In the 'Twilight' of their lives

Glendale News Press

Before his inauguration, President Obama told US Weekly that he and daughter Malia bonded over "Harry Potter" and were ready to delve into "Twilight."

"I don't know if they ever finished them. He got kind of busy after that," said Jessica Groper, a scholar of 19th century literature who teaches English at Glendale Community College. "But I would guess that Malia did finish the books."

She and roughly 100 million others worldwide. The "Twilight" series has been translated into 38 languages and includes the four top-selling novels of 2008.

The books, which have been made into two blockbuster movies with a third debuting June 30, have set off a bitter rivalry between fans of the vampire Edward Cullen and those who sympathize with Jacob Black, a shape-shifting werewolf. Judging by the wholesale embrace of their names, Team Edward and Team Jacob aren't doing too bad, Groper said.

Since the series reached red-hot status, more new parents than ever are choosing the names Bella — after protagonist Bella Swan — Jacob and Edward. Cullen, a surname from the books, leapfrogged nearly 300 names, dropping to 485 from 782.

Poorly written and rife with repetitive adjectives, Groper said, the tales of teenage angst and sparkling vampires has changed the way millions think about young love and the supernatural.

"Sorry if I am ruining this for anyone, but vampires aren't real," Groper told a room full of fans gathered this weekend at the Chevy Chase Library. "The rules about vampires are kind of whatever you want them to be."

Before author Stephenie Meyer, vampires avoided daylight, slept in coffins, had a problem with garlic, could be killed with a stake through the heart, had fangs and turned into bats.

"As we progress, Hollywood make vampires more attractive," she said. "There's something seductive about them."

The discussion, involving children and adults, ranged from whether Bella was a good role model for young readers, to why so many fans of the series feel so embarrassed to be fans?

"People kind of look at you weird. I am trying to progress in academia and here on my resume I have 'presented on 'Twilight' and has an article,'" Groper said. "People are embarrassed. They're embarrassed that they're reading about vampires. They're embarrassed that they're reading about a teenage girl. But, at the same time, they're reading."

Nick Martin, 11, said his friends have mostly embraced the stories.

"I like the suspense," said Nick, who is in fifth grade. "Once you start, it just lures the reader in for more stories."

Another factor of the stories that has stoked the interest of readers is their ability to connect with the author — on the page, the big screen and the Web.

When an advanced copy of an unpublished book in the series leaked online, the author decided to punish her fans by withholding the ending.

She posts tidbits online such as photographs of outfits the characters wear and cars they drive. She even maintains a playlist of music to listen to while reading the books. Randee Barak, of Glendale, drew enough inspiration from the discussion to dive into the series, she said.

"It's inspiring to see people so moved by it," she said.

English teacher Sarah McLemore knew there was something to the series when her college students couldn't put down the books.

"It's positive to see more people reading," said McLemore, who teaches gothic fiction. "As a young person growing up, and as an adult who now has a [doctorate] in English, I like to read popular fiction, and I like to read literature with a capital 'L.'"

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