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."

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