Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Hunger Games, Plus Some Ranting. Also a New Plan.

I do not live in a cave, and so I know about The Hunger Games. I happen to work in a library, and so, I have read The Hunger Games (yes – all three.)
The writing wasn't very good. I mentally compared it to the writing of Harry Potter and found it some levels lower. The story, I thought, was perhaps not original but good. I'm drawn to dystopian literature anyway, and the 'whole gladiator games thing' was interesting. But there was an ominous lack of one thing in the series: message. What was the book about? What was Collins trying to say? It's pretty obvious that the book, though nine tenths of it is comprised of violence among children and youths, is anti-violence, though not necessarily anti-war. But what solution was proffered? Katniss is certainly dissatisfied with her lot, but she is not able to change the course of events. In the third book, when she has the opportunity to, she takes the road of fighting back – fighting fire with fire, a profoundly unchristian way to go about things.
In spite of all things, I have found myself somewhat favorably disposed towards these books. Why, oh why?

Last night I had a nice debate with my brother about the value of The Hunger Games. Mostly, my argument came down to the old “at least it's got them reading” - an attitude I once abhorred. However, through my job at the library I have come to see a lot of value in that attitude. Kids read trash. Grown-ups read trash too, and nine times out of ten you don't see any hope of that changing. But then, there's that one kid who comes up and asks, “I just finished The Hunger Games. What should I read next?” and you've got that chance to say, “Here. Read this." From that point, you can move on to better and brighter things. It takes baby steps, but it can be a doorway to really good literature.
SOME people (ahem) would argue that there is no worth in reading worthless books. At face value, I agree. Worthless is worthless. But for anyone who reads one book and still has a desire to read more books, then there is always hope that that person will leave behind the worthless and begin climbing towards literature that is not merely entertainment, but thoughtful and wholesome. So while The Hunger Games is by no means good literature, it is better than a lot of what is out there available for young adults to read. I'd rather they pick up this than some vampire love story full of sex and violence and moral abandon.

So, this is not so much a blog post about The Hunger Games, but about books like them, and my reading of books in general. Here we come to the next scene, wherein Emily apologizes for her recent absence and proposes a new plan for the future, but first makes a broad, sweeping statement.

All Young Adult (YA) books are like The Hunger Games. They are generally poorly written, poorly plotted, poorly peopled with poor characters who are full of themselves and pulling this whole 'who am I, really?' gig, and presented to the poor souls who read them and thus consider themselves heavy readers. If there is a book on the YA shelves that does not meet this criteria, then please, put it on the children's or adult's shelves. YA books have no need to exist. If a child has progressed beyond Charlotte's Web, (although, really, who ever does? I reread that book every summer) then give them Robert Louis Stevenson or Jane Austen or Mark Twain or anything...open the bookshelves to them and let them learn, and teach them how read real books. If you are a young person with a reading level advanced beyond J. K. Rowling or Kate DiCamillo, then you don't need something to bridge the gap between children's books and literature for grown-ups. Not to boast, but I read Great Expectations when I was nine. I came away with the vaguest of ideas about what Pip experienced and what made Estella so awful, and the hilarity and intensity of Dicken's characters, stories and settings was lost on my quite-young, still-developing brain. But reading that book helped my brain to develop; only by reading good books will we learn how to read good books, or understand their worth or be affected by their meaning. We don't learn to eat if we never sink our teeth into anything more solid than mashed carrots. We don't learn to tie our shoes if we only wear sneakers with velcro. We don't learn to digest good books if we don't read good books. We don't need this weird buffer genera that specifically caters to teen angst, disillusionment, coming of age, and rule-breaking, disrespectful, self-absorbed nonsense.
However – if somehow there is one who has slipped and fallen towards the appealing mirage of YA, there are different levels of terrible, and one level can lead to the next. And perhaps one day they can lead right out of the sea of worthless books and on to better and brighter things. There is always hope. It would be better for us all if The Hunger Games didn't exist, and all the books surrounding it that are various degrees of horrible. But they do exist, and one can hope that the reason they exist is to train eyes upward towards the better things.

And so, in light of all this ranting, I had a little epiphany, and it was the main cause of my long blog-silence. (I do so like epiphanies!) I realized that since YA books should be avoided like the plague, then I have absolutely no obligation to myself, to you, or to this blog to ever read another YA book I my life. So there.
Ahhh, but then what happens? What about my nice little bloggy here? Well goodness, there are still  thousands of books out there that I want to read and should read, books that are of value and contain wisdom, insight and meaning. It's a pretty simple solution...I'll just read those books instead. 

8 comments:

  1. I, Heather Carrillo, agree with about 10% of this post....maybe 12%. If I'm being generous. hahaha! I'm not sure I need to elaborate as you probably already know most of my objections.
    BUT, I am glad you are still going to review for us. :-)

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  2. I hope you don't think I am calling The Hunger Games trash. I really didn't think it was, I consider it to be more worthy of one's time than, say, Twilight. However, when I took a step back and looked at the big picture of Literature, I found little space for books like Hunger Games.
    I realize this is somewhat conflicting with previous discussions we have had regarding this book...

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    1. Mostly that was a light-hearted comment. I just disagree that it was several levels lower than Harry Potter. I honestly can't judge extremely well right now because this is all coming from just the first book. I think there very well might be space for at least the first book in the big picture of literature. I didn't think Katniss (first book only...Philip thinks she gets worse) is self-absorbed or angsty. Aside from her infernal kissing, I think she could be a fairly decent role model.
      Also, I'm not entirely sure I'm ready to give up on YA literature as a whole. Lloyd Alexander is shelved there. Avi books are shelved there. Harry Potter 1-4 is there (I choose not to recognize HP after book 4). But you know how I hate taking out one entire slice of anything.
      I'm surprised you've come over to the "Well at least they read" side. I am sympathetic, but not sure what I think of that exactly. As long as you don't extend the "at least they read" to middle aged ladies reading Harlequin romances, then I guess I will be at peace with that. hahaha!

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    2. "At least they're reading" can't end there, and I would never wish it to. I only use that argument with the hope that it transitions people from non-reader or poor-book-reader to better- and good-book-reader.

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  3. The Hunger Games left me with hunger pangs.....or rather, just pangs in general. But my rancor toward the series is well-balanced by your much more generous and intelligent treatment.

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    1. The Hunger Games feeds an insatiable taste for what could be easily compared to junk food. People need to eat, but they need a lot of help in their dietary choices.

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  4. I completely agree with you and your blog. Man, it is so good to know there are genuine literature lovers like me out there who care deeply about its purity. By purity I mean labeling good literature with names like Virginia Wolfe, William Golding, Hemingway, and more. Literature that digs deep into the human soul, not just skimming random surfaces of skin to pick at blemishes like a lot of YA fiction. The Hunger Games felt like an insult to me, not necessarily because it was a bad book (I've read plenty of those), but because it is a bad book disguising itself as a masterpiece. The hype surrounding it makes me think our society is becoming so entertainment-based that good, wholesome books are just not covering their fatty, grease-filled diet. That is truly unfortunate, because the honest truth is that books are really a salvation.

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  5. Hey, I am a young person and an aspiring writer. I have plans to study comparative literature in college. I agree with you that The Hunger Games is not the greatest thing written. I was rather unimpressed with them when I first read them two years ago. I don't really like many of the books that are targeted towards my age group, but every once in a while, if I look hard enough, I am able to find a worthy read. Sometimes they're funny and whimsical, sometimes sad, but they always manage to show a deeper, beautiful side to the present world (or the past). So while I agree with you on The Hunger Games, I would encourage you to give YA fiction some more time (a lot more time, if needed). You just might be pleasantly surprised and rewarded.

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