Snap 2013-04-16 at 13.55.08This month, we’re slummin’ with The Hunger Games. And we are going all out, revealing the ending, which shouldn’t matter since EVERYONE has read this thing. We mean, it has over 15,000 reviews on Amazon. But if you are one of the three people who hasn’t read it (like we were) and doesn’t want the ending and key details revealed, then stop reading now. Perhaps one of our other columns in the little archive section on the right would suit your fancy?


Jennifer: Okay, let’s start with two admissions. First, I am so Snotty Literati. I secretly mocked all of you for eating this book up. I built me a tower made up of Anna Karenina and Flannery O’Connor, and I climbed up on top—to look down on you. Second, I freakin’ ate this book up. I read it poolside. I read it while standing in line. I read it anywhere I could. Here’s the thing: If this is all you read, you suck. You’ll die from clogged arteries. If you read other stuff too—like, good old literary fiction—then read this mother, because it’s awesome. (Meghan, I’m writing this column for you.) Go ahead, enjoy!

Lara: It really was something, wasn’t it? It was like crack for me. My Kindle almost blew up I was turning the pages so fast. I wasn’t as snotty as you were about it (am I ever?), but I knew I would never read it. And then we started that Book Bingo thing (stay tuned for a column on that), and there was this category of Read a Book Outside of Your Comfort Zone, and it was kind of like I had to. I was forced into this, and thank God it was so good—and that I didn’t have to suspend my disbelief too far. Well, past the fact that the world has turned into an annual death match between children, televised for all to see…

Jennifer: Crack kills, don’t forget.

Yes, I think we’ve established that I am the snottier one. Yes, we need to get into this “suspension of disbelief” issue. But first: as a member of Snotty Literati, I am compelled to ask what this kind of book has that some of us highfalutin artistes don’t have? Keeping in mind the whole distinction oft heard between genre fiction (plot-centric) and literary fiction (character-centric), the big thing might be plot. We like plot, don’t get me wrong. But books like The Hunger Games love plot. Boy, do they love plot. Plot, plot, plot. By the way, please don’t call me Jennifer anymore. I’d like to be known as Clytemnestra. (Tim, you’re safe. I just wanna try it out.)

Lara: Okay, Clytemnestra. I am not sure I can pronounce your name, which makes it all the more perfect. I want a Hunger Games name too! Let’s go with Mistral. It’s the name of a font which harks to my love of words and writing. Yay!

So, yes, The Hunger Games is very plot-driven… but I also think there’s a lot of character focus on Katniss and her evolution from strong-willed girl to kick-ass warrior woman. So, before I start feeling really dumb, what’s the difference?

Clytemnestra/Jennifer:  I’m glad you asked, and this gets to the heart of why I like “working” with you. You’re a smart, good reader, who doesn’t lapse into MFA-speak like me. We need both. Okay, so it is a fine line. Literary fiction, which is character-centric, shouldn’t be without plot (a strong, gripping story). It’s just that the characters in literary fiction are fully human, true to their worlds (their worlds—hobbits act like hobbits, people act like humans). Genre fiction, which is plot-centric, shouldn’t be without great characters. It’s just that readers might be primarily reading to find out what happens next. Obviously, there’s crossover—tons of it. For instance, let’s name some books. In Catcher in the Rye, Holden’s mind is central. Plot is secondary. In Stephen King books, there’s quite a bit of both. He straddles the literary/genre divide. In Bridget Jones’s Diary, there’s both—but the heart and soul of the protagonist is the winning element. In The Da Vinci Code monstrosity, I don’t remember the protagonist’s name, though Tom Hanks played him in the movie. You get what I’m saying? Did I care about the characters in The Hunger Games? Did I care about Katniss? I did, in a fleeting, superficial way. But not like I’ve cared about Jem, Scout, Huck, and Rudy in The Book Thief. There is a difference, and it has to do with the inner life of characters.

Mistral/Lara: Oh Scout! Oh Rudy! I love, love, love Rudy. He broke my heart and made me cry, even though I knew his fate from the first chapter of The Book Thief. And, I loved Peeta, Katniss’ enemy and love interest… but not in the same way. So I see your point. But speaking of Peeta and Katniss, one of the things I did enjoy in this book was their little love connection and the fact that you didn’t know if it was full-on strategy for winning the Games or a full-on crush. I thought Collins wrote the love story angle very well and I thought Peeta was a sweeta-heart.

Clytemnestra/Jennifer:  You’re going to hate me. Oh, I’m not supposed to say that. You’re going to be a little miffed by me. I didn’t really care about teen romance. I know, I know! This gets into a bigger, broader issue: young adult stuff. Suffice it is to say, I’m not terribly interested, at this point in my world-weary life, in first love and hormonal surges and all those young stirrings—which we all come to realize soon enough don’t mean a damn thing. (Let me toot my own horn: I once wrote a letter to my teen self). I’m more interested in adult love, and how we keep it together. Come on, Mistral. We’re both in our forties. We know that teeny-bopper stuff gave us nothing. Suspension of disbelief? I was actually suspended. I’m good with that. Writing quality? Let me give you some prose: “I take tiny spoonfuls of fish soup. The saltiness reminds me of my tears.” Lordy. Okay, so be it. I’ll keep reading. My big problem, which I’ll say more about of course, is with the lack of complex thinking, the lack of soulfulness in this book.

Mistral/Lara: Of course I am interested in adult love and making it work… likely because of my own failed loves. I am a bit of a love-monger right now and that’s probably my attraction to their young, carefree love. I mean, as carefree as it can be while you are fighting to stay alive. And, watch it: “in our forties” sounds well into this decade. I am still a freshman in the forties class.

But back to your point of soulfulness and lack thereof. Not all books have to be life-changing events. I think there is as much value as The Book Thief knocking your socks off, making your heart hurt, your brain think, and your eyes filling and spilling with tears as there is for a book you just gobble up in a crazy reading binge for the sheer entertainment value it gives you. If all we read was the former, I fear we would be sniveling idiots, wrinkled up and in a ball on the floor because it would be all too much. Too very much to bear.

Clytemnestra/Jennifer:  I don’t know. Maybe the value isn’t equal. I think soul-rocking is just plain better than a good time. The Book Thief is a better book than this one. There, I said it. (Who gets to decide this? Let’s not go there . . .) That’s not to say that this book is not valuable; it is. Writers like myself could stand to learn a lot from a book like The Hunger Games. This book is thoroughly—like, thoroughly—gripping.

I need to get back to what I saw as failures, though—and, here, I’m going to reveal the end. First, I craved the moral dilemmas, the battle between good and evil, the wrestling of the heart. Katniss is called to kill. Others are called to kill. Though there’s a nod to the atrocity of this call, it’s pretty flippant. I wanted to see these characters—and especially Katniss—struggle with the call to bloody their hands. I felt the struggle was superficial.

What were some possibilities? Must they kill? What if one character—not necessarily Katniss but maybe Rue, Thresh, or Cato—just refused to participate? What if one character was a conscientious objector, and this decision (to die, really) was explored? Wow. That’s a book for you.

And, if this were about the soul and not about plot, there should never be this permission for two characters from the same district to live. Silly. Easy. Make them fight till the death, and let us in on the heart-wrenching struggle. Let these characters make decisions about love.

Yeah, I wanted Peeta and Katniss to both live. Because plot was the thing. If it were about character, Katniss would’ve struggled with what it meant to be a human being.

Mistral/Lara: Very good points, but I want you to consider something. I wonder if Katniss didn’t wrestle with what it means to be a human because she grew up in this environment of the Capitol controlling the various Districts and the people who inhabited them. It’s all she knew, right? And, that’s not to say that we don’t have examples in fiction – and real life – where people question their oppressive environment and rise out of it. Clearly, we do. However, there’s one more thing to consider. This is a series and some of these questions you raise could very well be addressed in the next two books. Remember Gale, Katniss’ hunting partner? He questions the idea of running away from the District and being free of the Capitol’s control in the opening chapter. That could be some foreshadowing that comes to fruition in either Catching Fire or Mockingjay, which I plan on reading. You?

Clytemnestra/Jennifer:  I can’t say I won’t read them, but I can’t say I will either. Upon finishing, I did immediately ask a couple of friends for the complete lowdown on the rest of the trilogy. I know what happens. Plot, again. I needed to know about the plot.

Well, your other points. Yeah, but no. If Gale could offer up a hint of rebellion, Katniss could now too. I’m not a big fan of series and trilogies and the like, because I want to look at this as a self-contained whole. This book must be held accountable.

I want one conscientious objector. I want one of the “careers” to think deeply about being psychotic. I want more talk from the Capitol. I want Peeta and Katniss to think. Remember The Lord of the Flies? (Crap. I wanted to be the very first person to think up that comparison. I looked it up. I’m not.) This book has that kind of potential. It didn’t do it.

Mistral/Lara: But did it not do it because it’s a series? Because it’s not literary enough for you? It can’t always come down to whether or not it’s literary enough. I think it’s really good. Certainly good enough and I think your chain is a little tangled because you liked it more than you thought you would. Admit it.

Clytemnestra/Jennifer: I don’t know. I don’t know the “ethos” of series. I don’t know if Suzanne Collins planned to write more or what. By the way, I just looked her up, and she lives in Sandy Hook, in Newtown, Connecticut—and she’s Roman Catholic. Interesting, huh?

I guess it depends on what a series is meant to do.

The book is “good enough”? Are you kidding me?

Mistral/Lara: Good enough to entertain you. Good enough to generate this column and dialogue. Good enough that we wanted to rent the movie and do a companion column on it. See, good enough can be good and even worth it. So there.

Are we done yet? I have to go read about women being relegated to tents when they menstruate (The Red Tent by Anita Diamant).

Clytemnestra/Jennifer: Yeah, we’re done. Okay, I’ll admit it. I loved this crappy book. It was so good!

Stay tuned for our Very Special Snotty Literati where we take on the movie.


 Next up reading-wise, we get back into our comfort zone with The Tenth of December by George Saunders. Happy reading until then!


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