Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Twilight As A Welcome Gateway Drug for Teen Reading

When the whole Twilight series started, concerned parents and grandparents used to ask us whether we thought these vampire books were really appropriate for their teens. We assured them that they were, that the author is actually a fairly old-fashioned Mormon, and that the romance in the books is a pretty tame breathless-crush variety compared to what most teens could be exposed to every day on MTV and CosmoGirl magazine. When some parents still seemed doubtful, they usually gave in when they admitted: "anything that gets my teen to read books!" "Yes," we'd say conspiratorially, and maybe with a smidgen of bookish snobbery, "maybe it will lead them to more and even 'better' books!"

Well, I'm here to report that it has. I just spent spring break at the beach with my daughter and her friends, and I was amazed to see what they were reading. Yes, of course they passed around a sunscreen-smeared Teen Vogue magazine (and Tucker Max, more on his popular book in another post some day), but they also had their noses buried in Wuthering Heights, Dracula and Pride and Prejudice. As Stephenie Meyer fans know from Eclipse, the third novel in the series, Bella is a huge fan of Cathy and Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights. I didn't realize it, but one of the girls also pointed out that the Twilight series books adopt many of the vampire "facts" and assumptions from Dracula. Once these girls discovered Emily Bronte, they couldn't wait for a break from their heavy chemistry textbooks to follow up with more 19th century British lit. (I was so excited I nearly drove them over to the nearby Barnes & Noble.)

This confirms a recent story in http://www.guardian.co.uk/ (March 16, 2009, books) in which it reported that Wuthering Heights is experiencing an "unexpected renaissance" in France, where sales of the book went up 50% last year and continue to rise this year. Some French bookstores are even selling copies of Wuthering Heights right next to the Twilight series, just to help teen customers make the connection.

I guess we shouldn't be surprised. After all, teens have always loved romance, suspense and (their italics, not mine:) drama. And of course they're familiar with the whole "goth" thing. They just needed a good book recommendation from a trusted source. It turns out it wasn't a librarian, their mother, their English teacher or their bookseller. It was Stephenie Meyer. The new gateway drug (or possibly the next Oprah?) for teen readers.

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