Thursday, July 30, 2009

Twilight's dawn

So apparently "Twilight" is big business.

I figured this out in dribs and drabs over the years. It helps that I have one or two acquaintances who are (for lack of a better term) obsessed and continually swooning over how much they love parts of the books. In many ways, I started to think of this book as the de facto BOOK, meaning that thing that's really popular and flies off the shelves. For many years, "Harry Potter and the Sundry Adventures" was the BOOK. Before that, it was "The Da Vinci Code". And before that, it was "PhilosophiƦ Naturalis Principia Mathematic".

Not really.

I'm not terribly "in" when referring to popular things. The first time I'd heard of Harry Potter was when the grad student sharing my office was arguing about whether things in the soon-to-be-released first movie were or were not like the book. I read gofugyourself.com for the tart fashion commentary, but I have to use Wikipedia to figure out who most of the people are, which probably dulls the experience. When a friend referred to someone as looking like Heidi Montag from the MTV show "The Hills", I was pleased that I'd heard of MTV. And I knew I was out when my shy 11-year old male student asked one day if I ever watched "The O.C." and I was unable to water-cooler with him.

As a result, I'm behind on the "Twilight" wave. I think the first I'd ever heard of it was watching the trailer for the first movie. The most I got out of that experience was it starred the guy who had the distinction of being the first "good" person to die in a Harry Potter movie. The leading lady was an actress I didn't know, but I was (and still am) struck by her ability to look slightly angry and disappointed in whatever pictures I see of her. This isn't granularly true, of course; no doubt she's got lots of pictures where she's smiling and laughing. It's my perception, though: for example, I always think of Cameron Diaz as smiling, even though I'm sure she doesn't pose like that for every picture. It's not as though I've seen a lot of pictures of this Kristen Stewart (certainly not as many as Cameron Diaz), so it's just a snap judgment on my part. Maybe she'll smile more later.

Of course, perhaps I'm out of the "Twilight" loop because I'm not the target audience. I have debated whether or not this book is for me. Just going by the synopsis and library classification, it's geared towards teens and young adults. Despite the presence of vampires, there's probably enough romance and feelings in here to skew towards female readers. Applying the Princess Bride test, this may be a Kissing Book, even though there are fights and monsters. Still, Fred Savage learned a Very Valuable Lesson© by waiting around to see what happened after the final sword fight. So a few months ago, I decided to put it on my list.

Curious if I'd be able to find out what all the fuss was about, I put my name into the local library queue for the first book. This would have been last fall. As of today, there were still 68 people ahead of me, which is amazing considering the numerous copies the library must have. There are 50 copies circulating in the libraries of the local system, and books with holds are non-renewable. That means every two weeks, the line should advance 50 people, barring people who accumulate fines while trying to dash through the last chapters. I think I was number 420 when I first made the hold.

I circumvented the last of the library line, thanks to a loan from a friend. It's a hefty book, even in paperback. Running just shy of 500 pages, it has a further promotional chapter from what I assume to be the second book appended after the acknowledgments (which is unnumbered, leading to confusion when trying to leaf from the back to find the page count).

I'm curious to read this book not because I've heard so much about it, but because I've heard ABOUT what people are saying about it. It seems to be alternately described in extremis as either a handbook for defeating feminism and normalizing male obsessive/abusive behavior or as a depiction of the dreamiest man since a certain fellow named Fitzwilliam smoldered in his affection for a strong-willed woman. Anything that causes even a single person to use "Oh my Edward" as a substitute for "Oh my god" (let alone buying a T-shirt or tote bag) is bound to be instructional on the motivations for excess of opinion.

But therein lies a problem. I have a feeling that some people zealously like or dislike these books ironically. It's the marker of these "post-modern" times, I suppose, where serious opinions get eclipsed by concocted ones. Even the most ardent of fans at the peak can become, if not purposefully ironic, then at least hyper-enthusiastically saccharine. At the same time, detractors will willingly march into Wagnerian excess of vitriol.

I won't quibble: it's fun to get into an all-powerful snit about some movie or book and how it's the end of civilization. That may even be what the entire blog scene is really about! Things which become very popular are great targets-- there's already legions of fans saying positive things, so no one thinks amiss to add a few contrary voices. The critics think the fans are sheep, the fans think the negative critics are jealous, and everyone gets to huff, puff, and say "Would you look at this idiot?!"

So what's the deal with "Twilight"? Is it about a swooning pre-feminist and her ultra-man controller? Is it about a man who must fight his own nature to be with the woman he loves? Is it about a series of books that fits into a PG-13 Anne Rice niche? Or is it about an author who thinks vampires should be quite different than Bram Stoker described?

I'll let you know when I have the definitive answer. Surely it's contained somewhere in the first book and we can proceed straight to pigeonholing the rest.

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