The New Yorker has a profile of author Gene Wolfe. “His narrators may be prophets, or liars, or merely crazy, but somewhere in their stories they help to reveal what Wolfe most wants his readers to know: that compassion can withstand the most brutal of futures and exist on the most distant planets, and it has been part of us since ages long past.”
Posted November 25, 2011
I’ve put it off long enough. Thought, ‘We can get into that later’, and ‘I should wait till the fuss dies down a little’. But truth is, we’re overdue. It’s time we talked.
(Don’t groan. At least, not till we’re done).
The talk has two parts. The first, about Twilight-the-novel, is fairly straightforward. I read the book because I’m in the book business, and had seen the pre-publicity buzz turn into a roar. I wanted to know what kind of tidal wave was headed my way. Afterwards, I thought it was:
A) nothing new or exciting on the romance front;
B) nothing new or exciting on the vampire front; and
C) probably going to sell in huge quantities, though not necessarily out of my store. Which isn’t a dig at the series: we’re a specialty store, and as such tend to sell more Pratchett and Doctorow than we do Rowling or Meyer.
I still stand by those conclusions. When it comes to romance (and vampires, for that matter), I don’t care for melodrama, and have little patience for angst. Twilight is stuffed impossibly full of both. I found it readable, but not enough to pick up the rest of the books in the series.
That I didn’t care for the interaction between Bella and Edward doesn’t mean I think Twilight-the-phenomenon lacks an important and valuable love story. I
just think the love story that matters is the one between the readers and the books.
That’s the second part, and it’s big. Around the world, readers are truly connecting to the Twilight series. They’re passionately attached to the story. I’m not talking about the scary outer edge here, the shrieking fangirls, or anyone in a ‘Team Jacob’ T-shirt: I’m talking about readers. Millions upon millions upon millions of people loving books.
Everybody should have the chance to love a book that much. Because that kind of love really does bridge time and space. When you love a book with everything that is in you, that love lasts. If you pick it up again years later, decades, whatever, you may find the words no longer have the same music, or the story the same grandeur. But the love… that will still exist.
The immediacy of that tie is astonishing and powerful. There are books I only have to touch to be transported into a different era of my life: one in which I’m under foreign sky, perhaps; or in the company of someone I’ve since lost. I’m not the person I was when I first read those books – which is probably a good thing – but for a moment, I can remember how that person felt.
Did I say powerful? I mean nuclear.
Twilight also has the added bonus of being set in adolescence, that period in which so many of us first experience the fiery, dizzying rush of infatuation. When I saw the movie with a group of friends, we laughed aloud when Edward first swaggered into frame. That garnered us some vicious glares, but we weren’t making fun. At least, not of the movie. If we’d been fourteen when these books came out, we likely would have thought Edward absolutely wonderful. Really, we were looking back in time, and laughing at our fourteen year old selves. Not unkindly, either.
Though it’s not just teenagers reading the books. Nor is it just women. Though my store isn’t a representative example, the ratio of female Twilight buyers to male is about 80:20. Which is pretty good when you consider that women buy almost 80% of all books. Just yesterday a man came in looking for the third book, Eclipse, in paperback. It’s not quite available yet (but for any anxiously waiting readers: Very Soon Now), and he said he was probably going to cave and buy the hardcover. Because he simply couldn’t wait to find out what happened next.
When I asked, he couldn’t quite pinpoint exactly what drew him so deeply to the story, only that he was drawn. I wondered if the vampire angle made it possible for him to move the book mentally out of the ‘romance’ category into the ‘fantasy’ category, but he went on to say that he loved the love story. He loved all of it. He just didn’t know why.
Maybe his younger self knows. Maybe yours does too.
Chris Szego thinks that in this, as in so many things, Shakespeare said it best. Love is an ever-fixed mark… even when it’s a book.
(Sonnet #116, if you’re wondering)