The secret places in my mind, the indefinable echoes and nameless longings, catalogued and dissected and laid out naked on the page. A piece of myself living an independent life in some other author’s creation. Each casual word a tiny lightning strike inside my head.
Thus began my teenage love affair with what was, in retrospect, a frankly mediocre book series.
I’m not going to name the series in question – I have nothing better to say about it than that it was frankly mediocre, and I prefer not to criticize books by name unless I have a good reason; I’d also rather not field questions about what on earth I could have found in those books, because that isn’t the point. But anyone who knew me when I was sixteen or so probably knows exactly the books I’m talking about, because I tried to force them down the throat of any unsuspecting friend who made the mistake of getting within arm’s reach. “These books are amazing,” I would gush, “they’re exactly what this genre should be” – because I didn’t have the words for These books name the unnameable things inside me, nor did I have the concept that maybe my love for that series had nothing to do with how good it actually was.
Years later, I looked back on my obsession with embarrassment. Those books? Really? The characters were forgettable. The plots were over-the-top ridiculous at times, shamelessly derivative in others, and, in one case, so boring I was never able to make it through the entire novel despite multiple attempts. But my obsession wasn’t about any of those things. It wasn’t about the plot, or the characters, or the writing. It was about something just as important – maybe more important. Because given a choice between This book was very well-written and I found myself in this book… well, as an author, I know which one I would rather hear.
My dad loves bad movies. It’s something the rest of the family has teased him about for as long as I can remember. His favorite way to relax was to lie back on the couch and hunt up a mindless monstrosity that may never have never graced the inside of a theater. I never understood it. I didn’t see what the appeal was in brainless plots and cheesy action sequences.
One day, when I was twelve or so, I asked him, “Why do you like bad movies?”
He looked down at the book in my hands and countered, “Why do you like bad books?”
I followed his gaze to my book, some installment or other of an endless middle-grade series made up of the kind of junior-high drama that I loathed in person but devoured in fiction, and had nothing to say. Because suddenly my dad’s taste in movies made perfect sense.
I wasn’t going to argue that the book, or the rest of the series, or all the interchangeable series just like it that were slowly bending my bookshelves under their weight, weren’t bad. I had always happily admitted that they were. But that was beside the point. Or, in a way, it was the point.
Some people like to compare books to food, describing some books as the equivalent of a gourmet meal from a five-star restaurant and others as the fast food of the literary world. And of course a gourmet meal is better than a burger and fries, right? Except it isn’t always. Sometimes you want fast food not just because it’s quick and convenient, but because that’s what you’re craving – something simple and tasty and familiar. You don’t choose fast food because it’s a bad version of a gourmet meal, but because it’s good at being what it is. A schlocky B movie isn’t a poor substitute for a cinematic masterpiece. A fast-food burger isn’t a poor substitute for haute cuisine. And a drama-filled middle-grade book isn’t a poor substitute for award-winning literary fiction. It serves a different purpose. It fills a different role. And sometimes it’s exactly what you need.
And unlike that burger and fries, books are never going to clog your arteries, no matter how many you read.
I said earlier that I don’t like to criticize books publicly unless I have a good reason. With the Twilight series, I have plenty. I don’t need to go into detail about the problems with those books – many others have already done that for me. The flat characters, the clunky writing, Bella’s passivity, creepy stalker vampires who climb through your window to watch you while you sleep… the list goes on.
I’ve read the entire series.
Not only that – I devoured them, one after the other, thinking only about getting to the next page, the next chapter, the next book.
I don’t know why I enjoyed them so much. I didn’t want to be Bella; I didn’t swoon over Edward. But there was something addictive about the story nonetheless, something that pulled me in and didn’t let me go.
Some people say that’s all that matters. They generally lump it into the vague category of “storytelling,” and say that good writing doesn’t mean anything – all that matters is whether you’re a good storyteller, which, in practice, seems to mean imbuing your books with that elusive addictive quality. I disagree. As a reader, I get satisfaction from well-drawn characters, twisty plots, and masterfully crafted language – satisfaction that I can’t get from books that contain none of those things. To throw out all other perceptions of quality and say this one metric is the only thing that matters is, I think, a mistake.
Twilight’s addictive quality doesn’t make it a well-written book.
But I still loved reading it.
And that’s okay.
I don’t even need to know why I enjoyed it. No one needs a justification for enjoying a book. Whether it’s Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey or some book nobody else has ever heard of. Maybe the characters are one-dimensional and the writing is stilted and the plot has more holes than you can count. Maybe it gets a two-star average rating on Amazon. Maybe that rating is deserved.
Does it make you happy? Does it give you what you’re looking for? Then read it, and let yourself love it.
To learn more about Zoe Cannon and her books, go to her About the Author page.