Monday, April 26, 2010

Apparently, Dracula is losing to Twilight: Ranting on the current state of youth and genre fiction...

When I was oh, I don't know...eleven, I read The Shining for the first time.

What are kids reading today when they are eleven? Twilight.

Now I'm not above saying that I'm certainly glad kids are reading, but I've never really bought the whole idea that Twilight got kids to read again. I still think kids that are inclined to read, read. If anything got kids to read voraciously again, it was the Harry Potter series, not Twilight. Wise up, people.

A few days ago I saw a frightening little conversation taking place on Facebook (I think) somewhere regarding the Twilight movies and of course there was gushing and eternal love going on (by adults, no less) about the movies. A few of the commentors hadn't even read the Twilight books, but had only seen the films, and therefore made mention that "gee, they hoped the books were as good as Harry Potter!" - or something similar. I almost choked on my own spit.
That, my friends, scared the shit out of me.

Now I'm not saying J.K. Rowling is Jane Austen, but she's a far cry from Stephenie Meyer. Rowling's wonderful world of wizards, friendship and good overcoming evil is goddamned literary brilliance in comparison to the angsty story of handicapped vegan vampires and dependent, lusty teenagers.
And yes, I have read all four Twilight books, so YES, I have the right to my opinionated views.
Why did I read them, you ask? Hype and curiosity. Oh, and I like vampires. But the sparkly, depressing, non-fanged ones? Not so much.

I'm also not saying Stephen King is Dostoevsky, either. But he's certainly a better writer than Meyer, and I'm positive a whole load of other writers out there are as well.
Obviously though, it doesn't take talent to sell books. (Or honesty either - see James Frey if you don't believe me).
But if I were a parent in this day & age, I'd be so much more inclined to break my kids in on Rowling and then later move on to King - or perhaps Dan Simmons or Peter Straub if my offspring had my same horror-loving genes.

Leading a child towards the Young Adult section of any Borders or Barnes & Noble these days takes courage. Take a look and you'll see. 75% of all the books prominently displayed are vampire books. Now I'm not stupid - vamps sell. And I'm also not going to lie - I read almost exclusively vampire fiction in one form or another- some of it quite trashy in fact. But even trash can be well-written! So why do I complain? Because the books for teens seem to be so dumbed down. Intensely inquisitive, I've read more YA (young adult fiction) than just Twilight, and I've really not found one series yet that doesn't take an adolescent and force their reading skills down a few levels than where they ought to be at.

And many of you know I already have issues with Twilight's downer themes. At least with all the vamp books I read, no one wants to kill themselves because their vampire left them. One need only look as far as Sookie Stackhouse for an example of that. And so many books have strong female leads - not some depressed teenager who sits for three months staring out a window waiting for her true love to return. The more I think about it the madder I am.

Like I said, I was ten or eleven when I read The Shining, which for all intents and purposes is definitely well above a eleven year old's reading level. And I'm not trying to brag - I realize not everyone can read so easily. I completely suck at math. Everyone has their strengths and comfort zones. Mine was reading.
King is my favorite author, even more so when I was young and his career was just amping up - and he's a good writer. A great writer even. So is J.K. Rowling. The worlds they create are so vivid and lifelike you feel you are stepping into them, if only for a little while. But while I was pouring through Carrie, Pet Sematary and Salem's Lot in high school, I also found myself picking up my mother's gothic romantic suspense novels by Victoria Holt and the likes, and I read (by choice) Austen, Poe, Bronte, Shakespeare, Dickens, and the aforementioned Dostoevsky, among others. I'd love to find a sixteen year old that's read Crime and Punishment and shake his or her hand. I assume they're out there somewhere, but I can tell you they are no doubt sitting in the library and not texting the living hell out of their iPhone.
I've always read constantly, even now. And I still had plenty of time for activites and social events (read: partying) in high school. But there was nothing more sublime for me than reading Ghost Story by Peter Straub while jamming Pink Floyd in my headphones. And it's still my favorite book.

And what happened to books like Goosebumps? My brother read those religiously. Whereas those were before my time, I can proudly say I read every Hardy Boys & Nancy Drew book out there. At the same time I was honing my British mystery-solving skills by reading both Agatha Christie and Dick Francis (yes, I loved horse racing way back then, too!) after picking loads of them up at random garage sales back in the 70's.

It scares me, the dumbing down of our youth. And I don't even have kids. I shouldn't have to worry, right? Hell yes I have to worry! These kids will be running our country someday -yikes!!
And yes, I realize reading is essentially entertainment. I get that. But can we not forget reading is the most important life-skill you'll ever learn. Illiteracy is a huge shame, and a topic that is not addressed strongly enough, even here in the USA. In poorer parts of America, there are programs like RIF and Save the Children that provide books for kids - and you know what? It makes them HAPPY! They want to learn. And they don't need a cell phone or a computer to do it. Just someone willing to help. Now before I digress any further into the depths of the reading crisis, I'll just move on.

The fact that there are some kids actually reading just for the enjoyment of it and not sitting in front of their computers or big screen televisions playing violent video games 24/7 is a big plus. But while books like Twilight continue to dominate the shelves, the classics are slipping away. Classics we horror fans gravitate to like Dracula, Frankenstein, and the fabulous works of Lovecraft and Poe. I shudder to think of the response I'd get by asking a fifteen year old what 'The Tell Tale Heart' is. Oh, I'm sure there's a Cliff's Notes version out there, right? More's the pity. And don't get me started on the person I knew that thought Dracula was a movie first(!).

So why the bitch-fest? Because it's something that really grinds my gears and I just wanted to get it off my chest. I'm a huge fan of the (well) written word, and feel it is being extinguished slowly amidst a sea of crappy fiction being made into even crappier movies. And I know there are others out there who are equally as irritated - but some of which have kids that are sitting down right now to enjoy Gaston Leroux's (BOOK, not stage play or movie) The Phantom of the Opera as we speak. Thank God.

HorrorBlips: vote it up!


Bill (RSR) said...

My sentiments exactly, and I would like to say that I reread Leroux's Phantom of the Opera roughly once a year. I've had two copies fall to bits from being so thoroughly enjoyed.

The Mike said...

That's the truth. Well done.

Dannie said...

I'm fifteen and I read Crime and Punishment *shakes hand*

And I agree. For a while I made a point not to read anything published earlier then fifteen years.

So, yeah. That didn't last. But still.

By the way, we have very similar reading taste.

Kelsey the Ewok said...

I'm seventeen now. I read the unabridged versions of Dracula and Frankenstein when I was 12. I've loved Anne Rice and Stephen King for as long as I've had a library card.

The hype had me picking up Twilight as well. I couldn't make it through the first book. It killed brain cells. It's horribleness forced tears out their ducts.

I worry about the future of literature.

Let's just hope that for every teen my age (or younger, or older!) that's obsessed with Twilight, there's an intelligent counterpart out there righting the wrongs of Stephenie Meyers and her kind.


C.L. Hadden said...

Dannie & Kelsey: Oh thank god there's some hope left for the youth of the world!
And thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Thanks, Mike:) Just doing what I can!

Bill: I love that book as well. I just read your review on the '89 film - wow, great minds think alike, eh?

Andre said...

Great post Chris! Did you ever read Stephen King's editorial that ripped Stephanie Meyer to shreds? It was utterly fantastic--he too pointed out that JK Rowling was an amazing writer while Stephanie Meyer should barely be allowed to write greeting cards (I don't think he said those exact words but he should have) was the best thing since sliced bread.

C.L. Hadden said...

Andre - yep, I did read that slam against Meyer, and I agree wholeheartedly. I was happier than a clam that he took her down a notch or two. All that ridiculous praise for books on the same reading level as Goodnight Moon. (nothing against that children's classic, btw)

Emily said...

Excellent post. I was just thinking about this since I finally took the Twilight plunge over the weekend and was utterly appalled at how negative these characters were. I too will almost ALWAYS support anything that gets kids--particularly young women--reading, but I'd rather have my fictional daughter watch 90210 reruns than digest this crap. Bella is such a ridiculously terrible character, a woman who cannot think for herself or function without the support of a guy. Ugh!

I started thinking about what I read when I was around 13 or so, which was a whole lot of V.C. Andrews novels. Yes, books like Flowers In the Attic aren't amazingly written, but at least they featured strong heroines that actually acted.

C.L. Hadden said...

Emily- Oh yes! V.C. Andrews - forgot about her. I was a big fan as well.
And I agree, it's not like the material has to be Pulitzer Prize winning, but I think a book should at least have meaning and respect - and the characters (particularly women) need a backbone!

And I'm so sorry you had to suffer through the Twilight depression. I hope it didn't scar you for life;)

Emily said...

I'm scarred, but I feel it was worth it. I should get my epic review/rant up tonight on my blog.

And yes, when i think of how much V.C. (and later, Andrew Niederman) I read between the age of was a lot. A whole lot.

Anonymous said...

Amazing post Chris, well said. Your bring up interesting points. I wonder if schools still make kids read during the summer. Classics like The Outsiders, A Catcher in The Rye, and A Separate Peace. Strong coming of age books that really influenced me as a kid. Sadly, I don't think its happening anymore because I don't hear them talked about very often. Instead we get books that pander to the Hot Topic, emo brooding crowd.

I think Harry Potter is the new coming of age book for kids/teens. If only there were more writes like Rowling. But my point is, the classics should still be cherished and studied and sadly, I don't think that's happening.

William Malmborg said...

Great post. I love that you mentioned Dan Simmons. He is one of my favorite authors yet no one ever seems to know who he is. Have you read any of Brian Lumley’s Necroscope series? Talk about bad ass vampires. They would have fun with the Twilight kids, that’s for sure.

I remember when Stephen King talked about the Twilight books. His forum got slammed by teens that we upset about his comments and vowed never to see another one of his movies. None of them really mentioned his books though, which made me wonder if they knew he was a writer. It was pretty funny.

Will Errickson said...

This shit grinds my gears too. I worked in a bookstore back when Oprah's holy, holy, holy book club started up. It was so odd: you're glad people are now reading more, but honestly, so many people weren't interested in reading, or in other books, or good writing; they just wanted to do whatever the big O told them to do. It's not reading; it's the equivalent of watching only made for Lifetime movies and never seeing a Hitchcock or Scorsese or whatever. I heard Meyer on NPR and she had virtually no knowledge or understanding of the horror genre, which she is nominally part of. I think she'd barely seen any vampire films. I guess that's because of her Mormon background, but ugh. The lack of curiosity was astounding.

kr said...

My son is 18 and he is a senior in High School and he is completely disgruntled with what is in the library. He did read the Twilight books (it was a to appeal to girls thing, and to find out what the hype was). He said they were awful books. He is an avid reader and said he had such a hard time getting through the books.

C.L. Hadden said...

Emily - I look forward to your post with much enthusiasm!

PoT: I forgot about schools requiring summer reading...seems so long ago! I read all three you mentioned and am the better for it. Sure couldn't hurt to make them mandatory, you know?
And Hot Topic - god you're so right on that one.

William: I love Dan Simmons and think he is completely underrated. My fave is Carrion Comfort.. And yes, I've read Lumley as well - seems our reading tastes are quite similar:)
And what you said about those kids perhaps not realizing King was an author - they probably have no clue and haven't read anything except the back of a DVD cover.

Will: Gah! Oprah and her wondrous knack for influencing the reading public. Ugh. Hmm...didn't she pick out A Million Little Pieces? Enough said.
And Meyer? The fact that she's clueless about horror and vampires doesn't surprise me. After all, she did forget to give them fangs and a backbone.

Kr: I'm so happy to learn that there ARE kids out there that are opening books and learning something other than how to buy weed, use a cell phone, and/or make babies. In most cases, I say it's good parenting - so yay to you;)

Anonymous said...

Reading is extremely important to a child's development. When I have my son he loves to pick out books to read for bed time. I am very thankful he is so enthusiastic.

There are many programs out there. I was part of SMART for awhile and I know someone who brings her therapy dog to a school and the kids read to the dog.

Joe Monster said...

Great post, C.L.! I think you pretty much spoke for everyone in not only the horror but the literature community as well. More and more teenagers are starting to have the same attitude about books as they do with movies. I felt a deadening ringing in my ears when I heard someone refer to the Transformers sequel as the greatest movie of the summer last year. That's apparently what sells to kids in books as well. Huge explosions and hot guys and gals delivering flat, static dialogue. Character development be damned! Who needs that when we got awesome shows like "Jersey Shore" for entertainment?

J. Darko said...

Well, my hope is that by reading the softball "horror" stories of today's teen lit (a la Twilight and it's ilk) will only set them up for exploring the genre later in life. As they grow older they may wish for something with a little more bite and eventually gravitate to the classics or some of the better titles of today. But I get what you mean. "Twilight" is definitely not the the best intro or even a representative of the genre. Even "Interview with the Vampire" did it better.

B.R. said...

Lovecraft should be required reading in high school. Period. Stephen King may be good, but Howard is STILL the Master. I first read King when I was thirteen--my dad gave me an old copy of Night Shift. Needless to say, I got hooked(that was also the year I saw Evil Dead--groovy). A year later, I got my hands on something by Lovecraft and fell in love with hetero-genous grave legions and unspeakable horrors.

Of course, this intake of insanity might explain my current insomnia and the occasional corpse I bury in the backyard while mumbling prayers to Yog So-Thoth, but hey, at least I can read above a junior high level. ;)

Becky said...

I completely agree with your negative view of the Twilight franchise but, as an unashamed and avid young adult fiction I do see some beams of light coming out of the genre. Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series as well as his Kane Chronicles series are entertaining as hell and giving kids some familiarity with ancient mythology. Neil Gaiman also has dozens of fantastic novels geared towards younger horror readers, such as Coraline and The Graveyard Book. One of my favorite books growing up was genre great, Clive Barker's The Thief of Always. It's criminally under read and a terrifically creepy tale.
There's so much drek out there in the YA Fantasy that it's hard to find anything hopeful about it now that Ms. Rowling has finished her world changing series but if you look hard enough in any genre there's someone doing something worthwhile. I'd hate to see people not give YA Fantasy a chance due to some glitter-covered, pouting teenagers. Let's not throw the baby out with the sparkly bathwater.