Why Do We Read Love Stories?

There’s nothing like a good love story. And Twilight is nothing like a good love story. Or is it?

For years, I’ve been trying to decipher the Twilight phenomenon. I wandered into Barnes and Noble and read the first chapter to see what all the fuss was about; I couldn’t see the allure. The writing was terrible. Just awful. And yet, people were inexplicably drawn to it. I figured there had to be something more to it than vampires, werewolves and a teenage girl who can’t think for herself or experience any emotions other than helplessness and undying love.

At first, I thought it was some kind of disease — a mass neurological disorder — but it seemed improbable. What was really making these books so popular, I decided, was something more elemental and subversive. Fans weren’t reading to discover ever more complicated ways of describing Edward’s eyes, they were reading for the love story. So what if it was a really creepy love story? It was obviously fulfilling a need.

Deep down, I think we’re programmed to respond to love stories, as we have been since the dawn of literature. Helen of Troy plunged the Mediterranean into war with her beauty, Shakespeare’s characters sacrificed everything for the sake of love from Romeo and Juliet to Florizel and Perdita. Even in the great horror story, Frankenstein, the monster longs for a companion to end his loneliness. Love stories have always been with us. Underneath cynical exteriors that scoff at the materialism and commercialism of Valentine’s Day, we secretly want someone to buy roses for (or someone to buy them for us). Nobody wants to be alone and romance fiction — and yes, even supernatural romance — lets us escape into a fantasy realm where our basic human need to experience love is met.

I still don’t get how anyone can find the story of a whiny teenager and a super creepy, undead, glittery vampire romantic, but I can at least understand why people are so drawn to love stories. Reading about other people in love makes us feel loved. It’s no wonder the romance genre consistently lands on bestseller lists.

Love is in the air and on the page, so we might as well embrace it. Happy Valentine’s Day and/or Singles Awareness Day.

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Send me a Valentine on Twitter, where my fellow Twilight-bashing friends call me @jonnyeberle.

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