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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

From Stephenie Meyer, to Stephen King, to Nathaniel Hawthorne and Harriet Beecher Stowe

I've been intrigued by Justina Chen Headley's post about Stephenie Meyer's writing. How Stephenie is beloved, an amazing contributor of YA lit, and that she ought not say that she is a storyteller rather than a writer. Yet, how does one withstand the verbal hit by a writing legend such as Stephen King?

With those thoughts popping around in my mind, I was assigning my daughter her reading in the college curriculum American History, a Survey by Alan Brinkley.


There's a section concerning sentimental novels. This quote by Nathaniel Hawthorne stopped me:

"and I should have no chance of success while the public taste is occupied with their trash."


Nathaniel was complaining about middle class, female-generated fiction of the mid-nineteenth century. Here was a selection of work giving voice to female hopes and anxieties. Many were romances, while others dealt with social injustices and urged reform. This was a time in which women were new consumers in the growing industrial economy.

And who was the most famous sentimental novelist of the time? Harriet Beecher Stowe, known for her 1852 antislavery novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin. Alan Brinkley calls the work, "one of the most influential books ever published in America."


When Abraham Lincoln met Harriet, he said, "So you are the little lady that has brought about this great war."

Maybe Nathaniel didn't respect Harriet's work, but it still stands. It spurred national change. Stephen King claimed, "Stephenie Meyer can't write worth a darn," he said. "She's not very good." Not that different than Nathaniel's sentiments: "America is now wholly given over to a damned mob of scribbling women."

We women will continue to exercise our voices through the written word and our novel purchases. We will publish alongside amazing male writers. And we will all instigate change in one heart or many.

Here's to Stephenie Meyer who has encouraged literacy across the world with a story we can delight in. Brava!

My website


annie said...

I'm not sure I can agree. Although I think the Twilight series is a lot of fun and really addictive, the writing just isn't fantastic. It's more wish-fulfillment than anything else. And that isn't to say that the series doesn't have a place in literature, but I'm not sure it's going to be "one of the most influential books ever published in America" like 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.'

Lorie Ann Grover said...

Yes, I didn't aim to equate it to Uncle Tom's Cabin as a most influential book ever published in America. But I do agree with you that it has a place in literature.

susan said...

Sorry, I disagree. I think it's more than a stretch to compare Meyer with Stowe. And while we can argue Hawthorne and Lincoln were being condescending and sexist, that doesn't mean there isn't any merit to King's criticism of Meyer.

I have no problem recognizing the value and place for popular fiction and fun reads. I don't think that's what King is criticizing. He said her writing is mediocre and I agree. And I am a huge proponent for women writers. I write a blog created solely to promote the work of women.

Like Annie, I do not find anything special in Meyer's writing. Being a cash cow doesn't mean the writing is stellar, it means the work resonates with the audience. And that's fine.

Let's not confuse talent with popularity. There are plenty of writers who write well who don't enjoy the success Meyer has, and none of us question the voice or the ability of those writers simply because they aren't popular.

There have been writers interviewed and spotlighted here who deserve far more praise than Meyer.

susan said...

And Meyer will survive just fine.

King criticizes her ability. My criticism goes beyond her ability but the messaging in her novels.

I'll keep those comments to myself though. I have enough bruises from the Meyer fans for sharing why I loathe her work.

Little Willow said...

Power to all of the writers, female or male, who are writing - no matter what others say or do, no matter whether they are bestsellers and/or published for the world to read or personal triumphs only shared with a select few.

One person's junk is another person's treasure.

The work is what matters.

I think that with anything, it's most important to do it (to write, to dance, to act, to photograph, to draw, to teach) for a personal purpose and to inspire and assist authors, not for anything superficial or monetary.

mimilee said...

oh, snap!

Lorie Ann Grover said...

My thoughts for Susan: Sorry you disagree. I guess I truly feel there's no reason to make such a hurtful personal assessment. Each book has a place and purpose even though we each may not value that place and purpose equally.

Just because I would encourage Stephenie's writing, doesn't mean I don't also stand for other works that don't gain such popularity.

Who can question how reading has been uplifted by Twilight?

I say we should stand and encourage each other's works, male and female. There's someone out there whose life may be changed.

Connie Onnie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Connie Onnie said...

I find it in very poor taste to publicly bash anyone.
I think a lot of authors are extremely jealous of her success and try to figure it out.
When push comes to shove Stephen and most of these other authors can not do what she did. Create characters so real to the reader that it causes a phenomenon. If they are concerened at writing a literary masterpiece than they should stop comparing themselves to authors who set out to tell a great story. There is room for both.

(had to fix a typo)

di said...

Well said.

What's funny about Hawthorne is that he, too, was criticized for his writing- by Poe. I find that extremely interesting. No one's tastes are exactly the same...or their opinions, for that matter.

Wonderful post!

~bella aire~

Unknown said...

There's a difference between "all sentimental writing by and for women is rubbish" and "this particular person can't write". In that same interview King went on to praise J.K. Rowling, whose writing Meyer's often compared to. Just as all "sentimental writing" isn't bad, it's not all always good either.

That being said, Stephen King was just offering an opinion on the subject, the same as anyone else does. If I have to read one more person talk about how he's just jealous because no one reads his books and the movies based on his books are crap (which, even though it's not true, what does that matter anyway if he doesn't write the movies?) I'll scream. King isn't for everyone, just like Meyer isn't.

Shelf Elf said...

Love this comment thread! So many strong opinions.

As a reader, not a published author, I have to say that if you are fortunate enough to have a novel published, you have to be prepared for criticism. You are putting something out there. You are being paid to produce it. It is for public consumption. Not everyone is going to like it. Not everyone will be impressed by your efforts. I think that expressing negative opinions about some writers' skills is wholly reasonable (indeed, it is your right to do so) provided that the comments are not hateful.

I agree that some of the statements made by other writers about Stephanie Meyers' work seem to be stemming from envy. Something along the lines of: "Oh yes... well I could be that popular / wealthy / successful if I wrote something so trashy and pandered to the lowest level of taste possible." I think that this kind of criticism is pathetic. I mean, look at your own work and focus on that rather than cut someone down just because you are jealous.

As a teen, I never would have been allowed to read Twilight, because it would have been deemed to be "beneath me" intellectually. I believe, as has already been stated, that there is room for books like Twilight in the world, books that perhaps might not offer readers the same complexity (in theme / character) as other texts. Twilight has created more teen readers. That has value.

susan said...

Connie, King did not bash Meyer personally. He made a professional assestment of her writing.

Taren, thanks for pointing out that King did praise Rowling.

Little Willow, I'm not sure if you're addressing me. I'm not arguing about what should or shouldn't be published. I said I'm not a Twilight fan.

Lori Ann, I've made no personal assestment of Meyer. And I can and do argue that Twilight is not uplifting to all readers. If you'd like me to list what issues I have with the book I am happy to.

We have Twilight in our library. It doesn't move. While I strongly object to the work it is prominently displayed so I am more than fair to Ms. Meyer. And I don't discount that there are a lot of new readers because of her books.

I agree someone's life might be changed by reading.Twilight is not a book I would promote to do it. It reinforces gender roles and ideas of women that I do not agree with. The first book is 400 pages of a girl pining over a boy. That is not positive, empowering and says nothing for a girl's self-esteem. It says a girl is really happy once she's met the boy of her dreams. I whole-heartedly reject that, and I've seen enough emotionally broken girls who think there is something wrong with them because they don't have an Edward. No thanks.

I can rattle of list of characters and books that are far more girl positive than this book.

Connie Onnie said...

If King would have listed the reasons why he thinks her writing is poor, it would not have bothered me a bit. There is a profesional way to say you do not like someone's writing. In my opinion he was being rude for the sake of being rude.

I did not say that no one reads Stephen King's books I said he has not created characters that cause a phenomenon. I am not sure what his most popular book is. Stand By Me is or was a very popular movie based on his book. But I can not tell you a single name of one of those characters. I am guessing you know the name Edward Cullen.

Little Willow said...

Susan: No, I was just commenting on the general themes brought up by Lorie Ann's post and talking about the motivation to do anything in general. I'm not a fan of the Twilight series either - I've read the first three books in the line - but I respect the opinions of others, just as I hope they respect mine when I like a musician or a show or a book that they don't necessarily like.

Lorie Ann Grover said...

It's a good dialog, ladies. So much to think about!

Melissa Walker said...

Wow! Great discussion. susan, I love your insight here: "I've seen enough emotionally broken girls who think there is something wrong with them because they don't have an Edward. No thanks."

That tends to be my thinking about the books' influence, but I also try to come back to this mantra that helps me when books I don't adore gain huge popularity: "A rising tide lifts all boats." And I'm happy for readers to be finding books and exploring the library world.

Unknown said...

Connie Onnie,

I never said you said anything about Stephen King. I was simply commenting on what I have seen in general since that interview months ago.

But...if you've never heard of Carrie or The Shawshank Redemption I do feel sorry for you.

Shelly B said...

I enjoyed the Twilight series and had this conversation with a co-worker the other day. I'm not sure the writing was the best, but when a story grabs me, that doesn't really matter. I love a good story! Not to say I don't love good writing, because I do, but it doesn't always have to be top-notch to be a good story.

Justina Chen said...

Hello, everyone! I'm so glad we're having this dialog. My original blog that spurred Lorie Ann's was really about writers not apologizing for their work. I agree with Ellen Hopkins who commented on my blog that all writers should work on their craft. Study it. Improve upon it. That said, I don't think we necessarily have to make excuses for what we create, especially our first few books. The goal is to get better with every single book.

Anonymous said...

I can't comment on Meyer's writing ability since I have not read her work yet, so it wouldn't be fair. However, she is still new and I think she is a *very* sweet/cool person and has room to grow. I do think it shows she is a great storyteller from what she has accomplished. There is indeed something there. :D

Stephen King is indeed my writing idol. The only thing I don't believe is that he is sexist. In the same article he has praised JK Rowling for her work and accomplishments. I was lucky enough to attend an event with front row seats to King's charity where Rowling was also a guest. He did nothing, BUT praise her. In fact he praised her and the other fellow author John Irving more than his own work.

I can say I was shocked about his abrubt statement and the rudeness of it. The only thing I can gather from it is that he is passionate?However, that does not give him the right to be so harsh. It's one thing to critique it's another to insult someone personally.

I do agree cheers to Meyer for her work and for supporting YA. And others like her! I hope this doesn't let her down and she shows him he's wrong. :D

I had hoped to avoid giving my opinion on this and getting in the middle. (He maybe my idol, but I don't agree with the way he came about doing this. I found this post rather interesting.) :D Sorry if I babbled.

holly cupala said...

It has been so fascinating to see the responses on this.

In this age of information availability, I think people are generally cautious of putting criticism out there - which isn't necessarily a good thing. Criticism (constructive) can help us hone our skills and take our craft to the next level. However, I agree that rudeness is not called for, nor is it constructive.

Anonymous said...

Um, Meyer is an incredibly POOR writer. Also, if you read the full interview rather than that snippet, King does qualify why he thinks she is a poor writer.

I'm a huge Stephen King fan, and whilst I can acknowledge that not all of his books are brilliant, generally he tells a story very well. He is also an English teacher, so if he says someone isn't a good writer, I'd tend to believe he knows what he's talking about.

Also, he isn't putting a downer on Meyer for being a FEMALE who wrote a book. At no point does he say that - in fact if you read what he said he prays Rowlings in the same breath. His own wife is a published author. His female characters are often strong, brave and independent - qualities Bella of the Twilight series does not show. How then do you qualify your final statement? Women writers have been published for YEARS and for things a FUCK of a lot better than Twit-light.

Unknown said...
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