Education Opinion

No Twilight for Reading

By Donalyn Miller — December 03, 2008 2 min read
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Eight English teachers, surrounded by hundreds of teenagers, stand in line behind velvet ropes. Everyone wears black, sporting t-shirts bearing slogans like, “And so the lion fell in love with the lamb,” and “Edward prefers brunettes.” Two girls, in matching Cullen Crest jackets, snap pictures of the crowd with their cell phones.

When the theater doors finally open, my friend Jennifer, the head of her high school English department, zigzags forcefully through the crowd and secures us a row of seats. More than one group of girls eyes us with bemused expressions, but for tonight, we are united in a common purpose—to see the movie adaptation of Twilight, Stephenie Meyer’s hit book about a small town girl and the vampire boy she loves.

The movie begins and the crowd silences. Except for the predictable squeals when Robert Pattison, the teen-heartthrob who plays vampire Edward Cullen, first appears on screen, the theater full of teenage girls remains remarkably quiet and attentive. They are engrossed with the movie, and I become increasingly interested in watching them—a packed theater of adolescents who are not just obsessed movie fans—they are obsessed readers. Most have read the entire Twilight series, almost 2,000 pages of text.

Risking instant scorn, I must admit that I do not think the Twilight books are that well-written. The books are too long, too indulgent, and I find the protagonist, Bella Swan, a bit of a whiner. In spite of endless comparisons in the books, Bella is no Cathy and Edward is no Heathcliff. I wonder, though, how many girls picked up a copy of Wuthering Heights this year and read it because Bella did.

There has been a lot of flack about Twilight in schools and homes. The books’ content—full of vampires and werewolves—is considered inappropriate reading material by some. The latent sexuality in the books causes parental concern, too, although I could point out that Edward is a boy who actually values his girlfriend’s virtue—the couple waits until marriage to consummate their relationship.

Say what you will about Twilight, I have not seen so many kids cart around 500 page tomes since Harry Potter. If we want to encourage students to read, we must validate some of their less-than highbrow reading choices when they do. Hopefully, due to the popularity of event-books like Harry Potter and Twilight, this generation sees reading as part of their culture—right alongside Guitar Hero and Facebook.

Interesting isn’t it, that we decry the pitiful amount of books most teenagers read and then question their choices when they do read? Looking at the New York Times bestseller list, adult readers choose authors like James Patterson and Janet Evanovich, not the Brontes. It seems we denounce the pop-culture books our teens read by day, and go home to read the same type of books ourselves.

Back in the darkened theater, the movie ends and the surging crowd carries us outside. My new Twilight comrades, the throngs of teens who surround me, chatter away—discussing the movie and their impressions of it. I found the movie more campy than scary—and what’s up with Jasper’s catatonic stare? I can’t help but smile to myself, though, when I pass a group of girls debating their favorite book and how the filmmakers, “Just didn’t get it.” Teenagers arguing the merits of a book on a Friday night—how can we not celebrate that?

The opinions expressed in The Book Whisperer are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.