Oberlin Blogs

Will makes his bed; lies in it.

January 8, 2009

Will Mason ’10

I'm usually very good at honestly assessing how much work I can complete in a day. I budget my time carefully during the semester (my Google calendar is an ornate, color-coded monstrosity, like some sort of byzantine Rothko painting governing the minutiae of my day), and try to keep from overextending myself. I think that's why the idea that I'd spend ten hours a day practicing and composing over winter term held appeal: spend lots of time on just one thing, rather than a little bit of time on many. Refreshing! Elegant! Bold!

Occasionally very boring!

Yes, while I am very happy toiling away in my practice room, I have not been able to muster quite as much single-minded focus as I'd envisioned back in November when I resolved to make this my Winter Term project. So, in addition to my musical labors, I've been spending a lot of time on what I think of as "personal betterment": reading good books, teaching myself to cook, and other assorted odds and ends that usually aren't feasible during the regular semester. I'm particularly excited about having all this time to read; being a double-degree student means that credits for elective courses are few, and I fear that I will go through my years at Oberlin without ever being able to take an English course. This is unfortunate not just because Oberlin's English department offers so many wonderful courses, but also because I feel that there's a cultural literacy that comes from reading great works of fiction. If someone alludes to a character from Sister Carrie, I want to know why; if Yoknapatawpha County gets name-dropped, I'd like to at least have the good sense not to ask "Oh, where's that?" So when I find time to read for pleasure, it's usually spent on canonical books--novels I've heard about but will never get a chance to read. My reading list this winter term is no exception: right now I'm reading The Maytrees by Annie Dillard, and after that I'm going to finish The Magic Mountain, which I started this summer, and then it's on to Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Absalom, Absalom! (which I've tried to read before), and maybe also East of Eden.

But there are exceptions, and recently I perpetrated a big one when, after reading about it for months, and after the endorsement of my mother (an elementary school librarian and generally trustworthy literary critic), I read Stephenie Meyer's Twilight. It's about 500 pages long, but don't let that fool you: set aside about three hours (or don't!) and you'll finish what I consider to be the single worst book I've ever read. Meyer's bio at the end of the book states that Twilight was the first book she'd ever written, to which I reply: No duh. She has the descriptive talent of a middle schooler, repeatedly demonstrating a pathological inability to use anything other than basic colors to describe her nouns: "The forest was green." "His hair was brown." This book is stupid. I want my multi-million dollar movie deal, too, please.

Speaking of which, that very same film was playing at Oberlin's beautiful old downtown movie theater (that's theater, singular--one movie a week). Much of what I found loathsome in Twilight owed to Meyer's innumerable shortcomings as both a writer and storyteller--young adult novel or no, the way she introduces her antagonists into the story during the book's third act without warning is utterly ham-fisted--and so I gave the movie the benefit of the doubt. There is a potentially captivating story of forbidden love here; maybe the director would have the good sense to disregard much of the source material and plumb the depths of the human (or vampire) soul. And no matter what, movies at the Apollo only cost $3, which is enough to rationalize just about any bad movie. (Next week I'll be rationalizing Owen Wilson's entire career when I see "Marley and Me.")

Alas, the movie followed the book almost to the letter; my friend and I broke out in hysterics during the scene when Edward, the hunky male protagonist, entered the high school cafeteria (amid a fanfare of electric guitar, a poor decision in almost any movie soundtrack). Kristen Stewart delivered her lines as Bella in the same fashion that her character's worn old pick-up truck drives: stuttering, with poor handling. Edward is just as emotionally abusive in the movie as in the novel ("You should stay away from me. Want to go for a drive? I said we shouldn't be friends, not that I don't want to. But seriously, I'll kill you if we try to have sex"), and Bella is just as vapid ("I never thought of myself as being very attractive but oh look, all the girls are jealous of me because the boys here are asking me to the prom!").

I probably wouldn't care if it weren't for the fact that these books have wielded such wide influence. Also, as a friend of mine and Twilight fan astutely pointed out over break, I'm a high-minded crank who doesn't know how to just relax and have a good time. I can imagine how that conversation could have proceeded: "That's not true," I'd say, defensively. "I do know how to have a good time. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go practice ten hours a day every day for the entire month of January."

Responses to this Entry

While I fully respect your opinion & frustrations, Will, you are missing the point. Perhaps this is because you were never a fifteen year old girl, but the joy I derived from reading the books (and seeing the movie) was from getting swept up in emotions that seem so valid at the time but in retrospect were borderline insane.

And you must admit, the movie streamlines the book quite a bit. Bella doesn't cook for her Dad as much, there is some bad foreshadowing with the evil vampires, and we deal with EVERYONE's crushes on Bella a little less. All and all, I though the movie was far more enjoyable than I expected; especially the face Edward makes throughout the entire first biology scene (and his AWESOME American accent).

I don't want to insult your mom, but did she tell you it was fine literature? I doubt it - it's funny (not purposely) but in no ways a well-written book.

Regardless of all of this Twilight nonsense, I did like this post a lot, and I hope your other for-pleasure reading is less painful than Twilight.

Posted by: Lillie on January 8, 2009 1:15 PM

I understand its value as escapist fare (and my mom definitely warned me in advance about Meyer's writing ability), but don't you think that it's been marketed as more than that? So much of the press I read billed this book as having a positive role model for teenage girls. They tend to focus on the abstinence-only attribute of Edward and Bella's relationship as being refreshing in a book for teenage girls, to which I have the following responses:

a) they don't abstain from sex for moral reasons, they abstain because he doesn't want to accidentally kill her

b) I can't remember the last time I picked up a young adult book and thought to myself, "Well, this would be great if it weren't for all the explicit sexual descriptions!"

Then factor in that Edward is a controlling and, often, emotionally abusive boyfriend...not a role model I'd get behind.

But again...just some high-minded crankery from someone tired of working on his rudiments :-) In fairness, I do think that reading a bad book is better than not reading at all, and so Meyer should be commended for getting children of the digital age to invest time in a 500-page book.

Posted by: Will on January 8, 2009 2:39 PM

Hey now, don't be writing Twilight's short-comings off as being due to its status as a young adult book. There are lots of good YA books out there, just not those...

Posted by: Zoë on January 8, 2009 10:24 PM

***Spoiler Alert. Don't read this if you care about what happens in later Twilight books***

I do think the abstinence-slant is funny and inappropriate, although I honestly can't remember if they eventually have sex before or after getting married in the fourth book. And once she's a vampire, since they don't sleep at night, they spend the whole time having sex. I'm all for sex-positive books.

I'm honestly more disappointed in Stephanie Meyer for creating such a weak female character (Bella, book two: "Edward left me & Forks. It must be because he doesn't love me because I am horrible and boring and weak and human, not because it would be for my own good, which he told me 1,000,000 times"). Edward is sort of terrible, but so is Bella.

And I haven't been exposed to that much media about the book -- I always assumed it would be vapid and fun based on the fact that it is a TEENAGE VAMPIRE ROMANCE NOVEL.

Posted by: Lillie on January 9, 2009 10:19 AM

It's times like these that I wish I could credibly bust out some literary criticism buzzwords: "let's examine the "vampire" archetype from a Marxist perspective" etc. etc.

In high school I wrote an English essay arguing, flippantly, that Dr. Seuss's "The Grinch" was actually an atheistic parable deploring the spread of conformist Christian hegemony. I don't think my future job prospects include "trusted literary critic."

Posted by: Will on January 9, 2009 11:27 AM

""The forest was green." "His hair was brown." This book is stupid."

"You should stay away from me. Want to go for a drive? I said we shouldn't be friends, not that I don't want to. But seriously, I'll kill you if we try to have sex"

HAHAHA..hilarious! I agree that 'Twilight' is stupid, but, hey, it is entertaining =P. Oh, I just "love" the scene where Edward goes in the sunlight and starts sparkling LOL..the "twinkle twinkle" sound was funny, in a retarded way. I still think that instead of Bella saying "It's like diamonds," she should have said, "ooooh, you're sooo prettyyy...my preciousss!" LOL okay, I'll shut up now! But seriously, great post!

Posted by: Fajer Saeed on April 26, 2009 5:54 AM

I agree; it's very middle school and I don't know about anyone else but I could never get half an idea of what Edward Cullen was like from all the random descriptions she used.
But it's definitely a fantasy for girls. -rolls eyes- x)

And I think Kristen Stewart did a terrible job = = Pattinson was okay but Kristen Stewart was just like
augh. Stuttery and I couldn't get the message of her acting. And Bella wasn't really that introverted when I read the book.
Not that I felt Bella was well-characterized by reading the book anyways.

Nice entry; I agree entirely.
-CATT :)

Posted by: Catt on April 18, 2010 4:36 AM

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