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looking for twilight in all the wrong places

June 1st, 2010

I probably should not make fun of the trend of breathlessly searching for THE NEXT TWILIGHT BOOK PHENOMENON as MTV.com recently did in this article. Because once upon a time, The Daily Beast touted If I Stay as “The Next Twilight?” which, although quite flattering, wasn’t really apt. Though I’m not complaining; it sure did not hurt the interest and early buzz factor of the book.

But I think the MTV article gets it wrong, or mostly wrong, as does every trend chaser who goes looking for the next big thing to look like the last big thing. The next Twilight is not going to look anything like the old Twilight. There are already four Twilight books and countless paranormal romances supping on the bloodlust that has flowed from our national Twi-love. But, like all pop culture phenomena, Twilight was just that, a phenomenon, an aligning of the stars. A book that was less about an interest in vampires than, as my French publisher calls it, a Wuthering Heights for our time. I don’t think he’s far off; have you seen how Wuthering Heights has been re-covered to look straight out of Forks? Check it out.

Aside from the strange addictiveness of the Twilight saga, which already had it outselling Harry Potter by the time the first film went into production, there was the movie itself. Love Catherine Hardwicke or hate Catherine Hardwicke (I’m a lover), she nailed something in that movie and Summit managed to use the film to do something with exponents and send the whole thing nuclear, which in turn made Twilight just InSane In the Membrane. I remember that November after the movie came out seeing every third person reading the books. It just became that ubiquitous. It went from being a really successful series to the ginormo pop-culture phenomenon that everyone now tries to emulate and predict a successor to.

But the thing is, you can’t look over your shoulder to find something that will likely be coming out of right field in front of you. I mean, hello! If we knew what The Next Twilight would look like, we’d all have written it by now. The book phenomena—Twilight, Harry Potter, Da Vinci Code, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo—we never know they’re coming until they’re here full force, smacking us in the face, making us read all night and go WOW! And it’s not like publishers have the secret formula either. How many rejections did JK Rowling get? How many books get zillion-dollar advances in the hopes they’ll be the Next Big Thing, and then they turn out to be not so much.

If there’s one thing that The Sensation Books often do, it’s this: If they don’t quite invent the wheel, they handily reinvent it in such an imaginative way that readers cannot resist reading and re-reading and talking about what they’ve read. Twilight reinvented vampires and Victorian romances. Harry Potter the boarding school tale. Dragon Tattoo gave a particularly warped Scandinavian twist to the thriller. Da Vinci Code did something, I’m sure, something to do with Catholicism, but I can’t tell you because I can’t bring myself to read it. But all of these books spawned zillions of copycats. And after they hit and became part of the national conversation, everyone went looking for “The next….”expecting it to be some sort of clone. Until the next Harry Potter actually turned out to be Twilight. So the next Twilight will, trust me, have nothing to do with vampires.

Of the books MTV highlighted—many of which I love, and some which, admittedly aren’t even out yet but I disqualify because they’re about vampires—only one really seems to have the potential to “break out” and go all Twi-Crazy. And that’s The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Now you might think me crazy. Break out? The first two installments—The Hunger Games and Catching Fire—have been on the bestseller list for ages, and there is huge anticipation for the final installment in the trilogy, Mockingjay, which comes out in August. Exactly. That’s where Twilight was before it went from very successful series to Super Insane Phenomenon.

Hunger Games has a movie in the works, which could catapult it to that next level. It also does something important that the other books mentioned in the article don’t: it really reinvents something. Who was talking about dystopian before these books came on the scene? But as big as these books are now, they haven’t jumped that boundary where they’re being read by EVERYONE—not every teen but every person. Will Hunger Games have the same mass appeal to 30something moms—a big book-buying market—as Twilight? I don’t know. I do know that when I read it (and I’m firmly in that demographic, or I will be until Saturday when I turn 40!!!!!), I had to take it with me to the playground to push Willa in the swing as I read. Added plus, boys will read Hunger Games, whereas Twilight was pretty firmly girl terrain.

Still, part of me thinks the fact that we’re trend forecasting Hunger Games to be that huge means it maybe won’t be—much as I’d love it to be. I think the books are incredible and I’d love for the next Big Thing to come out of the YA world.  But the thing about predictions and reading is that crazy weird viral word-of-mouth passion that makes some books über-huge—or turns a tiny book into a Pulitzer prize winner, like this years Tinkers by Paul Harding—are like supernovas. Unpredictable and powerful. You never quite know when the star is going to explode until it does. And once it does, you can’t replicate it, no matter how many asteroids you try to pass off as red giants.

Update: Someone just pointed out this very articulate (and flattering) reader rant about comparing non-Twilighty books to Twilight. Personally, I’m agnostic about If I Stay’s paperback cover blurb. Maybe a little general but if it gets people to pick up the book and go “hmm, what’s this all about?” then it has done its job. And it does NOT say “The Next Twilight.” Which would be false.

  1. I couldn’t agree with you more. While I think there are many amazing books out right now, I don’t think the next Twilight will be something that can be predicted. I’m a huge Twilight fan and as a mom of two small children, I was one of those that came into the obsession after the first movie was released. Of course, at the time I didn’t realize just how incredible YA fiction could be. Now I can’t seem to get enough of it.

    I adore The Hunger Games books and hope that Suzanne gets an even bigger following once the movie is out. She deserves it for writing such an intoxicating story but I think it will be a while yet before there will be another Twilight. A least for me.

  2. You are so right–it would be great to see THG break out! It’s amazing. But whatever it is, Im sure there’ll be no vampires:)

  3. i agree – we won’t know what “the next twilight” will be until it’s already super popular…and i bet you if i stay is on it’s way to that, i really do. my best friend sarah was reading twilight senior year of college and we all made fun of her for what we thought were vampire sex books. summer after we graduated, twilight was huge, we were all reading it, and catherine hardwicke (who i LOVE also) was promoting the movie. sarah gloated about it for, like, three months. after i read if i stay, i was shocked that it’d been compared to twilight, but was not disappointed. hearing (from mtv.com, lol) that it was “the next twilight” drove me to buy it the day it came out. it kept me reading, reading, reading til i finished. and it gave me that same good-weird feeling in my stomach, with all the mia/adam lovin. are you sure you didn’t work it out with reviewers for them to call it “the next twilight” just to get that whole demographic to buy your book? KIDDING! :-p maybe i could do that with my students…”come on, guys, you’ll love ‘to kill a mockingbird,’ it’s the next ‘precious.'”

  4. When I saw the cover of that edition of Wuthering Heights, I began to rant in the middle of Barnes and Nobles about how warped our society is. Why do we need the endorsement of two fictional characters to inspire us to read a masterpiece of English literature?

    This embarrassed my mother, causing her to leave me where I stood. I continued the rant for several minutes. Then I found Friendly B&N Guy and forced him to join my rant.

    Then I wrote a blog about it. Now I am sort of calm, since I’ve discovered other Twilight-Wuthering Heights and they have removed the little blurb about Bella and Edward. I think they heard about me.

  5. I think the Mortal Instruments should be the next Twilight guys would definitely read it for the action since Twilight sort of repels boys and it just has developed plot believable characters and flawed and beautiful writing. It also has a very well done history and crafted world that lies in New York in all places. It could easily blow up wiu the movie or maybe even the Gemma Doyle trilogy though I doubt it.

  6. I’ve read countless stories far better than the average supernova star. They really are unpredictable and quality sometimes has little to do with it. Of the books mentioned, only Harry Potter deserves the status it’s gotten; Da Vinci fed on controversy and Twilight fed on weak female minds to reach their unbelievable power (don’t know about Dragon Tattoo yet). But as long as great books like Hunger Games get high readership and recommendations, like some of Ellen Hopkin’s and Jodi Picoult’s books, I am satisfied. I’m not even entirely sure if Hunger Games is super-original, since futuristic books have come out before. But then, I seem to be perpetually caught between thinking all great books are original or that nothing really is. For me, I’m not sure if it’s about making a new thing, or helping people grow new eyes to look at things in a different way.

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