Monday, March 8, 2010

Nancy Granger and the Riddle of the Dragon

By Steve Weddle

So I saw a woman at a soccer match reading a book. A thick one. I was surprised. I thought maybe she was reading Infinite Jest or an annotated Ulysses. Just shake your head surprised, ya know? Then I felt bad for thinking it was unusual, worked up a little "book by its cover joke" and turned back to the game.

So I walked around until I could see what book she was reading. It wasn't Infinite Jest. No, this 50-year-old woman was reading Twilight, the novel about how some 104-year-old dude seduces a teenage girl. This book was popular with teenage girls of all ages.

Look, I don't have a thing at all against Ms. Meyer, who wrote the book and has gobs of money and influence and probably lawyers of substantial skill. She wrote a book that people love, a book people love to defend. Fantastic. Kinda reminds me of the Harry Potter craze, in which seemingly intelligent grown-ups read about how this little boy was doing in his potions class and whether teenage love-birds Ron and Hermione were going to make out in the shrieking shack. Great. Sell a billion books, Ms. Rowling.

OK, it's hard to have this conversation without sounding as if I'm begrudging them their success. I'm not. (Methinks the lady doth protest too much. Aw, shaddup.)

My concern isn't with the writers; I worry about the readers.

Depending upon which studies I make up, between 83 and 98 percent of those adults who read Twilight read only Twilight-related books during whatever year it came out. I'm not here to whine about that. Heck, I'm not even here to bury Caesar. I want to know why.

Why are those books so popular? Why do 40-year-old women rush home after work to see whether the 104-year-old Edward Cullen and the teenage Bella Swan are goosing each other in his coffin. (Um, I'm the only one who finds it disturbing that a dude 100 years old is scammin on some teenage girl? You know those Disney movies in which the grown-up gets thrown into a high schooler's body -- Freaky Friday, that one with that Chandler dude from Friends, etc? If that guy then takes a teenage girl to his van, folks would flip. Why is it OK if this dude with the Jonas Brothers eyebrows does it? Because he's impossibly beautiful? I dunno. Just seems awful.)

And it ain't just the dames. The dudes are reading children's books, too. Harry Potter, for sure. I can name a few grown men who waited in line to buy the Harry Potter books at midnight. Men who don't even have kids. Or even a girlfriend. The Onion did a hilarious piece on adults reading kids' books. John mentioned that item in one of his recent posts.

Why do adults go crazy for these books about teenagers? Oh noes. The thirteen-year-old wizard gets bullied by the big meanie wizards from rich families.

Grown men and women. In love. With teenage characters.

OK. So here's where we are. This is a crime fiction blog. So what does this have to do with crime fiction? Nothing. Dang it. That's the problem. We need to band together as the crime fiction community and say we're not writing adult books anymore. No. We want to hit the best seller lists. We want movie deals. We want to go to premieres and red carpet things and eat whatever it is the fancy people take off of those silver trays in the movies. Let's stop worrying about writing books and start focusing on selling books.

A teenager. A boy? Girl? Don't know. Let's say a girl. OK. We're gonna hafta throw in some supernatural stuff. We have to kill the kid's parents, especially if we want this to be a Disney movie. Probably we should follow Nemo, Little Mermaid, Beauty & the Beast and kill the mom. Yeah. OK. So the little girl has a dead mom. And a father who is overwhelmed. Oh, Nancy Drew. Wasn't her mom dead? I don't know. I think she was in the movie. OK. So the girl is going about her life, but it isn't going too well. She's cute, of course, because she's our lead. But she's librarian-cute, not cheerleader-cute. And she's, what? Fourteen? Fifteen? Maybe tomboyish. So something weird happens. Her dad loses his job, maybe. Yells at her. She runs into the attic. Hides. And she stumbles across something, something that shows her that her mother's death wasn't an accident and/or that she's the lost princess of Genovia or some place like that. Oh, and dragons. Another world. That's it. She's the lost princess of Hogwart's or Narnia or something. Crappy life here. Great life there. And she has to solve her mother's murder to bring balance to the force. Oh, wait. The bad people are ruling Narnia or whatever we call it. So she has to solve her mother's murder to show that they're imposters.

And in so doing she gains self-confidence and helps her father and finds grandparents she never knew she had. Crud. I forgot the boyfriend. Ugh. OK. I can't do all this on my own, people.

We want a supernatural murder mystery written for children. But adults have to read it, so don't make it challenging.

OK. I was kinda messing around but this could be fun.

Who's with me? Ready? Go.


Jimmy Callaway said...

I'm with you. Just let me get my frontal lobes removed first. I've been meaning to do that anyways...

pattinase (abbott) said...

I used to know a woman who read only Anne Rice. I mean only Anne Rice. She's read each one several times. I could never convince her that other writers might have the same effect. She had found her niche and wasn't moving.

Travener said...

Hey, I think you've got a plot. If you stick to Stephanie Meyer's timeline, you should be a bazillionaire within six months.

Steve Weddle said...

Jimmy, Sounds like good preparation for most of what I've seen.

Patti, I don't know how to help these people. Do we find them other vampire books? Other books about New Orleans? If only they'd widen their view a wee little bit.

Travener, Six months, eh? Well, I'm still gonna buy lottery tickets until then. So many people I need to get revenge on before then.

Chris said...

I don't know. The people who make these books popular are of the same ilk who seemingly make a whole lot of really, really bad television and movies popular. I'm of a mind to just nuke the whole thing from space. It's the only way to be sure.

Jon The Crime Spree Guy said...


Who says these people need help? They weren't reading at all before, so this is an improvement. I've read all the Harry Potter books. They are fast reading, entertaining and remind me of the books I read as a kid that made me love reading. Of course I also read about 7-9 books a week.

People only reading these books isn't that different than men who won't read books by women or people who will on;y read cozies r non fiction or whatever. There is just a bigger volume.

Also, a lot of parents SHOULD read these books. I think a parent reading what their kids are reading makes perfect sense.If your kid loves the twilight books you would be a fool not to read at least one of them so you know what they are reading and maybe heaven forbid, talk to them about it.

People being seen in public reading is a good thing, I don't care what they are reading.

Chris said...

Removing my tongue from my cheek, I pretty much agree with Jon. I'm sure there are plenty of people who would question my taste when they see me on the plane with a Hard Case Crime book in my hand, and two queued up next to it, and measure me against the latest J.M Coetze novel they have in their carry-on. They don't know I'm likely to cross over to both.

I haven't tried any of Meyer's books, and I read the first couple Harry Potters and realized I didn't want to waste more time on what I felt was bad writing. But that's just my personal taste.

Steve Weddle said...

I see your point, John, and agree with some of it.

We read the Harry Potter books with our kids. They were fun books for children. And there are other great books out there for young kids and even teenagers -- Catcher in the Rye or Wuthering Heights, for example.

I just, well, I don't know if "worry" is the right word. Hmm. Well, I worry that adults think of Kenny G as jazz, of Canadian Club as whiskey.

I'm not going to argue that if you're an adult and you only read books for kids that someone should take away your library card.

And I'm not saying this author is not worth reading or that author is beneath me. I'm saying I worry about adults reading nothing but children's books.

And I'm not out here to say who can read what. But if your only experience as an adult with books is reading stuff that wouldn't have challenged you when you were 14, I think you're missing out.

I enjoy reading outside of my comfort zone.

I guess I'm just an optimist. I'd hope that those folks would see the world open up a little if they'd put on some Sonny Rollins and poured a little Bunnahabhain.

Jon The Crime Spree Guy said...

I read Wuthering Heights in high school and it bored the crap out of me. Reread later and I can appreciate it, if not love it.

If an adult is ONLY reading kids books it would be nice if they expand past that, but who knows what else they are reading? Some people like the comfort zone of not being challenged and reading is one area of your life where you have that control.
Of course crime fiction is my comfort zone but I still read comics, and some them are the superhero ones that people still think are just for kids. I don't really care if some pinhead who watches American Idol and Survivor judges me for reading Justice League, I'm reading for me and my own entertainment. Most adults read as an escape and some people just can't escape with the same books we can.
It would be nice if as a culture we tried to rise and expand instead of dumbing down, but it would be nice if we all had health care and didn't have to pay out more than a third of our income to the government.

I'm just happy people are reading at all.

Joelle Charbonneau said...

I'm with Jon. I love that people are reading...period. So I don't care if they are reading Harry Potter, Twilight or War and Peace. However, I also agree that the success of a book doesn't necessarily reflect the quality of the book. Perhaps that is where we the authors need to come in and make our voices heard. We are a powerful marketing tool out here in cyberspace. We all need to pick a book and let the world know about it. Then see what happens.

Jon The Crime Spree Guy said...

I try to carry books with me where ever I go, I want people to see me with a book. Maybe it will catch on.

Jon The Crime Spree Guy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris said...

Steve, I'll see your Sonny Rollins and Bunnahabhain and raise you a High on Fire with some Moose Drool.

Steve Weddle said...

Amen, Joelle.

Jon, I'm always carrying around a book. I had Neil Smith's YELLOW MEDICINE with me last month at some thing at the kids' school. A woman asked if that was a book about the influenza disaster from such-and-such a year. Turns out she was a history buff and only read non-fiction. So I told her it was and that she had to read it -- you know, for the sake of her understanding of history. Haven't seen her since.

I also clearly remember being at Louisiana Tech for a track meet when I was in high school. Everyone else was drinking Karo syrup and stretching out. I was reading one of Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat books. Something about that book choice made me even less popular with the cool kids.

So, yeah. As that Baldwin guy might have said in some movie about walking around with a book -- Always Be Carrying.

Jarrett Rush said...

Now, I don't read ONLY books for children, but I have read some of the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer. Those are kids books and they do have fairies and trolls in them, but at their heart they are crime books. Each involves a caper of some sort.

I have also read part of the Percy Jackson series. Some of the writing is a bit juvenile and I have to remind myself that they are books for kids and not for a man in his 30s. But mostly I enjoy them because they move. They seem to be all action. Not a lot of time is wasted with navel gazing or romance. It's go from almost word one. They read fast and are a nice break from more serious "adult" fiction.

That said, an adult reading exclusively children's fiction is a little weird.

jedidiah ayres said...

I don't know. If Chandler hooked up with some high schoolers in that movie... I'd have checked it out

Scott D. Parker said...

I'm with Jon and Joelle: reading is reading. Period. I devoured the Harry Potter books and my wife looked askance at me. Me and a friend of hers said one thing: Just try the first book. My wife devoured the seven books faster than I did. She read the Twilight books after a similar encouragement from someone. Now, she also devoured all but one of the Scarpetta books and is now reading the Margaret Coen (sp?) books.

I read comics--still--but I also watch Cartoon Network's Batman: Brave and the Bold. When my wife, still looking askance, questions why I'm watching a cartoon, I tell her it's one of the funniest shows on TV.

Writing style or whether or not a book is written well all dissolve under one constant: if the story is good, nothing else matters. That's my philosophy and I'm sticking to it. I enjoyed the Da Vinci Code b/c the story was interesting to me. I enjoyed Shadow of the Wind more. Zafon is a much better writer than Brown but I didn't enjoy Shadow more b/c of the writing. It was the story.

I'm a historian by degree and training. Whenever a history date comes up in a movie, TV show, book, or whatever, I'm the guy who can catch any errors. And I'm proud enough of my knowledge to let my wife know about the error. She doesn't know the difference nor does she care. She's a consumer (viewer, reader) and, if the story is good, she enjoys it.

On a similar note is this: , with the Olympics, we missed three weeks of "24". Before the Games, we were lamenting the storylines this season. As we cued up the tape this past Saturday, we asked ourselves if we truly missed Jack's adventures. We both said 'no' but watched the first of three episodes anyway. It doesn't matter that we like watching Keifer shoot people and yell loudly. That ain't enough.

Stories matter.

Lein Shory said...

Weddle, you're my bud but I may have to kick your ass.

I certainly don't get the appeal of Meyer. Those grown women who read her--they be crazy. But then I don't get the appeal of a lot of stuff.

One of the great joys of getting out of English graduate school is that I got to rediscover stuff that the stuffy profs told me was bad. They'd gotten sand kicked in their faces one too many times on the playground and so to their minds they got revenge by being guardians of the canon and sneering at the unwashed. But it was too much like the cliques in high school--the ones who wouldn't let you in unless you liked the Misfits or the Dead or whatever.

Thing is, I like the Misfits AND I like the Dead. And Bruce Springsteen. And Debussy. And the Flaming Lips. And the Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan soundtrack.

I like Faulkner AND Rowling (and don't forget that Faulkner wrote for Hollywood and the pulps). I like "literary" fiction and comic books and Shakespeare and 30 Rock.

Do I suck for liking all this stuff? Maybe. But I ain't in high school or grad school anymore. You don't like it, you can kiss me dong.

This isn't to excuse the tables full of nothing but teen vampire angst at B&N, or the writers who break out the Find & Replace feature when someone tweets that "angels are the new vampires." But those are production issues, not consumption. The producers will tell you otherwise, but of course they will. And heroin won't addict you, say the pushers.

I see the phrase "guilty pleasure" a lot in discussions about fiction and music and whatnot. Thing is, in a world where people with distended stomachs are scraping in the dirt for a single grain of rice, ALL entertainment is a guilty pleasure, whether you're curled up in bed or decked out in a goddamn monkey suit at the motherfucking Met. I think that's worth keeping in mind as we duke it out about this stuff.

So take that. What else you got?

Kieran Shea said...

One of the greatest things that ever happened to me was becoming bed-ridden for a three month spell in my mid-teens. Wasn't a big reader and due to my condition at the time I couldn't do much else but read between bouts of feverish aches and stumbles to the bathroom. I started in with "pop" novels of the day and soon branched out, simply by following (God help me--I was innocent at the time) blurbs, figuring--hey--if this author like this author maybe I'll like them. Then I discovered if I poked around the author's "thanks" I'd occasionally find some real great writers too. Stepping stones that quickly became a formidable bridge. Now then, Infinite Jest? If I ever run into someone reading THAT I typically corner them and pick their brain until the cry uncle.

Anonymous said...

Shakespeare already beat you to that story....he did it all first.

However can I just say that reading kids' books can be fun, especially if you are reading them to your child at bedtime. I read the 1st 4 HP books to my daughter and enjoyed them. She didn't go on to read the rest though and neither have I.

She did read all the Twilight books over a week Cgristmas 2009 and was totally ga ga about them but no, I didn't read them. Vampires that don't drink blood and can go out in the daylight do nothing for me.

Having taken daughter to see the film, I can say that the plot was very week and it mostly surrounded the werewolf boy taking his t-shirt off quite a lot and Edward looking pale and pathetic. Perfect teenage stuff but don't know what adults get out of it.

But if it was so easy as you suggest to come up with a teenage plot for a blockbuster...wouldn't we all be doing it? Is it just luck that moves some books into the mainstream or do they have some magical quality? Not sure...but wish I could write one!!

Chris said...

I can't get on board with the notion that good story trumps bad writing. In some cases, maybe, but I'd call those cases of mediocre writing. If the writing is bad, I find it too distracting to enjoy the story.

Steve Weddle said...

Jarrett, That's a great point. Kids' book are often much quicker than adult books. Maybe that's part of the appeal, as well.

Jed, That was a different movie with Chandler.

Scott, Yeah. I enjoyed the story of The DaVinci code, too. Well, I enjoyed the pacing. Quick and not too much heavy lifting. Kinda like what Jarrett said about the kids' books.

Lein, so your professors assigned you books that were difficult? At Auburn?

Kieran, that's great stuff. Didn't something similar happen to FFCoppola?

McDroll, Great to read those books with the kids. That's the fun of kids' books.

Chris, I've had to move from reading a book to listening to it because I liked the story but threw up looking at the sentences.

Chuck said...

I see someone reading Twilight or Harry Potter, I walk up and swat it out of her hands. She tries to pick it up? I do it again. She goes for a third time? I hit 'er with a stream of pepper spray.

When she awakens, she will find a Joe Lansdale novel in her hands.


Okay, no. I'm on board with what most people here are saying: you're reading, you're better than someone who's just watching cat videos on YouTube, and maybe, just maybe, that person will then go and read something else. Maybe someone that one of us write. (Okay, probably not, but a boy can dream.)

People like what people like. Even if it's the literary equivalent of eating fistfuls of garbage.

I'd rather them reading than not reading.

I do think it's bizarre that grown-ups are so into Twilight. Less so Harry Potter, but Twilight has some unnerving undertones.

Also, sidenote: the "captcha" word verification for this post is:


This will be the name of my firstborn son. That is all.

-- c.

Barna W. Donovan said...

Some years ago I read the first two Harry Potter books because a girl I was dating loved them. Most often when a guy does something strange, inexplicable, and dangerous, there's usually a woman behind it. Kind of like the time I hurt my back lifting too much at the gym. Yup, trying to impress someone again.

When we broke up, Harry was left by the wayside.

But then when I heard Stephen King praising the books left and right, it did get me quite intrigued. I might go back to Harry Potter at one point because of King. From what I heard, the series transcended "children's literature" into a complex coming of age story. So I guess whatever genre or age group books might be written for, complex stories and themes can elevate a book to a worthwhile read for anyone.

As for those adults who exclusively read kids' books, though, there's something somehow creepy about that. Kind of like adults who might profess a passionate love for beauty pagents with 5-year-old contestants. Something definitely off kilter!

Naomi Johnson said...

If an adult prefers Robert Cormier and Richard Peck to James Patterson and Dan Brown, I can only applaud their taste.

John McFetridge said...

I'm late to this party and I'm going to be rude to the other guests - I disagree that any reading is good.

It's like saying any eating is good. If all you eat is ice cream you're not going to be healthy.

I would rather people watch good TV than read bad books.

Life is complicated and the choices we make are often difficult. Good literture - on TV, on stage, on screen in books, wherever - can help us understand the world a little better. A steady diet of problems being solved by magic is like a steady diet of ice cream.

Chuck said...

The only issue with that is, somebody then has to be the arbiters of "good" versus "bad" literature.

I don't know anybody I trust to be that "quality cop."

-- Chuck

John McFetridge said...

Certainly everyone has to make up their own mind, but we have a few thousand years of development at least. We do train people, we give out BAs and MAs and PhDs, we discuss, we argue, we set some standards, we change them.

This absolute rejection of the value of experience and study (of pretty much every field thse days) is a strange development, I think.

I can say that I read supposed "great novels" at a young age and also rejectd the claims. Almost every time when I read those books again, with more life experience and a little bit more understanding of the world, I understood why they were the ones that remained in print.

Of course we can't simply blindly accept the pronouncements of "experts" we also shouldn't blindly reject them.

CrimeNerd said...


That's kind of where I fall too. I don't think people should solely read kids books, but my reading diet is almost entirely noir/crime fiction or literary fiction that is particularly dark.

That could be just as fucked a diet as magic beans kiddie lit.

Unknown said...

You know, I used to make this same argument with co-workers who only read the Twilight books and Potter. But you know what, I was losing the battle and these people kept reading the chronicles of Harry and Edward no matter what I said.

So I started using a different tactic.

I have two co-workers, one male and one female who love and I mean LOVE the Twilight books. I don't know why, they just do? But instead of making fun of them and mocking their choice of books, I asked both of them if they'd ever heard of Charlie Huston. Both hadn't. I described the Joe Pitt novels, they said they sounded cool, so I put a copy of Already Dead in their hands (The guy first, because, c'mon, no self respecting dude should be reading mormon kiddie porn.) and both of them love the series and are further into it than I am.

Another case and point, another co-worker loved Harry Potter, I turned her onto George R.R. Martin's a Game of Thrones. She was hooked.

I even did this to myself. When I was a teenager, I read tons of Bukowski, couldn't get enough of the guy. No, Bukowski wasn't the best writer in the world, but he read some pretty great writers--Celine, Fante, McCullers--and in turn I wanted to read the stuff he read.

My point being is that books are like crack, you try it once, chances are you're going to want to try it again and if you're a smart crack dealer, you let 'em get hooked by the guy selling on the corner and then invite them up to the penthouse where the good shit is

Chuck Wendig said...

Keith's advice wins the day.

Well done, Herr Doktor Rawson. Well done.

-- c.

Erin said...

I think there's something to be said for reading a wide variety of things. I have been a fan of the Harry Potter and Twilight series. However, if I were to list my favorite books, the list would also include Ivanhoe, 1776, The Phantom of the Opera, and many other books. When I was little, my parents realized quickly that if a book was within my reach, I considered it fair game. My mom discovered that one day when she came upstairs and found me reading a parenting book, at which point I told her she was doing it wrong. :)

Generally, I think there are so many people in the world today who don't read much at all. I'm not about to argue with anybody about *what* they read, because I'm just happy that they are reading. I was discussing this with someone a while back, who was concerned because her son only ever wanted to read Goosebumps books, and she was concerned that those weren't "good enough". My opinion was that she should encourage her son to read, and stay out of his way in terms of what he read.

I'm sure there will always be some people who will look down on any category of books. I've heard of some who think that Crime Fiction is inappropriately violent. Some people believe that anything that's not one of the classics is bad.

Go figure :)