The books I turn to when I’m sick

We all have guilty pleasures we turn to when we’re sick and, like most people, I’ve managed to keep mine very well hidden.

I’ve been sick for 5 weeks now. I have asthma so, when I went to the doctor with a bad cough and breathing problems, the diagnosis seemed fairly obvious. Three courses of antibiotics later, and I still wasn’t getting any better. I was coughing so hard I was vomiting. I’d started coughing up blood.

It wasn’t until I gave the infection to my mother that we found out what it was. My mother was tested because my step-dad was in the ICU. If he wasn’t sick, I’d probably still be getting treated for bronchitis.

I don’t have bronchitis, though. I have whooping cough.

I needed 2 more courses of antibiotics and a course of steroids.

For those not keeping count, that’s 5 courses of antibiotics in total, and 1 course of steroids.

I was also quarantined in my house until I was no longer infectious. This is where my guilty pleasure read comes in.

I didn’t read any new books while I was sick. My cough was so violent I’d go 3 minutes without being able to breathe. It was tiring, and the last thing I wanted was something that would challenge me. I wanted something that was comforting and safe (I had been reading No Friend but the Mountains by Behrouz Boochani, which was very confronting).

Instead of working through my ever-growing pile of new books, I re-read the first two Twilight books. Now, before you judge me too harshly, I know they’re badly written. A stellar example of this is a line from New Moon: “Aro started to laugh. ‘Ha ha ha’ he chuckled.”

While I’m not going to go into the faults of the books (because you probably already know them), one point I do think is valuable to discuss is that Bella has very little agency. One of the first things you’ll learn in any introductory writing course is that the main character needs to make choices to actively move the story forwards. Bella rarely does this, but that’s exactly why I like the books.

So why do I read it?

When I turn to Twilight it’s because I’ve lost the energy to move my own life forwards. A lot of Bella’s choices are out of her control, but things happen to her anyway.

I read Twilight when I’m having a bad week, when I still want my life to move forwards, but I don’t have the energy to play an active part in it.

It isn’t Bella who moves the story forwards. It’s Edward Cullen.

Edward exists solely to make Bella happy and keep her safe. As the novel is told from Bella’s perspective, Edward really exists solely to satisfy the reader. Edward has the power to hurt Bella, but he chooses not to. This choice defines the plot of each novel as Edward consistently puts Bella’s desires above his own. While we can argue that this is unhealthy, Twilight is not the first, and it won’t be the last, text to represent romance this way. When I’m sick I like being able to put myself in a position where someone else is going to take care of me and keep me safe.

My own novel is inspired by this in a very small part; it’s told from first person perspective. While the military and government are quite active in the novel, the main character is a civilian and has very little control. I’ve chosen this perspective to heighten the feeling of being trapped and uninformed. I did this intentionally as the book explores responses to trauma.

Another reason I read Twilight is the nostalgia. I read the books as a teenager after a bad break-up. I related to how much Bella struggled to make sense of the world and her place in it. Every relationship I had felt as special and unique as Bella and Edward’s. I felt no one could possibly have felt that way and no one else could understand it.

Reading the books as an adult reminds me of those moments as a teenager, where every feeling was new, and I had the space to explore them.

Another one of my go-to books is Pride and Prejudice, and there are clear parallels between Edward and Mr. Darcy. Both characters are rich, handsome and reclusive. Both can be rude and abrupt. Both are strong-willed and stubborn. Both are reluctantly drawn to women who are inappropriate for them. Both pursue them relentlessly, anyway. This comes back to a point I made earlier, Twilight isn’t new.

Whether or not you like the books, you can’t ignore how many copies they’e sold or the fact that, sometimes, what we want in a main character is a lack of choice. I like Twilight because Bella doesn’t have to make choices to move the story forwards. Her fates finds her. In real life, I work hard to reach my goals. It’s nice to escape to a place of much less responsibility.

Join me on Twitter @kazzalo and let me know what your guilty pleasures are.

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