This daily feature is an introduction to a full book review essay by Jana Riess. To read the full text of this review, follow the link below.
Publishing professionals call it a phenomenon. In 2008, Little, Brown sold 27.5 million copies of Stephenie Meyer's four vampire novels; the Twilight movie grossed $191 million in domestic box office sales; and Meyer's adult novel, The Host, sold an additional million copies. Publishers Weekly crowed, "A new queen has been crowned." USA Today reported that Meyer was the bestselling author in the world for the year 2008, accounting for one in five of the books sold from Thanksgiving to Christmas.
That's not bad for an author who, as the media incessantly reminds us, is little more than a "Mormon housewife." It seems that nearly every major article about Meyer's success has focused on this label, as though Mormon housewives constitute a group of whom little can be reasonably expected. Time magazine called her "a Mormon housewife turned novelist," while Entertainment Weekly trumpeted the fact that back in 2003, Meyer had been "a 29-year-old Mormon housewife" who was mystified by the rarefied world of New York publishing and was merely a member of a "cozy, supportive" women's writing group before being plucked from obscurity by a New York agent. The Time profile, in fact, went out of its way to attest to Meyer's literary inexperience: "Meyer had not written anything much before then. Her main creative outlets were scrapbooking and making elaborate Halloween costumes."
For the record, Meyer studied English literature at Brigham Young University, wrote some, and read widely before having her famous dream that birthed Edward Cullen, a Byronic but noble vampire. The media would prefer to have Meyer's pre-Twilight world intellectually limited because it makes for a better story. To that end, they have revived the term "housewife" instead of using today's far more common (and less provincial) phrase, "stay-at-home mom." The persistence of the housewife image says a good deal less about contemporary Mormonism than it does about what Americans believe about Mormonism.