Today at the New York Times Gail Collins reflects on a series of novels for teenage girls called The Twilight Saga:
I read the first two Twilights, searching for the key to their success. (This is where the part about being not all that deep comes in handy.) The attraction is clearly the vampire hero, who is a perfect gentleman, eternally faithful and — as the author points out repeatedly — quite a hunk. (“He lay perfectly still in the grass, his shirt open over his sculpted, incandescent chest, his scintillating arms bare … A perfect statue, carved in some unknown stone, smooth like marble, glittering like crystal.”)
Before you make fun of this, I want you to seriously consider whether you’re interested in denigrating people who spend their leisure time actually reading books rather than watching “America’s Got Talent.”
A lot of times Collins makes me grimace. I mean, just how long can one write for the New York Times and maintain the naive midwestern outsider pose. On the other hand, this essay made me howl. And she raises the interesting point that N+1 dismissed a couple of years back in its own analysis of our reading crises. According to N+1 we’ve been so obsessed with the reading crisis that we’re just thrilled people read anything at all, and they go on in good, and dare I say it snobby and Ivy-educated fashion, to dismiss the readerly pleasures of the hoi-polloi.
Still, I think Collins has a point. The choice isn’t between the Twilight novels and Herman Melville, the choice is between Harry Potter and I Survived a Japanese Game show. Given this choice, I’m glad my daughter chooses the Twilight novels–or their ilk.
(Side note: A friend of mine who used to work regularly in Japan says Japanese regularly gather in parks to ridicule and laugh at American tourists. Why do we even need a game show to accomodate them?)
Of course, I still hold out desperate hope that she’ll choose Melville or Shakespeare or Austen or Chopin or just anything that might get anthologized rather than forgotten. But even if this hope is not delivered on, I still think there’s something better about having her read several ten thousands of words and exercise her imagination on the page than spend her time watching people consume cockroaches in the name of entertainment.