The Twilight series

I'm halfway through the third book of the Twilight series. Since Monday, I've had the following conversation with four different women, each of whom is in her 30s, identifies as a feminist, and has an advanced degree:

"These Twilight books, they are so badly written!"
"Yes, and they're politically indefensible."
"And you can't sympathize with the characters. What is with Bella? She's not spunky or smart or even rebellious!"
"So why can't I stop reading them?"
"I know, they're addictive!"

What is the deal with these books? One of my friends read all four in two days (and these things are sizable). Another finished the first book and immediately read it again. Another sent her husband to the store late at night to buy the next one for her (she couldn't go herself because she was sick).

And for those of you who haven't read them, let me give you a sense of the dialogue:
Vampire boyfriend: I love you so much. I couldn't possibly love you any more.
Whiny girlfriend: I don't see how you can love me, because I am nowhere near as beautiful as you are. But I love you!
Vampire boyfriend: But how can you love me when I am so dangerous! But I love you!

To make this scenario even more troubling, the books are essentially describing an abusive relationship--one that appears to become more and more controlling and manipulative as the series progresses. The vampire boyfriend shows his love by stalking his whiny girlfriend and trying to take charge of her entire life, ostensibly in order to protect her.

I am baffled as to why I and my friends and colleagues have gotten so sucked into a series that seems to have nothing at all to offer us. I know that there are theories out there about why this might be the case, and I intend to delve into them. Several faculty colleagues and I are going to be doing a panel discussion about these books in October, and by then I hope I'll have real critical thought and not just self mockery to offer.


R.F. said...

I love you.

Yeah, the books are crap.

How she keeps your attention is through the fact that they are, while -crap- as far as character development, plot, and... pretty much anything-- except for the fact that she paints a really pretty picture. You can read what she's writing and imagine it easily.

That's my theory.

Carol McCullough said...

Have you checked out the Laurell K. Hamilton series (about Vampire Hunter Anita Blake)? They eventually run out of steam and seem to be far too focused on her sexual encounters, but I blazed through the first few.

caseymfox said...

I look forward to hearing what your research yields. I have not read them, and don't plan to, but the phenomenon fills me with an uneasy fascination.

Michelle Penaloza said...

I haven't read any of the books, but I did go see the movie (to my defense, at the $1.50 theatre) and I experienced some of the same feelings and thoughts.

The movie is bad. So gloriously bad.

Aaron Piepmeier said...

I love James Bond novels. Racism, sexism, drug addiction, and violence all wrapped up in a suit. I love reading about the various ways he gets his ass kicked...

These are candy. Just enough to satisfy, but don't read before going to bed.

Pam said...

I sat in the Barnes and Noble a few weeks ago and started reading the first one - because I'd heard alot of people that just loved them. It didn't work for me either, and I haven't read anything that makes me want to go back and try again. And I loved Interview with the Vampire and the Harry Potter series - but the Twilight books seem just silly, and not silly-interesting.

mango said...

I just blazed through them as well. Throughout I was just thinking to myself... this is such crap. But I'm so entertained... must. read. more.

Farnworth Robbins said...

I enjoy reading Liz Hand's scathing review of the third book in the series far too much to actually risk exposing myself to it (I might get sucked in too)

Here's her review if you haven't read it:


Curtis said...

Eric and I are both reading them, though he's much more addicted than I am. I hope you'll figure out WHY by October, because I certainly have no idea.

Susan said...

I tried to read the first book and got about 10 pages into it and then starting speed skimming until I reached the end, finishing the book in about two hours. That's the last I've read of Stephanie Meyer.

I have a couple of theories as to why these books are so popular. The books tap into one's need for a meta-encoder, that is, an author who will explain it all for us, down to the last little detail, without our having to do much work to get there. There's a feeling of relief and a sense of acceptance from having this happen, particularly when it is hard to find such a feeling elsewhere.
My other theory is that these books tap into under-represented female erotica and make it mainstream acceptable. But I don't know enough background or theory on this last idea to expound on it very much.

Anonymous said...

Back when I worked as teen collection & program coordinator at the local public library, my teens told me that I "MUST read these...they are THE BEST BOOKS." So I did, and I had to force myself to get through it (which took about a month!).

I could definitely see the appeal, but that's clearly not the message I would want conveyed to impressionable 12- and 13- year old girls for all the reasons you list here. At one point, I was the only person at a collection development meeting who'd actually read any of them so I gave my opinion, but with the qualification that I can see why they are popular with the teen readers. Then friends in their 20s and 30s all fell in love it, leaving me to wonder about my sanity and theirs. Indeed, I've found only two women other than myself who actually dislike the series.

Totally0Random said...

The Twilight books are so bad, but something about them is addictive. I actually like the parts of the books that don't involve the Edward/Bella relationship a lot more than the parts that do. I found the vampire family stuff and wolf pack stuff much more interesting.

I think Stephenie Meyer and Laurell K. Hamilton are both terrible writers who manage to reel us in anyway. (I wish Hamilton would sketch story outlines and let someone else write them.)

This article discusses Twilight/True Blood/Buffy and vampire-lover feminism (or lack thereof):

Related to this new vam

Aaron Bibb said...

Alison, I'm way late to the party because I have only just now added your blog to my RSS reader. But if you're considering your friend's advice to check out the Laurell K. Hamilton books, you owe it to yourself to read these "annotations" of their comics adaptation:

Hilarious stuff. Each image has alt-text too, so hover your mouse over the images for extra jokes here and there.