Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Sunday Salon: A Few Thoughts (or minor rant?)

I've been reading The House on Tradd Street by Karen White this week and I have to say that it's fantastic. Seriously, it's ridiculous how much I've been enjoying this book. I think it strikes just the right balance of humor and heart, depth and lightheartedness. Lately, I've been realizing that I must have a strange sense of humor, because it seems so rare to find something that is just delightfully funny. And this book is--so I guess that's part of why I'm enjoying it.

On another note, it's time for a little rant. As you may be aware, Twilight the movie just came out. And with it a whole new fresh wave of complaints about Stephenie Meyer. Fair enough. But something I'm on the verge of feeling like I can't tolerate anymore of is this idea that she's secretly trying to brainwash everyone into being Mormon.

First of all, she's Mormon. And she's a writer. Dare I say that I think it's impossible that she would completely detach herself from her worldview and deepest held belief system in her writing? Does anyone? I think it's impossible to write something without your own value system being a part of it. And why would you want to? Isn't that what art is all about? Reflecting what's inside of yourself and the way you see the world?

Secondly, do we do this with all books? I know it's been done with some (His Dark Materials and Chronicles of Narnia come to mind) but I think it's unfair to pick one series (and possibly pick this series b/c it's sold a lot of books) and say...looookkkk...she's trying to promote Mormon teachings!!!! Once again, consciously or not, I think it's impossible for a writer to not "promote" the way they see the world.

Look, I liked Twilight okay and I'm not a Mormon. But I think everyone has the right to have their books judged on the same merits as everyone else's, regardless of their belief systems. So pick on the book because you don't like the writing style or the plot has some holes, not because the author's worldview shows up and it happens to be one you disagree with. I even read a comment about how books are influential and people don't know how to think critically....sounded like it was about to be a plea to ban books.

I was thinking the other day about how the best-selling books are rarely the ones that get critical praise. Instead, I think they speak to a universal need in people. The Da Vinci Code, Harry Potter, Twilight....I bet we could pinpoint exactly what it was about those books that engaged the imaginations and hearts of people who normally don't read. And they all, it seems, face opposition. Because apparently, it's dangerous for people to get excited about books. It reminds me, in a way, of just how fragile freedom is...
Sometimes, I don't trust that people are really thinking for themselves. But I would much rather give them the benefit of the doubt than ever consider that banning a book or encouraging them not to read it was a better way.



stacey @ bookthirty said...

The week before Breaking Dawn was released, my daughter and I were interviewed for a story in the Houston Chronicle about Meyer and her books. The journalist asked me a handful of questions about how I thought the Twilight books mirrored Mormon doctrine (he knew I am Mormon). I finally had to tell him, "Look, the book has nothing to do with my church!" I was glad to see when the article came out that he ended up with nothing to say about the book v. church.

I know you're reading the Laura Miller book about Narnia, and it has been interesting to see how she's trying to say, "You know, you don't TOTALLY have to read this as a Christian allegory! There's something in there for *everyone*"

This is an interesting discussion, and lots to think about.

Anonymous said...

I had no idea Stephanie Meyer is LDS. I haven't read the books, and won't see the movie, because the concept just doesn't interest me. It reminds of the soap opera Dark Shadows that was so popular when I was a kid.

S. Krishna said...

I agree with your rant - just because she is Mormon doesn't mean she wants everyone to be Mormon. That being said, she is going to write the world the way she sees it.

And I totally agree with you on The House on Tradd Street - amazing book.

Dani In NC said...

I want to add to your thought that the popular books are often dismissed by critics. I think it is unfair to discount a book just because a lot of people like it. It is true that many people only read books that they have seen on Oprah or that have been covered extensively in the media. However, I know from my reading habits and those of my kids that if the book isn't good, we won't keep reading it.

This is especially true of a series like Harry Potter or Twilight. I consider myself more of a general reader than a bibliophile. Before I started reading book blogs, I only heard about books on talk shows and such, so I guess you can say that my choices are definitely influenced by the media. That makes it look like I don't know how to think for myself when it comes to my book choices. However, do critics really think someone like me, who is more accustomed to getting her entertainment the easy way from sources like TV, would actually read all seven books of the Harry Potter series just because everyone else is doing it? That last book was so thick I could have given someone a concussion if I'd hit them with it :-). Casual readers don't slog through 700+ pages if the book isn't any good.

Alyce said...

I am glad to hear that you are enjoying The House on Tradd Street. I won that book in a recent contest, so I'm sure I'll be reading it sometime soon.

I haven't read the Twilight books or heard that that the author was Mormon, but I thought your opinion was spot on.

Anonymous said...

I really disliked the Twilight books, for reasons relating to plot, characterization, feminism, and much more, but I completely agree that the idea that Meyer is trying to promote Mormonism through the books is completely ridiculous. First of all, none of the characters is even remotely religious. Sure, Bella and Edward agree not to have sex until they're married, but they spend so much time obsessing about how badly they want to do it that one could hardly argue that line of narrative promotes Mormon values. And hello, Edward sneaks into her room at night and lies in bed beside her while she sleeps. Again, not so Mormon friendly.

I think it's fair to assume that most authors' worldviews and/or religious beliefs affect their writing, and we shouldn't expect anything else. And come on, people, if you really think that reading a book like Twilight or Harry Potter is going to morally corrupt your child, that is evidence of nothing except that you are not confident in the job you've done instilling them with your values.

Elizabeth said...

Seriously, Stephenie Meyer is trying to turn us all Mormon in the same way JK Rowling was trying to turn us all into witches - this stuff makes me crazy. Every author has a set of values through which they view the world. That doesn't mean the purpose of the books they write is to convert everyone to that viewpoint. My mom teaches a a very conservative, private christian school, and in one of her classes she assigns the kids to read a "controversial" book - like Harry Potter, or The DaVinci Code - the point of the assignment being for the kids to think critically about whether or not the book actually is as terrible as they've been told, and to give parents an opportunity to discuss with their kids why they have problems with it. It has actually been a very profitable assignment, for the kids whose parents don't freak out and refuse to let their child participate.

Jean Henry Mead said...

I agree, Amy. We all come from varied backgrounds and philosophies. I was raised in a Mormon neighborhood, my doctor was ward bishop of the church, I have Mormon friends and my editor is a Mormon. I'm not. If we all belonged to the same religion and agreed on everything, this planet would be a very boring and static place.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. I haven't heard anyone say that Meyer was promoting Mormonism. (I haven't read the books, though, so my eyes may have just glazed over if someone did.) I have heard people make the same complaints about Orson Scott Card. I'm not Mormon, and I disagree with some of the Mormon teachings, but I don't care a bit if OSC is. He's a good writer/storyteller and that's all that matters. I do sort of avoid reading anything personal/political from him, since I don't want any annoyance about his personal beliefs to "taint" my enjoyment of his fiction.

Kate McDonald said...

I agree with you... mountains out of mole hills. I hated when everyone freaked out about Harry Potter. Its called FICTION for a reason

Anonymous said...

I'm not a Twilight fan (read the first book, thought it was poorly written overall), but like you, I'm tired of people dismissing them as Mormon propoganda. I grew up in a Mormon household, and I can vouch that there's nothing Mormon about them. I mean, I can't remember the part where Mormons teach about vampires, the romance of sneaking into girls' bedrooms to watch them sleep, or the art of hitting on people 100 years your senior. And while the books do (sort of) promote abstinence before marriage, they promote teen suicide just as avidly. Because ew, who wants to be 30 and old?

The vast majority of the time, the people who create such a fuss over the popular books are the ones who haven't bothered to read the things. The accusations make no sense, and really, it's sad that we can't judge books on their own merits instead of jumping to conclusions based on the author's personal lifestyle choices.

Holly (2 Kids and Tired) said...

Well, everyone said it better than I could. I think Elizabeth nailed it when she said that Stephenie Meyer trying to turn everyone Mormon is like J.K. Rowling trying to turn everyone into witches. It's ridiculous. Twilight isn't billed as Christian genre and Harry isn't billed as Wiccan. They're both fiction. I'm a Mormon, and I can tell you that Twilight has no "Mormon doctrine" in it. I don't think there is any danger of someone converting because they read it! I didn't love Twilight anyway. I thought it was poorly written and completely overrated. But, I adore Harry Potter. ;) It certainly has not made me want to embrace witchcraft either.

The word is Fiction, people!

Amy said...

I am so glad you all agree. (I wonder if anyone read that didn't agree and was just afraid to speak up)

Well said everyone! :)

Unknown said...

I haven't read the books but I do believe that a person's worldview is intrinsic to who they are and will be expressed in their work be it art, writing, speaking or any other medium of sharing they engage in.

I know for me even in conversations about "mundane" everyday things I can't help but acknowledge and refer to my own beliefs and values many times.

I also know that sometimes when people hear someone committed to a belief system they don't agree with any reference or element of that belief system is offensive to the person who doesn't agree so they react to the medium with scorn or derision rather than checking it out or choosing to pass on it based on the merits of the work or their interest in the overt content such as story or visual subject matter.

Again I haven't read these books necause I simply wasn't interested enough to pick them up despite all the raves I hear and that was well before I had any idea what the author's personal belief system was or was not. There are so many books out there to read why bother picking up something just to pick on an authors belief system or rant about it because it is obvious its not your thing. I try to choose books because they interest me or I want to try something new that I am not sure about not books that I suspect will provide fodder for a soapbox speech about something OT to the story itself.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you. I wonder what the Mormons think of this theory. I doubt that they really want to be associated with a sexually-charged story of vampire lust and obsession. Unless of course there is something I didn't know about that church. In that case, I may be interested in checking them out. ;)

Anonymous said...

Oh man, I'm really late to this conversation. I'm heartened to hear everybody's positive thoughts on this. As many of you know, I'm also LDS. I knew Meyer was LDS before I even picked up the book (to tell you the truth that was a main factor in my book club picking it). I could tell that she was LDS by the way she wrote but I don't think it bothered me. Perhaps the only Mormon doctrine found is abstinence from sex, but come one there was tons of other "bad" stuff to counter balance that. If she really wanted to convert everybody, writing a bestselling books about vampires is not a really productive way to do it. I don't think it's possible to leave your life experiences behind when writing.

In another related manner. I remember reading that a die hard fan of Orson Scott Card was now turned off and wouldn't read another thing of his after reading a article he wrote about Prop 8. Sad.

Amy said...

I'm curious what you mean by you could tell she was LDS by the way she wrote. And abstinence from sex before marriage surely spans many belief systems?

As for Orson Scott Card...that's interesting and tricky. I wish I could read what and how he wrote what he said.

Anonymous said...

Stephenie Meyer is not a "writer".

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