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Tv/streaming, collections, great movies, chaz's journal, contributors, twilight turns ten: what the response to a hit franchise tells us about who’s allowed to be a tastemaker.

twilight book review new york times

Ten years ago, the world was deep in the grip of a new film obsession called “Twilight,” released on November 21, 2008.

While the four-book series by Stephenie Meyer about the romance between a human teenager and a vampire was already extremely popular with its audience of teenage girls (and at times older women who were affectionately called “Twimoms”), the film opened it up to as-yet-untapped fans. With the good looks of Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart gazing out from posters, the “Twilight” universe multiplied its fanbase tenfold.

Which also, naturally, opened up the fandom to as-yet unprecedented levels of hate. The book series had attracted some ire but mostly flown under the radar, whereas the worldwide, mainstream obsession with “Twilight” that followed the film's release attracted more haters than anyone could expect. Of course, this isn’t unusual for hit franchises. The success of " Star Wars ," the Marvel universe, and Harry Potter have all taken their fair share of derision for A) not being “real” cinema and B) being grotesquely successful. But the way that “Twilight” is despised is uniquely gendered, with detractors mostly not dismissing it for its poor writing or filmmaking, but because of the teenage, largely female fans who propelled it past mere hit and into obsession.

twilight book review new york times

“Twilight” was mostly criticized for one of two things: not being scary enough and not being sexy enough. It was almost forgotten that this film was aimed at tween-to-teenage girls, and was about young, female desire; crushes, lust and the fear of unprotected sex. It didn’t have to be horrific. It did exactly what it intended to: give teen girls someone to swoon over, a female lead to see themselves in, and a fantasy to get lost in that ultimately is safer than actually talking to a boy in real life.

The very concept of “Twilight” seemed to offend some critics. Manohla Dargis' review in the  New York Times  barely managed to contain its disregard, even discussing Bella’s inner monologue like so: “oh-so-confusing feelings, like, OMG he’s SO HOT!! Does he like ME?? Will he KILL me??? I don’t CARE!!! :)” It’s a barely concealed, vaguely misogynistic jab at Bella’s teenage feminine desire and the way that girls allegedly speak.

Empire’s Will Lawrence was more fair, but did call it  “a sometimes girlie swirl of obsession”; Rafer Guzman said in  Newsday that "Twilight" “seems best left to its impressionable teenage fans”; Edward Douglas for  said it was “catering to the gooey-eyed fans of Meyer's novels and their unrealistic romantic expectations”; and many of the other reviews collated on Rotten Tomatoes mention the teenage fans disparagingly, with many others peppering in a "LOL." Only Roger Ebert  appeared to discuss the fans without derision in his review , saying “'Twilight' will mesmerize its target audience, 16-year-old girls” and closing with “I understand who 'Twilight' appeals to, and it sure will.” His review shows that he understands that “Twilight” is not for him, but that he respects the people it is for.

twilight book review new york times

“Twilight” started one of the highest-grossing franchises of all time; the books and the film series have made Stephenie Meyer millions. It ushered in a new era for fandom, with fans battling it out between themselves as members of Team Edward or Team Jacob. “Twilight” was, by all accounts, an incredibly fruitful and beloved franchise—a success. But throughout the reviews, and throughout popular opinion, the vitriol directed at those fans indicates that its fans are not only wrong to love “Twilight,” but that their  obsession  is  somehow dangerous . Their love, essentially, means nothing—because they are brainless consumers powered only by their hormones, not valued tastemakers.

But it wasn’t just the reviewers who hated “Twilight.” Even star Kristen Stewart actively tried to separate herself from the series to become a more “serious” actress; Robert Pattinson often laughs about it in interviews, going as far as to say that were he not in “Twilight,”  he would  “mindlessly hate it.” At the time of the film’s release, there were  entire communities  dedicated to tearing apart “Twilight” as avidly, if not more so, than its perceived “obsessive” fans; anti-fans called it “Twatlight” and its fans “Twitards.” They read the books and watch the films, if only to go online and mock the series. They go as far as to produce their own fan fiction; such as  New Moan: The First Book in the Twishite Saga , a parody rewrite of  Twilight , and videos and memes online such as "Twilight" in 15 Minutes  and  Buffy vs Edward , putting obsessive effort into their hatred.  Stephen King even called “Twilight” “tweenager porn,” further legitimizing the idea that teenage girls cannot be tastemakers. The public assumption that “Twilight is bad” served only to reinforce the idea that teenage girls are stupid and it’s OK to laugh at their interests. In the late 2000s, hatred of “Twilight” became a public performance of othering; you were either stupid for liking it, or smart for hating it. There was no in-between.

The fever surrounding “Twilight” was akin to the one surrounding  Fifty Shades of Grey  in 2012, as was the vitriolic hatred. The audience was slightly different;  Grey , originally a  Twilight  fan fiction, appealed to an older audience. But both deal directly with the awakening of female desire and were feverishly adored by women. But instead of stepping away and saying, “this is not meant for me,” in both instances, detractors went public with their hatred. 

This is not something seen in media for boys that is frivolous or full of plot holes or poorly written. Huge franchises like "Star Wars" or " The Avengers ," which are also designed mostly for male teens, are perfectly acceptable media for adults to consume and pick apart critically. But when a new Marvel film is released, even when it is poorly reviewed, there is nothing near the level of public takedown that “Twilight” attracted. Mediocre, even bad, films for men and boys are allowed to be enjoyed as disposable entertainment or at least fade into obscurity. 

twilight book review new york times

That is not to say “Twilight” is perfect. Its lack of diversity, its absence of a sense of humor about itself, and its monochrome brooding make it both anachronistic and unwatchable for many. The film's treatment of female desire, its message being that abstinence is the only way to not get killed, is perhaps even dangerous for young women to watch. And Edward’s choice to attend high school as a man of over a hundred years old is nothing short of creepy, especially in a post-#MeToo era. But it offered something to a generation of teenage girls: an outlet for their burgeoning desires, a way of understanding the world, a heroine as plain and quiet as they felt. It seems strange that outlet is through a film that seems to be a rally cry for abstinence, but still. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” despite being critically acclaimed, tells women that bad things will happen if they have sex with vampires, too.

That isn’t to say, either, that we can’t say we don’t like films aimed at women and girls. But we need to think of a few things first: Why do we hate it? Because other people love it? Because its content is twee, or romantic, or campy, or anything else associated with young women? Were this a film aimed at men but similarly poorly written with campy acting, would we feel so much hate? It isn’t that people hated “Twilight”—it’s the gendered nature and language of that hatred.

“Twilight” is but a blip on the cultural map now, but a punchline still. It serves as a lesson for how we treat female fans, and ten years on, we seem to be making some headway in allowing teen girls to be tastemakers. Their raw, relentless passion doesn’t mean they somehow haven’t dissected their decision to love something: fans can be as smart in their love as any cynic can be in their hate. It’s just a shame nobody realized that when the Twihards were being eviscerated on forums just for purely loving something.

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Twilight: the twilight saga, book 1, common sense media reviewers.

twilight book review new york times

Obsessive vampire romance is absorbing and fun.

Twilight: The Twilight Saga, Book 1 Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this book.

Bella studies vampire lore from around the world i

On the plus side, loyalty to family and friends an

Bella is quiet, studious, and accident-prone and i

The fangs don't come out until the end, when injur

Some passionate kissing and flirting.

Versions of "damn" and "hell" a few times.

Edward's family loves their cars, especially the V

Bella takes cold medicine to fall asleep the night

Parents need to know that Twilight is the first book of a series that brought the vampire-romance genre back from the undead in 2005. Movies starring Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, fan groups (Twihards), and a whole lot of merchandise followed. The forbidden, obsessive romance in Twilight …

Educational Value

Bella studies vampire lore from around the world in a series of web searches. Readers can compare the various myths to the author's interpretation. Mentions of classical music pieces and the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918.

Positive Messages

On the plus side, loyalty to family and friends and self-sacrifice. On the minus side, depicts a possessive relationship with some stalking behavior that's not called out.

Positive Role Models

Bella is quiet, studious, and accident-prone and is often being saved by Edward. By the end of the book she says he shouldn't be doing all the saving -- she'd rather be his equal and not Lois Lane. Edward angers easily, is possessive, and sometimes stalks Bella and watches her sleep -- to make sure she's safe, he says. He mellows out a bit, but maintains that uncomfortable air of authority over someone he loves. Some Native American characters, and when White students go to beach near a reservation, White and Native American teens mingle harmoniously.

Violence & Scariness

The fangs don't come out until the end, when injuries are blood loss, a broken leg, and a cracked skull. There's only a mention that the bad guy is ripped up and burned by other vampires. Plus a car accident with minor injuries and men threaten the main character in an alley. Mentions of how vampires turned years before: in an attack, after nearly dying in a suicide attempt, and in the 1918 flu pandemic.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Violence & Scariness in your kid's entertainment guide.

Sex, Romance & Nudity

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Sex, Romance & Nudity in your kid's entertainment guide.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Language in your kid's entertainment guide.

Products & Purchases

Edward's family loves their cars, especially the Volvo, BMW, and Jeep.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Bella takes cold medicine to fall asleep the night before her big date.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Drinking, Drugs & Smoking in your kid's entertainment guide.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Twilight is the first book of a series that brought the vampire-romance genre back from the undead in 2005. Movies starring Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson , fan groups (Twihards), and a whole lot of merchandise followed. The forbidden, obsessive romance in Twilight attracted many fans and worried more than a few parents of teen girls -- still does. Edward the vampire is possessive, angers easily, and stalks Bella, his human love interest. He even sneaks into her house to watch her sleep before they start dating. After one date he says to her, "You are my life now." By the end of Twilight, Bella professes that she's sick of being the weak one who always needs to be saved, and would like the relationship to be more equal, but Edward still has power over her because of what he is. For a romance, the sexual content is mild -- just kissing. And for all the talk of the killer instinct of vampires, there are only a few harrowing scenes with injuries including blood loss, broken bones, and a cracked skull.

Where to Read

Community reviews.

  • Parents say (132)
  • Kids say (598)

Based on 132 parent reviews

It's fine for kids!

Bella's just like us ....human, what's the story.

In TWILIGHT, Bella thinks she made a huge mistake when she moves back in with her dad in Forks, Washington. She misses her mom and sunny Phoenix, her dad can't cook, and she has a rough time on her first few days in a much smaller high school. Most of the kids are nice, sure, but her new lab partner in biology, Edward, looks like he wants to kill her. In the school office she even overhears him try to switch out of her class. This makes his actions even stranger in the school parking lot on an icy morning. When a car swerves toward Bella, Edward rushes over with impossible speed, puts a dent in the oncoming car with his bare hand, and saves her life. At the hospital, Edward tries to keep her quiet about the superhuman details of the accident. Bella says nothing, but can't quell her curiosity about him now. What exactly is he? And why can't she stop thinking about him?

Is It Any Good?

Fans of obsessive and impossible romances swoon over this hot-vampire story despite its length and some excessive moony-ness. Moony-ness as in the million ways love-struck Bella describes Edward as perfect. Here's one: "I couldn't imagine how an angel could be any more glorious. There was nothing about him that could be improved upon." Really, Bella? He gets angry awfully easily and he watches you sleep. Still, with the world of teen romance so hard to navigate, there's something about having your love life all figured out in one date. And author Stephenie Meyer may not write with economy or brilliant turns of phrase, but she builds up the romantic tension successfully.

Meyer is also successful at building her curious world of vampires. It's clear she's carefully considered each of her minor characters. Their origin stories of how each turned and joined the coven add an extra layer to this fantasy world. The setting in small-town Washington also adds appeal. The rain-soaked green and aliveness of Forks make the presence of deathly pale vampires in the town even more surreal. But readers will mostly sink their fangs into Twilight for the dramatic romance, and there's plenty of that here and in the rest of the series.

Talk to Your Kids About ...

Families can talk about Bella and Edward's relationship in Twilight . Is it a healthy one? If Edward were a regular guy and not a vampire and he snuck into your house to watch you sleep, what would you think?

What books that you've read depict a healthier relationship than Bella and Edward's? Are they as fun to read?

How into the series are you? Will you read all the books? Watch all the movies? Demand a family trip to Washington state for a Twilight -themed tour of Forks? What do you think turns a reader into a mega-fan?

Book Details

  • Author : Stephenie Meyer
  • Genre : Fantasy
  • Topics : Magic and Fantasy , High School , Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
  • Book type : Fiction
  • Publisher : Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date : October 1, 2005
  • Publisher's recommended age(s) : 12 - 12
  • Number of pages : 498
  • Last updated : July 12, 2017

Did we miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.

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What's .css-1msjh1x{font-style:italic;} twilight about.

Fall in love with the addictive, suspenseful love story between a teenage girl and a vampire with the book that sparked a literary phenomenon and redefined romance for a generation (New York Times).Isabella Swan’s move to Forks, a small, perpetually rainy town in Washington, could have been the most boring move she ever made. But once she meets the mysterious and alluring Edward Cullen, Isabella’s life takes a thrilling and terrifying turn.Up until now, Edward has managed to keep his vampire identity a secret in the small community he lives in, but now nobody is safe, especially Isabella, the person Edward holds most dear. The lovers find themselves balanced precariously on the point of a knife – between desire and danger.Deeply romantic and extraordinarily suspenseful, Twilight captures the struggle between defying our instincts and satisfying our desires. This is a love story with bite.It’s here! #1 bestselling author Stephenie Meyer makes a triumphant return to the world of Twilight with the highly anticipated companion, Midnight Sun: the iconic love story of Bella and Edward told from the vampire’s point of view.People do not want to just read Meyer’s books; they want to climb inside them and live there. – TimeA literary phenomenon. – The New York Times

What Kind of Book is Twilight

Primarily about, book lists that include twilight.

The Mysterious Benedict Society

The Creative Behind the Book

What has stephenie meyer said about this book.

Nothing yet! Let Stephenie Meyer know that you want to hear from them about their book.

Discover All the Books in the The Twilight Saga Series

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New York Times Book Review

The New York Times has reviewed the entire Twilight Series so far in its Book Review section this Sunday.  This is quite a thrill as getting a NY Times Book Review nod is quite difficult for any author, let alone a YA author on her third novel.

The online book rankings haven’t changed over yet so hang in there. When they do, our personal prediction is that New Moon, Twilight (hardcover), Twilight (paperback), and Eclipse will all be on the list each in their respective sub-categories on the children’s list.

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The seductive lure of authoritarianism.

by Anne Applebaum ‧ RELEASE DATE: July 21, 2020

A knowledgeable, rational, necessarily dark take on dark realities.

Equal parts memoir, reportage, and history, this sobering account of the roots and forms of today’s authoritarianism, by one of its most accomplished observers, is meant as a warning to everyone.

Known for her historically grounded commentary and such well-received histories as the Pulitzer Prize–winning Gulag (2003), Atlantic staff writer Applebaum, a reflective, deep-thinking conservative, explores the “restorative nostalgia” and “authoritarian predisposition” of the far right in the U.S. and Europe. Her motivation in writing is a fear of the possible “fall of liberal democracy.” Sadly, she writes, “given the right conditions, any society can turn against democracy. Indeed, if history is anything to go by, all of our societies eventually will.” Well-acquainted with many of the figures she discusses, Applebaum analyzes the forces that have caused so many of them to turn ugly, revanchist, and unreasoning. She takes her examples mostly from Europe—Hungary, Poland, Spain, and Britain in particular—but also from Trump’s America. Sometimes too discursive, sometimes overlong (as on Laura Ingraham), the book is nevertheless critically important for its muscular, oppositionist attack on the new right from within conservative ranks—and for the well-documented warning it embodies. The author’s views are especially welcome because she is a deliberate thinker and astute observer rather than just the latest pundit or politico. In the spirit of Julien Benda, Hannah Arendt, and Theodor Adorno, Applebaum seeks to understand what makes the new right “more Bolshevik than Burkean.” Needless to say, any attack that places Viktor Orbán, Boris Johnson, and Donald Trump in the company of Lenin and Stalin is worthy of close attention. The author is highly instructive on what is happening in the increasingly grim realm of the far right: a hardening of bitterness and unreasoning vengefulness and a resulting shift of the spectrum that puts a growing number of conservatives like Applebaum in the center.

Pub Date: July 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-54580-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020


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by Anne Applebaum


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Anne Applebaum: When Politics Are Personal




From the pocket change collective series.

by Alok Vaid-Menon ‧ RELEASE DATE: June 2, 2020

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change.

Artist and activist Vaid-Menon demonstrates how the normativity of the gender binary represses creativity and inflicts physical and emotional violence.

The author, whose parents emigrated from India, writes about how enforcement of the gender binary begins before birth and affects people in all stages of life, with people of color being especially vulnerable due to Western conceptions of gender as binary. Gender assignments create a narrative for how a person should behave, what they are allowed to like or wear, and how they express themself. Punishment of nonconformity leads to an inseparable link between gender and shame. Vaid-Menon challenges familiar arguments against gender nonconformity, breaking them down into four categories—dismissal, inconvenience, biology, and the slippery slope (fear of the consequences of acceptance). Headers in bold font create an accessible navigation experience from one analysis to the next. The prose maintains a conversational tone that feels as intimate and vulnerable as talking with a best friend. At the same time, the author's turns of phrase in moments of deep insight ring with precision and poetry. In one reflection, they write, “the most lethal part of the human body is not the fist; it is the eye. What people see and how people see it has everything to do with power.” While this short essay speaks honestly of pain and injustice, it concludes with encouragement and an invitation into a future that celebrates transformation.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09465-5

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020


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by Matthew Desmond ‧ RELEASE DATE: March 21, 2023

A clearly delineated guide to finally eradicate poverty in America.

A thoughtful program for eradicating poverty from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Evicted .

“America’s poverty is not for lack of resources,” writes Desmond. “We lack something else.” That something else is compassion, in part, but it’s also the lack of a social system that insists that everyone pull their weight—and that includes the corporations and wealthy individuals who, the IRS estimates, get away without paying upward of $1 trillion per year. Desmond, who grew up in modest circumstances and suffered poverty in young adulthood, points to the deleterious effects of being poor—among countless others, the precarity of health care and housing (with no meaningful controls on rent), lack of transportation, the constant threat of losing one’s job due to illness, and the need to care for dependent children. It does not help, Desmond adds, that so few working people are represented by unions or that Black Americans, even those who have followed the “three rules” (graduate from high school, get a full-time job, wait until marriage to have children), are far likelier to be poor than their White compatriots. Furthermore, so many full-time jobs are being recast as contracted, fire-at-will gigs, “not a break from the norm as much as an extension of it, a continuation of corporations finding new ways to limit their obligations to workers.” By Desmond’s reckoning, besides amending these conditions, it would not take a miracle to eliminate poverty: about $177 billion, which would help end hunger and homelessness and “make immense headway in driving down the many agonizing correlates of poverty, like violence, sickness, and despair.” These are matters requiring systemic reform, which will in turn require Americans to elect officials who will enact that reform. And all of us, the author urges, must become “poverty abolitionists…refusing to live as unwitting enemies of the poor.” Fortune 500 CEOs won’t like Desmond’s message for rewriting the social contract—which is precisely the point.

Pub Date: March 21, 2023

ISBN: 9780593239919

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2023


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twilight book review new york times

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Santiago Abascal, leader of the Spanish far-right Vox party at a rally in Madrid in January.

Twilight of Democracy by Anne Applebaum review – when politics ends friendships

Shaming Boris Johnson and other friends who shifted further right ... a personal survey of nationalisms, discussed alongside The Light That Failed by Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes

M uslims make up around 4% of Spain’s population. When asked to guess the percentage, Spanish respondents regularly give pollsters an inflated number. A similar discrepancy is found across all western democracies. Demographic alarm, whether based on reality, fantasy or stoked with falsehood provides rich pickings for the nativist movements that have swept the world in recent years.

Santiago Abascal is leader of Spain’s Vox party . As Anne Applebaum points out in her sweeping survey of political nationalisms, “the idea that Christian civilisation needs to redefine itself against the Islamic enemy has a special historic echo in Spain”. The fact that a large proportion of immigrants come from Catholic Latin America is mostly ignored by the far right. Applebaum points out that in one of Abascal’s many campaigning videos, he “mounted a horse and, like the knights who once fought to reconquer Andalucia from the Arabs, rode across a southern Spanish landscape. Like so many internet memes, it was serious but unserious.” It has certainly been effective. Last November, Vox made huge gains in the general election, becoming Spain’s third largest party.

Applebaum begins this engrossing account in her adopted Poland (she is married to a Polish former defence and foreign minister). She recalls a New Year’s Eve party she gave to celebrate the dawn of the millennium. “At that moment, when Poland was on the cusp of joining the west, it felt as if we were all on the same team. We agreed about democracy, about the road to prosperity, about the way things were going.” Now she would cross the street to avoid some of her guests. The feeling is mutual. This is a political book; it is also intensely personal, and the more powerful for it.

She names and shames a number of friends. Several, she says, peddle online antisemitic conspiracy theories. These people have not lost their jobs or missed out on housing as a result of migrants. They do not remotely fall into the category of the “left-behinds”. They are highly educated and well travelled. Why, therefore, do they embrace and disseminate the lies and half-truths trotted out by Poland’s Law and Justice party ? History lesson number one: authoritarians need mass support, but, as with 1930s fascists, they also need the collaboration of people in high places. “Given the right conditions, any society can turn against democracy,” the author notes. “Indeed, if history is anything to go by, all of our societies eventually will.”

House of Terror Museum director Maria Schmidt, Hungarian president János Áder and his wife, Anita Herczegh, mark Memorial Day for the Victims of Communism in February outside the museum in Budapest.

The House of Terror museum, which narrates the history of communist and fascist oppression, is one of the first stops for visitors to Budapest. Applebaum recalls that she first met its director, Mária Schmidt, at the museum’s opening in 2002. In recent years, Schmidt’s trajectory, Applebaum argues, has followed that of many: she blames foreigners for Hungary’s ills. The pair went from friendship to daggers drawn. During an ill-tempered (and one assumes final) meeting, Schmidt vented her fury towards all those seeking to undermine “Hungarian-ness”. Usually the first on any Hungarian nationalist’s enemies-of-the-state list is the billionaire philanthropist George Soros , whose Central European University has been shut down . The western media and western diplomats “talk down from above to those below, like it used to be with colonies”, Schmidt tells Applebaum.

Twilight of Democracy tries to deconstruct the psychology and motivation of such people. For some it is the chance to be noticed; for others, it is revenge for slights. Applebaum moves on to Laura Ingraham , another former acquaintance, who has become host of a certain type of US political chat show. “She has, like so many others in the Fox universe, depicted illegal immigrants as thieves and murderers, despite overwhelming evidence that immigrants commit fewer crimes overall than native-born Americans.”

Career advancement may have guided her. But Applebaum believes it is more than that. The answer, she argues, may lie “in the depth of Ingraham’s despair”. She sees America, according to Applebaum, as “a dark, nightmarish place, where God only speaks to a tiny number of people; where idealism is dead; where civil war and violence are approaching; where the ‘elite’ is wallowing in decadence, disarray, death”. How do these people actually believe this stuff? One senses a note of frustration as she struggles to answer the question.

My empathy with the author takes a dip when she turns her attention to Britain and a dinner she had with Boris Johnson, when he was mayor of London. Not for the first or last time, the wannabe prime minister confessed that leaving the EU would be a disaster. Indeed, Applebaum recalls him saying that “nobody” wanted it. But why was she friends with him in the first place? It was clear from the get-go what Johnson was – a charlatan. Why were people on the centre-right so titillated by him and his set?

It could be that Covid-19 has disabused people of any idea that Johnson and his ilk have a shred of competence in a crisis. Will authoritarians, populists or democrats emerge stronger from the pandemic? It is worth turning to Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes’s book to understand how liberal democracy went so badly wrong after 1989, and how the right dominated the agenda.

At every step, the west suffered from a toxic mix of hubris, naivety and ineptitude. It undermined its political offer to former communist states from the moment the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union collapsed, through what Krastev calls its “casual condescension”. The liberal democratic state could not be improved on, eastern Europeans were told: just import it and adopt it. This new identity was implanted from abroad. As a result, it “would never be fully theirs”.

The “no alternative” mantra provided the foundations for the wave of populist xenophobia and reactionary nativism that took a decade or more fully to develop. But even in the 1990s, in the Soviet Union but not only there, politicians had started to fake their allegiance to democratic institutions. “Most of them found faking democracy perfectly natural since they had been faking communism for at least two decades.”

Initially, former dictatorships tried to copy the west. Some succeeded more than others. Disillusionment resulted from not just a sense of being told what to do, but also from the realisation that the masters weren’t actually that good at the job. “Confidence that the political economy of the west was a model for the future of mankind had been linked to the belief that western elites knew what they were doing.” The financial crisis of 2008 shattered any remaining illusions.

The new nationalists turned imitation from a defensive to an offensive tool. Viktor Orbán in Hungary pretended to be a member of the family of nations with the EU, while undermining it at every turn. Vladimir Putin’s ambitions were greater. Russia built Potemkin replicas of western institutions in order to undermine them. “The Kremlin’s new retaliatory form of imitation was meant to discredit the west’s over-praised model and make western societies doubt the superiority of their own norms and institutions.”

Courts and elections were rigged and seen to be rigged. That constituted a win-win – Putin prevailed in all instances, while his people tired of institutions that ostentatiously were not delivering checks and balances on executive power. Sowing disenchantment abroad was the logical next step. The same applied to the notion of truth. He knew that everyone knew he was lying. That was the point. “Paying no price for telling easily exposable untruths is an effective way to display one’s power and impunity.”

The imitator resents the imitated. Equally, the imitated begins to resent the imitator. What happens when they join forces? Which takes us to Donald Trump, who “persistently rejects America’s messianic self-understanding as well as the idea that the United States is a beacon of liberty and justice for all mankind”. In Trump’s worldview, and that of his base, Americanisation of the world hasn’t helped America. China and Chinese jobs have prevailed, while “native” populations have suffered. Imitation has had its day. There is no one to imitate any more.

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Twilight of the Books

By Caleb Crain

A recent study has shown a steep decline in literary reading among schoolchildren.

In 1937, twenty-nine per cent of American adults told the pollster George Gallup that they were reading a book. In 1955, only seventeen per cent said they were. Pollsters began asking the question with more latitude. In 1978, a survey found that fifty-five per cent of respondents had read a book in the previous six months. The question was even looser in 1998 and 2002, when the General Social Survey found that roughly seventy per cent of Americans had read a novel, a short story, a poem, or a play in the preceding twelve months. And, this August, seventy-three per cent of respondents to another poll said that they had read a book of some kind, not excluding those read for work or school, in the past year. If you didn’t read the fine print, you might think that reading was on the rise.

You wouldn’t think so, however, if you consulted the Census Bureau and the National Endowment for the Arts, who, since 1982, have asked thousands of Americans questions about reading that are not only detailed but consistent. The results, first reported by the N.E.A. in 2004, are dispiriting. In 1982, 56.9 per cent of Americans had read a work of creative literature in the previous twelve months. The proportion fell to fifty-four per cent in 1992, and to 46.7 per cent in 2002. Last month, the N.E.A. released a follow-up report, “To Read or Not to Read,” which showed correlations between the decline of reading and social phenomena as diverse as income disparity, exercise, and voting. In his introduction, the N.E.A. chairman, Dana Gioia, wrote, “Poor reading skills correlate heavily with lack of employment, lower wages, and fewer opportunities for advancement.”

This decline is not news to those who depend on print for a living. In 1970, according to Editor & Publisher International Year Book , there were 62.1 million weekday newspapers in circulation—about 0.3 papers per person. Since 1990, circulation has declined steadily, and in 2006 there were just 52.3 million weekday papers—about 0.17 per person. In January 1994, forty-nine per cent of respondents told the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press that they had read a newspaper the day before. In 2006, only forty-three per cent said so, including those who read online. Book sales, meanwhile, have stagnated. The Book Industry Study Group estimates that sales fell from 8.27 books per person in 2001 to 7.93 in 2006. According to the Department of Labor, American households spent an average of a hundred and sixty-three dollars on reading in 1995 and a hundred and twenty-six dollars in 2005. In “To Read or Not to Read,” the N.E.A. reports that American households’ spending on books, adjusted for inflation, is “near its twenty-year low,” even as the average price of a new book has increased.

More alarming are indications that Americans are losing not just the will to read but even the ability. According to the Department of Education, between 1992 and 2003 the average adult’s skill in reading prose slipped one point on a five-hundred-point scale, and the proportion who were proficient—capable of such tasks as “comparing viewpoints in two editorials”—declined from fifteen per cent to thirteen. The Department of Education found that reading skills have improved moderately among fourth and eighth graders in the past decade and a half, with the largest jump occurring just before the No Child Left Behind Act took effect, but twelfth graders seem to be taking after their elders. Their reading scores fell an average of six points between 1992 and 2005, and the share of proficient twelfth-grade readers dropped from forty per cent to thirty-five per cent. The steepest declines were in “reading for literary experience”—the kind that involves “exploring themes, events, characters, settings, and the language of literary works,” in the words of the department’s test-makers. In 1992, fifty-four per cent of twelfth graders told the Department of Education that they talked about their reading with friends at least once a week. By 2005, only thirty-seven per cent said they did.

The erosion isn’t unique to America. Some of the best data come from the Netherlands, where in 1955 researchers began to ask people to keep diaries of how they spent every fifteen minutes of their leisure time. Time-budget diaries yield richer data than surveys, and people are thought to be less likely to lie about their accomplishments if they have to do it four times an hour. Between 1955 and 1975, the decades when television was being introduced into the Netherlands, reading on weekday evenings and weekends fell from five hours a week to 3.6, while television watching rose from about ten minutes a week to more than ten hours. During the next two decades, reading continued to fall and television watching to rise, though more slowly. By 1995, reading, which had occupied twenty-one per cent of people’s spare time in 1955, accounted for just nine per cent.

The most striking results were generational. In general, older Dutch people read more. It would be natural to infer from this that each generation reads more as it ages, and, indeed, the researchers found something like this to be the case for earlier generations. But, with later ones, the age-related growth in reading dwindled. The turning point seems to have come with the generation born in the nineteen-forties. By 1995, a Dutch college graduate born after 1969 was likely to spend fewer hours reading each week than a little-educated person born before 1950. As far as reading habits were concerned, academic credentials mattered less than whether a person had been raised in the era of television. The N.E.A., in its twenty years of data, has found a similar pattern. Between 1982 and 2002, the percentage of Americans who read literature declined not only in every age group but in every generation—even in those moving from youth into middle age, which is often considered the most fertile time of life for reading. We are reading less as we age, and we are reading less than people who were our age ten or twenty years ago.

There’s no reason to think that reading and writing are about to become extinct, but some sociologists speculate that reading books for pleasure will one day be the province of a special “reading class,” much as it was before the arrival of mass literacy, in the second half of the nineteenth century. They warn that it probably won’t regain the prestige of exclusivity; it may just become “an increasingly arcane hobby.” Such a shift would change the texture of society. If one person decides to watch “The Sopranos” rather than to read Leonardo Sciascia’s novella “To Each His Own,” the culture goes on largely as before—both viewer and reader are entertaining themselves while learning something about the Mafia in the bargain. But if, over time, many people choose television over books, then a nation’s conversation with itself is likely to change. A reader learns about the world and imagines it differently from the way a viewer does; according to some experimental psychologists, a reader and a viewer even think differently. If the eclipse of reading continues, the alteration is likely to matter in ways that aren’t foreseeable.

Taking the long view, it’s not the neglect of reading that has to be explained but the fact that we read at all. “The act of reading is not natural,” Maryanne Wolf writes in “Proust and the Squid” (Harper; $25.95), an account of the history and biology of reading. Humans started reading far too recently for any of our genes to code for it specifically. We can do it only because the brain’s plasticity enables the repurposing of circuitry that originally evolved for other tasks—distinguishing at a glance a garter snake from a haricot vert, say.

The squid of Wolf’s title represents the neurobiological approach to the study of reading. Bigger cells are easier for scientists to experiment on, and some species of squid have optic-nerve cells a hundred times as thick as mammal neurons, and up to four inches long, making them a favorite with biologists. (Two decades ago, I had a summer job washing glassware in Cape Cod’s Marine Biological Laboratory. Whenever researchers extracted an optic nerve, they threw the rest of the squid into a freezer, and about once a month we took a cooler-full to the beach for grilling.) To symbolize the humanistic approach to reading, Wolf has chosen Proust, who described reading as “that fruitful miracle of a communication in the midst of solitude.” Perhaps inspired by Proust’s example, Wolf, a dyslexia researcher at Tufts, reminisces about the nuns who taught her to read in a two-room brick schoolhouse in Illinois. But she’s more of a squid person than a Proust person, and seems most at home when dissecting Proust’s fruitful miracle into such brain parts as the occipital “visual association area” and “area 37’s fusiform gyrus.” Given the panic that takes hold of humanists when the decline of reading is discussed, her cold-blooded perspective is opportune.

Wolf recounts the early history of reading, speculating about developments in brain wiring as she goes. For example, from the eighth to the fifth millennia B.C.E., clay tokens were used in Mesopotamia for tallying livestock and other goods. Wolf suggests that, once the simple markings on the tokens were understood not merely as squiggles but as representations of, say, ten sheep, they would have put more of the brain to work. She draws on recent research with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a technique that maps blood flow in the brain during a given task, to show that meaningful squiggles activate not only the occipital regions responsible for vision but also temporal and parietal regions associated with language and computation. If a particular squiggle was repeated on a number of tokens, a group of nerves might start to specialize in recognizing it, and other nerves to specialize in connecting to language centers that handled its meaning.

In the fourth millennium B.C.E., the Sumerians developed cuneiform, and the Egyptians hieroglyphs. Both scripts began with pictures of things, such as a beetle or a hand, and then some of these symbols developed more abstract meanings, representing ideas in some cases and sounds in others. Readers had to recognize hundreds of symbols, some of which could stand for either a word or a sound, an ambiguity that probably slowed down decoding. Under this heavy cognitive burden, Wolf imagines, the Sumerian reader’s brain would have behaved the way modern brains do when reading Chinese, which also mixes phonetic and ideographic elements and seems to stimulate brain activity in a pattern distinct from that of people reading the Roman alphabet. Frontal regions associated with muscle memory would probably also have gone to work, because the Sumerians learned their characters by writing them over and over, as the Chinese do today.

Complex scripts like Sumerian and Egyptian were written only by scribal élites. A major breakthrough occurred around 750 B.C.E., when the Greeks, borrowing characters from a Semitic language, perhaps Phoenician, developed a writing system that had just twenty-four letters. There had been scripts with a limited number of characters before, as there had been consonants and even occasionally vowels, but the Greek alphabet was the first whose letters recorded every significant sound element in a spoken language in a one-to-one correspondence, give or take a few diphthongs. In ancient Greek, if you knew how to pronounce a word, you knew how to spell it, and you could sound out almost any word you saw, even if you’d never heard it before. Children learned to read and write Greek in about three years, somewhat faster than modern children learn English, whose alphabet is more ambiguous. The ease democratized literacy; the ability to read and write spread to citizens who didn’t specialize in it. The classicist Eric A. Havelock believed that the alphabet changed “the character of the Greek consciousness.”

Wolf doesn’t quite second that claim. She points out that it is possible to read efficiently a script that combines ideograms and phonetic elements, something that many Chinese do daily. The alphabet, she suggests, entailed not a qualitative difference but an accumulation of small quantitative ones, by helping more readers reach efficiency sooner. “The efficient reading brain,” she writes, “quite literally has more time to think.” Whether that development sparked Greece’s flowering she leaves to classicists to debate, but she agrees with Havelock that writing was probably a contributive factor, because it freed the Greeks from the necessity of keeping their whole culture, including the Iliad and the Odyssey, memorized.

The scholar Walter J. Ong once speculated that television and similar media are taking us into an era of “secondary orality,” akin to the primary orality that existed before the emergence of text. If so, it is worth trying to understand how different primary orality must have been from our own mind-set. Havelock theorized that, in ancient Greece, the effort required to preserve knowledge colored everything. In Plato’s day, the word mimesis referred to an actor’s performance of his role, an audience’s identification with a performance, a pupil’s recitation of his lesson, and an apprentice’s emulation of his master. Plato, who was literate, worried about the kind of trance or emotional enthrallment that came over people in all these situations, and Havelock inferred from this that the idea of distinguishing the knower from the known was then still a novelty. In a society that had only recently learned to take notes, learning something still meant abandoning yourself to it. “Enormous powers of poetic memorization could be purchased only at the cost of total loss of objectivity,” he wrote.

It’s difficult to prove that oral and literate people think differently; orality, Havelock observed, doesn’t “fossilize” except through its nemesis, writing. But some supporting evidence came to hand in 1974, when Aleksandr R. Luria, a Soviet psychologist, published a study based on interviews conducted in the nineteen-thirties with illiterate and newly literate peasants in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Luria found that illiterates had a “graphic-functional” way of thinking that seemed to vanish as they were schooled. In naming colors, for example, literate people said “dark blue” or “light yellow,” but illiterates used metaphorical names like “liver,” “peach,” “decayed teeth,” and “cotton in bloom.” Literates saw optical illusions; illiterates sometimes didn’t. Experimenters showed peasants drawings of a hammer, a saw, an axe, and a log and then asked them to choose the three items that were similar. Illiterates resisted, saying that all the items were useful. If pressed, they considered throwing out the hammer; the situation of chopping wood seemed more cogent to them than any conceptual category. One peasant, informed that someone had grouped the three tools together, discarding the log, replied, “Whoever told you that must have been crazy,” and another suggested, “Probably he’s got a lot of firewood.” One frustrated experimenter showed a picture of three adults and a child and declared, “Now, clearly the child doesn’t belong in this group,” only to have a peasant answer:

Oh, but the boy must stay with the others! All three of them are working, you see, and if they have to keep running out to fetch things, they’ll never get the job done, but the boy can do the running for them.

Illiterates also resisted giving definitions of words and refused to make logical inferences about hypothetical situations. Asked by Luria’s staff about polar bears, a peasant grew testy: “What the cock knows how to do, he does. What I know, I say, and nothing beyond that!” The illiterates did not talk about themselves except in terms of their tangible possessions. “What can I say about my own heart?” one asked.

In the nineteen-seventies, the psychologists Sylvia Scribner and Michael Cole tried to replicate Luria’s findings among the Vai, a rural people in Liberia. Since some Vai were illiterate, some were schooled in English, and others were literate in the Vai’s own script, the researchers hoped to be able to distinguish cognitive changes caused by schooling from those caused specifically by literacy. They found that English schooling and English literacy improved the ability to talk about language and solve logic puzzles, as literacy had done with Luria’s peasants. But literacy in Vai script improved performance on only a few language-related tasks. Scribner and Cole’s modest conclusion—“Literacy makes some difference to some skills in some contexts”—convinced some people that the literate mind was not so different from the oral one after all. But others have objected that it was misguided to separate literacy from schooling, suggesting that cognitive changes came with the culture of literacy rather than with the mere fact of it. Also, the Vai script, a syllabary with more than two hundred characters, offered nothing like the cognitive efficiency that Havelock ascribed to Greek. Reading Vai, Scribner and Cole admitted, was “a complex problem-solving process,” usually performed slowly.

Soon after this study, Ong synthesized existing research into a vivid picture of the oral mind-set. Whereas literates can rotate concepts in their minds abstractly, orals embed their thoughts in stories. According to Ong, the best way to preserve ideas in the absence of writing is to “think memorable thoughts,” whose zing insures their transmission. In an oral culture, cliché and stereotype are valued, as accumulations of wisdom, and analysis is frowned upon, for putting those accumulations at risk. There’s no such concept as plagiarism, and redundancy is an asset that helps an audience follow a complex argument. Opponents in struggle are more memorable than calm and abstract investigations, so bards revel in name-calling and in “enthusiastic description of physical violence.” Since there’s no way to erase a mistake invisibly, as one may in writing, speakers tend not to correct themselves at all. Words have their present meanings but no older ones, and if the past seems to tell a story with values different from current ones, it is either forgotten or silently adjusted. As the scholars Jack Goody and Ian Watt observed, it is only in a literate culture that the past’s inconsistencies have to be accounted for, a process that encourages skepticism and forces history to diverge from myth.

Upon reaching classical Greece, Wolf abandons history, because the Greeks’ alphabet-reading brains probably resembled ours, which can be readily put into scanners. Drawing on recent imaging studies, she explains in detail how a modern child’s brain wires itself for literacy. The ground is laid in preschool, when parents read to a child, talk with her, and encourage awareness of sound elements like rhyme and alliteration, perhaps with “Mother Goose” poems. Scans show that when a child first starts to read she has to use more of her brain than adults do. Broad regions light up in both hemispheres. As a child’s neurons specialize in recognizing letters and become more efficient, the regions activated become smaller.

At some point, as a child progresses from decoding to fluent reading, the route of signals through her brain shifts. Instead of passing along a “dorsal route” through occipital, temporal, and parietal regions in both hemispheres, reading starts to move along a faster and more efficient “ventral route,” which is confined to the left hemisphere. With the gain in time and the freed-up brainpower, Wolf suggests, a fluent reader is able to integrate more of her own thoughts and feelings into her experience. “The secret at the heart of reading,” Wolf writes, is “the time it frees for the brain to have thoughts deeper than those that came before.” Imaging studies suggest that in many cases of dyslexia the right hemisphere never disengages, and reading remains effortful.

In a recent book claiming that television and video games were “making our minds sharper,” the journalist Steven Johnson argued that since we value reading for “exercising the mind,” we should value electronic media for offering a superior “cognitive workout.” But, if Wolf’s evidence is right, Johnson’s metaphor of exercise is misguided. When reading goes well, Wolf suggests, it feels effortless, like drifting down a river rather than rowing up it. It makes you smarter because it leaves more of your brain alone. Ruskin once compared reading to a conversation with the wise and noble, and Proust corrected him. It’s much better than that, Proust wrote. To read is “to receive a communication with another way of thinking, all the while remaining alone, that is, while continuing to enjoy the intellectual power that one has in solitude and that conversation dissipates immediately.”

Wolf has little to say about the general decline of reading, and she doesn’t much speculate about the function of the brain under the influence of television and newer media. But there is research suggesting that secondary orality and literacy don’t mix. In a study published this year, experimenters varied the way that people took in a PowerPoint presentation about the country of Mali. Those who were allowed to read silently were more likely to agree with the statement “The presentation was interesting,” and those who read along with an audiovisual commentary were more likely to agree with the statement “I did not learn anything from this presentation.” The silent readers remembered more, too, a finding in line with a series of British studies in which people who read transcripts of television newscasts, political programs, advertisements, and science shows recalled more information than those who had watched the shows themselves.

The antagonism between words and moving images seems to start early. In August, scientists at the University of Washington revealed that babies aged between eight and sixteen months know on average six to eight fewer words for every hour of baby DVDs and videos they watch daily. A 2005 study in Northern California found that a television in the bedroom lowered the standardized-test scores of third graders. And the conflict continues throughout a child’s development. In 2001, after analyzing data on more than a million students around the world, the researcher Micha Razel found “little room for doubt” that television worsened performance in reading, science, and math. The relationship wasn’t a straight line but “an inverted check mark”: a small amount of television seemed to benefit children; more hurt. For nine-year-olds, the optimum was two hours a day; for seventeen-year-olds, half an hour. Razel guessed that the younger children were watching educational shows, and, indeed, researchers have shown that a five-year-old boy who watches “Sesame Street” is likely to have higher grades even in high school. Razel noted, however, that fifty-five per cent of students were exceeding their optimal viewing time by three hours a day, thereby lowering their academic achievement by roughly one grade level.

The Internet, happily, does not so far seem to be antagonistic to literacy. Researchers recently gave Michigan children and teen-agers home computers in exchange for permission to monitor their Internet use. The study found that grades and reading scores rose with the amount of time spent online. Even visits to pornography Web sites improved academic performance. Of course, such synergies may disappear if the Internet continues its YouTube-fuelled evolution away from print and toward television.

No effort of will is likely to make reading popular again. Children may be browbeaten, but adults resist interference with their pleasures. It may simply be the case that many Americans prefer to learn about the world and to entertain themselves with television and other streaming media, rather than with the printed word, and that it is taking a few generations for them to shed old habits like newspapers and novels. The alternative is that we are nearing the end of a pendulum swing, and that reading will return, driven back by forces as complicated as those now driving it away.

But if the change is permanent, and especially if the slide continues, the world will feel different, even to those who still read. Because the change has been happening slowly for decades, everyone has a sense of what is at stake, though it is rarely put into words. There is something to gain, of course, or no one would ever put down a book and pick up a remote. Streaming media give actual pictures and sounds instead of mere descriptions of them. “Television completes the cycle of the human sensorium,” Marshall McLuhan proclaimed in 1967. Moving and talking images are much richer in information about a performer’s appearance, manner, and tone of voice, and they give us the impression that we know more about her health and mood, too. The viewer may not catch all the details of a candidate’s health-care plan, but he has a much more definite sense of her as a personality, and his response to her is therefore likely to be more full of emotion. There is nothing like this connection in print. A feeling for a writer never touches the fact of the writer herself, unless reader and writer happen to meet. In fact, from Shakespeare to Pynchon, the personalities of many writers have been mysterious.

Emotional responsiveness to streaming media harks back to the world of primary orality, and, as in Plato’s day, the solidarity amounts almost to a mutual possession. “Electronic technology fosters and encourages unification and involvement,” in McLuhan’s words. The viewer feels at home with his show, or else he changes the channel. The closeness makes it hard to negotiate differences of opinion. It can be amusing to read a magazine whose principles you despise, but it is almost unbearable to watch such a television show. And so, in a culture of secondary orality, we may be less likely to spend time with ideas we disagree with.

Self-doubt, therefore, becomes less likely. In fact, doubt of any kind is rarer. It is easy to notice inconsistencies in two written accounts placed side by side. With text, it is even easy to keep track of differing levels of authority behind different pieces of information. The trust that a reader grants to the New York Times , for example, may vary sentence by sentence. A comparison of two video reports, on the other hand, is cumbersome. Forced to choose between conflicting stories on television, the viewer falls back on hunches, or on what he believed before he started watching. Like the peasants studied by Luria, he thinks in terms of situations and story lines rather than abstractions.

And he may have even more trouble than Luria’s peasants in seeing himself as others do. After all, there is no one looking back at the television viewer. He is alone, though he, and his brain, may be too distracted to notice it. The reader is also alone, but the N.E.A. reports that readers are more likely than non-readers to play sports, exercise, visit art museums, attend theatre, paint, go to music events, take photographs, and volunteer. Proficient readers are also more likely to vote. Perhaps readers venture so readily outside because what they experience in solitude gives them confidence. Perhaps reading is a prototype of independence. No matter how much one worships an author, Proust wrote, “all he can do is give us desires.” Reading somehow gives us the boldness to act on them. Such a habit might be quite dangerous for a democracy to lose. ♦

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The final installment of "The Twilight Saga" hits theaters Friday, concluding a series that has been both beloved and bemoaned . With reviews flooding in for the PG-13 rated "Breaking Dawn," one of the best notices came from one of the most surprising critics.

The New York Times gave "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2" one of the most shockingly good reviews , praising the aesthetic of director Bill Condon, the performance of actor Robert Pattinson and the "smooth" ending of the series.

Click here to read the full New York Times review of "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2."

New York Times chief film critic, Manohla Dargis, did note that she does not feel "Part 2" was necessary, but highlighted how she thinks director Condon made it work. "Condon, however, who brought wit, beauty and actual filmmaking to Part 1, along with those enormous receipts, has nicely cultivated the art of the stall for Part 2 ... largely by turning his cameras into surrogates for the franchise’s adoring fans."

Dargis called Kristen Stewart's performance as now-vampire Bella Swan "stiff," but said Pattinson "has rarely appeared more relaxed, and his character has never seemed more, well, human."

A strong review from such a strong critic is added kudos for "Breaking Dawn," but other reviews were not as praise-filled.

"It's a movie so dull you might start yanking on your own head after about an hour," quipped the San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle.

"This fifth and mercifully final installment features so much idle anticipation that it’s unclear whether we’re watching a movie or an Apple product launch," wrote Wesley Morris of the Boston Globe . Later adding, "The computer-generated wolves give the best performances."

"The 'Twilight Saga' has no upmarket aspirations," MSN Entertainment's Glenn Kenny wrote in his review. "[T]hese movies, like those of Tyler Perry, seek only to provide unabashed satisfaction to those who believe in their characters. Many from the outside looking in may only be able to gasp in some form of disbelief."

The film has an average rating of a measly 54 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, however that counts as a high-water mark for the series.

"The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2," starring Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner, is out now.

twilight book review new york times

'Breaking Dawn Part 2' Photos

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twilight book review new york times

twilight book review new york times

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Twilight: Twilight, Book 1 (Twilight Saga)

When 17 year old Isabella Swan moves to Forks, Washington to live with her father she expects that her new life will be as dull as the town. But in spite of her awkward manner and low expectations, she finds that her new classmates are drawn to this pale, dark-haired new girl in town. But not, it seems, the Cullen family. These five adopted brothers and sisters obviously prefer their own company and will make no exception for Bella. Bella is convinced that Edward Cullen in particular hates her, but she feels a strange attraction to him, although his hostility makes her feel almost physically ill. He seems determined to push her away - until, that is, he saves her life from an out of control car. Bella will soon discover that there is a very good reason for Edward's coldness. He, and his family, are vampires - and he knows how dangerous it is for others to get too close.

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New Moon (Twilight Saga Book 2)

I stuck my finger under the edge of the paper and jerked it under the tape. 'Shoot,' I muttered when the paper sliced my finger. A single drop of blood oozed from the tiny cut. It all happened very quickly then. 'No!' Edward roared ... Dazed and disorientated, I looked up from the bright red blood pulsing out of my arm - and into the fevered eyes of the six suddenly ravenous vampires. For Bella Swan, there is one thing more important than life itself: Edward Cullen. But being in love with a vampire is more dangerous than Bella ever could have imagined. Edward has already rescued Bella from the clutches of an evil vampire but now, as their daring relationship threatens all that is near and dear to them, they realise their troubles may just be beginning ...

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Eclipse (Twilight Saga Book 3)

Bella?' Edward's soft voice came from behind me. I turned to see him spring lightly up the porch steps, his hair windblown from running. He pulled me into his arms at once, and kissed me again. His kiss frightened me. There was too much tension, too strong an edge to the way his lips crushed mine - like he was afraid we had only so much time left to us. As Seattle is ravaged by a string of mysterious killings and a malicious vampire continues her quest for revenge, Bella once again finds herself surrounded by danger. In the midst of it all, she is forced to choose between her love for Edward and her friendship with Jacob - knowing that her decision has the potential to ignite the ageless struggle between vampire and werewolf. With her graduation approaching, Bella has one more decision to make: life or death. But which is which? Following the international bestsellers Twilight and New Moon, Eclipse is the much-anticipated third book in Stephenie Meyer's captivating saga of vampire romance.

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Breaking Dawn: Twilight, Book 4 (Twilight Saga)

Twilight tempted the imagination . . . New Moon made readers thirsty for more . . . Eclipse turned the saga into a worldwide phenomenon . . . And now - the book that everyone has been waiting for . . . Breaking Dawn. In the much anticipated fourth book in Stephenie Meyer's love story, questions will be answered and the fate of Bella and Edward will be revealed.

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Midnight Sun (Twilight series Book 5)

It's here! Number one bestselling author Stephenie Meyer makes a triumphant return to the world of Twilight with this highly-anticipated companion; the iconic love story of Bella and Edward told from the vampire's point of view. When Edward Cullen and Bella Swan met in Twilight , an iconic love story was born. But until now, fans have heard only Bella's side of the story. At last, readers can experience Edward's version in the long-awaited companion novel, Midnight Sun . This unforgettable tale as told through Edward's eyes takes on a new and decidedly dark twist. Meeting Bella is both the most unnerving and intriguing event he has experienced in all his years as a vampire. As we learn more fascinating details about Edward's past and the complexity of his inner thoughts, we understand why this is the defining struggle of his life. How can he justify following his heart if it means leading Bella into danger? In Midnight Sun , Stephenie Meyer transports us back to a world that has captivated millions of readers and brings us an epic novel about the profound pleasures and devastating consequences of immortal love.

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Stephenie Meyer's life changed dramatically on June 2, 2003. The stay-at-home mother of three young sons woke-up from a dream featuring seemingly real characters that she could not get out of her head. "Though I had a million things to do (i.e. making breakfast for hungry children, dressing and changing the diapers of said children, finding the swimsuits that no one ever puts away in the right place), I stayed in bed, thinking about the dream. Unwillingly, I eventually got up and did the immediate necessities, and then put everything that I possibly could on the back burner and sat down at the computer to write--something I hadn't done in so long that I wondered why I was bothering." Meyer invented the plot during the day through swim lessons and potty training, then writing it out late at night when the house was quiet. Three months later she finished her first novel, Twilight.

Twilight was one of 2005's most talked about novels and within weeks of its release the book debuted at #5 on The New York Times bestseller list.Among its many accolades, Twilight was named an "ALA Top Ten Books for Young Adults," an "Best Book of the Decade&So Far", and a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year. The movie version of Twilight will be released by Summit Entertainment nationwide on November 21, 2008, starring Kristen Stewart ("Into The Wild") and Robert Pattinson ("Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire").

The highly-anticipated sequel, New Moon, was released in September 2006 and spent 31 weeks at the #1 position on The New York Times bestseller list. Eclipse, the third book in Meyer's Twilight saga, was released on August 7, 2007 and sold 150,000 copies its first day on-sale. The book debuted at #1 bestseller lists across the country, including USA Today and The Wall Street Journal. The fourth and final book in the Twilight Saga, Breaking Dawn, was published on August 2, 2008, with a first printing of 3.2 million copies - the largest first printing in the publisher's history. Breaking Dawn sold 1.3 million copies its first day on-sale rocketing the title to #1 on bestseller lists nationwide.

Meyer's highly-anticipated debut for novel adults, The Host, was released by Little, Brown and Company in May 2008 and debuted at #1 on The New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller lists.

Stephenie Meyer graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English Literature. She lives in Arizona with her husband and sons.

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editors’ choice

7 New Books We Recommend This Week

Suggested reading from critics and editors at The New York Times.

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Where are all the books about work? That question lands in our inbox from time to time, and no wonder: In terms of hours and paychecks and the sense of identity they impart, jobs are a consuming part of our lives that authors do indeed too often neglect. So this week we recommend three books that put the world of paid labor front and center: Adelle Waldman’s novel “Help Wanted” is set in a suburban box store, Hamilton Nolan’s “The Hammer” assesses the current state of union organizing, and Jane Kamensky’s “Candida Royalle and the Sexual Revolution” takes the measure of a proto-girlboss who went from starring in pornographic movies to launching her own production company with a feminist slant.

Also recommended this week: a look at Saddam Hussein’s state of mind as America and Iraq approached war in 2003, a study of African American literature as a reflection of Black history, a warning about the impacts of climate-fueled migration and, in fiction, Percival Everett’s sparkling riff on the story of Huck Finn, this time centering the character of Huck’s fellow runaway Jim. Happy reading. — Gregory Cowles

JAMES Percival Everett

In this reworking of the “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” Jim, the enslaved man who accompanies Huck down the Mississippi River, is the narrator, and he recounts the classic tale in a language that is his own and with surprising details that reveal a far more resourceful, cunning and powerful character than we knew.

twilight book review new york times

“Luxuriates in language. Everett, like Twain, is a master of American argot. … This is Everett’s most thrilling novel, but also his most soulful.”

From Dwight Garner’s review

Doubleday | $28


In 1984, Candida Royalle changed the porn industry when she co-founded the female-targeted Femme Productions. As Kamensky convincingly argues in this scholarly and engaging tribute, the performer, producer and director was more than a feminist pioneer; her life mirrored that of the sexual revolution itself.

twilight book review new york times

“Her rigor and thoroughness demand that the reader take seriously an underdog who made her name in a stigmatized industry. This book is a labor of empathy that refuses to simplify or valorize its subject.”

From Rich Juzwiak’s review

Norton | $35

HELP WANTED Adelle Waldman

Waldman’s long-anticipated follow-up to her 2013 debut, “The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.,” applies her sharp sense of relational drama and dark comedy to the retail work space. The big-box store is Town Square, and the cast of characters who toil there are as surprising and varied as the merchandise they stock.

twilight book review new york times

“Waldman is skilled at building momentum and tension through intricacies of plot. The book shines whenever the group is together, concocting plans … in search of a shared sense of hope.”

From Alexandra Chang’s review

Norton | $28.99

THE HAMMER: Power, Inequality, and the Struggle for the Soul of Labor Hamilton Nolan

The longtime labor reporter and former Gawker journalist’s lively account of the current landscape of the American labor movement paints colorful portraits of union organizers from across the country alongside a pointed critique of the A.F.L.-C.I.O.

twilight book review new york times

“Offers an impressive array of scenes from the front lines of the 21st-century economy. … As ‘The Hammer’ shows, the kind of solidarity that might naturally arise from shared frustrations on the conveyor belt doesn’t necessarily translate to the broader movement all on its own.”

From Willa Glickman’s review

Hachette | $30

THE ACHILLES TRAP: Saddam Hussein, the C.I.A., and the Origins of America’s Invasion of Iraq Steve Coll

Coll’s book stretches from Hussein’s earliest days in power to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003, tracking the dictator’s state of mind with the help of 2,000 hours of rarely accessed audio from high-level meetings that Hussein “recorded as assiduously as Richard Nixon,” Coll says.

twilight book review new york times

“Most of the story is vivid and sometimes even funny. … Unlike his main character, Coll succeeds in part because he has an eye for dramatic irony.”

From Noreen Malone’s review

Penguin Press | $35

ON THE MOVE: The Overheating Earth and the Uprooting of America Abrahm Lustgarten

The climate is changing, says the author, a climate scientist — and drought, fire and heat waves are going to cause massive demographic shifts. To get a sense of the scale of these changes, the author examines studies and models that simulate future migration scenarios, and combines his insights with first-person reportage. The results are often alarming and admittedly speculative, but never less than compelling.

twilight book review new york times

“The author’s eloquent personal insights … are astonishing as well as gripping, presenting an intimate understanding of why poor agricultural workers, beset by droughts and calamitous economic circumstances, risk everything.”

From Jon Gertner’s review

Farrar, Straus & Giroux | $30

THE BLACK BOX: Writing the Race Henry Louis Gates Jr.

In his latest book, the Harvard scholar shows how African American writers have used the written word to shape their reality despite constraints imposed on them from outside, using the metaphor of the box to reflect ordeals withstood and survived since Africans were first brought to this continent.

twilight book review new york times

“The allure of this book, and the reason for its existence, are the narrative links he draws. … This is a literary history of Black America, but it is also an argument that African American history is inextricable from the history of African American literature.”

From Tope Folarin’s review

Penguin Press | $30

Explore More in Books

Want to know about the best books to read and the latest news start here..

What can fiction tell us about the apocalypse? The writer Ayana Mathis finds unexpected hope in novels of crisis by Ling Ma, Jenny Offill and Jesmyn Ward .

At 28, the poet Tayi Tibble has been hailed as the funny, fresh and immensely skilled voice of a generation in Māori writing .

Amid a surge in book bans, the most challenged books in the United States in 2023 continued to focus on the experiences of L.G.B.T.Q. people or explore themes of race.

Stephen King, who has dominated horror fiction for decades , published his first novel, “Carrie,” in 1974. Margaret Atwood explains the book’s enduring appeal .

Do you want to be a better reader?   Here’s some helpful advice to show you how to get the most out of your literary endeavor .

Each week, top authors and critics join the Book Review’s podcast to talk about the latest news in the literary world. Listen here .


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    The Twilight World (German: Das Dämmern der Welt) is a book written by Werner Herzog.It was published in German by Hanser in 2021. The English translation by Michael Hofmann was published by Bodley Head in 2022. The book is based on the life of Hiroo Onoda, a Japanese soldier, stationed in Lubang during World War II, who refused to surrender until 1974.

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