Revenge of the Aughts

A number of authors made famous in the early 2000s have new books out in 2020. Do they stand up to the previous bestsellers?

Midnight Sun, another reminder of the Aughts Decade

Midnight Sun was published August 4, 2020.

The world changed when Twilight was published on October 5, 2005.

Not so much with Midnight Sun.

I was obsessed with the Twilight series when it first came out in the middle of the aughts (or the 00’s) decade. SO romantic! SO exciting. I started the first chapter at the bookstore and read it all the way to the cash register. I read and reread all four books, watched the movies, and even read the leaked draft of Midnight Sun which Meyer put on her website after it was shared online against her wishes.

Then, like many book series, movies, video games, and music that I am absolutely obsessed with, it faded. Most of my other media loves continue to burn but pre-Midnight Sun, I knew I had outgrown Twilight as a reader.

I don’t like it when people criticize what others read, especially when said disapproval is aimed at what young girls enjoy but boy-centered media rarely take the same kind of hits. This is not that.

But for myself, as I grew older, Edward seemed less perfect, Bella less interesting, the world building too sparkly, and that’s okay. I still have the first book because nostalgia and because I think Stephanie Meyer did a fantastic job with the opening. She is a clear writer and gave a thoughtful introduction to Bella’s character and Forks as a setting. Many adult-marketed books have done worse.

So when Midnight Sun released this year, I felt I should read it, more to tie up loose ends than anything. However, when I read it in conjunction with other 2020 books, it gave me a new perspective on a writer’s creativity.

Let me explain.

Other Bestsellers Back in 2020

Twilight isn’t the only return of an aughts-famous storyteller to bookshelves in 2020. This year has welcomed new books from Suzanne Collins, Veronica Roth, and Max Brooks. Nearly all after a prolonged break from published novels.

Suzanne Collin’s new book comes ten years after The Hunger Games series finished. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes came out in May of this year and gives fans a prequel focusing on eighteen-year-old Coriolanus Snow.

What strikes me as interesting within a publishing world hyper-focused on marketing and sales numbers is: who are these reboots marketed to? Is Midnight Sun and The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes primarily for past readers, now grown? Or, are they marketed to current young adult readers who can enjoy the new additions just days after finishing a ten-year-old series? Or perhaps book reading transcends genre and demographics more than the publishing world is comfortable admitting.

Similarly, the first Divergent book was published in 2011 but the author, Vernonia Roth, just came out with her first adult book this year. While reading, I couldn’t help feel it was YA in disguise. There was a heavy use of flashbacks and the adult and teen-versions of the characters were too similar in thought and action for me to see them as proper adults.

This summer we also saw the first long-form novel from Max Brooks since the 2006 success World War Z. Devolution is by no means a reboot of something earlier, but definitely carries some of the same themes and tone of the mid-aught superstar book that was adapted into a movie with Brad Pit.

And as for Meyer, Midnight Sun details Edward’s perspective of the events that take place in the first book. It was a long read and I ending up disliking characters I used to like. It felt like Meyer was rewriting history to make Edward’s actions more sympathetic (like when he watched Bella sleep).

All of this made me think of the writing careers of these stand-outs and what they did after their big successes.

Career Breakdowns

Since the raging success of Twilight, Meyer published Twilight supplements and the novel The Chemist, already four years old.

After the raging success of World War Z, Max Brooks put out several comics, short fiction, and a Minecraft novel.

Since the raging success of the Hunger Games trilogy, Collins has published a picture book.

After the raging success of the Divergent trilogy, Roth has written Divergent supplements, short fiction, and a YA duology, this latter an outlier on our list.

We might as well think of George R. R. Martin too–the list of people who wish he had finally published the next Game of Thrones book this year probably circles the globe. Or Patrick Rothfuss by the same token.

Why Has it Taken so Long?

It seems that it’s very rare for authors to publish an original novel in the decade after their bestseller. By and large their writing focuses on supplemental work for their successful series, short fiction, or even children’s books. Additionally, a decade later, some writers still haven’t put out the next book in their popular existing series.

In the creative living guide Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (of the raging success Eat, Pray, Love), Gilbert talks about the need to keep creating, even if you worry you can’t top yourself after a huge success. Gilbert herself published four books in the decade after her stand-out bestseller, and not all to the same acclaim.

In Big Magic, Gilbert wrote this about one-hit wonder Harper Lee:

Consider Harper Lee, for instance, who wrote nothing for decades after the phenomenal success of To Kill a Mockingbird. In 1962, when Lee was asked how she felt about the possibility of ever writing another book, she replied, “I’m scared.” She also said, “When you’re at the top, there’s only one way to go.”

Gilbert wishes Lee had written more books, even mediocre ones, because who knows what would have come of that, what beauty readers would have found, what joy Lee would have had while writing.

I can’t say that all authors are scared to write and share after success–there are so many factors at work in life and publishing–but it does make me appreciate the efforts of prolific authors like Stephen King and Agatha Christie. Sure, you don’t love every book, but they kept producing to reach the stories that will capture you.

Stephanie Meyer writes what she wants to write. Yes, that gives us a bore like Midnight Sun, but it also gave many of us the magic of the early books.

How Can We Support Writers?

We should let writers explore worlds other than the ones that made them a household name, judge the quality of a career by more than their latest, and worry less about repeating big numbers.

With this in mind, accepting a few flops seems like a small price to pay to give authors space to perfect their craft and thus give us all the eventual opportunity to once again pick up a book that reads like pure magic.

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