Twilight

I was absolutely amazed when I stumbled onto a list of the bestselling books in America a few weeks ago and discovered that one author occupied the top four spots. I am guessing that this has never happened previously in United States book history, or at least not in a long, long time.

I’m guessing that these books sold nearly four million copies combined in the month of December. That is a stunning number when you consider that in a typical week a book only has to sell about 4,000 copies to make The New York Times bestseller list.

Even more remarkable, I had never even heard of the author: Stephenie Meyer. Her books are vampire books aimed at teenagers.

I suppose it says something about me that when my laptop went dead just before a four-hour flight home, I couldn’t find a single book I wanted to buy in the airport bookstore — until I saw Twilight, the first in the series of Stephenie Meyer books. A vampire book aimed at teenagers is probably just about my speed.

Although I will say I was somewhat disappointed with the book, an outside observer would laugh at that description, given that I read it in less than a week. My kids would remind me that I told them they would have to make their own dinner because I had to finish the book to find out whether Bella would turn into a vampire or not. I guess the fact that I ordered the other three books in the series from Amazon also gives me away.

I’m not sure what I expected, but I found the book to be juvenile in a way that Harry Potter wasn’t. The seductive thing about the book is the way that Meyer creates an alternative vampire universe that is embedded into our own world, where the reader ends up liking the vampires more than the people. That, I think, was the secret to the Harry Potter books as well. Somehow both Meyer and J.K. Rowling manage to create a fantasy world that is absurd, and yet somehow vaguely believable.

Now we just need to figure out how to work some vampires into SuperFreakonomics to boost our sales.


Rob

Freakonomics already does the same - embeds airy-fairy economics and economic analysis in the real world :)

Leah

The fact that you, a respected intellectual, are wrapped up in the Twilight world amuses me a great deal. Not that I blame you! The books are rather poorly written and very juvenile, but incredibly engrossing. I read through all four in a week and a half!

EP

How did you come up with 4,000,000?

So if all this success with young readers revolves around fantasy world set in our world, does that mean readers are so disillusioned and dissatisfied with our world that they'd rather drown themselves in fantasy than seeks solutions to real problems?

I don't think this is limited to young readers. Looking at television dramas, there are three basic types: medical, criminal, and fantasy, and sometimes the medical or criminal dramas are fantastic too (and I don't mean good).

Is no writer able to make a compelling story involving the real world?!?

James

Is there an expected date for the release of SuperFreakonomics?

Liz Busby

Um, I'm pretty sure JK Rowling has occupied the top four spots before--at least before they created the children's book list in order to prevent her from offing more "legitimate" books that couldn't compete.

Grant

When I first heard of this Twilight series recently it struck me as a vaguely-sinister vector for abstinence-only nonsense. Then again, I didn't really read too much about it, so what do I know?

Michael

If you use USA Today's list:
http://content.usatoday.com/life/books/booksdatabase/default.aspx
and go back to the list for sales through Sunday, July 22, 2007 (you have to click on about the 27th or so in their date search tool) to get this one to come up, you'll see J.K.Rowling holding down spots 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 9, 13, and 14. I checked the release dates of the other six books and none generated enough excitement to get more than 2 or 3 of the top spots, but when the 7th came out it certainly took care of things even more than this vampire series.

Derek Scott

The non-fiction top spots have been dominated by one man too: Obama.

Michael

The economics angle is this:

How would your decisions be affected if you no longer had to pay for food? If you were comfortable with extremes of temperatures enough that heating and aircon were seldom an issue? What about the millions we spend on coping with age?

DB

You say this has never happened in book history, and that maybe technically true, but it's only because the Best Sellers list cheats. They changed the rules in 2000 to keep Harry Potter from taking up so much room, creating a separate children's list and banning J.K.R. from the regular fiction lists.

It would not surprise me if they start to get upset at Twilight too and relegate those books to a separate "Young Adults" list or something.

Stephen

The books are juvenile, but that was, I suspect, done on purpose. If anything, Meyer knows her actual target audience quite well. I also suspect that the fiction market for award winning economists is quite small compared to the scores of teenagers.

Scottij

The vampire series from Anne Rice did much the same thing you describe regarding bringing the vampires into our world in a sympathetic way. But her books were definitely much more at an adult level.

Jeff

Though reading Meyers books is the intellectual equivalent of eating a candy bar, I'm glad you enjoyed Twilight too. Your coolness factor just went up a few pegs more for admitting it.

RD Riley

As far as I can tell, having read about 50 pages of the first book and then giving it to the local library, the Twilight series is basically "Sweet Valley High" with vampires.

Even R.L. Stine wasn't as bad as this tripe.

Mike B

Looks like the NY Times will have to tweak its Best Seller List criteria again in order to give these Twilight books the boot just like it did with the Harry Potter series by creating a separate children's list. The series is basically half a thrust short of a Romance novel so it wouldn't take much to push it over into that bin.

Kiri

I'm continually offended by people that compare Twilight to Harry Potter. I understand the attraction of the comparison since both series erupted from no where and suddenly became wildly popular, but aside from the simple literary trick of world immersion, the two titles are worlds and worlds apart. Rowling is actually a good storyteller (up until book five or so). Meyer made vampires sparkle.

Faye

I agree with Leah. These books are terribly engrossing, yet poorly written. However, in the past week, I have seen at least 5 people reading the book on the way to work, all of them adults. I ordered the first two, finished them in three days, then quickly ordered the next two. They're long, but a quick read.

Joe Smith

My thirteen year old daughter saw the movie four times the first weekend it was out. She struggles in school (hates it with a passion really) and the Twilight books are the ONLY books she has ever read willingly.

So far as the fantasy aspect - at her age I was discovering Tolkien and Heinlein and my sons loved Harry Potter so I am not going to be critical of that.

Alison

I think the popularity of these books says a lot more about marketing, and our consumerist economy, than it does about the quality of the books or their cultural value. They're McDonalds, Hannah Montana, Beanie Babies... I can only hope the fad passes quickly. I'm so disgusted by it.

lawson

Agreed, RD Riley. The writing is awful and riddled with cliches. Not to mention the sinister cultural messages embedded in the books.