afterthought tossed into the text. Once again Meyer produces a book highly dependent on pathos and one that barely responds to all of the questions produced in New Moon.

It’s also becoming more apparent that while Meyer is by no means a poor writer, her writing reads as stilted and she seems overly dependent on certain style techniques. For example, you’ll be hard-pressed to pages in her series not highly decorated with dashes. Often what Meyer is dashing off are unimportant asides that would be better suited for parentheses or commas, but the dashes help add qualities of emergency and excitement for the reader. However, I’m not sure if these aspects of the book would be as strong without them.

While I did not read Eclipse nearly as quickly as I read the previous two novels in the series (it actually took me about three days), I did still finish it and intend on reading the final book of the series Breaking Dawn. I confess my excitement is flagging. Despite this increasing lull in the books and Meyer’s exhausting abuse of emotions, I still admit I like it and found myself in an Edward versus Jacob (versus Mike) conversation at work. The series has started to dally into more philosophical themes of souls and existence as well as more commonplace issue such as sex, but I Meyer’s does not explore any of these issues to a great enough extent to compensate for what the books lack.

Perhaps my favorite part of Eclipse and what kept me going were Meyer’s references to Wuthering Heights. Now there is a real heart-throbbing book and that is well-written and with conviction.

What other bloggers have to say: Kay’s Shelf, American Bibliophile, The Ax For the Frozen Sea, In the Shadow of Mt. TBR, and Book Nut.



Fiction: New Moon by Stephenie Meyer

I was thrilled that I finished Twilight just before I had to go to work so I was able to almost immediately begin Meyer’s second book in her supernatural series New Moon. The second book in the series gets off to a bit of a rough start and the novel suffers from some “series syndrome” until roughly 20 to 30 pages in. I admit, I do not envy any writer composing those first pages of any books in a series. Bella and Edward pick up from the prom Twilight left the reader at, the two shortly part at Edward’s request, and Bella spends the next 300 pages emotionally suffering and discovering the secrets of Jacob Black.

New Moon is a novel of pathos. There is relatively little action that occurs and I found the plot line weak. In fact, nothing much really happens in New Moon. The book reads as a 500+ page stepping stone Meyer’s uses to get from the first book to the third and eventually fourth books of the series (I assume). I left New Moon with the sense of a very long serial providing near endless cliff hanging questions: What will happen with Victoria? What about the Volturi? Will Bella finally become a vampire? What about the treaty between the vampires and the werewolves?

I felt the book was too long and despite the emotional conflict resulting from Edward’s and Bella’s separation, I didn’t feel the novel in any way developed their relationship. Granted, New Moon turned to develop a relationship between Bella and Jacob, but I am sure most readers would agree it’s not nearly as dynamic and in part do to Bella’s immediate and ongoing rejection of Jacob. Upon finishing it, I felt the book could have been greatly condensed and been just as good.

Despite all of this, it didn’t stop me from gorging on New Moon within a little more than one sitting. I anxiously turned the pages (I confess to some scanning), my heart throbbed for Bella, and I am not ashamed to say my eyes were damp more than once. New Moon is a canvas that brilliantly displays one of Meyer’s great talents: representing emotion tension and demanding a response from her reader. [1] The novel also created a landscape I assume the remaining two books of the series will catapult from. Still, I didn’t feel as if it was as tightly packaged as Twilight and Meyer’s writing was not as well done (or as well hidden) as in her previous novel.

However, if you’ve read Twilight you have to read New Moon. And New Moon is by no means a bad book. But it’s a thinking book for Meyer, delving further into her created world, creating twists and turns that may otherwise have proven difficult in other settings, and constructing a firm enough base that the next two books ought not need such prolonged development.

[1] I must say that at least a few of my ~40+ co-workers have attempted this series and were wearied by it. They found the emotions draining, unconvincing, and unrealistic.

Other opinions: Kay’s Bookshelf, In the Louvre, In the Shadow of Mt. TBR, American Bibliophile, Ax For the Frozen Sea, Muse Books Reviews, Book Nut, J. Kaye’s Book Blog, Literate Chick, and Stephanie’s Written Word.



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.