Monday, October 23, 2017

Twilight Reread: The Podcast, The Novel, My Brother, and The Movie

At the start of my summer reading, I mentioned my intentions for generating a very specific kind of book club: one involving my younger siblings, a podcast, and the series of novels that turned paranormal romance into a publishing genre juggernaut.

into the twilight

The idea came in the wake of a growing obsession with a podcast run by a friend from college: Into the Twilight. The podcast recaps two chapters of the book series with every episode, with our two hosts - Cody and Ally - providing modern commentary, calling out problematic (or just bad) writing, and even exploring their own relationships with the series itself. Over time, other elements, like movie reviews, online quizzes, and readings of excerpts from all-too-recently-published fan-fiction, were added to the show lineup, adding only more hilarity to what was already a pretty surreal media experience.

After listening to the series for a while, what had originally been intended as a sweet and awkward nostalgia trip through the reading material of my younger years, had actually revitalized a long-dormant interest, in one of the cringiest book series I'd ever read. I decided that after I finished all of the podcast series recaps for the first book, I would take a trip back in time myself.

back to middle school

It's truly amazing how rereading Twilight felt familiar and nostalgic, but different. More than anything, it was like opening a time capsule of my earliest preteen years. 

Here's a quick flashback to the personal significance of reading Twilight when the books were first published, in 2005: I was eleven, entering the sixth grade, and was all too aware at that point of the social damages I'd already accrued from admitting I read vampire books. I had gone through R. L. Stine's Dangerous Girls with desperate fervor, a friend had lent me a few copies of Amelia Atwater-Rhodes' various novels, and I had even tried my hand at Bram Stoker's Dracula (only to generate a compulsion to lock my windows and shut my blinds before I went to sleep every night, a habit I only managed to break in college).

It was a hobby I entertained exclusively in private... until two years later, in 2007, when suddenly, Team Edward fever swept through our middle school with such ferocity, you'd think the local high school was playing Forks HS for Homecoming. Eclipse - the third in the series - was published that year, and previews would soon be running for the Twilight movie, premiering the following November. Vampires were now in vogue, for the teenage set.

The same kids who though me strange before, now considered themselves to be ahead of the trend, with this hot new reading material. The books I had originally embraced for their genre, I abandoned with just as much feeling. In my mind, they weren't really vampire novels at all, because if they had been, then why was everyone else reading them?

I felt just as embarrassed about Twilight at 23, as I did at 13. Instead of taking the book anywhere in public, I read it on a camping trip.

my brother joins in

After I was done  - and still reeling from the resulting time warp - I handed the book off to my baby brother, Beau, who, even at fifteen-turning-sixteen, has a tendency to ride on the same reading wavelength as me. It's one of the reasons I was so interested in seeing his reaction to the book: with similar tastes, and differing history, what would he think of this teen lit phenomena?

What I hadn't accounted for, was the factor of something akin to socialized expectation. His understanding of its story was generated from an outside-in standpoint, rather than one that went inside-out: he grew up knowing of and observing Twilight's background and cultural collateral, he was raised seeing its wider impact and subsequent backlash firsthand, long before he knew its plot or characters well enough to decide for himself.

It's one of many reasons why the book, to him, was absolutely hilarious.

Because of this element of previous cultural engagement, for him, the novel ran closer to satire, brimming with unintentional irony and meta-humor constructed not from the objective nature of the text itself, but of his already-developed understanding, of what the text generated in mainstream culture, from its original popularity to pretty much a decade after its publication. When he read the book, he wasn't interacting with the text first: he had to wade through twelve years of pop cultural understanding, before he even had the chance to get to the simplistic YA romance of a girl and a vampire.

But even when he managed to - when he set all of those preconceptions of the novel, and its miscellaneous media extremities, aside - he still ended up really liking it. So, of course, we had to watch the movie.

kristen, robert, and my sister, delaney

One of my younger sisters, Delaney, is a movie buff, and a Twilight fanatic.

She watches all of the movies on a somewhat annual basis. An "Edward + Bella = Forever" tee shirt we found in the XXL women's section of a Value Village a couple of years ago, is a regular staple in her wardrobe. She near-exclusively drinks Rainier beer, because that's what Charlie Swan drinks in the movies, and when she had an opportunity to meet Billy Burke - who plays the character - it was one of the first things she told him. The photos of this exchange are currently her pinned tweet on Twitter.

You'd think she'd have been a super-fan since Twilight first hit teen bookshelves everywhere, but that's not necessarily the case. She saw the first movie, loved it, read all the books in one go, and saw the rest of the movies in theaters... but the real hype didn't actually kick in until years later, in college.

She demanded to be able to watch the movie with us, while on vacation towards the end of summer.

bella, edward, and the family

For Beau, it was his first time watching the whole way through; for Delaney, she was so well-acquainted with the material that she interacted with the television in a pseudo-Rocky Horror manner, calling out phrases that interacted with on-screen activity, or quoting lines alongside some of her favorite characters. The jokes made it clear that while this was one of her favorite franchises, even she knew that it was not above criticism or comedy. If anything, her enjoyment of the movie was, in some ways, constructed around the fact that it was more than a little ridiculous.

I'd forgotten a lot about how this movie interprets the plot, and even found elements of the novel absent from the movie that I was surprised I missed, like some of my favorite lines (for instance, the scene where Bella pressures Edward into eating a slice of pizza in the school cafeteria, which contains one of my favorite pieces of dialogue in the whole series).

There were aspects of the movie's construction that threw me off, too, yet seemed so emblematic of the franchise as a whole that I can't believe I forgot them: the strange blue color filtration, the intensity of close-up camera angles, and the prevalence of great music covering up otherwise completely silent scenes. The fact that the movie soundtrack was so much better than I had ever given it credit for, was just something I had never paid that much attention to, until Ally and Cody made frequent mention of it on the podcast.

By the time the credits rolled, my brother had already given his initial verdict: "When I was reading the book, I didn't imagine them just... staring... quite so much."

my baby brother writes a review

After about a month of simmering, and a return to scholastic reading with the advent of the new school year, I asked Beau again what his overall thoughts were, not just of the book, but also of the movie, and of our family's coveting of both.
"Overall, reading and watching Twilight was a blast, though it should not be said that these books are objectively good. In my opinion, these books are bad, but this faultiness is one of the reasons I love it.  
I have grown up around three different sisters who have all individually read this series and over time I have obtained a small portion of understanding of what this series was about: a girl named Bella meets hot vampire dude, and romantic adventures ensue.  
However, this limited foresight is what allowed me to truly enjoy this book. A vague and warped understanding of the plot, caused me to know what to expect ahead of time, but also allowed me to appreciate some of the features of the story more.  
Twilight, the book, is filled to the brim with classic cheesy scenes, many of which made me laugh. The movie is very similar, with the addition of strange acting choices. Sadly, the movie also loses some so-bad-it's-good lines and moments along the way, to shorten up its run time (Though, as previously stated, it is a great time with good friends).  
In conclusion, Twilight was a fun read and I am glad I read it. It is a much more hilarious book if you don't take it too seriously. One thing for sure, is that I’m planning on finishing the series.

rereading New Moon

Now, I'm finishing up the last couple of podcast episodes covering New Moon. My brother is impatient to get to read it as well, with absolutely no shame in carrying it to school as a proud sophomore high school student, exhibiting more self-confidence than I ever had in my first readings of these novels.

In that way, it's been an interesting experience exploring what this franchise means to each of us. For me, it was a source of preteen shame, that lost all fun once swept up in the crowd; now that I've been able to let go of some of that social anxiety, I've can enjoy the book for what it is. My sister was a part of the initial craze, but found she could love it more once the rest of the frenzy had already past. My brother grew up in the "post-Twilight" pop culture experience, and the books are more fun for him now than they probably would have ever been, had he been a part of the initial phenomenon.

While there are still plenty of issues with the books as a whole, there's one element of their popularity I've always found necessary to highlight: this series got people reading. However, the power of this statement doesn't come from the idea that lots of people were reading these specific books, but that these specific books were being read by a diverse and multi-faceted population of people. 

From a variety of backgrounds and life experiences, ages, genders, sexualities, careers, and other forms of social divide, a whole lot of us read this book. If my sister, brother, and I could all come from different ways of thinking, and enjoy something as silly as a YA vampire romance together, then who's to say what it might mean to other people, too?

When was the first time you read Twilight? Would you think about rereading it now? Let me know, in the comments below!

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