Don’t Any of ’em Read Twilight?

25 Jan

Okay, look. I get it. Some books are iconic and timeless, and a good literary background helps make the point that a character is smart and romantic and maybe a little old-fashioned.

I also get that, hey, Shakespeare and Hawthorne and the Brontes have stood the test of time. Whether someone reads a book on its release day or fifty years later, when your main character says his/her favorite book is Great Expectations, readers will know which book that is. I’m not, by any means, suggesting it’s lazy characterization or that real teenagers don’t read the classics — you’re looking at someone who voluntarily spent as many credit hours as she could immersed in the seventeenth century in college.

So, y’know, we’re out there.

And yet.

I keep encountering heroines in YA novels whose bookshelves are filled with novels written two or three hundred years before they were born, but hardly ever a mention of books they enjoy by authors who are still alive.

Hell, it even happened in Lost, with one of my favorite characters: look at the books Sawyer reads or references during the series. See the ones that are noted as “Read on the beach?”  Those are books Sawyer found in the wreckage of Flight 815:

  • Watership Down
  • Lancelot
  • Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret
  • Bad Twin
  • The Fountainhead
  • Evil Under the Sun
  • Grimm’s Fairy Tales

Now, the books Sawyer read are almost always tied to the theme of that episode somehow, or are a clue about the show itself. So it gets a little leeway there. And some of the books still are pretty common reads. I see people reading Ayn Rand and John Steinbeck on the train all the time. Watership Down isn’t that old. And what teenage girl doesn’t end up with a Judy Blume book in her hands at some point?

But come on, this is an international flight. There were over 300 people on it. Are we supposed to believe that not one bit of fluff was in someone’s carry-on, or that only the smarter books made it out of the crash and every pulp novel became fish food?

Maybe Dan Brown just isn’t Sawyer’s cup of tea, and I can respect that. He’s not mine, either. Maybe he read a whole bunch of other books off-camera, and — because it’s what you do when you have 44 minutes to tell a story — they only focused on the significant ones.

At least the Others were reading Carrie for their book club.

Anyway, back to my point.

While I was in high school, I was absolutely reading the classics for my English classes and sneering at the thought of classmates cheating by reading the Cliffs Notes instead. I loved Beowulf and Jane Eyre. I read Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy — weighing in at nearly 900 pages — for my AP History class and found myself glued to the pages. Scenes from it still come back to me *mumbledycough* years later.

But I was reading Stephen King and Anne Rice in those days, too. It’s when I saw Christopher Moore’s Bloodsucking Fiends on our new release wall and became a fan. Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass sucked me in, as did Stephen Lawhead’s Pendragon Cycle.

What I’m getting at is this: I can buy a well-read protagonist. You give me a bookworm, I’m going to identify with her (or him) right away. I will probably also get most of the references they make if their favorite book of all time first saw print in the 1800s.

But I was (and still am) the shy, awkward, well-read geek who loves books that are coming out now, too.

So why not give us a character whose literary heroes are from the late 20th and early 21st centuries?

I have, by the way, just ordered Jo Walton’s Among Others, which finally, finally seems to do what I’m begging for here. It’s been getting some stellar reviews, so I’ll let you know how it goes!

Chime in! Can you think of any books/movies/TV shows that buck this trend? Would it yank you out of the story if something referenced seemed too dated to you?


8 Responses to “Don’t Any of ’em Read Twilight?”

  1. Bob. T. Bear January 26, 2011 at 6:32 am #

    Funny you should say that, it’s not exactly the same as the point you were making, since it’s usually music namedropping rather than books specifically, but I’m a big fan of John Ringo’s Legacy of the Aldenata/Posleen war series. Which for those not in the know is a near-future ‘Aliens Happen’ Military Sci-fi. And yet, despite this fairly clearly contemporary backdrop, yeah, I do actually find it a bit jarring when songs and suchlike from the last fifteen years or so are sprinkled in. It did make me roll my eyes a bit and think “really? Way to date your book there…”

    • falconesse January 26, 2011 at 9:32 am #

      I can definitely see it being jarring. I’ve seen books that reference and think, “Wow, no one’s going to get that in ten years.” I’d be just as happy if the author made up the names of bands or books, as long as the idea was that the character was reading something from his or her own lifetime.

      Stephen King drops a lot of song references into his stories, but most of the time he couches it in a way that doesn’t yank me out of the plot. If I had access to it right now, I’d pull out The Waste Lands and quote Eddie sussing out that the drums in the City of Lud sound like the back beat to a ZZ Top song (“Sharp Dressed Man”, maybe?)

      I think it can be done well, but you’re definitely right that it’s easy to make it sound dated, too.

      • Aggrokitty January 29, 2011 at 11:43 pm #

        “Velcro Fly”.

        …it scares me that I know this.

  2. curlyalex January 26, 2011 at 8:19 am #

    this taps into a feeling i had for ages, that there was no decent literature being produced anymore. it’s only recently that i have found people like carlos ruis zafon, and david mitchell who are producing some of the best literature i have ever read right here, right now. generally authors will give their characters older books because they have richer connotations i guess?

    talking about sawyer, my friend said i reminded him of sawyer when i was travelling, just reading whatever i could find 🙂

    • falconesse January 26, 2011 at 9:41 am #

      Oh, there’s a whole slew of good literature out there these days! Sure, we have to suffer through people who are famous for being famous, like Snooki, deciding to take a stab at “writing,” but there are real, talented writers getting published every day. My shelves are full to bursting with great books.

      I haven’t read any of David Mitchell’s books yet. I’ll have to add them to my pile!

      • Hillary January 26, 2011 at 12:29 pm #

        I’m offended that you’re insulting the writing capabilities of The Poof. She just wants some big gorilla juicer to love her, Lauren.

      • falconesse January 27, 2011 at 12:38 am #

        Guido juicehead gorillas. Get it straight. GAWD.


  1. Tweets that mention Don’t Any of ‘em Read Twilight? « Seven Deadly Divas -- - January 26, 2011

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Lauren Roy, Bika. Bika said: Real people read crappy books! @falconesse makes a good point: […]

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