Answer: I’m reading it.
So, okay. We probably need a bit more of an explanation than that… here goes. Bear with me. And if you are someone who knows me well, forgive me for shocking you this way (happy halloween? haha) 😉
We seem to have this thing we do as people, called hating. A lot of the time it seems we’re quite content to partake in this activity without really bothering to understand for ourselves what it is we’re getting our hate on about. We also love to throw the word ‘hate’ around like witty banter, ignoring the full weight of its meaning – I know I do. It’s a good word, right? Especially when you’re raging with a hardcore case of the crankies. Cathartic. It just comes flying out of that hole in our face that seems to have a mind of its own. Anyway, this hating thing we do can be a pretty polarising thing. In the world of books, tv shows, movies, and other doodads we ‘consume’, when something is especially popular we tend to be either a lover or a hater, right? Occasionally, I’ll find myself somewhere in the middle of the two, in camp “meh, can’t even be bothered to read/watch that, let alone expend energy forming an unfounded opinion” (Game of Thrones, for example. Don’t love it, don’t hate it. Just plain not interested. Alas, I digress.) This love vs. hate issue brings me to revealing exactly what books I’m going to talk about here. One of the most polarising series I can think of: the Twilight Saga.
*ducks for cover*
There are probably a few of you who are already feeling that anger/hate-feels/wish to stop reading this post already just from reading that ‘T’ word. Just hear me out, peeps. I used to be one of you. Until very recently – about three weeks ago – I was a passionate Twi-hater. I attribute this to a few things: first, I grew up with the Harry Potter series. I’ve been a HP fangirl for as long as I can remember. Perhaps I was too busy loving Neville and being inspired by Hermione’s and Luna’s badassery to ‘get into’ Twilight when it first appeared? Perhaps I bought into the idea that you can only love Harry Potter OR Twilight, but not both? Second, for a long time I just flat out refused to read it, because I’d heard from others (including that almighty teacher that is the Interwebs) that these books were HORRIBLE. I was told Bella Swan was an idiot. I was told the relationships in these books were abusive, and I was hesitant to read them in case they triggered memories of my own history of unhealthy relationships. I was told all of these things by numerous sources, and I assumed everything I was told about these books was correct. I positioned myself as a hater, without ever picking up one of these books for myself. You know that saying about assuming things, something to do with an ass…
Three weeks ago I went to a talk given by my thesis supervisor, who was arguing that Bella Swan in a feminist icon and Twilight is fantastic. I’ll admit, I went in feeling extremely cynical (if you know me, you’ll know that cynicism is one of my natural states of being – other natural states include sitting and procrastinating). I thought I’d get a good laugh out of it. When I left that talk, I was filled with that righteous indignation feeling you get when you want to do something just to prove yourself right. I thought ‘okay, I’ll go and try to read the first book and see if I can agree with anything in that talk at all’, while also thinking ‘pfft, as if! It’s going to be shit’. Well, it turns out the joke was on me. For days I couldn’t put that book down. Before too long I was onto the second book, and now the third. I felt almost dirty, thinking ‘what is going on here? I hate these books, don’t I? Why can’t I stop reading? Why is this book giving me so many intense feelings? OH FOR THE LOVE OF CHEESE TOAST WHY AM I CRYING?!’ I didn’t want anyone to know I was reading them, let alone that I was LOVING it. That’s how hardcore the Twilight hating is in our culture, or so it seemed to me. I didn’t want people to know I was even touching these books, lest they should judge me as a mindless blonde twerp who wouldn’t know good literature if it smacked her upside the head. The fact that I’m doing a PhD in literature made the idea of that sort of judgement even more horrifying to me. I was all caught up in the concept of what I “should” read, what others would expect “someone like me” to pick up off of a shelf. But let this be my confession: ….. I kinda love these books.
Now I said I wasn’t going to get preachy, and I really am trying to avoid that. If you have read these books and you’re still Team Hate, more power to you! I can appreciate a good dose of cynicism in a person, it makes for a stellar sense of humour. But for me personally, actually picking up these books and reading them has completely disolved my hatred for them. I still don’t completely understand why or how this has happened, but I have a pretty good idea. I’m going to get a bit personal and mushy here for a bit, so fair warning. I’m finding these books surprisingly therapeutic. I mentioned before that my relationship history has been less than ideal, and that this is part of why I avoided Twilight in the past. I was still nervous when I picked up the first book of what I might find inside, and whether the relationships between the characters would upset me or remind me of difficult memories. I’ve come a long way over the past few years in the healing process, but reading these books has made me realise a) that I still had some healing to do that I hadn’t realised, and b) that these books might just be the key to that process getting started. These books have brought up old memories for me, but not in the way I was expecting. Instead of being harmful, for me (I want to stress that, only talking about my individual experience here) they’re allowing me to connect with memories I have had blocked for a long time – and to deal with them. I’m remembering my 17/18/19 year old self through these novels: not only what was happening to me in relationships at that point in my life, but also all of the raw, real feelings I thought I had forgotten. I’m remembering what it’s like to fall so head over heels for a boy that you forget which way is up; what it feels like to know something is probably a stupid thing to do but doing it anyway; how it feels to have someone see you as perfect despite all imperfections. I’m rediscovering what it is to allow myself to feel. Most importantly, I’m realising for the first time that I’m not alone in my painful experiences and memories. Bella’s catatonic state after the boy she loves tells her he doesn’t want her anymore and leaves her behind, for example… three years ago, that was me. For a reader who hasn’t lived it, I can definitely see how Bella’s reaction may seem unrealistic, stupid, even ridiculous. But if, like me, you have lived that, if you have been crushed out of the blue and left to wonder what went wrong and if any of it was real at all, this point of Bella’s story is both incredibly cathartic and amazingly comforting. The memory seems a lot less awful now that I know someone else has understood it…
I could go on for days with all of the other things I want to say about this series, and I might do another post when I’ve finished the last book. But this is the crux of what I wanted to say about it for now: what I’ve just talked about is really why I love literature. Books bear witness. They are simultaneously filled with new experiences and filled with echoes of experiences you’ve already had. They allow us to engage with our own stories, and to empathise with the lives of others …. if we let them. That’s the gem of thought I’d like to leave off with. We have to let them. We have to stop professing judgement on things we have no experience or knowledge of. Let books increase your empathy volume. And, essentially, READ WHAT YOU WANT TO READ, regardless of the opinions of others – whether they’re real or merely what you think they will think. If you shape your choices and your opinions on those of others, who knows what sorts of wonder you might miss.