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Observation about Twilight (and sequels)

Your first thick book is your first book in almost every way. It's the one that makes you feel like a grown-up. Not only are its flaws meaningless, but since it's your first, you don't even know about the flaws.

My first thick book is Clan of the Cave Bear. My second was Mists of Avalon. I was 11 with Clan and 12 with Mists, and I felt like those books changed my life, my view of the world, my view of myself, everything. They were the best books I'd ever read. I wept over them. I fretted over them. I thought "What would Ayla do?" when faced with difficult situations in my own life. (Or not so difficult ones.)

I look at them now and think: Clan was really kind of boring, sort of a vicious infodump with a Mary Sue and a lot of nonsense, however well-researched. (My assessment upon a recent re-read.) Mists... oh, urgh. I can't even bring myself to contemplate re-reading it, and haven't since I was 18.

So. That's what the girls--our girls, our teenagers, the girls we would have been if we'd been born ten or forty years later, the girls who are going to pop up in the next decade in the ranks of writers and feminists and online presences--think about Twilight.

Does it matter that Twilight is not the book we would have written? It's what we would have read.

Do you really think that all the girls who read the series are going to become little Bella Swans, Bella, who seems to us passive and self-absorbed and only interested in boys? I don't. She's self-absorbed and they're self-absorbed. It'll pass for them. Not so much for her, since she's all fictional and static.

And they're not passive, our girls, any of them, and Bella Swan won't make them passive. They identify with her because they're young and they don't know yet that they can have real agency in this world, because we're still there, telling them to practice their violin and to brush their teeth, and let's not even get started on the helicopter parents. The girls, they'll get it when the time comes. They've grown up on the other side of feminism, and I haven't met one kid under the age of 19 yet (in my rarefied Ann Arbor circles), male or female, who thinks any of the things about women that were rammed down my throat when I was growing up are true. Or that anyone can really think those things.

And as for being only interested in boys... frankly, it was a consuming passion for me, and it's a consuming passion for them. Of course there's more to their lives. There was more to mine. And even though I actually rarely acted boy-crazy because I didn't want anyone to ever tease me once ever about it, or to think that I actually had emotions that they could get their hooks into, Boy-Crazy was the second level of my consciousness at all times: is he looking at me, does he like me, is he cute, do I like him, am I cute, am I thin enough, am I acting too smart, oh, well, fuck it, I'm smart, he's smart too...

The adage that teenage boys think about sex all the time doesn't seem to get disputed very often. We know that, if it's true, they do other things while thinking about sex all the time, and it's not really all that it's about for them. Your experience of girlhood might have been different, but that's how I was wired--where a boy thinks about sex, I was thinking about relationships with boys. (And sex.)

So, anyway. Twilight is a lot of people's first thick book now. And there's very little about the book that's really going to scar them. Even the Edward/stalker thing isn't going to come through that way. I don't think a single one of them is going to think that Edward's behavior would code as acceptable behavior in real life. Because no boy is ever going to be as perfect and pristine and marbulous as Edward. Which is okay. At that age, holding out for perfection might just save a bit of heartache. And they'll get over it eventually. They'll see the book for what it is. But for now, it's the best book they've ever read.

Comments

( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
sartorias
Aug. 5th, 2008 01:39 pm (UTC)
Oh, such a wise post.

My first thick book happened to be a classic, but like I said somewhere in the thread when I discussed this the other day, I would have loved this book as a kid.
apis_mellifera
Aug. 5th, 2008 01:48 pm (UTC)
Mine was Gone with the Wind. And yeah, it was the best book I'd ever read.
stephanieburgis
Aug. 5th, 2008 02:09 pm (UTC)
Really good post. I hadn't thought about it quite this way, but you're absolutely right about the analogue with Clan and Mist for our age group...and I think that's part of why when I read Twilight, even though I didn't happen to click with it at that point, I did think OMG I would have LOVED this when I was a teen...
pnkrokhockeymom
Aug. 5th, 2008 02:39 pm (UTC)
Yep. Mine was Gone With the Wind. Can't even begin the first paragraph now, but between the ages of eleven and fourteen I read it like 12 times.
leahbobet
Aug. 5th, 2008 03:06 pm (UTC)
...I can't even say what my first thick book was.

I want to say The Riddle-Master of Hed, because if you stick all three together maybe you get a thick book, just because it changed my brain so hard.
rj_anderson
Aug. 7th, 2008 01:36 am (UTC)
It did that to mine, too, but my first thick book was The Lord of the Rings (though admittedly I skimmed a lot of it), and I have no idea what that says about me, except that I have no regrets about it whatsoever. :)
veejane
Aug. 5th, 2008 03:53 pm (UTC)
I'm very aware of the age-factor in the teenaged glom-onto books, because I picked up a Mercedes Lackey book when I was 15 and laughed at it. I was just too old to appreciate it in the way people do/did when they gush about it.

(But MZB/Darkover, whom I encountered at age 12, I totally understand.)

On the up side, imagine 15 years from now as the now-grown teen girls write their sporkings of the books they adored at the time! Hilarity will ensue! We will look down our noses and say "Well I'm glad you've come to your senses!"
joytulip
Aug. 5th, 2008 04:19 pm (UTC)
carefully avoiding saying too much and becoming spoilerific
Perhaps because I still spend a large amount of time with fourteen-year-olds, I read Twilight etc. with that mindset and enjoyed it for what it was. HOWEVER, I started reading Breaking Dawn yesterday, and the author has totally broken her story in my opinion. It was supposed to be a trilogy, it was marketed as a trilogy, it should have stayed a trilogy. (She changes her narrative perspective! PLUS, Bella-as-role-model-for-teenage-girls is suddenly very scary.) People need to know when to stop themselves. Anyway, that being said, if the book improves upon closer acquaintance (doubtful!), I'll let you know.
merriehaskell
Aug. 5th, 2008 05:27 pm (UTC)
Re: carefully avoiding saying too much and becoming spoilerific
Everything I've heard about book 4 makes me think that you are exactly right: book 4 breaks the story.
lielabell
Aug. 5th, 2008 04:19 pm (UTC)
Wonderful post!
penmage
Aug. 5th, 2008 07:55 pm (UTC)
Ooooh. My first thick book was The Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks. I still have the big fat hardcover copy I fell in love with at the used book sale. My second was Mists of Avalon, which I read in camp, on the gazebo, feeling superior to everyone else reading their short books.
al_zorra
Aug. 8th, 2008 07:32 pm (UTC)
I cannot recall my first 'thick' book. Is that different than 'chapter book?' Because I was reading chapter books by the first grade. Mostly books featuring a horse or a dog, with detours to bears and wolves (well, that's really a dog) -- and anything that had a flavor of what later I'd learn to call science fiction and fantasy (that was latter was all Arthurian tales, of course).

If a thick book is different from chapter book it probably was an historical novel. The two I recall certainly were The Forsythe Saga and Gone With the Wind. Were there books that thick before those two? I don't recall.

What I do know is that Thick Books' provision of pleasure has sadly fallen off in these more degenerate times! :)

Love, C.
lokifan
Aug. 10th, 2008 05:42 am (UTC)
I was unusual in that I read thick books from about the age I became a bookworm - which was seven. But I think my first thick book, in that sense, was The Little Princess. It was one of the first, and I can clearly remember thinking 'what would Sara do?'
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )

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