Friday, January 23, 2009

Twilight Watch, Part 5: The Final Chapter

I give up.

I tried, I really did.  

I can't read any more.

I just can't face it.


I'm on page 51, and the thought of opening it and reading fills me with dread.  I can't stand the thought of talking about it any more.

I list all the books I own that I haven't read yet in the back of my current notebook.  I've been doing this since high school.  The same list has been carrying over since then.  I cross off the books as I read them and then transfer the list to the next notebook.

The list is now crazily out of hand.  There are lots of books on it I can't wait to read.  

Life is short, life is hard.

I really can't waste any more of it reading something I can't stand.  I just can't bear to think about it any more.  I'd rather write about books I like.


There are stories about girls who date vampires that are great.  This isn't one of them.


Ian W. said...

Don't be disappointed in yourself. You tried. I've read a few blogs that went through the whole series and couldn't imagine trying it myself.

(Cleolinda, HERE, kinda became the center of the snarky-examination of the series, and is a fun place to find out about the horrors of the series without actually trying to read them.)

There's no shame in giving up on something not worth your time. Life is, ultimately, short, and you'll never get to all the Art that actually IS worth your time.

Carolyn Raship said...

Aw, thanks, Ian. That's another reason I lost the will to continue. So much (mostly virtual) ink has been spilled on this damn Twilight thing, it's not like I'm the lone voice in the wilderness talking about them. I'd much rather spend my ranty, bloggy time talking about something else. Like maybe mystery novels as I love them and they are so disreputable.

That Fuzzy Bastard said...

Well... I am told that it gets better after page 75, if that's at all inspiring.

That Fuzzy Bastard said...

And then there is the cultural question... I mean, as you said before, this is a series by a woman, about a woman (well, girl), with a movie directed by a woman, and huge hits at every stage of the game---the first time, I believe, that this has ever happened. That makes it a pretty important artifact, completely aside from its artistic merit.

I actually sort of hate the lolfan approach of Cleolinda---it seems like if you're interested in women-in-media, you kind of have to take seriously the biggest all-woman genre enterprise in history. Otherwise, it's like writing about the fantasy genre without ever reading Lord of the Rings. For a good example of how you can evaluate a cultural artifact without merely snarking at it, see Slacktivist's incredible close reading of the Left Behind books (then we can argue about which has worse writing, though I think Twilight will win that one)---he treats them as crap, but as crap that reveals interesting things about its audience, as any work of such popularity must.

Not that I'm sayin' you personally have to subject yourself to hundreds of pages of turgid prose. But if you don't, it does shift your focus from "women in genre media" to "media I like". But that is pretty much what blogs are for.

Carolyn Raship said...

I'm not changing the focus necessarily to "media I like" but to "media that isn't being covered everywhere else".

But, as usual Fuzzy Bastard, you nail exactly why I feel guilty quitting. I am torn. Maybe if in my postings on Twilight (which I loathe, it's not even the issue of a passive heroine, it's the dreadful, stultifying, boring writing that's killing me), I include something I think is worth reading. I don't know. I'm just swamped with work and this is the last thing I want to focus my time on.

That Fuzzy Bastard said...

Fair enough---god knows that there's only so much time in a human life. I think part of what I appreciated about Caitlin Flannagan's piece was her explicit decision to treat it as sociological research rather than literature; it's sort of like reading Socialist Realist novels, something one does for research, not enjoyment.

Carolyn Raship said...

I feel like I read a different article. I don't think what she wrote had anything to do with sociological research, really. All that's just a cover. I've done it myself. She wrote that article I think because she loved the book. It made her feel the way she did when she read books as a girl. And I think she was trying to figure out why she loved it so much when she knew it wasn't any good. She fucking loves it. I really like her article because she talks about what it's like to read as a girl, something that's huge for me. It was actually her article that convinced me to order the book from Amazon. I really, really wanted to enjoy it. And this book isn't an intellectual exercise, it's a romance. It's supposed to make you feel things. If it doesn't there's not much point to it. It's leaving me cold, reading it is like bad sex.

Carolyn Raship said...

This is the article Fuzzy Bastard & I are talking about:

That Fuzzy Bastard said...

I think we're talking about two different kinds of reading here. If you're trying to talk about why a book's great, then yeah, you have to actually enjoy it. But that's not necessary if you're trying to talk about why a book's popular (though it does help).

Given that it's pretty obvious that Twilight isn't great, the latter question becomes the important one. I think you're onto something with your assertion that the whole thing reads like it was written by a teenager. But I find it hard to believe that it's popular simply because it's poorly written---lots of poorly-written books aren't.

Again, this is why Slacktivist is such a model of interesting trash-lit criticism. He's not claiming the LB books are good, or even that he enjoys them (admittedly, they're slightly better written than Twilight, but only slightly). But he can examine them as an artifact of a way of thinking, as expressed not only in the countless speeches laying out the author's theology, but also in the way the author's beliefs, and more importantly, the beliefs of the book's (massive) audience, are expressed through the many narrative elements that the author doesn't seem to be in control of.

That's really the more interesting part, I think---not the things the author is trying to express, but the things she can't help but express. Especially since the whole point of looking at Twilight, given its crappiness as literature, is its value as a totem of the indigenous culture of the 21st-century American 'tween gril.

As for Flanagan: Of course it's sociology! When you talk about "reading as a _______", then what you're doing is sociology. It may be sociology from the inside, rather than the out, but it's using a book as a lens to examine a particular social group's outlook, rather than a self-contained text, which means your real concern is the group, which makes it sociology.

Again, none of this proves that it's worth reading Twilight. God knows it'd be pretty tough to explain why its audience is compelled if you're not, and you're right that the ground may be well trod. Plus deconstructing a text for its ideological preoccupations, absent some enjoyment of the text, is the kind of joyless slog that makes grad students old before their time.

But it does mean that all future discussions of reading as a girl, women making movies, and women in genre entertainment must be accompanied by an asterisked statement to the effect of "I could not bear to read even a hundred pages of the book that every girl in the country consumed like it was a bag of potato chips laced with cocaine, so my take on the above material is far, far, far from representative of my comrades in gender, who seem to want mostly Twilight novels and movies starring Meg Ryan and have no interest at all in May, Ginger Snaps, Maya Deren, or really anything good."

That Fuzzy Bastard said...

P.S.: And on this, as on all comments, I paraphrase Pascal: I am sorry this comment is so long, but I did not have time to write a shorter one.

Carolyn Raship said...

"But I find it hard to believe that it's popular simply because it's poorly written---lots of poorly-written books aren't."

I never said this. And don't think this.

Carolyn Raship said...

All I'm saying is the only reason anyone reads anything like Twilight is to enjoy themselves. And if you don't enjoy it there's really no point. I mean, I know I'm a little stupid about these things. I read for enjoyment, and really that's it. I get why girls like this book, really I do. It;s just not working for me. If I had read it when i was 14 I may have hated it then too, but I wouldn't have been able to understand why anyone else would have liked it. Now at least I'm perceptive enough to get it.

Okay- your last paragraph pissed me off. That's ludicrous. Lots of people haven't liked them. You should see the loathing some teen girls have for the books in particular. Good lord, do I have to justify myself for not liking one book for the rest of my life?? I mean I've been a female since birth and I've been reading since I was three. This is one book. Back off. It just sounds like suddenly all my opinions are worthless because of this one book. I have a feeling you are underestimating my total retardation where teen girl culture is concerned. I don't talk about it in mixed company much (saying "I read two Gossip Girl books this afternoon" would just kill my credibility in any conversation except for this one), but I read and watch lots and lots of really questionable things. And (she says in a very small voice) have really, really enjoyed them. You just hit a big, big nerve. All i've done my whole life is sit in my room and read books, that lifetime of reading and my feelings and opinions about it is practically all I have. Sorry, I'm starting to babble, and I realize you may have been, um, making a joke and I may be hugely overreacting. You may have actually been paying me a compliment. I'm totally outing myself here with the whole Gossip Girl thing (don't even get me started on the Pants cycle). Ah, the internets.

/making ass of self

That Fuzzy Bastard said...

I was indeed mostly joking---it's rather like my need, after I make any technology pronouncement, to note that I'm also the guy who thought the iMac was going to kill Apple ("No disc drive! Can't upgrade the monitor! And who the hell would pay an extra $200 for colored plastic?!?!").

But I do think it gets at an important point---that while the act of reading is gendered, like just about anything, that doesn't mean there'll be any kind of predictability to it. The fact that most girls like Twilight (and they sure do, otherwise it wouldn't be such a huge hit) doesn't mean "girls like Twilight", and while anyone reads as a representative of one's class/gender/race, one is not necessarily *representative* of one's c/g/r (if that makes sense).

So no, your experiences as a reader, or even as a female reader, are not at all invalidated by your dislike of Twilight. It just underscores that your experiences are not necessarily applicable to any other female reader, and no other female reader's experiences are necessarily applicable to you. See, you *are* a unique snowflake!

It's an unfortunate symptom of the ghettoization of women's lit, though, that such a discussion even occurs to anyone. No one accuses Jim Emerson of not being a real boy because he didn't like Dark Knight (well, some people did call him a "fag", but that's not quite the same). Certainly, reading while female is different from reading while male. But Caviglia is not necessarily more similar to Stephanie Meyer than she is to Edward Albee, just as That Fuzzy Bastard would much rather emulate Agnes Varda than Michael Bay.

Carolyn Raship said...

The growing realization that that was your point as I was furiously typing was, um, kind of hilarious actually.

Yay! I'm a snowflake!

The ghettoization of women's literature is such a thorny issue. It's sort of like with cooking. More women read and (I'll bet) write then men, but they are less likely to be taken seriously. Who was it who said if Kunkel had been a girl his book would totally have had a pink cover? Part of the thorniness is that I think women (and I'm really speaking from my own experience here as a weird bookish girl, with weird bookish friends) do have a different relationship to fiction than men do. I think some of that was articulated beautifully in the Flannagan article. I'm not saying there aren't weird bookish boys who sit in their rooms and read, but, in my experience (and my experience of weird bookish boys has been fairly extensive)their interests tend to veer more towards things like music and computers. This is a gross generalization, I realize. And what I would like to know is how the life of the weird bookish girl has been changed by the internet. But that's a larger and different conversation. I think what I'm asking (and I'm really asking) is if boys who love books love them for different reasons then girls who love books. All this might just be all that gender normative crap we've all been fed since birth. It was often written in Victorian times that novel reading was a "feminine vice".

Carolyn Raship said...

PS I wish Apple still had the colored plastic.

That Fuzzy Bastard said...

Yeah, Bejamina Kunkel's book probably would've been pink of cover, and probably also would have had a much goofier font. But ghettoization is a strange thing---the chick-lit ghetto is the ghetto of "books that make a whole lot of money", as opposed to the highbrow ghetto, which is books that don't. It does mean it'll get taken less seriously by book reviews, but if that's the trade-off for actually being read, that seems not such a terrible deal. Putting a pink cover on a book isn't a conspiracy to make people think this book isn't serious; it's a conspiracy to make female readers buy the book. The point of a cover is to tell those people who've made Bridget Jones such a monster hit that "This book is for you", and it's simply the case that the vast female book-buying demographic seems to *want* the pink covers and silhouettes of martinis. You may find that sort of thing insulting, but what I'm saying here is that you are not necessarily much like the majority of female readers, despite being female, and a reader.

My whole point is precisely that it doesn't necessarily make sense to talk about how the experience of bookish girls as opposed to bookish boys, because different bookish girls often have wildly different experiences. It's also the case that they'll have a lot of similarities, but I think it's a pretty fraught question whether a girl reading a book in Morocco has more in common with a boy reading a book in Morocco, or a girl reading a book in California. Granted, with a book like Twilight, we're talking about something that isn't necessarily for weird bookish girls---it's just too big for that---which moves it into another area of study.

This is all an interesting follow-up to you r piece about directing without benefit of a penis, though. Novel-writing is the one realm of the arts where women are such a big part of the audience, which is a big reason why they're also such a force among the producers of novels. And while there's a lot of chicken-and-egg here, I do think that a big reason why there are so few women in movies and music is precisely because there are so few girls in the ranks of movie and music fandom---it's not just that girls don't have role models to inspire them into these realms, it's also that women working in these realms don't have girls to be their audience.

That Fuzzy Bastard said...

P.S.: While the colored plastic was shockingly popular, the one I really miss was the G4 iMac, which I still think is the best computer design ever. Being able to move the screen just a little whenever you wanted was awesome, *and* it looks like the Pixar logo!

That Fuzzy Bastard said...

And now I am kinda hooked on Cleolinda's Twilight reading, and may actually have to read the whole vast thing...

Carolyn Raship said...

I think the most interesting thing about the comment about Kunkel was his reaction to it - he went ape shit. Missing the point that it wasn't a slam on his book, but rather a comment on marketing and of perception. Which he demonstrated beautifully.

I've been thinking all day about both the ghettoization issue and the issue of gendered reading (for lack of better terminology). I don't have a problem with the marketing or the pink or the fonts so much - I think the problem is on the user end - as Ben so beautifully demonstrated. The cover and the copy don't make the book, but the ways the cover and the copy can be used or dismissed post-publication can be wearing, and continue to alienate women readers and writers from feeling as if their tastes and work have intrinsic worth. I have a lot of issues about this, and not just in terms of gender, but as you know, in terms of genre. Men who write (and more specifically - are marketed as someone who writes) genre fiction are in a similar situation. I have made peace with the fact that my beloved mystery writers of both genders will never get any real literary respect. I might even be a little bit of an extremist on this, maybe because my reading life has been so happy and enjoyable and thankfully unencumbered by any sort of boring scholarship, but so many of the lines between literary and popular and genre just seem so arbitrary and silly to me. Women buy books in enormous numbers but I think the feminine stigma of novel reading lingers. It's such an odd thing.

I've also been thinking about what you said about the similarities and differences (snowflakes!) in the reading experiences of women and I think I want to write an actual post on this because this particular landscape is so interesting to me. I should point out when I say "women" in this context, I really mean American women as I haven't the faintest idea what women in other countries and cultures read when they're growing up. But I would certainly be interested to find out.

Carolyn Raship said...

PS If you really feel you have to read the damn thing - be warned - in the 50 pages I read, nothing was objectionable from a feminist standpoint- it was just SO FREAKING BORING. But you know where you can borrow a copy.

Ms. N said...

What do young girls in other countries read, you ask? I did make the mistake of asking the pampered 17-21 year olds under my wing at LSI what they read at home and the vast majority said nothing or romance. Happy exceptions did exist, like the German girl who wanted me to recommend a good mystery novel to read in English (I put her on Nancy Drew, of course!).

I was shocked that I couldn't get any of them to admit they read manga. I thought for sure some of the Korean and Japanese girls would have, but I was mistaken.

Of course this is only 50 girls in about 6 months, but you did express interest.

Carolyn Raship said...

That's really sad re: your foreign born students. It really surprises me, actually.

Go Nancy!

DanJ said...

I read an article about Japanese comics that claimed that Japanese girls/women were into manga about gay men (including hardcore soap operas). Perhaps the students were too embarrassed too talk about it? Or the writer was wrong.

Caviglia said...

Or, as often happens, the writer of the article thought (rightly probably) that she would have an easier time selling this as a "trend" then the news bulletin that girls like books about, say, horses. I'm sure some girls do like these kind of manga but it's not like they all do, by a far cry, I am sure.

That Fuzzy Bastard said...

As we've discussed above, there's nothing that "they all" like---hell, I'm sure that somewhere is a girl who didn't like the James Herriot books (though I don't know if I've ever met her).

But yeah, in Japan, yaoi, as it's called, is sort of freakishly popular---much more than the similar Western phenomena of slash fiction. Interestingly, as the Wikipedia entry notes, this is a genre explicitly divided from manga tales of man-love aimed at gay men, which are very different in both style and content.