Books, Wild Card

Hunger Games is Not a Love Story

Somewhere in our hyped up world of pop-culture, somebody decided to compare the insecure fawnings of Twilight characters with the “love-triangle” featured in Suzanne Collins’ best-selling novel The Hunger Games. At first, I was amused by the tweens giggling in line for the new movie’s midnight showing, wearing shirts that read: “I need Peeta like I knead bread”. I was less than thrilled, however, when I returned to my college campus and found that most conversations concerning the Hunger Games centered on Gale’s hotness or the frustrating lack of development in Peeta and Katniss’ relationship. Really? Are love and romance the only themes of value in this movie?

Peeta is not simply the kinder, gentler foil to Gale’s brooding manliness. The question we should be asking is not who should Katniss choose, but what she should choose. You see, Peeta and Gale are not real, embodied characters; instead, they are representations of opposing responses to violence in society.

Katniss lives in an impoverished community, oppressed by an ostentatious group of individuals in the Capitol. While all of the main members of the cast exhibit resentment towards this authority, Peeta and Gale embody contrasting ideologies: idealism and realism.

Peeta is determined to “be himself” and not allow his values to be compromised by the capitol “culture” or “sponsors”. Peeta finds creative ways to fight against injustice, from his small act of beneficial bread-giving to joining forces with the enemy to protect Katniss. Peeta desires peace, and he uses his charisma, eloquence, and steadfast heart to win people to his cause.

I was interested to hear friends complain about how “weak” and “pathetic” Peeta appeared in the movie. The irony, of course, is that Peeta was physically stronger than every other Tribute in the Games. He chose, however, to resist dominating others with his power. He chose flight over fight, disguising himself with paints and hiding away in the woods. Was this cowardly? Or worse— unmanly? Peeta’s idealism often makes him seem foolhardy, but it also shows him to be selfless and self-sacrificing in the face of extreme difficulty.

Gale, while not featured prominently in the movie, still has enough face time to take on a more aggressive, realistic stance. “You know how to hunt. Show them how good you are,” Gale tells Katniss before she leaves for the Games. He encourages her to fight and not to give up. In the books, we witness Gale taking on a leadership role among the rebel forces, focusing his energies on weapons and traps with which to attack the Capitol.

Yet, Gale even admits, “They just want a good show, that’s all they want.” Having children fight one another in the arena is simply another way in which the Capitol gains power by winning at their own game.

The most disturbing violence in the movie is certainly Rue’s death. This child, this picture of innocence, is brutally murdered before our eyes. But why is her death more upsetting than the deaths of Clove or Cato or Foxface? They are all children, and, more importantly, they are all very capable of violence. Was it not Rue who inspired Katniss to drop a hive of trackerjackers on the unsuspecting group below? No one is exempt from the reflexive violence that lies simmering in our human nature. It is a choice we must make: whether to act on this impulse or not.

Ultimately, Katniss must decide how she is going to respond to the tyranny of the Capitol. During the powerful (but rather rushed) climax of the movie, Katniss is faced with the choice of killing Peeta and going home, or finding some other way to “win” the Games. In a moment of inspiration, she uses the poisonous berries to break the Capitol’s dominance. Katniss is willing to sacrifice her own life, if it ends the cycle of violence perpetuated by the Hunger Games.

Gale wants to win. Peeta wants peace. In the end, Katniss chooses to win on her own terms. These are important distinctions, and they have nothing to do with “true love”. So please, let’s stop getting all googly-eyed over the cute boys, and let’s start engaging with some of these powerful issues that this movie brings to light.

Books, Wild Card

Happy Endings

“Amazon is intent on completely destroying the publishing industry.”

My English professor dropped this bomb at the beginning of our Senior Seminar class last week. Fifteen of us sat doe-eyed around the large table, shifting in our seats uncomfortably as we tried to take in his assertion. We all had one, maybe two or three, books in front of us. Tucked up under the table, our bags and backpacks overflowed with more. In the back of our minds, we knew that technology was slowly edging into the reading market. But were Amazon and other electronic book vendors draining the lifeblood of the publishing industry? My personal guilt over owning a Kindle, which I thought I had permanently suppressed, suddenly bubbled to the surface. I quickly reconciled my conscience by reminding myself that several others in the class were proud parents of e-readers as well.

Owning a Kindle has never, ever changed the way I feel about books. My Kindle is convenient, but the slim screen has never provided me with the same sense of enjoyment as holding a crisp new book between my palms. Books have scents, cover images, margins for notes, pages on which I can underline words that grab my heart. Could anything ever truly replace books?

Amazon thinks so. Some of the statistics my English professor provided us with were astounding. Purely on the business side of things: if a writer enters a typical contract with a publishing company, he is looking at receiving between 10-15% royalty. If this particular writer, however, decides he doesn’t need a hard copy of his book (or an editor or producers or marketers) and simply wants to make his book available on Amazon.com in electronic format, he will automatically get 70% royalty. 70 PERCENT. Apparently, that’s what happens when all the middlemen get axed.

And speaking of the middleman, think of how efficiently Amazon is replacing professional buyers. E-books will never sell out! Of course, this unlimited access to material will undermine the laws of supply and demand. But libraries everywhere are already installing measures to limit the amount of electronic books lent out at a particular time (yes, you’ll still have to get in line when the latest John Grisham hits the shelves).

I feel whiplash from the force with which technology has accosted the literary world. I am shocked/awed/dazed… but not entirely appalled by Amazon’s takeover. Part of me is intrigued to see what sort of side effects this new stage of literary evolution will produce. I am completely at peace with the conveniences that technology has brought about. My bag is always ten pounds lighter, now that my Kindle has replaced my usual load of books. Of course, I will never give up my personal collection. I adore books– the feel, the smell, the memories contained between the covers. I’m a librarian, for goodness sakes!

And so it seems that everything boils down to this: are we, the literary audience, captivated by stories or the books in which they are featured? Is it really all about the “packaging”? I like to think there is something. Something beautiful and salient between the pages. It makes me wonder… did anyone ever regret the loss of the scroll? or of the artfully illuminated manuscript? In all fairness, books are a far cry from their literary predecessors. What makes us so fond of these machine-made and mass-marketed things?

While these questions are interesting to ponder, they are hardly foremost in my mind as I turn the page at the climax of a novel. Maybe it is appropriate to have a preference for “packaging”. But page or screen, codex or scroll, as long as I am completely captivated by the story, I will be content.

Books, Travel and Adventure, Wild Card

“Let Us Return to the Pilgrim’s Progress”

My blazing adventures in Greece have settled down to a simmering ember in my memory. The warmth of the sun, the taste of the sea in the air, the exotic languages– it all feels so distant as I shuffle from class to class in the rain and attempt to play golf with layers of jackets on. Yet life is not over, simply because I am no longer being spoiled by an incredible climate. Better yet, these last few weeks have been exciting! I love seeing my old friends and walking the campus of Wheaton College as a senior. Everything is once again familiar and comfortable. Somehow, though, these sentiments have not seemed important enough to put into writing.

But a friend of mine recently confronted me, saying, “You have a blog. That’s a real life commitment.”

And it’s true. I wanted to create a public space for my writing, not just keep a travel journal. I tried to recreate my experiences vividly so that my readers could enjoy a sense of escape from their reality (as entertainment is wont to do). My foreign adventures provided an enormous amount of material for me to work with. So now, I have a new challenge: how can I make my college experiences into worthwhile reading? Is there a way to engage an audience as a narrator living in the suburbs of Chicago, rather than at a 5-star resort in Greece?

I like a good challenge.

I am currently writing this blog in my ’18th Century Literature’ class (I’m also taking notes on a Word Document– don’t worry Mom and Dad). Let me tell you, if this class was not required for my English major, I would not be sitting here right now. Give me any book written in the last hundred years and I will read it in a week. Hand me a manuscript from 3,000 years ago and I will soak it right up. But I am entirely unconvinced that there is enough decent literature from the 18th century to fill a course syllabus. Margaret Cavendish, Aphra Behn, William Wycherley… oh, please. We are now stumbling through Bunyan’s famed Pilgrim’s Progress. I know it is a great novel of the Christian tradition, but when it comes to personifying virtues and vices, I think the play “Everyman” is more engaging. And Dante’s Inferno certainly has a more interesting storyline.

There are only nine of us in this class: seven girls and two shy boys, all trying valiantly to stay awake as our professor reads us line after line of archaic-sounding text. The tables have been set up in a rectangle and we sit around its perimeter. “How do you guys feel about the literary heroism of this passage?” the professor asks. How do we feel? (The rain keeps up a constant rapping on the window panes). Ask me again later.

Thankfully, there is a much more engaging world outside of this small, fourth-story classroom. I will be off to the library shortly to work my afternoon shift. Buswell Library is slightly out of date; the computers are slow and the book selection is heavily weighted towards ‘Bible/Theology’. The atmosphere is comfortable, though, and my coworkers are wonderful. Linda and Cheryl are in charge of the Circulation Desk, where I am stationed. Linda and I gab about new books, her son’s baseball team, music, what creepy strangers have caused trouble in the library lately, etc. I always try to get a little homework done at the checkout desk, but that rarely seems to happen. There are too many opportunities to engage grad students about their thesis’ topics or recommend “fun reads” to bored freshmen (who have not yet felt the full brunt of a college workload).

Class is nearly over, so I will close this post as well. Now that I have breathed some new life into my blog, I will make sure it receives its regular word-nourishment. Have a blessed day!

Books

Summer Reading

For years, I walked away at the end of a school year with a long list of “required reading”. I’m sure most kids stash those assignments away ’til a week (or a day) before classes start, but those Summer Reading Lists were like goldmines for me. I’d go panning through the list: crossing off books I’d already read, checking to see if I had a copy of a book in my expanding library, and putting stars next to ones that I wanted to buy. The books weren’t always golden; often they were too youthful, bland, or overly emphasized their themes. But regardless of the titles, I loved having a list at the beginning of the summer.

I am probably not going to have much time (or room in my suitcase) to read this summer. I’ve already decided that I am going to attempt Anna Karenina (for the 12th time) and hopefully make it through in three months. But I thought maybe some of you would enjoy some more entertaining, thought-provoking, summer reads. Here’s my official “Summer Reading List” for you:

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins– If you know me, then I have probably tried to get you to read this book. But I simply cannot think of a more thoroughly enjoyable book! It is fast-paced, original, and meets its audience at a variety of levels. Technically, it is young adult fiction, and young people will find the characters both fun and heroic. Adults will enjoy the underlying themes of the dystopian environment.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer– The first word that comes to mind is “charming”. This book is a delight to read from start to finish. It follows the written correspondence of a female author during  WWII to her numerous subjects and sources. It brings a fresh perspectives to the war and to the people who lived through it. I particularly loved how much you learn about the characters through their own letters; it challenged me to think of the way that I present myself through writing.

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman– Another book I have been rather vocal about this year. As the entire book is compose of individual essays, each chapter confronts you with a whole new, pop-culture-related topic. From The Real World to the Sims, from tribute bands to the long-standing rivalry between the Celtics and the Lakers, Klosterman keeps you hopping through fascinating ideas and provocative claims. (**Note: some of his chapters do tend towards the inappropriate… Even though there is an entire chapter about Cocoa Puffs)

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortensen– One of the most powerful, inspiring, true stories I have ever read. If you haven’t had a chance to read about Mortensen’s work in Pakistan, you need to pick up a copy at your local bookstore.

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn– A dark look into the world of the circus. I was floored by Dunn’s writing; I can still imagine with infinite detail the characters and scenes she described. Comparing Geek Love to Water for Elephants, another well-crafted circus novel, would be like comparing books by Stephen King to Tom Clancy. Both contain a lot of action and an intriguing plot, but King goes for the weird and scary rather than just the thrills. In the same way, Dunn brings a whole new meaning to the term “circus freaks”. I want to give you fair warning about this book, but please don’t be scared away. It is wonderfully written and just about as interesting a story as I have ever read.

The Odyssey by Homer– This summer, I will be about 20 minutes away from Pylos, home of King Nestor, and the first stop on Telemachus’ journey to find his father. If none of this makes much sense, then it’s probably time you brushed up on your Homer! The Odyssey (I recommend the Robert Fagles translation) is not as stuffy as you remember it being, I promise. It is full of adventures and gods interfering in the lives of humans.

The Reason for God by Tim Keller– An excellent book that I picked up over Easter break (and am trying to finish up before I leave). Tim Keller presents some great arguments for the Christian faith and includes numerous, real-life testimonies and situations. Great for Christians looking to solidify their understanding of some key issues, as well as for non-Christians who seek answers to tough questions, such as “Why does God allow suffering?” and “How can you say there is only one way to God?”

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss– I couldn’t resist. I am a truly a nerd at heart who enjoys reading sci-fi/fantasy books when I have the time. I’m currently reading Rothfuss’ second book (Wise Man’s Fear, which I so kindly received the weekend before my final exams at school… terrible timing!). It is a well-crafted narrative that is engaging from start to finish. If you have never ventured into the fantasy world (beyond Tolkien/Lewis) this is a great place to start!

If you have any book suggestions, please feel free to share! I still have another week and a half at home with time to fill…

Happy reading!

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Books

Atlas… Shirked

I have been a die-hard fan of Ayn Rand’s novels for several years now. Howard Roark holds more substance in my mind than many people that I know in real life. I love the power of Rand’s stories and I enjoy the intellectual and spiritual grappling that I must do every time I approach John Galt’s speech.

Needless to say, I was thrilled by the prospect of Atlas Shrugged being brought to the big screen. And I was also very wary of the fact that it 1) was very low-budget, 2) had no big name actors, 3) was set in the future. Very, very wary.

I nearly despaired when rottentomatoes gave it a 5% rating. But I still had some very small hope that the critics were just… overly critical. So I went to see it a few nights after it opened.

The whole thing had the feeling of a train ride. The movie opened to a darkened cafe scene; after only a moment bright colors and motion overpowered you and continued to pull you forward til the abrupt end of the ride. Jerky, hesitant at times, cheesy at others. But not entirely awful! There was some great dialogue, much of it pulled straight from the pages of the book. The acting was patchy, but passable. It doesn’t leave you yearning for the next movie installment, but I must admit it was enjoyable.  At the end of it, I asked my friend (who has not been indoctrinated by Rand… yet) what he thought. “It was surprisingly good!” he replied, seeming somewhat surprised at his own words.

I have to agree with his assessment. It was good.  The movie was done in a way that it showed that it has Ayn Rand at its heart, not Hollywood. I appreciate that. But it does nothing to touch the true essence of her work. It skimmed over so much of the meaningful rhetoric and stuck to the more memorable “Who is John Galt?” line. Maybe the next two movies will pick up the slack that this one left. Rand spent 1200 pages building up her thesis: I’m doubtful they can come anywhere close to touching it with the time they have left.

Books

Why I Love Kurt Cobain

To be honest, that title just popped into my head. There was no serious amount of thought put into my feelings towards Kurt. I just said I loved him because, well, the world loved him.

I finished “Heavier than Heaven” by Charles Cross last week. Biographies of celebrities have predictable narratives and biographies of people who commit suicide have obvious endings. Combined, this book had the same potential excitement factor as listening to Ben Stein recite the alphabet. Obviously, since I finished it, I managed to find something redeemable about the book.

I skimmed it at work. I read it on my couch after classes were done for the day. I managed to read a page or two at night before sinking into a Cobain-coma. The best times were when no one was around and I could sprawl out on the floor and get lost in the narrative as Nirvana thrashed through my junky speakers. That’s how they were meant to be listened to, you know. Alone you can actually spend time translating Kurt’s haunting, rough words into sophisticated ciphers that still mean nothing. Smells like Teen Spirit will never remind me of deodorant or albinos… It will remind me of nights alone in my apartment, consuming thick, buttery frosting out of the jar and writing poems that no one would ever see.

Kurt Cobain just kind of brings out the best in you, I guess.

I couldn’t tell you when Kurt dropped out of school or the names of his parents. I don’t remember the number of drummers the band went through or where their first concert was. These details simply seem banal when juxtaposed with Kurt’s grotesque doll collection or the fact that he wore pajamas to his own wedding. Celebrity never fit Kurt Cobain.

But apparently life didn’t suit him either. I was thoroughly angered by his suicide. There were so many other times in his life when I thought, “Oh, surely he’s going to kill himself now. His life is really tragic”. Yes, that sounds horribly morbid, but everybody knows he committed suicide… I was simply trying to ‘figure it out’ before it happened. And I failed. He killed himself at the epitome of his career, just a few years after being married, and a year after he had his first child. Why why why WHY? I don’t want to call him a crazy druggie. I want to understand.

Part of me wants to understand. The other side of me, the non-rational half, wishes I had half the artistic sensibilities he possessed. Part of me knows I will never be great at writing or singing or drawing or anything that needs an ounce of creativity because I can’t let myself go. I can’t feel like Kurt feels.

It’s sad, you know. The world is divided into two types of people: those who create art and those who critique it.