Thursday, February 5, 2009

Men & Twilight.

A friend (a male friend) and I were discussing Twilight through email recently. I mentioned that he probably hated it because men are unwilling to do the work that Edward does in the book, unwilling to be the guy who Edward is to Bella.

He said that the books had little to offer men. Edward is perfect and Bella is flawed; Edward loves Bella endlessly. This is (loosely) what a woman wants: someone who makes the sacrifices, does and says the right things when she needs him, doesn't mind her mistakes, her flaws, her confusions.

What a man wants is the same. Someone who loves him for who he is, regardless of (perhaps because of) his mistakes, flaws, bad ideas.

We don't like overly-idealized versions of women. Apparently, men don't like it either.

This doesn't mean either sex should lower their standards, of course. It does mean we should realize that what we want is what others want. We want to be sacrificed for, but we can't ask for something in a relationship that we aren't prepared to give as well. And we can't ask a man to love and read these books.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008


A friend and I were discussing Breaking Dawn while I finished reading it. She claims, despite her pending PhD in literature, that it is one of the "best books ever written."

There are a lot of things to like about it. It ties things up neatly without seeming to make it too tidy. Many things that started in the first book (Bella's ability to "block" Edward's ability, for one) are brought forth as more important than they were originally. This just emphasizes the issue I take with the movie's downplaying of Edward's mind-reading. In Twilight, Edward has a lot of fun with his ability (blocking Bella in the parking lot so that Tyler can ask her out, for one). He is also tortured over not being able to hear Bella's thoughts.

Breaking Dawnalso finally does something of value with Jacob, rather than just string him along and give Bella a reason to torture herself and Edward. I can't imagine anyone not getting tired of that in Eclipse, but of course, now it comes to make a bit of sense. He was drawn to her in a family way.

While I agree that 4 is a better book in every way I can think of than 3, there is something about Bella that I like less here. I was so tired of her loving Jacob and paining all three of them, but in the last book, she seems to be virtually without flaw. She does nothing wrong, she does nothing for herself, she thinks only of others, and her only moments of weakness come late at night in the private of the bedroom she shares with Edward.

If there is one thing I understand about reading novels, one thing I keep myself aware of as I read them, is which character I am following and how the author and the text keep me interested in them, make me sympathetic toward them, make me understand them. As I've already discussed, I am as interested in Bella as anything else in this book. But Bella-who-does-no-wrong bothers me. Readers tolerate Harry Potter's moral authority because he makes tactical mistakes, and goofs when it comes to girls and he needs his friends.

But Bella doesn't mind dying for her baby, won't show Edward how painful either the transformation or the pregnancy are, has supernatural (counting vampires as the natural here) self-control and makes none of the common mistakes new vampires make, she ends up having the power to save everyone on her side of the battle.

I teach a lot of violent literature and I understand that violence serves an important purpose in texts. Who a character is in a violent situation is the real essence of who they are. This is why people often feign wishing that someone would threaten their life so they could see how they partner would react. This is part of the reason that people like action movies, so they could see an accelerated, amped-up version of life, so they could imagine behaving heroic in ways beyond their usual helping of old ladies and changing a girl's tires.

And yes, violence brings out the truth in people, reveals the truth of a person. And yes, Bella is now a mother, which makes her believably self-sacrificing. She just seems too perfect to be believable and likable.

But, the ending, the over-the-top happy ending is satisfying. Things have been trying enough. The other half-vampire's sudden appearance did seem too convenient, once I considered it, but it wasn't bothersome. The honeymoon sort-of set that up and there was no other way to be sure that nothing bad would happen to the baby. And, to be sure, nothing bad could happen to a baby. That is a rule of American texts of all kinds. And we've been reading a love story, though there are many times in the last book that the romance seems to come second or third to other elements, but surely I haven't forgotten that epic love story and what I've wanted from the first book is for them to end up happy together forever.

So they do. And it is, as I said, a bit overdone. But satisfying. Especially as I now reread them. Knowing, from that first awkward moment in Biology class that things do, somehow, work out, I think will make it interesting in a different way. Often, knowing the ending can make a text less interesting, but in this case, I find it comforting.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

I tire of Jacob.

Our author has gone to great lengths, both from Bella's and from Jacob's positions to explain and justify these two characters' foolish behavior in regard to one another. Those great lengths tell me something. That their behavior is, in fact, foolish, but necessary to maintain the overall plot plan. So, she feels the need to explain them, repeatedly.

In fact, there is more time devoted to that than to many other, shall I say, logistical complications that arise in Books 3 and 4.

Jacob says, so many times, that he knows that he is only hurting himself more by being around Bella, but he can't say no to her, can't walk away from her. He gets mad sometimes that she is nice to him. She gets mad at herself for being nice to him. Edward, though, doesn't get mad at either of them. Because he understands, of course, Jacob's love for Bella, and he is jealous but not afraid to lose her.

Then why does she do it? Why does do things she knows are painful to everyone she loves, only to feel bad for them, only to have both Jacob and Edward comfort her in order to keep her from feeling bad. She has this huge tearful goodbye with Jacob and cries to Edward about it.

She really, seriously, cries to Edward about it. And we are supposed to forget this because she says she felt bad Edward had to see it?

Maybe I don't tire of Jacob who, eventually, has stopped being so hard on Bella and stopped trying to pull her in two, stopped bringing attention to all the self-ascribed noble deeds. He has started merely protecting her. I certainly tire of Bella's behavior and their reasoning.

She has Edward, why does he keep up this half relationship with Jacob? This relationship that cannot be, that will never be?

I'm not even talking about the weirdness this all begets in Book 4. We'll get there.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Which is it?

One of the first questions I ask my students about a book or story they've read is which character they most relate to, which character they are reading for, following, rooting for.

Usually, the question is easy to answer, though many times, my students disagree about it. It's often easy for me to tell this about myself, though. I am so rapidly thinking about this, as well as so many other elements, that I know before I've even bothered to ask myself. I know what about them makes me sympathetic to them, what things they've said and done that remind me of me or someone I am fond of. Why certain things make me jump, make me anxious, what personal wish I am allowing the characters to fulfill for me.

So, in answering questions about why I like the Twilight books, I have to determine which character I am reading for.

The standard answer, for many people, especially people who don't actually read the books, is that women read them because they are in love with Edward, or similarly, want someone like Edward to fall in love with them. I do not dispute that, as I read these books, I think something like that to myself. I make jokes about wanting a vampire boyfriend, but what I think the books remind me (and perhaps others) of is that we want is a truly selfless love. We want to be sacrificed for. It's easier when there are always lives at stake, vampires hunting us, suicides to prevent. But, even if there are no deaths imminent, we want to know, without any question, that that is how our partner would react. Devotion.

There are other elements to this relationship that we desire, too. That there are no power struggles, no petty games. Sure, Bella doubts her worth at times, doubts that she is "enough" to hold on to him, or to hold his interests. But, there are not, as there are in many relationships, problems with someone calling someone else, or someone having all of the power over someone else... essentially, they both love each other equally and are not afraid to openly admit it. They are not battling for power, maybe because they trust each other, maybe because the book is fiction and can avoid that annoyance.

Edward has just the right amount of jealousy, just the right amount of fear of losing her. He protects her, fights for her, etc etc.

Is that, though, really why I am reading?

Or is it because I care about and understand Bella? Because she reacts in, seemingly, the same way I have, and I would? She is stubborn and pushy, she lets Edward in, she trusts him and accepts his flaws, she doubts herself but still doesn't back down. She is almost paralyzed, without being afraid to admit that its caused by his absence. She doesn't let herself remember the best times because she knows that even happy memories would hurt (in the second book, when they've "broken up").

I think Bella is the one I am following, the one I am concerned with. That second book made me feel like someone had broken up with me and I was thinking simultaneously "fight harder! get over it" and "maaaan... that is exactly what I would do."

Emerson said that genius is defined as knowing that what is true for you is true for all. And this is perhaps where Stephanie Meyer's real genius lies... creating a Bella we see ourselves in. Even when I get mad at her, when I try to make her act in a different way, I also know I'd probably have made a similar mistake.

Don't get me wrong. I love Edward. But there is no part of me that wants them to end up apart. And this is because I think that, as perfect as he is, she is just as good.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Garbage in, genius out.

My mom's nurse, without noticing that I have Twilight in my hand, says that movie is "trash." She doesn't say it the way that we all do; she says is hatefully, satisfied that she has said it.
We both smile bleakly, the way I did a few months ago when a stranger or near-stranger discussed the status of Barack Obama as heathen, anti-christ, etc.
Unencouraged, she continues.
"I don't know why anyone would make that. It makes me sick to see the name of it when I drive past the movie theater."

"Oh, yeah, it is kind of trashy," I say, wishing the conversation would end so that I could keep reading it.
I mean it; it is.
I hold it up, and defend my honor quickly.
"I'm and English teacher, though. I deserve the occasional mental recess."
"Garbage in, garbage out," she says. To my face.

My mom steers the conversation in a different way, discussing all of the good books that I teach, all of the funny or clever things my students say, the way my students are affected by my teaching.

I know that it would make me a better person, is some way, if I were reading a better book, one of the many I have on my shelves. But I also know that any book can do what all books, even good books, are supposed to do.

Feel. For the characters, for myself, for the people around me.
Examine. My motives. Another person's feelings. A relationship. A book I read two years ago.
Make connections. Between anything that the books sparks in me.

If my brain is really on, and if I am really critically thinking, any book can do that. Well, maybe not any book, but certainly these books. They are well-written, thoroughly conceived and wrought with genuine emotion. Not just adolescent emotion.

In a manner of speaking, Edward and Bella's tragic tale is garbage. But that is only a small view of it. And that is only if the person reading the book is only thinking of him or herself. Or only thinking of what happens next. And not what all it means, implies, says about the fictional or real world.

If you have a brilliant mind following the pages, then it's not garbage at all.