I’m a fan of NPR in real life, so I became a fan of NPR on facebook. This evening I ran across the following story in my news feed.
www.npr.orgIn which we discuss wildly florid prose, wielded with the subtlety and repetition of a jackhammer, all in the service of a story that’s going nowhere being told by a girl who seems to be fighting us for the gold medal in a not-liking-her contest.
I will if you will? Well, Linda Holmes and Marc Hirsh, you did and now I must.
Hold on. You, dear reader, may be surprised by my stance. You can go ahead and read the whole discussion and the 145 rabid comments that come before my condensed statement. Or you can enjoy that teaser paragraph, consider the following material excerpt, and save yourself an hour or two no one will ever give you back (because I suffered for you).
Linda: Well, this is what I was getting at when the very first sentence from the book that I called out was “The tall one was statuesque.” They don’t exactly mean precisely the same thing, but there is enough overlap that it is not a good use of words.Marc: Well, I thought it was dumb on account of “statuesque” not being a destination descriptor. You can use it, but you need more than just that or you’re lazy.
Linda: Well, once you get used to the fact that “statuesque” really sort of encompasses “tall” (it’s very rare to hear short folk described as “statuesque”), you just have a sentence reading, “The statuesque one.”
Marc: Right. And then you have to keep writing, which is, like, hard and stuff.
Linda: Honestly, there’s part of me that blames, among other things, wretched editing. Because what sold the book was the story, and they could have created a MUCH more palatable book with proper editing.
Marc: Well, this is what I’ve said. That “statuesque” sentence is followed by: “She had a beautiful figure, the kind you saw on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.” A good editor should have told her, “That is not sufficient. You have to actually write something. You can’t just leave it at ‘She was as attractive as something that society has deemed attractive.’ You really need to push a little harder on that.”
Also, in an incident that damns both Meyer and her editor, there is a line about “dust moats” floating in the light. …Moats. Of dust.Ah, here it is: “I ate breakfast cheerily, watching the dust moats stirring in the sunlight that streamed in the back window.” I think she was going for “mote”: “a small particle; speck.”Linda: Dust moats! Dusty moats! Moaty dust!
I spent some time thinking about how much I disliked the book, its popularity, and the willingness of literate, ostensibly observant people to push the burden of badness into the laps of professionals whose ranks used to include me. I tried be brief, keeping in mind that this was not my blog.
I used to work as an editor at more than one of the major US publishing houses—not many people have that luxury anymore. The ones who managed to keep their jobs in the last year and a half are too busy keeping up with the commerce end of the business to do much real editorial work. I still have friends who send me free books though and I got a copy of the Twilight audio book along with some detective fiction last summer. I sometimes play them when I’m cleaning the house, a candy-coated distraction from unpleasant chores. I’m not sure I had any expectations, but I was appalled just listening to Meyer’s terrible writing. You nailed it when you pointed out that she should have been pushed to actually describe the quality of beauty rather than equating it to a pop-culture standard, particularly the cover of a Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. Just look at all the adverbs! She is simply a lazy writer, which is a greater offense than being less than gifted.
I lodged this gripe with my professional mentor; recently retired, she was one of the most successful publishers in the business. She’d read Twilight to keep up with the interests of her teenage granddaughter. And after I delivered a list of complaints similar to your own she said, “I would have published it. And I probably wouldn’t have changed a word.” Whether or not it was written for young adults, the Twilight series has become a mass-market phenomenon. Meyer’s brand of fiction has taken the place of the housewife’s romance novel and no one ever expected Jackie Collins to be Jane Austen. (No disrespect to Ms. Collins, who as far as I know never claimed to be heir to the crown.)
This was driven home for me a couple of weeks ago while I was compiling my tax documents. I had the television on, distracting my mind from another tortuous task, and there was 17 Again. The formula for this piece of Hollywood shortcake was obviously lifted directly from Meyer’s success. Matthew Perry isn’t enough for the mothers of tween-plus children; now they have to have Robert Pattinson and Zac Ephron. I imagine they dream of being called cougars by the friends of their sons, fantasizing themselves the object of teenage boys’ masturbatory fantasies. Or maybe they’re just wishing themselves back to their teenage years with all their might. Either way, I’ve come to find the readers far more disquieting than the author.
As for the vampire genre, I’m sticking with Buffy.
Upon pasting this miniature diatribe into the comments box, I was instructed to limit myself to 1,250 characters (including spaces). Seriously? I’ve never commented on one of these boards before; how was I to know? You’ve come this far, so you know I like to hear myself type. Grrr.
Despite my reluctance to spend more time lessening what I had to say, I knew no one else was going to make this important point for me. I reduced the size of my comment, trying to preserve as much of the commentary as possible.
It didn’t really get the job done. So here we are.
My issues with what grown women want these days, they’re my issues. What I would like people to consider is that to meet the demands of the broadest possible market, there was nothing for anyone to fix with Twilight. Making it readable, this is another issue entirely. And one, from what I’ve seen, that places virtue squarely at odds with success. If I had to choose just one reason to explain why I do not work in publishing anymore, I’d have settle on that painful realization.
So please, think it through and give my colleagues a break. Taking potshots is easy. Taking the time to care about giving the public at large more than they want can make any sentient being feel like Sisyphus, especially when no one is paying you to bother.
Let me leave you with these thoughts. Part of me loves the endless rants posted before and after mine on the NPR blog because it means people are reading and, more than that, caring about what they read…one way or another. A possibly larger part wishes we could take opportunities like this one to raise the bar (of discussion and cultural consumption) and lament what we wish people were reading in a manner that is more inspiring than condescending.
Fantastical, immature, star-crossed young lovers make for perfectly good stories, you know.
Just ask Shakespeare.