>Fans and readers

>We didn’t receive a review copy of Stephenie Meyer’s Breaking Dawn, so you won’t find any spoilers here. What I’ve been finding fascinating in a train-wreck kind of way are the vox populi debates over at Amazon.com, particularly a discussion thread attempting to start a RETURN THIS BOOK campaign in protest of Meyer’s “betrayal” of her readers: “I agree totally. I saw about 20 returned copies at Target tonight. Returning them is the right thing to do. Burn them and she will still have the money. Don’t let that happen.” And these are fans talking.

I’m interested in the ethical propriety of returning a book because you didn’t like it. Can’t imagine doing that myself–the reader is paying for consuming the intellectual content, not just for the physical item. I’m equally interested in the whole question of the difference between readers and fans, if there is one. One distinction the Meyer debates seem to bring to the fore is the way fans personalize the object of their affection–the ones who hate Breaking Dawn feel that Meyer has betrayed them and must suffer; the ones who like the book feel they need to be “loyal” to the author: “You do realize Stephenie Meyer reads these don’t you? How disgustingly mean can you get? Stephenie Meyer wrote this for us, the twilighters. Her fans.”

What makes people behave this way? I’m aware, of course, that the Amazon posters are probably a distinct subgroup of Meyer’s readers, or do her books inspire this kind of Ayn Randy cultishness?

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Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

Comments

  1. Rebecca Rabinowitz says:

    >We didn’t receive a review copy of Stephenie Meyer’s Breaking Dawn

    Fascinating. Are you able to posit a guess onblog as to why that might be?

  2. Roger Sutton says:

    >I imagine we will, eventually. No rush.

    I’m guessing prepub review copies were not made available, a more frequent circumstance since Harry Potter. Scholastic, though, always arranged it so a review copy would arrive on the day of publication, to whatever address we designated. I don’t know what’s going on with the Meyer. Another publisher once asked me to sign a confidentiality contract before forking over the review copy, asking me to promise not to Breathe A Word prior to publication date. We didn’t sign and it didn’t matter, and all the orchestrated drama was in vain if not counter-productive–the book flopped.

  3. Anonymous says:

    >If they don’t sell it at Target- I’m not going to read it! LOL!

    Do people really return books? What a Novel idea!

  4. ladydisdain says:

    >Right after Eclipse came out Meyer did an appearance with a school through the bookstore where I used to work. She and her publicist told us that due to the proliferation of Eclipse galleys being sold on eBay, there would be no galley for the 4th book.

  5. Monica Edinger says:

    >The current dismay and discord in the Meyer fan universe reminds me of the Harry/Hermione shippers’ fury after Harry/Ginny were confirmed as a pair in HP 6. There was this huge anger at each other, at Rowling, and so on; lots of nasty stuff at the Leaky Cauldron and other HP sites. With the Meyers series there seems to be a similar situation of people getting so deeply involved in the greater universe of the books and the author and then feeling hurt and betrayed when the author didn’t go in the direction they had hoped. The campaign to return the books just seems related to the incredible intensity of these fandoms and also to the online communities — no doubt, as there were with HP, the Meyer sites are smokin’! I think this is a phenomena that isn’t really about books. I mean, how many authors and books get this crazy intense response?

  6. david elzey says:

    >The problem is that people do see the physical book as the commodity, and not the content. I’ve also seen a growing number of situations where people consume a meal in a restaurant and then try to get out of paying because it didn’t meet their expectations.

    We have become a ridiculously selfish society full of entitlements based on little more than a dissociative birthright borne out of capitalism.

  7. Roger Sutton says:

    >Monica, I think this is that fans v. readers thing. As fans, Meyer’s (and Rowling’s) readers feel like they have some ownership of the story, which can beget jealousy even of the author.

  8. Monica Edinger says:

    >Roger, I think this idea of ownership is key. After all, I encourage my students to make books their “own.” As do authors like Philip Pullman (saying that once it is out in the world it is no longer his, but belongs to the readers). And so it makes sense how those who made Meyer’s series their story are furious that she pushed it where they don’t want to go. I’m less clear on how you are separating fans and readers. Aren’t fans readers too? I can certainly see a range from uninvolved-reader to extreme-fan-reader, but still think of them all as readers.

  9. Roger Sutton says:

    >I’m just muddling this out, but while all fans of Meyer are readers, not all her readers are fans. I imagine there a lot of her readers out there who would die before referring to themselves as “Twilighters.” Just like not everbody who enjoys Austen is a “Janeite.”

  10. >I’m just glad to see that I’m not the only one who uses the adjective Ayn Randy.

  11. >I can see returning a book if you accidentally bought the wrong one, or ended up with two copies… returning a book you’ve already read just because you didn’t like what was in it? That’s like returning your prom dress after you’ve worn it to the big dance, tags cut out and everything. And all because your date didn’t get you the right corsage.

  12. >Random fun fact: I have it on good authority (a former TJ’s employee) that you can return anything you don’t like to Trader Joe’s for a full refund, no questions asked.

  13. david elzey says:

    >Elissa, that Trader Joe's policy is posted and encouraged in the stores. The theory is that if you try something you're more likely to try something else in the future. It's also a fact that most of the people who try a TJ's item with the thought of returning it don't return it. It encourages more adventurous buying in the long run.

    In movie theatres the deal is the first 20 to 30 minutes of the film (depending on its length) because by then you should know whether or not you're enjoying the movie. The refund means you don't see the end of the picture, but you didn't care for it anyway, right? If you walk out at the end of the movie and say "That was a waste of time, I want my money and my two hours back?" well, that ain't happening.

    With books I've been wondering if authors/publishers wouldn't be wise to sell their books with the last 50 to 100 pages missing, to be purchased with a single-sue code unique to each book. Once you've read it, no refund, and the online code will confirm you didn't read it. (Or maybe the other way around, the first half of the book online, the second half in stores with a 'no refund' policy attached. Still mulling this over)

    The point is, there's no way currently to know whether people are using the chain stores as extended libraries (and many do, which is why B&N recently changed their return policies) and since sales are what authors are paid by it seems like time for a paradigm shift in how content (as opposed to books) are handled and sold.

  14. Roger Sutton says:

    >Elissa, I just thank God you didn’t return those dried mango slices with chili powder!

  15. Anonymous says:

    >still need a book? you know, i just got mine yesterday.

    zoe

  16. >This reminds me of a recent event with my very unhappy 8-year-old who wanted to return a book she had purchased with her hard earned allowance. I wouldn’t let her do it because she had already read half the book (can’t remember what it was). We talked about what you pay for when you buy a book as well as the difference between a bookstore and a library. She was most unhappy with the fact that I would not budge (20 minutes of crying ensued). It was interesting that a few days later, after a visit to the library she begrudgingly told me that she was glad I didn’t allow her to return the book.

    I wonder if there is an age or developmental stage when younger readers start to feel more ownership over what happens in stories.

  17. >I bought the first book soley because of the great cover art. Had never heard of Stephenie Meyers. I enjoyued all the books but have not followed the saga over the internet etc. I didn’t even know she was a Mormon until someone told me the other day. I guess that makse me a reader not a fan.
    Also have to say this idea of returning a read book because it didn’t turn out to be what you expected is immature enough. To return it so the author ‘won’t get her money’ is downright juvenile and spiteful.
    Whoever started this dangerous little trend should be firmly smacked over the wrist and put back in their playpen.

  18. Anonymous says:

    >On Ayn Randiness. I was talking to someone last week about the Twilight series. Neither of us cared for the messages inherent in the story [for example: given a guy who is attracted to you in a sexual and violent way, why yes, of course, go out in the woods! to total isolation! because you know, he LOVES you, he would never hurt you. . .] I usually counsel people who are worrying about their child’s reading to worry less, because children are generally more competent than people realize at differentiating fact from fiction. But my friend and I both see Twilight as rather insidious because so many of Bella’s decisions are presented as perfectly natural and reasonable, but also because of the Ayn Randiness of fans.

    It isn’t other teens who are oohing and aaahing. It’s adults claiming “best romance evah.” It’s as if the story is being validated in the real world, by grown-ups and I can see this influencing an eleven, twelve or thirteen year old’s understanding of the story.

    Is it just me? Or are there other people who wish we could go back to pre-Harry Potter days when people read a book and liked it instead of being swept into a fad of over-the-top adoration?

  19. Roger Sutton says:

    >There’s Ayn Randiness in the story itself–at least in Twilight, the only one I’ve read. Bella is just like Dagny or Dominque quivering in need and acquiesence at the feet of a superman. I can totally see why teenaged girls love the book–all that longing, just like Flowers in the Attic–but as fodder for the dreams of the everyday housewife it squicks me out.

  20. Roger Sutton says:

    >And, wow, Zoe, you work there! Ours came yesterday, too–Claire has one copy and I have the other.

  21. >I have been fascinated by this proprietorial attitude towards some else’s creation since the Buffy days. Those Twilighters wanting their money back have nothing on fan rage compared to some Buffy fans who to this day will not forgive Joss Whedon for killing Tara… or even those who refuse to watch past Season 5 because they don’t like the direction Whedon took “their” characters.

  22. >Remember MISERY by Stephen King?

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