NPR logo 'Twilight' Odds And Ends: Generations, Curiosity Levels, And Summing Up

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'Twilight' Odds And Ends: Generations, Curiosity Levels, And Summing Up

Today in our consideration of Twilight: Summing up. hide caption

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So today, we turn to the things we felt we hadn't covered yet — primarily the interesting observations raised in the comments about whether or not the book is intended for teenagers and, if it is, what that means for critiquing its quality.

This is the last post of this particular kind, and tomorrow, I think we should try an actual live chat. My proposal is 1 p.m. Eastern. I'll set it up, you can come back, and we'll have it be as free-flowing as possible with the understanding that it is a discussion of your feelings about the book, not your feelings about other people's feelings, and not your feelings about people who like the book or people who don't like the book. And if nobody shows up, I will just post amusing YouTube videos for a few minutes and then slink out of the room in embarrassment.

With that said:

Linda: One thing we haven't talked about much, except in the comments, is the fact that for a lot of people, both the quality of the writing and the content of the story, as far as its nonsensical aspects, are really irrelevant if the book is intended for or appropriate for teenagers.

This is an argument I would find a lot easier to swallow were it not for the facts that (1) I don't think Meyer necessarily meant it as YA fiction and I think she's said that; and (2) it is read by many, many adults who take it quite seriously. It seems to me that it has been embraced as fiction by enough adults that it's legitimate to look at it that way. And that's true EVEN IF you accept that it's okay for things to be bad if they're for teenagers, which I ... don't.

Marc: Of course. It's wildly insulting to teenagers to insist that it's acceptable to foist inferior product on them because... why, exactly? "This is a terrible book. Give it to your daughter." How is that not a terrible abuse of kids' minds?

Linda: And the thing is, by the time I was a teenager, I was reading escapist fiction, obviously — I mean, I read some Sweet Valley High books — but there weren't adults reading them, and I never had any illusions about the fact that they weren't good; they were just fun. When somebody commented that it's now cool to be seen with thick books, there was part of me that just thought ... that's kind of my problem. I don't mind kids reading escapist books any more than I have a problem with adults reading escapist books, but my fear is confusion over whether this is what being a reader of challenging books is about.

Marc: Don't you think that adults do similar things? Isn't that the argument that some people have with the Kindle?: "How will anybody know the awesome/thick/trendy book that I am reading?"

So in a way, Twilight prepares them for being pretentious adults. Whew!

Linda: Heh. It just worries me, I guess, because ... sometimes I sense a theory that everything kids take in, culturally, when they're in middle school/high school is irrelevant, because it's all trashy, so whatever, because they'll develop their real tastes as adults. Whereas I know that by the time I was fourteen or fifteen, I already liked a lot of things that were huge influences on what kinds of things I like now.

I make a terrible admission, after the jump.

I mean, I saw Jack Wagner twice, as you know; I'm not trying to argue against trash. (HEAVEN KNOWS.) But I also was listening to Tom Lehrer records and reading Nikki Giovanni poetry and lots of other stuff that eventually became part of this big soup of things I still like now. So while I totally get the "kids have to have their kid stuff," I worry about adults kind of shrugging off the difference and the balance that should be maintained between kid stuff and other stuff, the way my parents indulged me but certainly treated Jack Wagner as a diversion, not my musical education. (Sorry, Jack Wagner.)

Or, I guess, what I mean to say is that I worry about the idea that all reading is the same and all reading is equally good, the "as long as they're reading" argument.

Marc: Sure. I was 12 when I read The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, 16 when I devoured Wuthering Heights, 17 when I read Misery. Teenagers are interested in a great many things and are capable of understanding a great many things.

Let's look at one of your examples above: I was 10 years old when my father first exposed my sister and me to Tom Lehrer. Did I understand who Werner Von Braun was, or what the Bracero program was, or what it was that he really, really hated about folk music, or what "genuflect" meant? Nope. But Lehrer never talked down to his audience, even if they were of a generation far removed from many of the things he was talking about. (New Math, anyone?) I got what I got and was delighted by him.

Linda: Well, right. In the context of this discussion, it's not so much that I think Twilight is going to ruin teenagers as it is that I think it's very dangerous to disqualify things from criticism or discussion because they're aimed at teenagers. I was just reading a blog post by a woman whose 11-year-old daughter had just read Twilight, and I was thinking, "Eleven? When I was eleven, would Twilight have been playing on natural fantasies people will tell you teenage girls have about bad boys and there being something attractive about being physically overpowered, or would it have been forming them?"

Marc: Douglas Adams essentially laid the foundation for my entire adult comedic sensibility, so I can certainly see the concern. I'm not sure I'm as worried as you, though. To me, it's not so much teenagers going so bazoo over Twilight as it is teenagers going so bazoo over anything. Once you get that sort of single-minded, all-consuming fanhood going — whether it's vampires, David Archuleta or, I don't know, scrimshaw — I think there needs to be some degree of intervention to return some perspective to their lives.

Linda: Ha! No, that makes sense. And obviously, lots and lots and lots of the teenagers (and adults) who read the books get that they're for fun and they're not literature. I just absolutely bristle at the whole idea that you can't look at something and whether it's well-written or not, because kids are reading it, so its quality is irrelevant. But you make a good point that their ardor is not unique to this.

Marc: Speaking of uncontrolled ardor, I picked up Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas a few years back when I was at the peak of my Veronica Mars fanhood. It was written as a young adult novel dealing with, among other things, the confusion of first love (with the added dimension of a first sexual experience), and I didn't have any of the problems with it that I had with Twilight. Its concerns and setting were specifically teenaged, and the writing was probably a hair more streamlined than, say, The Corrections, but it didn't read like it was dumbed down for its target audience at all.

Linda: Yeah, I think there's lots of room in the world for ardor, and for melodramatic teen love stories. Maybe it's the Internet's fault. Maybe if there had been an Internet around when I was in middle school, there really WOULD have been web sites that were designed to deconstruct Sweet Valley High as literature, and I'd have had the same weird qualms about that.

Marc: I'm surprised there aren't NOW.

Linda: There probably are. I'm not looking.

Marc: You should totes do that.

Linda: I mean, in the end ... I get how the book is skillfully incorporating all these tropes of romance and so forth. I get how it appeals to certain fantasy elements.

Marc: Well, Meyer's stacked the deck wildly in Edward's favor. Pushiness/stalkerishness aside, he's, well, perfect. Chiseled features! Charismatic! Drives a bitchin' car! Composes heartbreakingly soulful music! As one of our commenters mentioned, Meyer's even done away with all of the negative consequences normally associated with being a vampire.

Linda: And although I think the small strokes of the storytelling are unsuccessful, the broad strokes are fine as far as this kind of thing goes: romance against the odds, dangerous lover, electric attraction, fiercely protective mate, battle against evil ... it's a setup for an irresistible, sort of classic story. And it's funny, because Meyer always talks about how it came to her in a dream, where the dream was Edward and Bella talking about the fact that they were in love, and it was doomed because he was a vampire. Her idea that there was a good story there is probably not wrong; I just don't like anywhere she went with it.

Marc: Is she sure that it didn't come to her on Tuesday nights on UPN?

Linda: Well. I take her at her word.

Marc: Sure, and joking aside, I have no reason to doubt her. And you're right that she obviously tapped into something that wasn't being served in the book-reading populace. Or the non-book-reading populace.

Linda: There are a lot of hooks in it. I was telling people in the comments today — I wouldn't read three more books of it, like, at all, but I was curious enough to go and read the synopses of the other books to see how it ended. I was Wikipedia curious, but I was not "read more books" curious. So I wasn't zero percent curious.

Marc: That's the point in the road where we diverge, because I'm curious only to the extent that I want to know more about the phenomenon as a whole. The story itself isn't enough to make me want to know what happens next. And since I'm getting a large amount of this stuff simply through cultural osmosis in the first place, I feel like I don't need to bother taking an active role.

That brings up another question, which is how imperative it is to read the entire "saga," which, if I may digress, seems to be a word used wholly inappropriately. I mean, unless Vikings get involved. And they got involved in Buffy, so who am I to say they don't here?

Linda: So it's not a saga without Vikings.

Marc: I'm just saying that a Viking or two might have helped.

Linda: So ultimately, that's the Marc Critique Of Twilight: "Needs more Vikings."

Marc: I am willing to die on that hill, yes.

Linda: Whereas I think my critique is basically ... I understand better than I did before what it has going for it. But I still didn't like it.

Marc: Oh, sure. You get "richer understanding of baffling cultural trends" and I get "not enough pillaging Scandinavians."

Linda: We are what we are.

Marc: Skål!

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