I first read Twilight in December of 2007, when it was just on the upswing, but before it became a proper phenomenon. I was 26, in Florida for Christmas to visit family, away from my then-boyfriend now-husband (who was my boyfriend of 9 years at the time), and for the past several years Christmas-time had been when I was at my most emotionally vulnerable. My husband would disappear to visit his family, where the internet is slow (meaning infrequent emails from him) and he would stay up until all hours playing video games with his brother, having what sounded like a right magical time to me, while I was with my family, whom I love very much and can stand individually for long periods of time but all together, three days is about my max. I was in Florida which now counts as far from home, I had a sinus infection (which was actually an infected wisdom tooth but I didn’t find that out until January), my sister had just gotten engaged (to her then-fiance now-husband, whom she had been dating for only a little over two years before they got engaged, which seemed like not a very long time to me) in August, so this was the first time all of our family was seeing her since then, and I was feeling supremely lonely and overlooked.
I picked Twilight up at Target just before we left for Florida. I started reading it on the way down. (I think I flew but I’m not 100% on that. All of my trips to Florida kind of turn into a swirly mess in my head, Christmases combined with summers, a few Easters thrown in, because the weather is about the same most of the year.) I was sucked in pretty much right away. Bella Swan and I were practically twins. She had dark hair. I have dark hair. She was clumsy. I was clumsy. She had moved in with her dad and started attending a high school in a very small town. I had moved away from my family and boyfriend and taught at a high school in a very small town. She had a boyfriend who was a vampire. I had a boyfriend who wanted to be a vampire.
I can’t remember how I felt about the sparkling at the time. I want to say I thought it was stupid but it’s entirely possible I thought it sounded very pretty. (I was supremely disappointed with the execution of that in the film, by the way.)
I ate it up. I’m pretty sure I sang its praises to my husband. I think I was all, “There’s this book, and the vampire says such pretty things, and it makes me think of you…” (Let’s not leave aside the fact that Bella had never had a boyfriend before Edward. Because the fact that she was having her first real relationship at 17 also parallels my life. And probably the lives of many more people than would actually admit it.)
I finished the book while I was still in Florida, I think. It was a vacation read. I came back to the real world (i. e., not Christmas in Florida) and forgot about Twilight, mostly. Then it started really becoming a thing and my students started talking about it. I had two that were very critical of it, and the more I listened to them, the more I realized that all of their criticisms were spot on. I started to feel ashamed for having enjoyed it so thoroughly.
I recently re-read Twilight for my Young Adult Literature class. This time I went in looking to examine exactly why I’d had so much fun with it the first time. For a while, I couldn’t figure it out. The prose didn’t impress me. I’m thoroughly tired of teenagers in books taking care of their incompetent divorced/widowed parents. The last time I found that charming was when I was watching Blossom. Edward’s behavior was mostly irritating.
But then I got to the sex-scenes-that-are-not. If you’ve read it, you know what I mean. The ones where lots of pretty words are said, but no touching happens. And I realized that those scenes were the ones that really got me the first time through, and that they have exactly the same power, even now. Sad. Embarrassing. I realized during this reading of it, though, that Edward is not only creepy, but also extremely patronizing. And that if I had a boyfriend who treated me the way he treats Bella (i. e., like a child) I would dump him posthaste. I think even if he were really pretty and made me feel very special. Because there are few things that bother me more than being patronized.
All of my problems with Twilight in terms of plausibility can be summed up by saying it reads like a fanfic – a fanfic I wrote in the Buffy universe, and one lots of other people have written, too. The Cullens accept Bella so readily, which I thought was ridiculous. (In fact, I think Rosalie is the most reasonable of them.) Vampires should not go to high school; I don’t care if it means they can stay in one place longer that way. As they’re undead, I’m pretty sure truancy officers aren’t going to come after them. Why anyone would go to high school more than once I can’t imagine. (And I actually had a pretty good time in high school.) And then, there’s some parts of vampire lore that are really sacred to me which Stephanie Meyer completely threw out the window, and others she fails to mention entirely.
Recently, I also started to object to the fact that Edward is just creepy, and it frightens me that this is the ideal man in the minds of many girls and women. But yesterday I had to start re-examining this objection, because my perfect man imprint in fiction is The Phantom of the Opera, and he’s really way creepier than Edward. He kills people a lot, he sings at Christine from behind a mirror – which means he’s probably been watching her dress and undress, he kidnaps her, he sends threatening notes to all sorts of people. So. What makes the Phantom different than Edward? Well, he’s smarter. Edward didn’t design an elaborate system of traps and such under an opera house. Also he’s not actually pretty. Which I think really is part of his appeal. Edward feels like he’s a monster because he kind of wants to eat people; Erik, however, looks like a monster but, in the strictest and least psychological of terms, is not one. Why am I not scared that people will actually hope deformed men will start watching them in mirrors and stealing them away in the same way I’m afraid women will think the ideal boyfriend is a patronizing stalker who looks like he’s going to throw up every time he talks to you? I think the distance in time is what does it for me. Erik doesn’t look seventeen. He doesn’t go to high school. He doesn’t feel like a person you might really run into who’s just, you know, a vampire, but otherwise “normal.”
So I’ve kind of figured out why I’m okay with the Phantom and not Edward, although I still feel like I’m not really justified in criticizing other people for loving Edward anymore. (I’ve never been on Team Edward or Team Jacob, but I move closer to being on Team Jacob every day.) I kept pursuing this line of thought, examining what I think is or is not okay to idealize in a relationship, and I came to the best in vampire/teen girl loves: Buffy and Angel. I am one of these Buffy/Angel OTPers. I mean, I hated Riley simply because he was Not Angel. And don’t get me started on Spuffy. (It always ends bad when I talk about it. Let me say that one of my other prime OTPs is Spike and Dru. So anytime they’re separated I’m unhappy.)
I was like, “Oh, but Angel’s different. He didn’t stalk – ” Oops. Edward sat inside Bella’s bedroom at night for two months. Angel watched Buffy hang out at school for a year. Angel followed her from LA to Sunnydale. “Oh, well, Angel’s different, because he -” And I just have very little, except that he’s not really patronizing. But, would you be, if your girlfriend had superpowers? Now, the fact that it’s Buffy’s job to kill vampires lends a lot more interest to the story, I think, than the fact that Edward kinda wants to have Bella for lunch. Sacred duty is more interesting than being a snack. Buffy as a story has many things to recommend it over Twilight, I think; complexity, mainly. (And I’m pretending here that nothing after Seasons One through Three exists, because it’s really the Buffy/Angel relationship that is of interest here.) Also Joyce is an adult who can cook her own food and do her own laundry, so that’s nice, and Angel points out how ridiculous it is for Darla to be pretending to be a school girl. So those issues of mine with Twilight are not a problem on Buffy.
But in the end, I’m pretty much a hypocrite. I do wish I’d gone on and read New Moon and Eclipse before the phenomenon really started. (Stupid not being in paperback at the time.) Because now, I will feel weird reading them. But the truth is, I’ll probably have fun reading them (not so sure about Breaking Dawn but I couldn’t have read it pre-phenomenon anyway since it wasn’t out until mid-phenomenon).
No matter how much fun they are, though, you’ll never find me being a Twilight tourist. I’m not about to journey up to Forks or Port Orange to try and recreate scenes from the book or the movie. Also, I don’t care how much you like the name Renesmee, it sounds silly.
There. Now this is the personal response to reading journal I always meant for it to be.