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No Twilight for Reading

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Eight English teachers, surrounded by hundreds of teenagers, stand in line behind velvet ropes. Everyone wears black, sporting t-shirts bearing slogans like, “And so the lion fell in love with the lamb,” and “Edward prefers brunettes.” Two girls, in matching Cullen Crest jackets, snap pictures of the crowd with their cell phones.

When the theater doors finally open, my friend Jennifer, the head of her high school English department, zigzags forcefully through the crowd and secures us a row of seats. More than one group of girls eyes us with bemused expressions, but for tonight, we are united in a common purpose—to see the movie adaptation of Twilight, Stephenie Meyer’s hit book about a small town girl and the vampire boy she loves.

The movie begins and the crowd silences. Except for the predictable squeals when Robert Pattison, the teen-heartthrob who plays vampire Edward Cullen, first appears on screen, the theater full of teenage girls remains remarkably quiet and attentive. They are engrossed with the movie, and I become increasingly interested in watching them—a packed theater of adolescents who are not just obsessed movie fans—they are obsessed readers. Most have read the entire Twilight series, almost 2,000 pages of text.

Risking instant scorn, I must admit that I do not think the Twilight books are that well-written. The books are too long, too indulgent, and I find the protagonist, Bella Swan, a bit of a whiner. In spite of endless comparisons in the books, Bella is no Cathy and Edward is no Heathcliff. I wonder, though, how many girls picked up a copy of Wuthering Heights this year and read it because Bella did.

There has been a lot of flack about Twilight in schools and homes. The books’ content—full of vampires and werewolves—is considered inappropriate reading material by some. The latent sexuality in the books causes parental concern, too, although I could point out that Edward is a boy who actually values his girlfriend’s virtue—the couple waits until marriage to consummate their relationship.

Say what you will about Twilight, I have not seen so many kids cart around 500 page tomes since Harry Potter. If we want to encourage students to read, we must validate some of their less-than highbrow reading choices when they do. Hopefully, due to the popularity of event-books like Harry Potter and Twilight, this generation sees reading as part of their culture—right alongside Guitar Hero and Facebook.

Interesting isn’t it, that we decry the pitiful amount of books most teenagers read and then question their choices when they do read? Looking at the New York Times bestseller list, adult readers choose authors like James Patterson and Janet Evanovich, not the Brontes. It seems we denounce the pop-culture books our teens read by day, and go home to read the same type of books ourselves.

Back in the darkened theater, the movie ends and the surging crowd carries us outside. My new Twilight comrades, the throngs of teens who surround me, chatter away—discussing the movie and their impressions of it. I found the movie more campy than scary—and what's up with Jasper’s catatonic stare? I can’t help but smile to myself, though, when I pass a group of girls debating their favorite book and how the filmmakers, “Just didn’t get it.” Teenagers arguing the merits of a book on a Friday night—how can we not celebrate that?

14 Comments

Donalyn, my friend, you nailed it! I get so tired of hearing people denounce this book simply because of the subject matter. When I am having intelligent conversations with my students about character, plot, symbolism, and theme, I couldn't care less about the fact that we are discussing vampires, werewolves, and love struck teens!

I will do whatever it takes to show my students that I honor their choices when it comes to reading. I am a 41-year-old English teacher and I will be the first to admit my tshirt slogan that night - "I KISSED A VAMPIRE AND I LIKED IT!"

(Longtime reader, first-time commenter)

I work at a bookstore and when we had our release party for the last book, I was amazed by what the girls who came in to shop told us. Apparently, they were expecting us to make fun of or ignore them because of their reading Twilight; they said that another bookstore in our town had basically refused to do anything for the release and routinely blew off their requests for similar books. What a waste! Needless to say, we all jumped on the opportunity and most of the girls walked away with not only their copy of Breaking Dawn but also three or four books we'd helped them find that they were super-excited about.

Now, I agree with you: if they're reading, I'm happy. But more than that--if they're reading Twilight, that's a bridge to all kinds of stuff! Do they like the vampires? Hello, Dracula and Anne Rice! Do they like the fantasy elements more? Golden Compass and lots of others. Twilight has debatable literary merit, but as an introduction to reading for pleasure, it's a great jumping-off point.

I am currently in school earning my teaching certificate. I would like to be a secondary language arts teacher. As I read your post, I couldn't help but reflect upon my teenage years. I went wild over V.C. Andrews and Francine Pascal - authors of fluffy teenie bopper books. This got me into good reading habits. I am now in my 30's and I am now catching up on all the classics I did not read in my high school and undergrad literature classes. . . because I want to!

Sara - great thought on books like Twilight being a starting point for classic literature.

I love talking to my students about books. My classroom library is "the" place to be for students in my school, even those who have never before enjoyed reading.

Yes, this book has been the subject of many discussions in my classroom during class, lunch, after school, etc...I love just the dialogue about plot, theme, characters that so many students are currently engaging in as a result of their enthusiasm for these books.

But I must admit, I truly hated them, and the stigma associated with being someone who didn't like the series is baffling.

I wrote a review of the series on my website, www.tweenteacher.com which met with some interesting results. Although the site is my opinions, although I clearly love the genre and I love the discussion, I received death threats, my car being keyed, I was accused of being a virgin with no love with 20 cats, 80 years old and bitter.

It's been an interesting journey in blogging. I love so many tweens being passionate about reading, and I deeply believe that even a bad book read is better than one left on the shelves to gather dust, but some of those who commented don't realize that my love of literature drives me to read and review. I just don't necessarily love everything I read. I shared some of the commented posts with my own students and we discussed what true literary analysis is and how to get someone to listen to your opinions. Perhaps it will even drive some Persuasive Essay lessons. Well, everything's a learning opportunity.

I teach in a middle school (grades 5-8) and have been asked by our school librarian about placing the Twilight books in our school library. We are in a super-religious, ultra-conservative community, and I know the controversy that can arise if these books fall into the wrong hands. I have the books in my 7th/8th grade classroom library; however, students must have parental permission to check them out. Our school library has a self-check out procedure where here is no adult or librarian guidance in checking out books; I am concerned about someof the younger kids (5th / 6th grade) checking them out. I realize that in this day of super-communication and the internet that kids are exposed toso much more at an very early age, but I also respect the parents who try to keep their kids "kids" a bit longer and not have them exposed to all the ways of the world at such an early age. Many of our younger students still have a problem separating reality fom fiction; I realize the brighter kids have no problem with this, but am I wrong for trying to protect those who do? I have never censored anything in my life--I've tried to make judgment calls and steered some kids away from some books until they are older, but I do not believe in censorship--good judgment, yes. I can remember when I was in 2nd / 3rd grade watching such silly movies as The Three Stooges Meet Dracula, or some such nonsense (my parents loved the Three Stooges and we went to every movie), but even at that age I knew that Dracula was not real. My friends and cousins and I even acted out many of the Three Stooges movies, carefully choregraphing the stupid fight scenes (we knew better than to actually poke each other in the eye or whatever) and performed the scenes for our parents at family gatherings. (In today's society, our parents would probably be arrested for child abuse or neglect!) Today, there is very little parental guidance and kids often get wrong ideas from what they read, hear, and view. Am I wrong for suggesting that we keep the Twilight books off the school library shelves since they oculd fall into the hands of the 5th & 6th graders?

My apologies. I just read what I posted (and accidentally posted twice) and realize I didn't preview it. I'll blame it on the stomach flu affecting my brain--I'm home from school today--sick--and never should have posted without previewing. Is there anyway I can edit it now?

I teach 5th grade English in a religious school. I have four or five copies of each book in the series except "Breaking Dawn," and I can't keep them on the shelf. Boys and girls are reading them non-stop and eagerly await for books to be finished, so they can read them next. While I do agree there is some adult content in the books, I do not think there is anything in them that is inappropriate. As for the final book in the series, I do require a phone or parent conference to discuss the book before allowing the student to read the book. Most parents have told their child they have to wait, but I did have one parent allow the child to read it. If a parent has a concern about any of the books, I listen and give my insight. In the end, it is up to the parents if they want their child to read the book or not. My favorite phenomena of this series is the parents reading the books with their children; it is a great way to spend time and connect! The students constantly discuss the book, which is what I want them to do. So I say let them read!

Thanks for your input. I realize that the minute you say "No, you can't read that" that the book becomes extremely enticing and the kids will do almost anything to get their hands on it to find out what is forbidden. I just wish our library weren't quite so technologically advanced at this moment--I can just imagine the controversy that would arise if this book would fall into the hands of the wrong parents (been there, done that already--complete with school board inquiry). These are the parents who would not let their kids read Harry Potter. If there were some way of monitoring who checks out the book instead of the computerized self-check out system, I'd feel more comfortable. The conundrum is this community is so hypocritical -- often the very ones who throw such a "religious" fit are the same people who, Monday through Saturday, don't want to be bothered with their kids because they are out drinking and drugging and philandering. If they would spend some quality time with their kids and occasionally discuss a book with their kids, they would be much the better person--that kid they drop off at school at 6:30 in the morning has a wonderful mind and would love to discuss something they are interested in with their parents. I realize I'm rambling, but I'm just trying to examine all parts of this situation.

I'm so glad to read that someone else finds Bella to be a bit of a whiny baby. I've read two of the books and she just drives me crazy. . . but books that get kids to read, think and discuss, I'm all for that.

Having a library that is technologically advanced can be a negative and positive. Our library is geared more for lower school students, so I have spent a lot of time and some money creating an extensive classroom library. Many of my books I get from Scholastic with free points that I earned when my students ordered books. I also accept donations from students when they finish a book. I put in a short little note telling who donated it and when. This way the students have ownership and pride in the library. Other teachers are encouraged by this trend and are starting classroom libraries of their own.

Amen! I teach 6th grade language arts and was turned onto the series by one of my students at the start of the school year. It didn't take long to see more and more of the kids carting around Twilight. Now, I have had a few boys asking for my copies.

The other day, I looked on a discussion board I use with my students and saw that one of the girls had posted a question about preferring the movie or the book. I was amazed to "listen" into my kids' conversation about literature!

Thanks for the post!

I see so much in your comments that have echoed my own feelings. I'm old enough to remember the R.L. Stine series and the fury caused. There's always the dilemna of "reading anything is good" versus "reading quality is what really matters." I have read Twilight, and I completely agree that the quality is not there. Plot/action are foremost; characterization, subtlety, and inference are secondary. Bella focuses almost entirely (sometimes it seems almost every other sentence) on her "unnatural" attraction to Edward, and both of them flit between ecstasy and depression in a dizzying swirl of teenage angst.
I fully admit that to the average eighth grade reader, this seems perfectly on target; but, to someone of my many years, I grow impatient with the mood shifts, and I struggle to find the "quality" of writing that I would want for my students.
However, I also rejoice in student reading . . . at any cost! I think it's fantastic that students choose to sneak a peak at the next chapter while I'm trying to draw their attention to adverb clauses (not to say that I don't force them back on the target of my lesson!!)
I think my main goal is to try to use quality writing in my classroom as example and goal, and at the same time, celebrate reading in its many multi-faceted, individual pursuits outside the classroom. My copy of Twilight belongs to one of my students which she asked me to read, and she has now offered the second book. I may be one of the few people who have read Moby Dick twice(and enjoyed it!), but I also can sit down with contemporary writers and enjoy the experience or check out the latest articles in my women's magazines. I think that because I was given that freedom of choice at an early age, I developed a LOVE of READING itself, and that love led me to read all sorts of things (and eventually become an English major)!
Our main goal is to make lifelong readers, isn't it?

Over this past summer, I did indulge in reading the Twilight series. I was enthralled the first time through. Then I started seeing a lot of out topics in a forum in an communtiy site that were against the series. At first, I couldn't see it. Then I went back and started to reread the first book (a professor of mine, N. Carder, says anything worth reading is worth reading more than once). I got about half way through and had to stop. The character of Bella was labelled as being a Mary Sue in those forums I mentioned earlier. A Mary Sue being a female character with very little depth, they tend to be very whiny and Dependent. Edward was labeled as being abusive. I could not believe what I was reading at first, but when I reread the thing... I was shocked.
Aside from the unforunate characters, the books themselves do have at least one redeeming quality. How many copies have sold? All those young people (teens, preteens, young adults, adults, etc.) are reading them; sharing with their friends. In an age where television and video games rule the entertainment, this alone is pretty amazing.

Over this past summer, I did indulge in reading the Twilight series. I was enthralled the first time through. Then I started seeing a lot of out topics in a forum in an communtiy site that were against the series. At first, I couldn't see it. Then I went back and started to reread the first book (a professor of mine, N. Carder, says anything worth reading is worth reading more than once). I got about half way through and had to stop. The character of Bella was labelled as being a Mary Sue in those forums I mentioned earlier. A Mary Sue being a female character with very little depth, they tend to be very whiny and Dependent. Edward was labeled as being abusive. I could not believe what I was reading at first, but when I reread the thing... I was shocked.
Aside from the unforunate characters, the books themselves do have at least one redeeming quality. How many copies have sold? All those young people (teens, preteens, young adults, adults, etc.) are reading them; sharing with their friends. In an age where television and video games rule the entertainment, this alone is pretty amazing.

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