Why we should all say thank you to Stephanie Meyer and J.K. Rowling

This post was partially inspired by Nora’s excelent post on the Urban Fantasy boom (one scroll down, no turns) and partially by my normal answer to the “what do you think of Twilight?!” question.

Seeing as how nearly all of my conversations somehow come back to books, I get asked what I think of Twilight on a fairly regular basis. This question comes either from people trying to see if they’ve found another fan to gush with or from those testing the waters to see if Twilight bashing is socially acceptable. My answer, however, is always the same: I’ve never read Twilight, but I love it, and I hope its popularity continues to grow unchecked.

This answer tends to cause headscratching among both camps, so I often append the following: Any book that gets petulant teenagers to willingly enter a bookstore is a book I love. At least for the moment, Twilight has taken reading from what it was when I was in highschool, something nerdy kids did at lunch because they couldn’t sit with the in crowd, and turned it into the cool thing. Not only is reading acceptable, it’s socially required, and it’s not just teenagers. I see soroity girls reading Twilight at the bus stop, moms reading it in the checkout line at the grocery store, I see Wuthering Heights getting on the NYT Bestseller list because Edward Cullen likes it! This is awesome! If people who don’t normally read are reading one thing obsessively, they might just decide that books aren’t so lame after all and try something else. Maybe my book, maybe yours.

The teenagers reading Twilight now are no strangers to massive book hysteria. These are the Harry Potter girls all grown up.  They know all about reading frenzies and the book you HAVE to have, and their dollars (or rather, their parent’s dollars) have provided the rich soil in which today’s fantasy is blossoming. Unlike the horror boom of the 80s Nora talked about and its subsequent genre collapse, fantasy seems to be using its boom dollars to deversify. Compare the fantasy selection of today to the fantasy selection of 10 years ago and difference is startling. There’s more opportunity than ever in the genre, more books, wider range, more pushing on the boundaries that have traditionally walled fantasy in. This isn’t because authors have suddenly decided to write new stuff, these books have always been out there. The difference is that publishers, flushed with fantasy’s success, are taking more risks, risks they are free to take thanks in large part to the recent spat of fantasy and urban fantasy megahits like Earagon, Twilight, and Harry Potter.

When reading is in vogue, everyone connected to reading benefits. So long as publishing supports diversity of stories, new voices, and wide range of reading choices, booms like Urban Fantasy, Harry Potter, and the Twilight craze only make us stronger. America is currently enamored with fantasy, and so long as we (publishers and authors) don’t shoot ourselves in the foot chasing fads, it should be a long and rewarding love story.  After all, who could get tired of new worlds?

6 Responses to “Why we should all say thank you to Stephanie Meyer and J.K. Rowling”

  1. 1 Terri-Lynne
    September 4, 2009 at 9:46 am

    Until reading this, my disdain for Twilight (which I have NOT read) knew no bounds. I saw it as another shove down the ‘fantasy is for kids, lame, and not real writing’ aisle of the library. But you shed new light–a brighter one than the dim bulb I was using–on the situation.

    Thanks. You have given me a better way to look at things, and hope that Twilight doesn’t signal a lower rung on the literary ladder, but rather a step in the right direction.

    (How many trite cliches did I get in? I think six. Did I get six?? Ok, I’m a dork.)

  2. 2 rachelaaron
    September 4, 2009 at 10:48 am

    I’m only counting five :D, good show though!

    I’m glad my little soapbox did some good. I can be as much of a lit snob as anyone, but (especially since I became an author and threw my hat into the ring fulltime) I refuse to judge another person for buying a book they like. A book sold is a book sold, and so long as books sell, we can all pursue our publishing dreams (and get some damn fine books in the process… nom nom nom!)

  3. 3 Ilasir Maroa
    September 4, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    This isn’t really a new idea. People have been talking about “gateway” books since commercial fiction began. It’s still not an area where we can make definitive statements. All my friends read Harry Potter as kids. They still refuse to read other fantasy stories… except some read Eragn. Many of the girls I know read Twilight. They now read paranormal romance or romantic urban fantasy when they read fantasy at all, which still isn’t much. But of course, that’s just anecdotal evidence.

    But one positive you can be sure of is that the books mentioned pumped a lot of money into the publishing business. Even if half of that new money goes into Twilight and Eragon look-alikes, that’s still a lot of money avilable for the more “adult” or “sophisticated” fantasy out there.

  4. September 6, 2009 at 11:24 am

    That’s a good point about getting young people back into the bookstores and libraries — I hadn’t considered that angle. Though I’ve been saying that I love Twilight/Meyer for awhile, for a very simple and selfish reason — every Stephanie Meyer finances a few debut authors, because one successful author gives a publisher enough money to invest in a new prospects. So for all I know, my contract is being paid by Edward Cullen. =P

  5. September 6, 2009 at 9:06 pm

    Great post. I think it’s great that you recognize their contributions even though you may not be a fan. 🙂

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