Why I Don’t Like Those Vampire Books by Stephenie Meyer

I’m getting so much anger from Twilight fans I thought I’d go ahead and actually say why I think these books are bad. It’s not because they contain vampires (you’re talking to a girl who owns all seven seasons of Buffy and all but the last one of Angel), and it’s not because the characters contemplate having sex (I’m all for sex – plus, see above with the Buffy and the Angel, cause Buffy at least has people having sex all over the place, and not infrequently sex with vampires), and it’s certainly not anything to do with any belief of mine that teenagers don’t have to make difficult choices about relationship and a zillion other things (cause, you know, I was a teenager lo these many years ago).

I laugh about these books because they’re badly written and very, very silly, but I seriously do have problems with them. To wit:

The main one: The fact that there are dozens and hundreds and thousands of girls who are reading these books and finding Edward sexy and romantic. This creeps me out and gives me concern that they are going to grow up and not notice when their boyfriends are acting weird and stalkery. Stalkers = bad. Cause let’s review. In the first place, he desperately wants to kill her. (Bad.) Plus he’s scary and threatening and says things that suggest he’s up for killing people and is dangerous to her. (Bad.) He also tells her massive lies and treats her like an idiot, all the time, but especially when she suspects he’s lying. (Bad.) But she disregards all of these things because she “feels safe” with him. Balance of power issues much?

He eavesdrops on her conversations with her friends by listening to their minds. She doesn’t seem awfully bothered about how intrusive that is to her, and she’s completely unphased by how intrusive it is to her friends. (Which makes sense since she really doesn’t ever seem to give a crap about them anyway.) The boy is listening to people’s brains to make sure Bella’s safe, and by this means he saves her from four more of the Washington State men who can’t resist her charms. And, you know, that’s nice, that he saves her life, but think about it: If you knew a guy and you kinda liked him and then you discovered he’d, I don’t know, tapped your phone and was listening to all your phone conversations, would you think, That’s sweet, he must be trying to save my life, or would you think, Damn, he’s a stalker. Better watch out for stalker boy there, with all the stalking.

Oh, right, and he comes into her room without her permission or knowledge and watches her sleep. She knows she should be outraged, but instead she’s just flattered. Because he cares enough about her to break into her house and spy on her.

When she’s with Edward, she isolates herself from every other person in her life – friends and family – and spends all her time only with him. Again with the bad, because when the relationship breaks up, she has no one to support her. They’re constantly claiming that they need each other – neediness isn’t romantic, people! – to the extent that when they lose each other in New Moon they sink into deep depressions, can’t do anything normal ever again, and have much contemplating of suicide.

Uh-huh. That’s a functional relationship.

And here’s another thing: Gender roles. Nobody ever strays from theirs. Bella requires lots of rescuing and isn’t so good about the making of decisions. She doesn’t like sports or fishing because these things, they are boring (unless it’s sexy vampires playing sports). Know what she is good at? Cooking! Aaaaaaaaaaand dress-shopping! Her father can’t cook but he can fix cars. So can Jacob. And Edward. Much with the car-fixing among the dudes in these books.

The trashy accusation I stand by pretty firmly. Again not because of vampires and not because of the mad sexual tension (I can deal), but because these characters are never even remotely developed – what does Bella ever do apart from swoon over Edward and fall over her own feet? Edward’s handsome and reads minds, and he loves Bella and he doesn’t want to be a monster – voila, I’ve summed up Edward for you right there. And of course, with cardboard characters, you’re not likely to end up with fascinating relationships, and indeed, there’s no attempt to deal with relationships honestly. People who are in love get very, very worried when their significant other is in danger. And, uh, they tell each other lies to manipulate each other into doing what they want, and they never call each other on this behavior, ever. They’re just like, Oh, ha, ha, ha, you’ve outwitted me this time, you vixen! This peaks in Eclipse but happens, really, throughout the series.

And it is badly written. It’s just cliche after cliche after cliche. And not even any irony about the using of the cliches. Sheesh.

Most of this, honestly, I don’t care about. Nobody’s making me read books I don’t like, and if I don’t like Ms. Meyer’s books I don’t have to carry on reading them. (I may read the last one though – I don’t do that attacking-books-I-haven’t-read thing, as a trend. At least not seriously.) But I am genuinely bothered by the bad messages the book’s sending to its readers. Books are mighty and help many people to normalize. Life reflects art (as my beloved Oscar Wilde says). I have great fear that these books are creating a generation of women who’ll think stalking is sexy and exciting.

It’s not. Stalking = bad. It doesn’t generally lead to the saving of the stalked person’s life, as in Bella’s case. More heads in the direction of heightened emotional and physical abuse. Of which we are not fans.

Anna’s Book, Barbara Vine

I have dreams like this.

I shouldn’t get my hopes up. I should be very calm and relaxed. I shall probably go to the library tomorrow, get sixteen of Ruth Rendell’s books, and find I don’t like a single other one of them.

I liked Anna’s Book.  I read it because I keep hearing everyone going on about Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine.  So the last time I was at the library I went to the Barbara Vine section, as I like that name better, and got Anna’s Book because my sister is called Anna.  And it was quite good.  A most satisfying mystery.  I read the end but didn’t catch exactly everything, and I felt clever about noticing that Hansine was on her period.  That’s right.  I can recognize old-timey euphemisms for menstruation.

Anna’s Book is about a woman called Anna (Asta actually, but they changed it for some reason when the book came to the U.S.) who came to England as a Danish immigrant before the first World War, and she kept diaries.  And ages and ages later her diaries got really famous and published, and a mean person wrote a letter to Anna’s oldest daughter, Swanny, to tell her that Swanny was not really Anna’s daughter.  And the book goes back and forth, with excerpts from the diaries and bits about what Swanny did, and bits about what Swanny’s niece Ann did to find out what was what.  Very much with the good structure.

I like these nice tidy mysteries.  Not just because I like to have things squared away neatly, but also because books are fun when they have intricate plots that come together well.  Holes was really good about this, and so was Special Topics in Calamity Physics.  And I liked them both.  And, actually, The Chosen, which was a totally different kind of book.

I finished up Anna’s Book and I looked up Ruth Rendell on the internet and do you know how many novels she’s written, DO YOU KNOW?

You probably don’t know.  I will tell you.

FIFTY-SIX.

And I’ve only read one of them.  Oh, and also, she’s written another one that will be released in November, and another one again (called The BIrthday Present) that’s getting released in March of next year.  That one, The Birthday Present, will be her fifty-eighth book.  This almost shows that it was meant for her to be my next big thing, because my birthday is May 7th (five seven), and the book’s called The Birthday Present.

Actually, she’s British.  So it works out perfectly.  In Britain my birthday is May 8th.  I was born quite late at night on the 7th of May, in America, which means rather early in the morning on the 8th of May, in Britain.  Voila.  The Birthday Present and its number are Signs.  I shall check out and read loads of her other books and it will be exactly like when we went camping and I read all of Elizabeth Peters’ books for the first time.  And I need that kind of cheering-up because my big sister just moved away.

(I’ve gotten a lot of play out of this May 7th-May 8th America-Britain thing.  My mum thought of it when I was away in England.  It is also the means by which I claim that my confirmation name saint has her feast day on my birthday, because she’s British.  Though in fact that doesn’t work at all, because I’m Catholic, and her Catholic feast day is May 13th, not May 8th.  But whatever.  It’s close enough for government work.)

The Secret of Lost Things, Sheridan Hay

I’ve been wanting to read this for a while, ever since it was in the New Books section at Bongs & Noodles and I almost but didn’t quite buy it.  It’s all about an Australian girl whose mother dies, and she comes to work in a bookshop in New York that is a very good and famous bookshop and contains many strange people who are albinos and trannies and emotionally unavailable snobs.  They are a motley crew. I had high hopes.

All dashed, unfortunately.  It’s not the worst book ever, but I could hardly be bothered finishing it.  I only finished it at all because I had some vague stubborn feeling that my judging-a-book-by-its-title-and-cover instincts were not as catastrophically wrong as all that.  I think that these literary suspensey books are very difficult to pull off.  Thinking of some that I’ve read – I found Possession quite gripping as I recall, but I’ve never had any desire to read it again though now that I bring it up I might check it out; The Archivist wasn’t bad, and I liked it when he said existence is infinitely cross-referenced; I liked Arturo Perez-Reverte (and he knew about Rafael Sabatini!) but I got too fed up with the translation to carry on – so, yes, I think that kind of book is just tricky to write.  Maybe not the best genre to write your very first novel in.

I thought the characters – who should have carried the book, the way it was written – were much less interesting than they should have been.  They never really rounded out and became people, and I found the heroine frustrating.  Which, actually, upon reflection, is because she never really rounded out either.  I couldn’t ever predict what she was going to do, which wasn’t because she was unpredictable the way that people are unpredictable, but because she was such a cipher.  And they were all like that really, like Sheridan Hay wrote “Oscar – snobby asexual guy” and “Walter – weird albino” and then didn’t bother taking it any further.

Life is like this.  I’m quite liking Anna’s Book, which I didn’t expect to care about at all, and The Secret of Lost Things, which I expected to love, doesn’t even rate an “Enjoyed” tag.

Carrie’s War, Nina Bawden

Recommended by: GeraniumCat’s great big list of children’s books you should have read as a kid

Nothing as appealing as people mentioning things that you might have missed but they hope you haven’t.  Unfortunately most of the books on the list weren’t at the library on account of, I assume, being wildly out of print and based in the United Kingdom, but I got Carrie’s War.  It’s about two little Blitz evacuee kids (I love books about evacuee kids) who get evacuated to Wales and live with a family and the older girl, Carrie, does a terrible thing.

I like books about children who go away to strange places.  This wasn’t an adventurey book so much as a people book, and it was charming.  I may read more things by Nina Bawden.  I foolishly got all of Penelope Farmer’s books from the library (and then didn’t like The Summer Sparrows), and didn’t get any of Nina Bawden’s books except for this one.  Bah.

The Camel Bookmobile, Masha Hamilton

Recommended by: Read-Warbler

This book is about an American librarian who brings books to rural African places using camels.

I’ll give you that again: She uses CAMELS to bring people BOOKS.

There are no words that adequately express how sad I am that I wasn’t able to finish this book.  It contains BOOKS and CAMELS.  Bringing books to people via camels.  I love books (obviously), and God knows I love camels more than my luggage.  One time I went to a RenFest, and THEY HAD CAMELS there and I RODE ON ONE.  Didn’t even remotely know that I cared about camels until I got there and saw the sign for camels and instead of being like “Medieval Europe wasn’t exactly camelpalooza” in a snide voice, I seized my sister’s arm and plowed in the direction of the camels going CAMELS CAMELS CAMELS CAMELS.

But camels didn’t feature very much in the bits of the book I did get through, and anyway I couldn’t get through it.  There was much bashing the reader over the head with unsubtle things that the characters are thinking, like, Why does the American lady want to bring us books so much?  Doesn’t she know that here in Africa we are educated in other ways?  Books and reading are not the only ways of knowing things.

Practically in those words.  It gave me a headache.  I had to take two tylenol and an aspirin.

The Shell House, Linda Newbery

My second try with Linda Newbery.  I really want to love her!  The covers of her book are always so appealing!  This one had bits that were set in Chelmsford, and I lived in Essex for nine months!  But still, the only strong reaction I had to her books – like last time – was, Jesus God, I’m so glad I’m not raising children in England.  British schoolchildren are awful.  They are awful.  My flatmates thought I was from the scary ghetto because I have sketchy neighbors and got mugged one time; this in spite of the fact that they got the shit beaten out of them by their classmates in school.  I love England like a fat kid loves cake, but I could never ever raise kids there, ever.  Ever.  BECAUSE THEY WOULD DIE.

The Shell House is actually not about awful British schoolchildren.  Sisterland had much more awful British schoolchildren.  The Shell House is about a boy who is struggling with his sexuality, and a girl who is struggling with her faith, and a back-in-the-day World War I guy who’s struggling with both.  It had bits that were good, but there were also bits that were just blah.  Faith (the girl who’s um, struggling with her – I don’t know why I bothered with this sentence) isn’t terribly likeable, ever, and the two plots don’t come together very neatly either.  They’re thematically linked, but they aren’t juxtaposed in an interesting way, and Edmund himself, the World War I guy, wasn’t that interesting, or fleshed-out.  I felt sort of gipped on the Edmund front.

Okay.  I have Linda Newbery’s Set in Stone out of the library too.  If I don’t like that, I’m just giving her up forever as Not My Thing.  I wouldn’t be being so persistent if the covers weren’t so nice!

Empire of Ivory, Naomi Novik

The Temeraire series continues, hooray! I liked this one much more than I did the last two. It was more pulled together than they’ve been, and Laurence was very, very polite, and Temeraire is still a cutie. I’ve been having ongoing concerns that Laurence will get less polite the more he hangs out with the Aerial Corps people (and Jane, who bores me).  He didn’t though.  He might have been the most polite in this book that he’s been in any of the books.  Ah, courtesy.

They flew to Africa, and I felt, of all the places they’ve been, Ms. Novik deals the best with Africa.  It’s full of mushrooms that are the cure for a disease that is killing all of England’s dragons, and Temeraire very fortunately has an immunity to it, so he goes off hunting for the cure.  Unfortunately, the tribe that cultivates the mushrooms is pissed at England because the slave trade’s legal there, so they are none too thrilled with the Brits.  I was pleased in this book to have some other dragons (besides the irritating ferals) for Temeraire to interact with.  I’ve missed Lily and Maximus, and I’m really hoping we get to see more of the bitty dragon that Granby has whose name contains so many vowels and k letters that I always forget it.

*spoilers now*

At the end, the Brits send an infected dragon to France in biological warfare manner, and Laurence and Temeraire go chasing over to France to cure the dragons because they don’t like biological warfare, and then Laurence goes back to England.  To be executed.  Which I’m sure he won’t be, but it was a good ending to the book.  I have the new one on hold at the library, so once I finish reading the other many books I have out, I’ll go and collect it.

Black Powder War, Naomi Novik

The dragons (and Napoleon!) are back.  Temeraire is still angling for dragon liberty.  Laurence is still sorting through his feelings about England and dragons, and still losing his temper when people have bad manners (yay for manners!).  In this book they’re all over the place – it’s all trekking off to Istanbul (and, okay, it’s not Naomi Novik’s fault that this plot thread got that They Might Be Giants song stuck in my head, but damn, I had that song stuck in my head for a while, where it waged a bitter war against the Dr. Horrible songs), and then flying around Europe being defeated by Napoleon.  Napoleon meanwhile, in addition to gaining power in massive big gulps, is now BFF with wicked Celestial dragon Lien, making me feel very uneasy in a way I never used to because Temeraire was always the only Celestial divine-wind-making dragon in town.

I had mixed feelings about this book.  I’m still enjoying the series, and I like it that Temeraire wants independence for dragons.  I was so, so happy when Granby got his own dragon, and I totally love the little fire-breathing dragon (hope to see lots more of her).  And I was pleased that Napoleon finally had a cameo, which, since I know virtually nothing about Napoleon at all, didn’t bug me the way fictional representations of real people sometimes do.

On the other hand, Black Powder War felt a little disconnected.  All through the first section, I was like, Gee, great, some more negotiations with cranky foreigners from countries America is not fond of right now.  Just what I didn’t enjoy at all about the last one.  And then BAM, that episode was totally over and everything was fine, and it was off to fight Napoleon.  Whereupon I discovered that I am still not at all interested in war.  My attention wandered wildly during all the battle scenes, and if I hadn’t been so close to the end last night before bed, I’d’ve ditched the whole thing and read Aurora Leigh instead.

So far, I would say this was my least favorite of the three, except for the bitty new dragon Iskierka.  However, I have extremely high hopes for the next book.  The dragons are all sick!  And there’s going to have to be cure-finding activities!  I anticipate good times.  Plus I looked up spoilers and found out that the next book contains some dovetailing of plot threads, which I’m looking forward to.  Onward and upward.  Screw Aurora Leigh.

(Not really!  My girl-crush on Elizabeth Barrett Browning continues unabated!)

Geek Love and True Love

The past few days have been a bit weird, reading-wise.  I was reading Geek Love – recommended to me by Toryssa as an antidote to the trite blahness of Water for Elephants (Water to Elephants?  I can never remember) – and then when I wasn’t reading that, I was reading the Brownings’ letters to each other when they were a-courting.

It’s been strange.  Geek Love is two stories running consecutively: the main character, Olympia, is a hunchback dwarf from a family that deliberately bred freaks in order to make their circus all interesting, and she’s telling the story of her childhood.  And then she’s also got things going on in the present with her tail-having daughter and this woman who wants to give the daughter surgery to de-tail her.  Oh, and Olympia’s brother Arty (who has flippers instead of hands and feet) has a cult of people that get their limbs cut off.  But then *spoiler* the circus blows up.  So oh well.

Interspersed with letters from Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett, in which they are so damn cute that my brain perpetually explodes.  Every time I think I can’t love Robert Browning any more, he says something even sweeter and I have to reset the scale.

And then back to Geek Love with the amputations and the telekinetic Chick kid.  The transitions have been weird.

Sorting through this confusion, I find that I do not care for Geek Love very much.  I didn’t like the family dynamic.  It was creepy, of course, the creepy parents with their creepy plans for the kids, and the creepy siblings with their creepy behavior, but it was sort of predictably creepy.  Creepy in ways you really could have anticipated.  Geek Love was such a strange book that I kept losing track of how blah the family dynamic actually was, but after a while I’d notice some discontentment feelings and discover that the source of the feelings was that the relationships between the family, while dysfunctional, were not interestingly dysfunctional.  You always knew what everyone was going to do.  I lost interest long before the book ended.

Oh, and?  I was also displeased with how the *spoiler* circus exploded.  It was like the author just got sick of the Binewski family and was trying to figure out what she could do to get rid of everyone so that she could get back to Olympia in the present in order to end that storyline unsatisfactorily too, so she was like, Well, hey, I’ll just blow everyone up.

Hmph.

I am much happier when I contemplate the Brownings.  Do you know about the Brownings?  If not, it is definitely worth your while to go and look up the Brownings and learn a little bit about them.  And go ahead and read The Barretts of Wimpole Street.  And then go ahead and read their letters to each other.  The ones from 1845-1846 are all the letters there ever were, because after they were married, says their son, they were never separated.

A sad (but nice) story: On Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s last day (of life, I mean), she was sickly and he was fretting, and when he offered to bathe her feet to soothe her she said, “Well, you are determined to make an exaggerated case of it!” and she died in his arms and the last thing she said was that when he asked her how she felt, she said, “Beautiful.”

(That story makes me teary-eyed.)

The Brownings are lovely.  I always want to give them a hug.  They’re so brave and humble and affectionate and dear, and they always send letters to tell each other how much they love them.  When I read their letters I feel like that episode of Buffy where she’s all upset about Xander and Anya having a fight and she’s all, “THEY HAVE A MIRACULOUS LOVE!”

That’s me.  About the Brownings.  Darling Brownings!

…I’m not bragging or anything.  I’m just mentioning.  Robert Browning?  He was born on my birthday.  So unless you were born on 9 December or 23 April, and actually even if you were born on 9 December or 23 April, I still pretty much win at Best Birthday.  Because Robert Browning was a gifted writer and also a completely lovely person.

Throne of Jade, Naomi Novik

Well, I was slightly less thrilled with this than the last one.  I know it’s good for Laurence to chill out a little bit because yes, he did in some respects have a stick up his ass, and I appreciate that’s not necessarily an ideal state for a stalwart hero to be in – but I got sad when he started to feel disenchanted with the British government and the Navy and everyone, and how he started thinking sedition mutiny thoughts.  I liked His Majesty’s Dragon because of how proper and British he was, and now he’s all different.  I don’t feel like I know him anymore.  *tear*

Laurence and Temeraire are off to China in Throne of Jade.  It’s all about what a rare and unusual dragon Temeraire is, and the Chinese are very cross that their most rare and unusual dragon, which was meant for an emperor (Napoleon), is being minded by an ordinary guy and being sent off to war.  In order to avoid irritating China so much that they start giving out dragons to France willy-nilly, Britain ships Laurence and Temeraire to China to sort the whole mess out.  It’s a long journey, so most of the book takes place on the ship’s journey to get there.

My main gripe is that there was a massive build-up for not much conclusion.  They spend all this time on the ship fretting about everything, whether Temeraire will be taken from Laurence, whether the Chinese are going to get angry with their wicked British dragon-having ways and kill them all, who’s evil and who’s okay, and then at the very tail end everything gets resolved really, really quickly.  (Except for the problem of dragon liberty, which is obviously meant for future books.)

That issue aside, however, I did enjoy the book.  Not as much as His Majesty’s Dragon, of course, but still quite a fair bit.  I still don’t like Jane Roland, but she wasn’t around much.  Although the book wasn’t fast-paced, it was interesting, all the conflicts that arose on the ship.  Just the kind of thing that would happen in these circumstances – different branches of the armed forces getting in each other’s way and being irritated with each other, the dragon being stubborn, culture conflicts – it was interesting.

Overall, I’d say – second book in a series with all the attendant problems.  Not bad, but not good enough that I feel compelled to read Black Powder War straight away.  It’s in my library bag and all, but I’ll just wait.  I think that will be better.