Monday, June 14, 2010

This Is Not Your Father's Nosferatu, or, How I Came to Love the Twinkling Undead

At the beginning of this season's "Dr. Who," I watched the first episode with a neighbor and her friend, we'll call her Jocelyn. Jocelyn was funny, acerbic, and refreshingly different. We shared a nerdy love of SciFi and related nerd genres; at one point, she turned to me and blurted out, "Angel or Spike?"

I made a face. "Spike. Duh."

She high-fived me. "I like her," she said to my neighbor.

So a couple of weeks ago I went out with the neighbor and a couple of other women to a drive-in. Jocelyn was out of state attending a nephew's high-school graduation.

"Oh," said my neighbor. "Jocelyn gave me some books to lend you. I guess you two talked about them."

I couldn't remember this. "Books? Really? What books?"

"Some vampire books."

I remember discussing the Interview With a Vampire books, but she knew I'd read them. I couldn't for the life of me recall showing an interest in any books that would motivate her to lend me any.

"They're in a bag in the back seat."

I took the bag an opened it. Inside were two books. 

The first two books of the Twilight saga.

No. Oh no.

I'd just met someone I thought I could really see as a fun friend, and she thought I'd read these? What was she thinking? Then the next thought: I didn't want to offend her. Crap. What would I do? Teenage vampire romance?!?!? Did I look like a 13-year-old girl? My 13-year old intern at my old job had loved the books, and I was glad she liked to read, and never discouraged her, but told her they weren't for me. I let her talk about the books, but her adolescent ardor for the star of the movies was not really a motivation for me to pick them up. If my impression of the books was of teenage pap gone amok, the bubble-gum magazine pin-ups in the intern's cubicle did nothing to counteract it.

My face must have read what I was thinking, because my neighbor said, "You don't have to read them. Jut say you couldn't get through them. She won't mind."

Recovering, I said, "No, that's OK. I can give them a try." Privately, I decided I'd read a chapter or two and then tell Jocelyn honestly that they weren't for me.

The books sat in my house for a week, untouched. I didn't even take them out of the bag. When the craze had hit, I was as uninterested as I could be. I sneered. I called it "Vampire 90210." I was sick of the pervasive Cult of the Teenager. I was offended at the notion that vampires had been repackaged as some sort of Teen Angst figures. They didn't DIE in the SUN? They TWINKLED? TWINKLED?!?!? What kind of heretical convenience was that? It was BS; that's what it was. A typical example of how young people today can't deal with boundaries. And I refused categorically to buy into it.

One evening I decided it was time to read my obligatory chapter that would allow me to honestly say I'd tried. Embarrassed at even holding the first book, I sat down and began to read.

Three hours later I had to force myself to go to bed.

I finished the book the next evening and began the second one. I finished that the following day. And I learned a lesson I should have learned by now: don't judge something by anything other than itself. I'd judged these books by their young fan base, by the mania over the teens who played in the movie and yes, perversely, I'd judged the books by their popularity ("If they are this widely appealing, they must be lowest-common-denominator.")

What I'd not realized is that these books are popular for the simple fact that they are really compelling to read. They are light, fast reads, but the writing is solid, the story complex, and the characters engrossing. I loved everything about the world this author has created.

And yes, the central romance is ... well, romantic. Whether you're a teenager or an adult, do you really ever stop hoping that someday you'll meet someone who loves you so devotedly that he puts your happiness and well-being before his own? Who can be trusted completely to be mature and loving and protective, and sexy as hell? Who will always have your back? Yes, yes, yes, it's a fiction, a fantasy, but I live every day in reality and I can tell you I need a break from it sometimes. In my experience, "I love you" means "You're the one I've decided to take for granted more than anyone else." It's a nice change to have "I Love You" mean, "Your happiness is inseparable from my own, so I'll deny my most basic urges (in this case, drinking your blood and killing you) and dedicate my life to making you happy and safe."  

I was still too embarrassed to admit I was reading them, much less admit I was loving the books, so I kept my shame to myself. I read only in my house. I needed book three, Eclipse, though, and I needed it fast. On the train in to work, I saw a woman my age reading, and I realized what a pretentious ninny I was being. Since when did I care what people thought? Still, after work I went to Borders and furtively looked for the books, doing a search on the in-store computer while blocking the screen. I had to go to Young Adult, carefully avoiding salespeople (I confess I was prepared to tell them I was getting a birthday present for my niece).

I found the books, grabbed Eclipse.

It felt uncomfortably like the first time I had to buy a box of sanitary napkins at the age of twelve.

I walked to the register. Do or die time. Face it, JC. Face it head on.

"I can help you over here," called out a young man at a register.

I marched to face him. "You can help me, BUT--" I tossed the book onto the counter -- "will you sneer at me?"

He stared at the book, his mouth open, and then quickly regained his composure. "No," he stammered, clearly putting a lot of effort into keeping his voice neutral, "these are very"

"Yes, I know, among teenage girls. And I've sneered at these for years now, and you know what? I'm addicted to them like crack. CRACK. And I know what you're thinking, because I've thought it too, and nobody could convince me otherwise. But trust me; these are way better than snobs like me gave them credit for."

"No, I see lots of----" he stopped, stuck, then continued, "people --your age-- reading these."

"I know what you're reeeeeally thinking," I said, again, torturing him some more, because he was very cute and clearly uncomfortable, and as long as he was uncomfortable, the focus was diverted and I didn't have to admit to myself that I had a crush on a fictional vampire in the body of a teenage boy. "I forgive you. And I'll be back in a couple of days for the final book." I smiled.

He was very nice, and gave me my Borders discount.

I gave him a final ironic smile as I put the book in my bag. I leaned over the counter. "Like. CRACK." I said, and left.

By Friday I was ready for Book Four, Breaking Dawn, the final book. I was back at Borders, bee-lining it to the Young Adult section. It was still only available in hardcover. I rarely buy hardcover, because I take my books everywhere and hardcover is not very portable. 

I didn't care. I'd have bought it if it were carved into stone tablets. I hefted the large hardcover, paid for it, and read 70 pages by the time my train got to its stop.

I spent most of the weekend reading it, pacing myself so as to prolong the story and savor the experience. On one hand, I wanted to know how it ended; on the other, I didn't want it to end. Finally, on Sunday, I just parked myself in the evening and read until I'd finished it at 1am.

And yes, the ending was fantastic. 

After a week of being immersed in that world, it feels odd not to be there anymore. I loved that world, and I loved the characters, and will truly miss them.

I'd come clean to my best friend and to my coworkers and others, some of who persisted in rolling their eyes at me. Penance for my years of behaving the same way, I suppose. Today, though, one of my coworkers told me she'd gotten the first two books on my suggestion, and when she'd started reading she didn't stop until four hours later. They do that to you. I'm bringing Book Three in tomorrow for her.

A neighbor invited me to watch the first two movies on Netflix, and I think I will, but I'm concerned: the trailers I've seen on YouTube don't fit with what I've read. Edward is supposed to be impossibly beautiful, and his voice is consistently described as velvety, musical. The Edward I heard on the trailers sounds like he's going to be an accountant when he grows up. And while he has a certain offbeat physical appeal, I can't say he'd be my choice.

My neighbor tells me that her teenage stepdaughter was incensed at the first movie, claiming that they got the first kiss all wrong. It's stuff like that I'm not sure I want to see. The books are absolutely engaging, but the movies....hmmm. Still, I'm learning not to prejudge.



SP said...


JC said...

I might be with you. I saw a few more trailers, and Edward comes across as a mopey EMO addict. In the book, when he's not saving someone's life, he;s actually pretty content, in an intense way. He chuckles a lot.