Are you what you read?

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Are you defined by what you read?  If you enjoy King, are you a slightly deranged person longing to live in Maine? If you’re a Potter fan, do you run around on a broomstick hoping it will take off? If fantasy is your thing, do you surgically have your ears altered so they look like pointy elf ears? Well…I have seen some people go to that extreme (seriously…Body mod: elf ears. Don’t try this at home, mmm’kay kids?), but I think they are in the minority.

You read for entertainment or enjoyment or to educate yourself. So why do so many women get crap for enjoying books like Twilight? Do people think these readers are going to file their teeth to points or cover themselves with raw meat on a full moon and go walking in a wolf populated area? I doubt it, but what I seem to be hearing is that people think women (we’re talking those out of their teens or early 20s) are weak and anti-feminists if they enjoy YA novels like Twilight or Hush, Hush. 

“How can you enjoy Twilight when Bella is such a horrible role model for young girls?”
“How can you stomach reading Hush, Hush when it condones the stalking of Nora by Patch?!”

How can I, you ask? Simple. It’s called not taking fiction for fact. It’s called entertainment. It’s called understanding it’s just a story and knowing that if such a thing happened in real life, it would be a problem.

I hold an undergrad degree in Comparative Literature and Languages. I spent a lot of time dissecting “classic” works of literature like Faust and Crime and Punishment and Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.  When I read for entertainment purposes, I’m not digging into the story to find “hidden” meanings. Does that mean I don’t see them? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. I do think Bella is an awful role model for young girls (ladies, you definitely don’t need a man to survive), and yeah I do feel bad for Nora that no one takes her seriously when she wants to get away from Patch in the beginning, but I get it’s just a story. I think it’s important to stress to young readers the difference between fiction and real life. Use these stories to teach teens why they shouldn’t act like that character or what they should do if they’re in a situation like Nora was.

But I digress slightly. To get back on topic, here’s my take on why Twilight-esque books appeal to a slightly older crowd of women. I think there are a lot of under appreciated wives and girlfriends out there. They work hard in their careers and with their families and maybe don’t get all the thanks they deserve. We all lead very busy lives and occasionally those kinds of things can fall by the way side. Sad, but true as I’ve seen it happen to friends. Also, there are a lot of single women (The dating scene is rough folks. Consider yourselves lucky if you have someone…) and many don’t see themselves to be as beautiful as they really are, so they feel they can relate to the typical plain Jane heroine.  As a plain Jane myself, I can totally understand the appeal of delving into a story where one or two incredibly good looking guys vie for the attention of the shy maybe a little homely girl who is trying to blend into the background. It’s fantasy. It’s escapism.  It gives them a chance to get away, if only briefly, from the life where they are neglected or lonely. With the headless cover model trend that was going on in YA recently, it’s even easier for the reader to imagine herself in the heroine’s place. 

There’s nothing wrong with being a fan of such stories so long as fan doesn’t turn into fanatic. It doesn’t make one against women and their movement to be equals, it doesn’t make one weak, it doesn’t make them immature or unintelligent. It makes them human and wanting to forget their problems for a short period of time and heck, it keeps the brain working to imagine themselves in the story, better than just mindlessly watching television.  Escapism with a book is a much better option than escapism with an illicit substance or worse.

So next time you see a women in the coffee shop or on the train reading a YA novel, don’t snicker and think badly of her. Instead, try to catch a glimpse of the blurb on the back cover and see what the story is about. Maybe it will make a good escape for you in the future.

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7 responses »

  1. You raise some good points – and I certainly can't argue against reading for escapism. Most of my reading is for that purpose. I love getting into a good story. I think my main problem with Twilight, though, is the godawful writing. I have tried to read it, but couldn't get past how bad it was (at least in my opinion). I'm very much a fan of YA novels, including the whole Harry Potter series and such, but Twilight? No thanks.

  2. It's definitely not award winning writing, but I've actually read worse. I normally try to push through and finish something anyhow, and I didn't feel like I really had to force myself with Twilight that I have with some other books! 0.o

  3. You bring up some very good points. And it's silly really to judge what others are reading… although I do admit, if I'm sitting on a bus, I try and scope out what everyone is reading.

    And obviously readers don't have to agree with what they are reading. A historian can read Mein Kampf and not agree with what's said – same with fiction.

    I do think Twilight's whole appeal is the escapism… and I'd much rather young kids or adults read twilight than watch television. So in that sense, I love Twilight because it made kids watch television less.

  4. Very true. I'm for anything that gets kids/teens/whomever reading, whether it's novels, manga, Marvel comics, Mad magazines, whatever!

    The movies do help to an extent as well. By leaving a year between them, some of the fans can't stand the wait and will go out and buy the books so they can find out what happens. I loooove when that happens!

  5. Many good points! I was an English Lit major and an English Ed major (Master's), and people were so quick to judge what I was reading on my own time. I figured when I read for fun, I don't want to work that hard at it.

    Frankly, I love the Twilight books. No, the writing isn't as eloquent as many other books. However, the story is fun (at least to me).

  6. I understand that completely. It's nice not to have to worry about writing a paper on what I read or keeping a diagram of character names and relationships (Russian lit is notorious for calling characters by different names. Silly people with 3 names! :P)

  7. I read anything i want to and care little for what people may draw from that. My main choice of fiction for many years has been crime thrillers until very recently when I thought that a broader reading experience could only enhance my writing, so now I'm also loving the chick-lit and am reading lots.

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