April 10, 2012 by

March 2012


Categories: Book Reviews, Tags:

What happened in March? It was a bit ago, of course, so I’m having trouble remembering. There was some birthdays of my friends. I watched A LOT of The Walking Dead with Jason. I mean, we watched all of it. Notice how I didn’t say I liked it. I re-read The Hunger Games trilogy and saw the movie with Kris, Christine, and Tami. There were a lot of Monday night IM sessions with Marina over The Voice.

Books Read: 21
Books Partially Read: 4
Books Re-read: 5
Books Bought: 0
Money Spent: $0
Books Borrowed: 16
Books Given: 0
Money made (from selling books): $125 in Book ‘Em sales.
Books on To-Be-Read Shelf: 40

Favorite Books This Month: Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson, Raising Demons by Shirley Jackson, The Dead of Night by John Marsden, A Killing Frost by John Marsden, The Night is for Hunting by John Marsden, The Other Side of Dawn by John Marsden, Wither by Lauren DeStefano, and Enthralled ed. by Melissa Marr and Kelly Armstrong–but really just the story by Sarah Rees Brennan, “Let’s Get This Undead Show on the Road”.

I wrote or talked about so many of these books in the last month that I’m kind of out of words now. Especially about The Hunger Games trilogy, all the Marsden ones and the Shirley Jackson memoirs. There was Facebook convos, emails, in-person chats, book reports… I’m trying to decide if there’s a way to distill all that conversation into an easily digestible form or some copy and pasting or just to ignore it in favor of talking about the other books. Of which there’s only two and I’ve already talked about one of them because it was a re-read (Wither by Lauren Destefano). All right, I’m just going to write about the Sarah Rees Brennan story and then copy and paste a little about The Hunger Games in case anyone cares to read it. You can read some about the Marsden’s here as I just wrote about it. And I wrote about the first Jackson book here. The second one is the continuation of her fictional autobiography up thru a lot of little league playing by her oldest son. These books are amazing to read and think about how she NEVER, not once, mentions she is a writer in them. Or that she’s taking a lot of drugs and is an alcoholic and her husband is a philanderer. I really want to read an actual biography about her now.

Ok! So Enthralled is a collection of short stories by a bunch of authors who were on a book tour together–primarily all YA authors some of whom I love, some I hate, some I’ve never read. It was a free ARC a long time ago from Kim’s mom that I finally got around to reading. Because they came up with the idea while on book tour, the theme of the stories was supposed to be about road tripping or journeys. My favorite story in there (and admittedly, I did not read all of them) is by Sarah Rees Brennan, the author of the Demon trilogy that I raved about a couple months ago when I read the last one. Out of the several I read, Brennan’s was at least recognizably about a journey. There was one by this author who wrote a book about djinn which I was fascinated by a while ago who wrote a story entirely set at college where the only “journey” was, I guess, about falling in love? But it was only about the IDEA of falling in love not actually doing it within the confines of the page length. Another one was about a zombie apocalypse and the two characters TALKED about a road trip to Virginia and had maps and guide books but they were just hiding out in a cabin in the mountains the whole time. I don’t know. The whole journey theme to me was a little weak in some of these. But Brennan’s was about a band on tour and they were also having a personal growth journey to accepting their vampire bandmate and him accepting his vampire-ness/them as his friends. #1 It had some great and well-defined characters even though it was really short. #2 It was funny and good. #3 It’s possible I just have a crush on Brennan. I discovered her blog tonight while putzing around trying to write this blog and got sucked in for like 2 hours. I briefly tried to plan a road trip to Nova Scotia because she’s going to be there on another book tour with these same people in September. ANYway. It was nice to have new Brennan to read since her next actual book doesn’t come out for many many more months.

Least Favorite Books of the Month: Bumble-ardy by Maurice Sendak. New Sendak! But such a disappointment. A Million Suns by Beth Revis. I tried, I really did. But I just couldn’t read this. Lame follow-up to Across the Universe which was also kind of lame. The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour. MEH.

Honorable Mention: Night of the Living Trekkies by Kevin Anderson and Sam Stall. Honestly surprising. A zombie novel about aliens who turn humans into zombies with big eyeball growths. Set in a hotel in Texas that’s having a Trekkie convention with a token Princess Leia impersonator. As someone who is not a trekkie or trekker, I still really enjoyed this. It was fast paced and kept moving. I was never bored. It wasn’t very long. Well done, dudes I’ve never heard of.

Okay, and now some Hunger Games. I’m sure you will all skip this and that’s okay. At least now I have a concrete and gathered together portfolio of all my thoughts on these books. Or at least some of them. I actually have a lot more thoughts. Terrifying, isn’t it? Sigh.

First, I got into an argument with Jade on FaceBook about reading as a spectator and lauding violence like a Capitolian.

But, and this is only if I’m understanding you correctly, you think that people are drawn to Katniss because of her lying persona? What she does to survive and make the Panem audience like her is lie about her feelings for Peeta, right? This is certainly not what I like about her. I like her because she’s strong and weak and selfish all at the same time. Because she’s trying to fight back against evil even though she’s terrified. Maybe you just mean the character trait we admire is her determination to survive no matter what it takes? I admit I do admire this about her but most of the time I find her emotional journey to be so poor actually that she is not my favorite character. Her wavering between Peeta and Gale is a low point throughout the trilogy. Peeta’s my favorite character and I kind of wish the story was told from his point of view (this is also primarily why I’m excited about the movie because I like the actor playing Peeta a lot. And I’m kind of ridiculously excited about how they’ll do the costumes and I can’t wait to watch the visually represented inception of Katniss inciting a rebellion by touching her fingers to her mouth and holding them towards the camera. I am very much not excited about watching people kill each other for sport though I think it’s a fabulous commentary on society and wonder how they will handle it movie-style. And I am not looking forward to the muttations at all.)

I don’t think most of the people who love them find the Games to be pleasurable. I don’t find them pleasurable. I find them horrifying, dirty and grotesque like you say. I cry when Rue dies. But we’re not supposed to like them. We’re supposed to despise them while discovering the dichotomy of civilization and barbarism for ourselves. I think the main draw of the books is not the Games, in fact, it’s the pleasure of watching characters rebel, fight back, and successfully triumph over evil/oppression/post-civilized barbarity. It’s very David vs. Goliath. If people wanted to be morbidly excited by reality TV death, they could just read or watch Battle Royale (which has a very similar plot device–teenage death arena–and is way less well-rounded in other areas). I guess my point with this is that while reading the book is pleasurable it’s not because I have a fascination with watching people kill each other. It’s because I like the theme of good vs. evil with good winning.

I don’t think you’re reading it wrongly, I just think you’re fixating on the books’ popularity and, by extension, the in-book popularity of the Game. I think you’re underestimating readers’ ability to see through her set-up to the basic idea that murder voyeurism is bad and sticking to your moral principles, no matter what the cost, is good. Have you just read a lot of articles that only praise the killing sequences or heard a lot of people rave only about that aspect? I would think that most people would focus on what loyalty means, what the cost of loyalty can be, where betrayal comes in, how people triumph over seemingly unassailable odds, societal mores and downfalls, what the cost of surviving does to the psyche, etc.

It seems like much of your dislike of them comes from preconceived notions about why they are popular and you’re bringing that into your reading of them. This has long bugged me about people who hate Harry Potter or Twilight who’ve never read them and refuse to do so because they’re too popular. Then when/if they do try to read them they can’t get past the hatred and never give the books a chance. I feel like at least you tried to give them a chance. I mean, sure you utterly failed, but whatever.

…But it’s possible you really should try to read the third one which doesn’t have a Game in it and is solely concerned with war and thus might hit different notes with you than the morbid spectator one. It’s really not pleasurable. I’ve only read it once and I hated it. I’m hoping to hate it slightly less this time around. And on that rousing recommendation and incredibly long diatribe, good night!

Then I continued that argument via email after Jade wrote a blog about it.:

I did indeed see that you wrote about it on your blog, yes. Sorry I’ve had a busy weekend and didn’t reply earlier. I also finished reading book 3 on …Friday? I think it was Friday, and have been thinking of them all weekend. I also started reading the sequel to this book I read 2 weeks ago–the first one was “Tomorrow, When The War Began” and the sequel is “The Dead of Night”. They’re by an Australian writer named John Marsden (stay with me I’m getting to why these tie in) and you should never, ever read them. They’re basically the Aussie version of “Red Dawn” if you ever saw that? A bunch of teenagers who guerilla fight back against an invading army (from an imaginary Asian country) in their country who have locked up their families at the fairgrounds in town. 1) They are kind of terribly written and 2) they are as psyche damaging as the Hunger Games. Maybe a little less so because they aren’t as powerfully written so the impact isn’t as extreme.

Anyway, reading these and thinking about the Hunger Games and your reaction to them, a response I came up with to your question is about how there is maybe a middle ground between changing an opinion and reinforcing an opinion. Those results are very black/white and I can see why it’s hard to think of a good example.

One of the things I like about books that move me is that they can provide a carefully constructed world in which your imagination can move through it and be confronted with a reality which is foreign to your real life. You talk about books that hold the same opinions as us already or reinforce held beliefs about things such as children with weapons and victims/persecutors and prostitution/slavery. And while it’s true that I DO have beliefs about these things, I do not have FIRST HAND experience with them. Books allow me for a couple hours to have virtual first hand experience.

One of the things that bugs me about your reaction is that you think we, as readers, must be identified as the Capitol viewers because that’s what we are like reading and enjoying them. But I feel like we must identify as Katniss because of how the books are written in the first person. If we are Katniss than we are experiencing what she is and everything bad that happens, happens to us. Everything that damages her, damages us. In the end when we put the book down we get to be free, but she doesn’t. And I think that’s one of the ways these are so powerful and have a hold on people and makes us think about them for a week or month or year after finishing. Because we’re shaken up by them but relatively okay. And yet, we experienced it all with her and we know she’s still living it so we’re trapped in it a little bit with her still too. None of this changes my previously held beliefs about war, children fighting and killing, etc., they are reinforced, yes, but more subtly and importantly, I am changed by feeling it virtually at first hand. By having her life affect mine for the course of time the book is held in my hands, in front of my face, and for however long after I am still trapped in there with her. I hope I never have actual first hand experience of these things but really good books always manage to change me a little. The virtual bleeding into my reality.

Wait, I just read what you wrote again and we are kind of arguing the same thing still. We both think they have powerful messages and we’re both affected by them. Sooooo you can ignore everything I said above pretty much. Though I still think I’m right about people more often identifying with Katniss than being complicit in Capitol audience blood-lust.

I went and reread it because my cousin just posted this link on FB and I was fascinated because I thought it might provide concrete evidence of human mind change (SCIENCE!) from reading fiction but it doesn’t exactly provide the effect you were talking about.

Still, it was pretty interesting. And it did, at any rate, reinforce my virtual bleeding into reality argument. Just based on brain chemistry! Science! (Sorry, science is so foreign to my English lit soul that I’m endlessly fascinated by it.)

I think my answer to your question now is that the people who like and utilize the kind of violence the books are arguing against are either going to find or twist reasons in them (or other anti-violence lit) that are pro-violence (not hard really in HG at least, I don’t think) or they’re not going to be reading them at all. But I still want to believe that sometimes some people are reached and changed by a book. And maybe someday another science article will come out to prove that for reals.

Also I need you to explain the teacher thing to me–the teacher who said they’ll be learning about dystopian civilizations as a side effect. Why isn’t that a good thing? Shouldn’t they be learning about that in a way which might actually have an impact? Possibly I should read the article you’re linking to and this would make more sense.

Jade argues back about how maybe if we’re empathizing only with Katniss it inures us to the actions of others and therefore we don’t critically apply to ourselves the actions of, say, being a Capitolian. Which was quite a good point that I feel I kind of missed addressing actually. This has been Jade’s point all along kind of, I think. That in order for the books to really shine and be a critical commentary on society we need at some point to identify with the Capitol and internalize that criticism, remembering to apply it to all future actions of ourselves and our world leaders. Jade also debates whether or not books criticizing society manage to effect anyone whose world view doesn’t already agree with them. She also makes some excellent points about democratic societies and how Katniss is an anarchist, but kind of a failed one who slinks away at the end rather than force real change. But I, of course, still have more to say about empathy and critical commentary:

Considering that Katniss does sometimes view things like a Capitol audience and often stands up for Capitol citizens, I think we are forced within the book to consider things from their perspective just because Katniss is. Like when she has to watch previous games or the replay of her game. She doesn’t do so great with her own but she analyzes and …not appreciates, but KIND OF appreciates, some of the victors’ approaches to killing in the others. And when she rescues her “crew” from 13’s dungeons and defends them to Gale, we’re forced to see some things from their side about how their lives could have led them to enjoying the Games and how not ALL Capitol citizens are “evil”. And we are sometimes forced within Katniss’ POV to act like callous uncaring people. I mean she often kills people without hesitation. She then analyzes it a little internally and we analyze it with her but in this sense she’s behaving horrifically violent all the same. Like in 2 after holding hands with all the victor’s she still immediately kills some as soon as the Games start. And in 3 when they’re sneaking around in the Capitol she shoots an unarmed woman eating a chicken leg in the heart and moves on. So as readers we have to consider and justify and internally monologue with ourselves and with her and think about these things still. She spends a lot of time emphasizing with the Capitol and the rebels and thinking about both sides and so we do too definitely. Although…other than liking Boggs she never really empathizes with the rebels. She pretty much dislikes them the whole time and makes us hate them too. That is definitely a plot thing by Collins I think to lead up to killing Coin in cold blood and make us approve it maybe. But I agree with you that it doesn’t fully work. This is a problem with the writing of the 3rd book though. She tries to wrap up too many things in too small a space. There should have been a lot more post-killing Coin internal monologue so we could understand it better.

Oh and no no no, I think while reading and emphasizing with Katniss we’re also critiquing her and ourselves. You just did it there. She is selfish and a murderer and manipulative. While reading her do things like kill people I’m with her but I’m also questioning whether I would do that whatever it was. When she manipulates Peeta to get food or whatever, I’m like, yes, I would totally do that. I am highly manipulative to get what I want. But I wouldn’t have done everything the way she did. And just because I emphasize with her doesn’t mean I LIKE her. I actually don’t like her very much as I’ve said before. The only character I really like is Peeta. And Prim, but I never thought she would make it so I never expended much energy in liking her. Even though she was Katniss’s favorite person. In that respect my empathy with her only understood her love of Prim. It didn’t agree with it. This is something that happens a lot in books I read. I emphasize with all sorts of things but I’m still critical enough to have my own opinions too. And I definitely extend my book-based empathy and critically apply it to myself and others within my reality.

Oh, I read the teacher thing as students might be distracted by story WHILE reading but then in the classroom during discussion they would be led to a greater understanding. This is what happens in teaching, right? What teachers are supposed to be doing–leading students to read and understand more deeply? I could be wrong. I’m not a teacher. But I thought a lot of teaching was about, well, TEACHING. I’m also basing a lot of this on what I did at the high school library. When English classes were reading certain books and coming in to do research for papers on them, we would pull lots of books on historical events, society/culture, philosophy, whatever related to the book for them. I don’t know what this particular teacher was going to do, but I know the kinds of books I would pull if teaching HG in a class to make sure students applied critical theory and rhetoric to it.

And then I had to explain my dislike of the third book–Mockingjay–to Eydie.

I dislike how Collins confined herself to the 3 sections, 9 chapters a section set-up that totally limited how she could wrap everything up at the end. It was a horribly rushed ending without enough explanation or follow-thru with the characters. Like, 1, throughout the series we get interminable internal rambling from Katniss about why she does things and what she feels about things. In the end she kills Coin and her actual reason is never fully expressed. We assume it’s for Prim but it’s never outright said. 2, the last time she was separated from Peeta she spent pages worrying about him in the Capitol and wondering what he was doing and what happened to him. At the end of the book she just retreats to District 12 and doesn’t even spare him a thought until he shows up again. It’s like, really? Are you so self-involved that you didn’t even care that one of your team was left behind again? Also, Haymitch, who had been working with the rebels to change things all along and been a part of the revolution, etc., also just retreats to District 12 when the leader is killed? No. He probably would have stayed and continued to address reforms as a member of the leading party.

It’s also vaguely annoying how there’s no real message to take away from this other than that war is awful and PTSD is a real thing. Katniss at the end was not in favor of tyanny or democracy. She was basically and anarchist assassin. But then she doesn’t do anything about that and just runs away. There could have been a better moral at the end where we see that anarchy is the only political stance to take or the bigger benefits of real democracy if she hadn’t acted alone but instead it’s just sort of a fractured ending (much like her psyche) without anything real to take away from the story.

The third book is just too rushed and choppy. She spends way too much time on stuff that doesn’t further the story (a lot of the time spent with the rebels, some of the District stuff, a lot of the attack on the Capitol where they’re hiding in cellars or before they start maneuvers)–this is, of course, assuming that the story is Katniss/Peeta. A part of the story that gets totally lost in the third book. But even if the story is Katniss/Capitol there’s still a lot of extraneous stuff that gets written about instead of all the more interesting questions I have above about democracy/anarchy and Katniss’s final decision to kill Coin instead of Snow. She just doesn’t balance it very well in the last book. She tried to do too much and was totally inhibited by length.

A lot of people die kind of unnecessarily. I see how Prim’s death is totally relevant to the story and needed and I always expected her to die so I don’t really mind that. But Finnick? I think he could have lived. And what happens to Johanna at the end? We never see her again and I came to care about her. Or Annie (I don’t actually care about her but I feel bad since Finnick dies. Where does she go? What happens to her? See this is just another instance of where she let a bunch of plot strings fall apart.)

And finally, I hate how she never really loves Peeta because I love him so much.

Actually I probably have other things I dislike about the third book but it’s not as fresh in my mind right now since I read it several weeks ago. And all this is not to say that I HATE the last book. I think it’s good still. Just not as great as it could have been. I was very disappointed in it.

She wrote back about her views on Prim’s death/Coin’s murder and I had thoughts on that too. You know what, I HAVE A LOT OF THOUGHTS ABOUT THE HUNGER GAMES.

My theory is that Coin killed Prim and blamed it on Snow to force Katniss to agree to more Hunger Games. Coin wanted Katniss to be irrational and super angry with the Capitol so that she would be on her side for more revenge-mongering and the new autocratic regime. Coin must have known Katniss would never consent to more Hunger Games unless something so horrible happened to her personally. It backfired when Katniss found out the truth obviously. But in any case, Prim needed to die for the story. If Coin had suggested more Hunger Games without killing Prim, the majority of the survivors would have voted no and she would have been forced to kill all the survivors (which I think is what was going to happen in that room they were all in if they voted against her, but again WHO KNOWS because Collins doesn’t tell us everything about how there’s snipers or a lethal gas waiting to be released and a cover story about them all being killed by Capitol agents). But the story couldn’t end with Katniss, Haymitch and Peeta, Annie, Johanna, Beete, etc all dying (I guess. I mean I don’t see why it couldn’t. That ending might actually have been more powerful. It couldn’t be any more lackluster than the ending we get anyway). But that’s why I think the story had to kill Prim instead. That’s what I THINK from a story-telling perspective anyway.

2 Responses to March 2012

  1. Michele

    Dad did spend many many years trying to make me love math. He almost succeeded too! If only it hadn’t been for that gout-ridden trig teacher who hated herself and all of us.

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