Piers Anthony's But What of Earth? is an astonishing book, a novel he had originally written in the '70s and which was subsequently rewritten at the pPiers Anthony's But What of Earth? is an astonishing book, a novel he had originally written in the '70s and which was subsequently rewritten at the publisher's insistence but apparently without Anthony's permission. This got Anthony's dander up, and now, 13 years later, he has his revenge. In this book he lashes out at not only his publisher and his unwitting co-writer, but also, and most especially, at the bevy of copy editors who scrawled on his manuscript. Somehow he got his hands on their marks, and he quotes them at length, in order to hold them up to for ridicule, in the lengthy endnotes that make up a good third of the book. I am not making this up. Here he calls them "conniving bitches" (p230); suggests that one missed a nuance because "she was in the Ladie's Room at the moment" (p235); hypothesizes that one of them is "surely unmarried" (p257); exclaims to one, "May God preserve the man who tries to hold *your* hand" (p268); and objects when they call his text sexist (passim). His comments on their notes set a new high water mark for creepy and bitter. Addressing one of the copyeditors, who had wondered how a character missed the obvious, he says, "The obvious can be the hardest thing to recognize -- which is why women disrobe in lighted apartments with uncurtained windows, providing the men of the neighborhood with nightly entertainment. Ever do that yourself?" (p237). Is...is that a threat?
In any event, it's vintage Piers Anthony. At one point, after a character calls another one a bastard, he appends a helpful note patiently explaining: "Actually, 'bastard' is not the ideal word; technically it means a person born when his parents weren't married..." etc. (p249). At another, again addressing a copy editor, he whines straightfaced, "Don't you have better uses for your time than this?" (p235).
The whole endeavor is similarly unintentionally hilarious. "Forgive me if I'm getting paranoid, but somehow I perceive something other than helpful literary criticism operating here," Anthony writes about the copyediting (p237). And he is correct, if these were copy editors who had marked up his text, they would be overstepping their bounds. But it is pretty clear that the publisher deemed Anthony's submitted manuscript unpublishable, and passed it around in a desperate attempt to get some advice from several hands, before having the whole thing rewritten. Perhaps to preserve what was left of Anthony's dignity, he passed the substantive editing off as copyediting, and Anthony bought it. But how many copy editors does he think his work merits? Why would a science fiction novel have five copy editors, all poring over the same copy? Bear in mind that Anthony regards all copyediting "as make-work so there won't be too many unemployed girls tramping the streets of Parnassus" (p209).
Is it even necessary to mention that Anthony sought to prove objectively that his version of this book (published here for the first time!) is superior to the co-written/rewritten version by having a neutral third party judge them both? No. No, of course he would do that.
The novel itself is an interesting idea executed in a pedestrian fashion but with splashes of typical Anthony ridiculousness. The notes, however, are a laugh riot, and I cannot recommend them highly enough to anyone interested in seeing the depths to which we can sink.
You'll note that whoever copyedited the current text was too cowed to change Ladie's Room to ladies' room....more
It is difficult to describe how bad this book is, but some record of evil must be kept, so we do not forget, in the future, what a fallen world we livIt is difficult to describe how bad this book is, but some record of evil must be kept, so we do not forget, in the future, what a fallen world we live in.
The central conceit of the book is that people fall into four generations (Traditionalists, Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials), each with its own set of values, etc., and that when these generations fail to understand each other, ClashPoints (TM) ensue. BridgeWorks LLC , a company founded by the two authors, can by hired to give a lecture or consult or something to mitigate the problem. Lynne Lancaster is a Boomer and David Stillman is a Gen Xer; this is important to remember. (Note that I am not exaggerating, and ClashPoints really is trademarked.)
Now, for Lancaster and Stillman to have a job, they need conflict between several generations, and to have such conflict, they need several generations. Really, they need four. It's clear that they decided that four was the minimum they could get away with, because they have mashed several generations together under the rubric "Traditionalists," which they define as anyone born between 1900 and 1944. It is clear that this 44 year period is, in fact, several generations who are already well-known for having distinct identities (The Silent Generation contrasts with the so-called "greatest generation," for example; and really, what possible umbrella can cover people who grew up before WWI (before the modern world, essentially), and those who grew up during the Depression or WWII years?) Anyone who was actually interested in intergenerational conflict could find much to study in the years 1900 to 1944 alone. But, as we shall see, Lancaster and Stillman are not really interested in intergenerational conflict.
Now, many of the Traditionalists, especially the ones who were 102 when the book was written, are no longer in the workforce. In fact, since they are by definition fifty-eight (at the time of writing) at the very youngest, with a median age of dead, it's pretty clear that most Traditionalists have already left the workplace, and are at best a rapidly dwindling minority. But L&S are at great pains to stress that Traditionalists are retiring later, are returning to the workplace in droves, etc. Similarly, Millennials had just started seeping into the workplace in 2002, and almost nothing could possibly be known about their workplace mores unless the workplace were Stop&Shop; but L&S keep mentioning that Millennials are often (how often? not mentioned) getting white-collar jobs at age 14, and so there really is a lot to say about them at work, honest. (The sequel, eight years later, finds the time right to be all about Millennials' "M-Factor.")
Why the desperate need to shoehorn Traditionalists and Millennials into a framework they don't fit in? Because without these two generations, the book would just be about Boomers and Gen Xers. And that would be too obvious. Well, needless to say, the book actually is about Boomers and Gen Xers, and the occasional nods to sassy grandmas and techno-whiz tweens cannot obscure this fact. Like all good Boomers and probably the majority or Gen Xers, Lancaster and Stillman want to write about themselves. And, indeed, time and again Traditionalists are lumped in with Boomers as having a common set of values, while Millennials are lumped together with Gen Xers, in opposition to the old guard. This is not a book about four generations, it is a book about two generations with minor subsidiaries; in fact it is not a book about generations at all, or at least not about the unique cultures of individual generations. In their ClashPoints (TM) examples, Gen Xers/Millennials tend to be rebellious, less respectful of authority, casual, etc., while Boomers/Traditionalists are statelier, respectful, formal, etc. Every anecdote about the ClashPoints (TM) between Lynne and David are indistinguishable from a scene in a buddy cop movie; they are also indistinguishable from any conflict between a younger person and an older person. The term "generation gap" was coined to describe the disconnection between Boomers and their parents (i.e. Traditionalists), but Boomers are now, in this book, disconnected not from the older generation, but from the younger. That is to say, the gap is not between two generations and their cultures, it is between the young and the old in general. Now you can argue whether this statement is true or not, that is to say you can argue whether the culture of our generation has more or less impact on our behavior than our age does, but that's not the point. The point is that, if you take the facts in this book at face value, the very concept on which the book is based is flawed. (More importantly, L&S would be out of a job.)
Not that it matters, because the facts are all lies. L&S write in a breezy, speech-ready style that is mainly anecdotes linked by cliches, and the anecdotes are made up. Here's a patently false example of a ClashPoint (TM), this one between Gen Xer Stillman and his Millennial babysitter. The babysitter has just asked Stillman where he and his wife had dinner:
"'Well,' he [David Stillman] announced just a little pompously, 'we actually ate at Cafe Brenda.'
"'Oh, I love that place, it's so fat. "
"'Really?' David replied. 'That surprises me, because they pride themselves on low-fat cooking!'"
There are several reasons to doubt the veracity of this anecdote. In the first place, if Cafe Brenda is so swank that wealthy consultant Stillman preens over eating there, why is the adolescent babysitter intimately knowledgeable of its cuisine? In the second place, no one talks that way ever. And most importantly, David Stillman is a fool. This is a sitcom mistake, not a real mistake. Everyone under the age of fifty knows what "phat" means (the variant spelling is introduced in a subsequent paragraph), and, even if one didn't, one could tell from context that the traditional meaning of "fat" does not make grammatical sense in the babysitter's sentence. She didn't say "fattening."
But in case you think this story might be true, here's an anecdote from 304 pages later:
"A Traditionalist boss overheard his Millennial intern talking on the phone.
"'Man, my boss is so fat!'
"The Traditionalist is disgruntled. Sure, he put on a few pounds over the winter, but what is this punk doing insulting him?!"
Oh, and "?!" sic, I assure you. What a remarkable coincidence that the same misunderstanding happens twice. It's almost as if L&S don't know anything about Millennials except that the word "phat" is their ultimate expression of approbation. Also that Millennials are full or energy, are optimistic but naive, etc. In other words, they're just like any kids, except they say "phat" and are called Millennials.
Another example of an anecdote that is clearly a lie: This is a verbatim transcription of a message left about a video project on Boomer Lynne Lancaster's answering machine by an "extreme editor":
"'Uh, dude, I'm a little concerned about the middle montage, it's looking radically raw....Not to worry, we're doin' it digital, we can slice and dice and mix and match, it's going to look stellar, but hook me up with the 411 if you have any questions or I'll just assume you'll call me at three bells.'"
Ellipsis in the original. So this is allegedly an example of Gen X patois, although it sounds more like what a Mountain Dew ad exec thinks Gen Xers sound like than what an real human being sounds like. Three bells? Radically raw? Is this a ninja turtle on the phone?
However, my scoffing is not evidence of mendacity. This is my evidence.
One of the two writers of the book (it appears to be Stillman) is enamored of the word "stellar." This is a perfectly cromulent word, even if not used in its sidereal sense, but it's not exactly an everyday word. But it appears in the book a lot. I didn't start counting until halfway through the book, but once I did I got:
"...the networking and learning opportunities are stellar..." (p177).
"A Baby Boomer supervisor recently complained that he lost a stellar Traditionalist candidate..." (p187). (Incidentally, the book is full of sentences like this.)
"Stellar" is also used on pp198, 226, 243, 253, 316...I probably missed some as my eyes glazed over in the second half of the book. The point is, these guys sure do say "stellar" more often than anyone else in history.
Now go back to the answering machine message, and look for the shibboleth: "It's going to look stellar." A nice try, Lancaster & Stillman, but you are not fooling anyone.
Of course, this generation-as-stereotype is typical of L&S's method. They have one or two adjectives that describe a generation (Boomers are competitive (they had to be, there were so many people competing for jobs, Lancaster whines constantly), Gen Xers are freewheeling, etc.), and they apply them again and again. There is nothing to be learned about generations from this book that could not have been learned from watching, say, three hours of primetime TV.
But it is one of the pitfalls of the motivational speaker (or whatever these guys are) that they confuse cliches with wisdom. Here's L&S again:
"Tried-and-true training courses that have stood the test of time are fine..."
I suppose this might be a reference to Van Halen's "Why Can't This Be Love" ("Only time will tell / If we will stand the test of time"), but I suspect it is instead just what you get when you write without thinking. I mean without thinking about anything ever. At this point we should all read Orwell's "Politics and the English Language."
Speaking of writing without thinking:
"Managing the boss is older than Brutus and Cassius managing Caesar, and done wrong it can be as dangerous as Sonny and Fredo crossing the Godfather."
Was Brutus and Cassius' managing of Caesar somehow not dangerous? I'd call that dangerous. Two years after their managing of Caesar, Brutus and Cassius were both dead. Notice that the Classical (or Shakespearean) reference will appeal to Boomers, while the pop-culture reference will grab the attention of Gen Xers.
And a final excerpt to show just how little thought went into this book:
"After the shooting at Santee High School in Southern California, counselors convened a large group of high school students to talk about the basic things everyone could do to make the school environment less hostile and alienating. The number one suggestion was that students should make eye contact and exchange greeting in the hallways, rather than treating one another as if they were invisible."
I don't know what kind of high school you went to, but if I in my mid-sized suburban high school half the size of Santee High (actual name Santana High School; Santee is the name of the town, I discovered after four seconds of research) had stopped to acknowledge each person I passed, I never would have made it to the next class. What kind of Kafkaesque nightmare would a large school become? Reading sentiments like this is frankly embarrassing for everyone involved.
Look, the point is that this book is stupid, false, and poorly written. And you can hire these people to tell their lies to you....more
I have to admit I'm not sure why a thousand-year-old Buddhist sect is considered pop culture, but then I'm not as "street" as Paper is. Of course, noI have to admit I'm not sure why a thousand-year-old Buddhist sect is considered pop culture, but then I'm not as "street" as Paper is. Of course, no one's as street as "the premiere journal of all things trendsetting," judging by their self-congratulatory introduction -- except perhaps their readers, who are "fearless innovators at ground zero, taking risks" etc. (The "ground zero" line may sound strange, but this book was written in 1999.) They also use the word "hipoisie" (no joke).
Now, I am not very hip, so I'd like to take a moment to learn, from Paper, just what hipness means. Let's start with a topic I know only a little about, and would like to know more; let's flip through these alphabetical listings to H for "Hong Kong Cinema." Here's the entry, in toto:
"Quentin Taratino's legacy of video-clerk film majors with voracious appetites for the international and the obscure led to the discovery of the balletic violence and staccato editing style of director John Woo and the Hong Kong school of cinema. Woo came to America in 1996 to direct Broken Arrow, starring John Travolta and Christian Slater, followed by the gorgeous Face/Off with Travolta and Nicolas Cage. Hong Kong stars Michelle Yeoh, Jackie Chan and Chow Yun-Fat have all translated well at the box-office."
It's easy to pick this entry apart for its errors and omissions and it use of the tired cliche "balletic violence," but these problems are all overshadowed by the fact that an entry marked "Hong Kong Cinema" mentions one American director, one Hong Kong director, three American actors, three Hong Kong actors, two American movies, and no Hong Kong movies. Surely there's something wrong here. The year, remember is 1999; have you ever met anyone who knew less about Hong Kong cinema than these people in 1999? The fact that the primary concerns are making references your parents would understand and gauging how actors do "at the box office" is, it turns out, emblematic of the rest of the book.
The format of the book itself may be part of the problem. The entries are "sushi-sized pieces of delectable information" (shudder; their phrase), too small to convey any real content. But the content they do contain is essentially on the level of a press release. What are we to make of the assertion that two members of the B-52s "have both put out solo records that have been eagerly scooped up by their adoring fans"? I guess adoring fans are eager, but does anyone actually scoop records (presumably actually CDs)? Or the statement that Milla Jovovich "has already conquered the worlds of modeling, music and film." Yes, she has appeared in films, is that what they mean? These sentences are nonsense, little commercials of the sort you might've expected to see in Wizard Magazine. The entry on Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa ends with the fawning pronouncement: "We have not heard the last of him." Is this some kind of joke? Apparently it's hard to pass through the pages of Paper without getting your ass kissed.
(The one acceptable instance: I will tolerate the otherwise spurious claim that Ian McKellan "received universal praise for his performance as James Whale" under the assumption that the brown-nosey word "universal" is a play off the name of Whale's studio. All other occasions of "universal," "omnipresent," "peerless," etc., are hateful.)
But of course the editors of Paper don't want you think they are soft, and so every once in a while they take a courageous stance and dare to criticize a sacred cow by uttering some unpopular truths. For example, here's their daring take on "Family Values":
"A phrase coined by religious Republicans to justify the censorship of movies, rap music, TV shows, theater and anything else that offended their hypocritical selves. These tireless ideologues strive to turn back the clock to the days before words 'women's liberation' were ever uttered. Leaders include the virtuous and sanctimonious Bill Bennett and the reptilian Jerry Falwell of the Liberty Federation and Liberty University."
Now that's telling it like it is! I'm not sure how the claim that Falwell wants to censor theater makes him a hypocrite, and it's a little weird that "virtuous" is apparently an insult now, but I'll grant that the adjective "reptilian" is pretty funny. After that brief puncturing of hitherto idolized figures they then return to business as usual, enthusing that Li'l Kim "is one of a new breed of rap superstars that like it dirty and designer all the way." You've gotta be pretty hip to take on Bill Bennett!
Commerce is never far from Paper's mind. The climactic sentence of their entry on Out magazine runs: "The crème de la crème of advertisers use Out to target the highly sought-after gay market that likes to read about everything from gay-bashing to out celebrities." This is a wonderfully Paper sentence in the way it trundles out buying power as the staple of success, in the way it manages to flatter everyone (those elite advertisers! that desirable demographic!), and also in the way it writes itself into a corner. The "everything from...to" construction is clearly supposed to wow us with the broad spectrum of gay interests, but of course it was too hard to actually think of a spectrum, so instead we get two subjects that do not, in fact, bound a very large territory under that intimidating rubric "everything." Binturong enthusiasts are interested in everything from binturong feeding to binturong grooming, but I'm not going to say it that way, because I would sound like an idiot. But "everything from...to" appears again and again in Paper, and even when they actually manage to list two diverse subjects they're no better off. Under the entry "'Zines" Paper lists some "with strong, smart and funny voices whose content ran the gamut from gross-out summer camp stories to opinion pieces on the perfection of mint chocolate-chip ice cream." Leaving aside that "funny voices" does not mean what they think it means, I must point out that the gamut of summer camp and ice cream, while perhaps broad, is nevertheless stupid. They are trying so hard to think of quirky things to enumerate here that they are probably sweating.
Much of the book is just useless and lame. Try paging through and checking how many entries of this "insider's tour" contain absolutely zero information that your parents don't know. I suppose in fifty years someone might come across this book and be fascinated by three sentences roughly outlining who O.J Simpson is. Did you know that IPO stands for initial public offering, and "fortunes are being made on IPOs"? If you did, you know as much about the subject as the authors of this reference book.
And did anyone just plain copy edit? The IPO sentence is only one of the innumerable overuses of the passive voice in this book. "Hundreds of permissions had to be secured from photographers worldwide and each of hundreds of entries had to be written, researched, edited and fact-checked." Or: "...the bar is raised and minds are opened." I'm not one of those grammar-checkers who red pen every use of the passive, but come on. Also:
Page 13: "The virus was this generation's Vietnam..." Page 20: "Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome has been this generation's Vietnam..."
Note how cleverly they vary the sentences, so you hardly notice you're reading the same one twice! (Bonus points to anyone who can find its third appearance in the book.) Also, they use variations of the cumbersome phrase "transgendered youth on the Christopher Street piers" again and again. Is there no other name for these guys? Couldn't they think of a synonym for "youth"? Here's an idea, you hip thing you, how about if you make up a name? After all, you made up "hipoisie."
I'm not even going to discuss the moronic article on "cartoons." (There are, of course, no mentions of anime or manga in a book written in 1999 by people whose "keen sense of what's up clues [them] in to trends, people and fashion long before they hit the mainstream," although the entry on "multi-culti style" [sic] does mention that "Japanese kids brought their sci-fi cartoon vibe to the streets," which might count for something.)
It's possible, I suppose, that Paper the magazine is not as pathetically shameful as the book, although since the editors are the same I tend to doubt it. And in all fairness, it may well be that greed, shallowness, "star-star"-ing, celebrity obsession, and ignorance are the building blocks of hip, and Paper is therefore just as hip as it claims when it wallows in these vices. But I can't help but notice that Juxtapoz does a better job of concealing them.
And in case you were wondering:
"After the flash of the '80s and the downfall of corporate culture, things got real as we entered the '90s. Grassroots companies thrived, hype was frowned upon, glitzy postmodern architecture and design looked tired, and elitism and flashiness were passé. Small became big and dressing down became more chic than showing off. Aerobics and steroids gave way to yoga and pilates, and overdecoration gave way to minimalist, feng shui-designed spaces. Facing a monumental change that only happened every thousand years, spirituality seemed to be the one thing that could make folks comfortable, and even major celebrities tried to free their bloated egos though Zen Buddhist practice."
There it is, the last entry in the book (they're not strictly alphabetical). That, in toto, is Paper's entry on "Zen."...more
“The painting seems to be the type of random arrangement that a five-year-old might come up with. However, it emerged from the mind of an intellectual“The painting seems to be the type of random arrangement that a five-year-old might come up with. However, it emerged from the mind of an intellectual” (p64); this is only the most annoying of innumerable nearly identical statements in this book that confuse what an artist produces and what an artist claims to be producing.
“So although this work might initially appear to be a childish scrawl, it actually conveys the preoccupations of the time” (p71), Hodge writes, actually citing the artist’s statement as her source. But of course this is not what the work “conveys.” If the work “conveyed” meaning, we would not need an artist to explain what it was about, or Hodge to blindly accept and repeat it.
This entire book is a hymn to the intentional fallacy. Time and again we are assured that an artist acted intentionally (pp 138, 216, etc.), consciously (pp 59,181, etc.), or, especially, deliberately (pp 65, 154, 171, 172, 181, 207, etc.); we are asked to consider the artist's objective (149), objectives (165), or aim (47, 140, 169), what an artist was seeking to communicate (202), intended (84, 124), aimed at (61, 128, 140), or planned deliberately (81) as a preconceived statement (119) for meaningful reasons (125).
“No child would have created this work with the same intentions as Tinguely” (p22). While, for her part, Rist’s “reasons went much deeper” than children’s reasons would (p53).
How “meaningful” can these “reasons” get? Check out these examples of the kind of symbolism modern art offers: •“The artist's inclusion of two skulls indicates the prospect of death” (p162). •“The cut-up sleeves of a denim shirt represent the fisherman's clothes” (p143). Could a five-year old have come up with those bits of metonymy?
As with the skulls and the denim, there is a bizarre literalness at work in this book. Could a five-year old have painted this Magritte? No, because “no child could possibly reproduce Magritte’s meticulous and realistic painting style” (p14). Could a child have created Emin’s “My Bed”? No, because although “Children may often leave their beds unmade and their rooms a mess…a close look at this installation reveals that the bed and strewn items belong to an adult” (p130). These explanations seem to miss the point — no one’s ever stated that a five-year old could paint like Magritte, and no one who’s ever dissed “My Bed” would feel refuted by the fact that children don’t wear pantyhose. You might as well say that children couldn’t paint the upper half of Gorky's "Year after Year" because they’re too short.
"A child could not slash a canvas because children are not allowed to play with knives," is a parody of a statement from this book and not an actual statement from this book.
Mainly, though, Hodge just falls back on her beloved intentionalism: “any five-year-old could have deposited his own excrement in a can…Manzoni, however, was making several points that few children could make” (p116).
What this book does not offer is an explanation for why the artworks reproduced are not trash—I’m not saying they are trash, just that the book does not explain, or even attempt to explain why they are not. As an apology for modern art, it addresses only straw-man arguments and makes modern art seem safe, boring, and redundant. It also doesn't really explain why a five-year old could not have made most of the works reproduced herein. In fact, it often stumbles backwards into admitting that a five-year old could have.
• “A five-year-old could make a structure like this, but they [sic] would not be scrutinizing so many elements at the same time” (p29). •“A child could make a pretend plate of food but would not be able to incorporate the subtle implications or the strands of humor, creativity, and reality that are inherent in this piece” (p24). •“Any child could do that but none would do so in order to make statements about [blah blah blah]” (p67).
But, once again, don’t be confused! “The ambiguities in the image are deliberate, unlike a child’s arbitrary scribble” (p62). I think we can all agree that the problem with children is that their scribbles do not contain "countless intellectual, mystical and spiritual implications that allude to various complex issues, including intrinsic emotions and tensions" (p56).
I know I’m repeating myself, but this book is very repetitive; I’m also being mean, and I can’t really justify my bad behavior except by assuring you the book is filled with quotes like these:
•“Yet surreptitiously and incisively [Gonzalez-Torres] invoked viewers to reconsider, to contemplate the past, present, and future, just as the work reaches the senses of sight, touch, and taste” (p36). •“By arranging mass-produced objects on shelves, [Steinbach] creates tensions between anonymity and desire” (p44).
If you hate modern art, this book will reassure and flatter you; if you like modern art, you won’t after reading this book—unless, I guess, you have long hoped that someone would create tensions along the anonymity–desire axis. ...more
I may as well admit right off that I didn’t like this book. I knew going in that it wasn’t “for” me, in the sense that I’m not a big fan of vampire roI may as well admit right off that I didn’t like this book. I knew going in that it wasn’t “for” me, in the sense that I’m not a big fan of vampire romance. Nevertheless, this book disappointed me on a level far more profound than I had anticipated.
Sparkling vampires are lame, but I knew about sparkling vampires from the get go. Vampires who choose to spend eternity going to high school are lame, but I knew about this, too. Bella I has thought would be a bland cipher, since everyone talks about her as having no personality. But she was actually filled with personality, all of it unpleasant (*); but I like plenty of books with unpleasant characters, so that’s not necessarily a strike against it.
The point is, there are many bad books, and most of them will be forgiven on the Day of Judgment. Twilight has two problems that are perhaps unforgiveable. 1. The squick factor
Bella’s relationship with Edward is icky. He pushes her around, bosses her around, pays no attention to her expressed wishes, and frequently asserts he’s on the verge of murdering her.
Now, I certainly don’t think fiction is under any obligation to depict only healthy relationships. Lolita, Death in Venice, and Fowles’s The Collector are all fine books about unhealthy relationships. If Meyer had wanted to depict, or even romanticize, something like this, I’m not even going to object. I’m more of an anarchist than a moralist, and don’t need books to agree with me on their relationship advice. However:
a. Let me be clear: I don’t generally think that if you’re writing a book for young teenagers you should watch yourself so thoroughly. Literature is supposed to be subversive (at least I prefer it to be). There are all sorts of gender dynamics you could put into a kid’s book that I may not agree with, but I still wouldn’t have a problem passing along to a child. But presenting a dangerous, abusive, stalking, aged, self-confessed murderer, who may kill you at any moment, as the greatest kind of boyfriend, if probably a little irresponsible. Despite what people may think of me, I try to make some concessions to the age of the target audience. Captain Planet may be a poor cartoon in any event, but it’s only because of the fact that it’s aimed at children that I really think it’s vile.
b. There’s only so much you can learn about the sexual proclivities of an author before it starts to ruin things. This is always true. Piers Anthony you can read in junior high, before your perspicacity develops enough for you to understand what he likes, and then it gets too icky. Certainly Gilbert Hernandez is right on the cusp of ruining a huge chuck of his work.
What I’m saying is reading Twilight taught me too much about Stephenie Meyer.
2. The prose
Meyer’s prose represents a failure not only on her part, but on the whole publishing industry (as well BYU’s English program). She will probably go down in history like William McGonagall as one of the worst butchers of the language. I have read my fair share of science fiction and pulps, and I had thought that I was pretty hardy, but Meyer has knocked the wind out of me. There are many bad best-selling writers, but most of them are only as bad as they have to be. Meyer is much worse.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think she may be a worse stylist than Dan Brown.
“Edward’s plane was landing in terminal four, the largest terminal, where most flights landed -- so it wasn’t surprising that his was” (p436).
So often her clauses seem to be strung together in random order. So many times she reuses the same word in sentence after sentence. Copy editors are (and are supposed to be) rabid dogs seeking to flush out and destroy even mild idiosyncrasies. Who snoozed and coasted their way through Meyer’s text?
“Aren’t you hungry?” he asked, distracted. “No.” I didn’t feel like mentioning that my stomach was already full -- of butterflies. (p91)
Worst of all is that fact that in a 500-page book with almost no plot, she was allowed to pad almost every sentence with superfluous words. This is not a tight book, and I do not know why it was not made into a tight book. I think its length could have been reduced by 25-30% if someone had just recast the sentences to make them less verbose.
“It was in this town that I’d been compelled to spend a month every summer until I was fourteen” (p3). --> “I’d been compelled to spend a month in this town every summer until I was fourteen.”
For anyone who cares even a little about grammar or style, it’s hard to read Twilight and not feel you’re getting trolled.
“’Let’s you and I not push poor Mike any further this week…’ “‘Mike-schmike,’ I muttered, preoccupied by the way he’d said ‘you and I.’ I liked it more than *I* should” (p103).
Towards the end there started to be some vampire hunting action, and I started to get a little invested in the story; I must have stopped groaning and complaining because my girlfriend wrote “I love Edward” on my arm in what appears to be permanent ink. But I didn’t like Edward, and I didn’t like Twilight. -----
*Since so many people assert that Bella is a dull vacuum of a character, negatively defined only, a projection of reader’s characteristics, I think it is important to establish how thoroughly the book invests her with personality traits. Most of these are negative in the sense that they’re “no good”: she is consistently self-absorbed, paranoid, catty, rude, aloof, faux-humble, shallow, irritable, depressed, and judgmental.(Also clumsy.) But she is also clearly a Mary-Sue wish-fulfillment character, something people seem to overlook.
p210, E to B: "You don't see yourself very clearly, you know...you didn't hear what every human male in this school was thinking on your first day...Trust me just this once -- you are the opposite of ordinary."
Literally every male non-vampire character her age who gets more than one line of dialogue hits on her. She manages to sacrifice and suffer nobly (we all want to have done that!), and yet when you look at it, her "literal...personal Hell" is not that bad (even better!). And she really is better than every other human character at everything that does not involve coordination. Her mastery of human dynamics lets her understand who has crushes on whom, and subtly guide them towards each other. Without her around her mother literally can't find her clothes, while her father can't prepare a meal without Bella babystepping him through it (she has to explain to him twice (once in writing) where the cold cuts she buys for him are). In Port Angeles, her fashion advice for her durpy friends is cogent (and immediately taken!), and she sends them off to be lesser people together while she alone looks for a book store. And of course she sneers at all the inferior people around her constantly, casually noting their bad skin and bad perms.
The funniest parts, I think, are when she remarks on how much better she is at school than all her peers: "Bronte, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Faulkner. I'd already read everything" (p15).
Talking to Mike about the Macbeth paper he had stupidly forgotten about: "I didn't add that l was finished with it — no need to sound smug" (p143). No need, indeed!
She finishes her bio lab (with Edward) in record time and then condescendingly has to try to "appear attentive" as the teacher explains "what [she] had seen without difficulty through the microscope" (pp50-51). "Without difficulty" are the watchwords here.
It’s possible that in future books she is “given” less, but in the first book she is actually fleshed out, and, furthermore, overwhelmingly displayed in a positive light (despite being incredibly annoying)....more
"Our school was public, but one of those progressive ones that always got written up in national magazines..." (p32).
I really hated If I Stay, and the"Our school was public, but one of those progressive ones that always got written up in national magazines..." (p32).
I really hated If I Stay, and there are several reasons, but this is a big one. Mia's life is too cool: it's too good, too easy, and everyone in it is too much of a Mary Sue stand-in for the "rocker" author. Mia's too talented, and too appreciated. Her brother is too cute, her boyfriend is too sweet, and her parents are too supportive (and too nauseatingly quirky).
I think the basic premise here would make a good book, but I'd be much more interested in seeing someone who did not live an irritatingly perfect existence have to choose between life and death. Sure, her perfect life was shattered; but Mia has no reason not to assume that she will fall effortlessly backwards into another series of heartfelt relationships and easy applauses. Her choice is not a genuine choice. The first few pages of the book are about how perfect her life is, and the next two hundred reveal NOTHING ELSE. This book is a series of flashbacks reinforcing your initial assumptions: that Mia's family is perfect and yet extremely annoying.
"Of course, they [ the narrator's parents] did it their way. They were married by a lesbian justice of the peace while their friends played a guitar-feedback-heavy version of the 'Wedding March.' The bride wore a white-fringed flapper dress and black spiked boots. The groom wore leather" (p83)
Obviously I have no bones to pick with lesbian justices of the peace; but imagine if you're a lesbian justice of the peace and your entire character is being a lesbian justice of the peace in someone else's anecdote about how they "did it their way." Or imagine telling your daughter about your wedding, and causally dropping the fact that you were married by a lesbian justice of the peace. Are we blowing your bourgeois mind yet? THERE WAS FEEDBACK AND LEATHER!
What there was not was dissent or conflict. Every character is similarly cool. Every character speaks on point, in reassuring monologues. Everyone is supportive of everyone's choices. Everything looks punk rock, but everything is really safe. On page 185, the father's best friend gets angry because the father insists on bourgeois norms over rock 'n' roll. TWO PARAGRAPHS LATER the friend calls the father in tears to admit he's right.
Isn't part of the tragedy of losing loved ones the knowledge that some secret part of them will never be revealed, that you didn't get to know them as well as you could have? No risk of that here, because fortunately Mia is OBSESSED with how cool her parents are, and she has them down pat. "Of course they did it their way." OF COURSE!
(The grandparents are less punk rock, but don't worry -- they're still wicked cool and supportive! And it turns out foxy grandpa liked punk rock all along!)
Forman's leaden prose only makes these boring, lame characters more boring and more lame.
"With her magenta hair, she's like the sun, around which her admiring planets revolve. Adam is like a moon, standing off to the side, stroking his chin. Meanwhile, Kim looks shell-shocked, like a bunch of Martians just entered the building" (p139).
Try unpacking that simile. There's a magenta sun, with a moon...standing off to the side? Is that what moons do? Is Mars one of the other ("admiring") planets, and if so, which band member is it who has emitted aliens? This doesn't work.
There are a lot of jokes in the book, but the only one I found almost funny was when someone evokes "that old Smiths song 'Girlfriend in a Coma'" (p140); and even this is ruined by 1. the completely unnatural phrase required to introduce it ("How about that old Smiths song...") and 2. the fact that Forman underscores the joke completely gratuitously in her "behind the music" notes (p251).
I'm hesitant to speak so harshly, because I know that a lot of people were really moved by this book; but they were able to find in it something I couldn't. In addition, they were able to find in their hearts the ability to excuse these sentences:
"Dad's lyrics were not just rhymes. They were something else" (p189)....more