View From The Glen

Monday, April 9, 2012

Screw the Hunger Games....

In January, my book club read The Hunger Games, which I had bought for the same reason I buy most YA fiction...because I think my kids may want to read it. I read Harry Potter the year Erik, now almost 12, was born, and adored it. I read The Golden Compass and thought it was okay, but none of my children have so far cared enough to try it. I bought Twilight the graphic novel because Anna was invited to a sleepover and the theme (rather maturely, I thought for 8 year olds) was Team Edward-Team Jacob. I also bought the trilogy, and thought it so badly written I couldn't get past the first book and they sit sad and lonesome on the bottom shelf in the library.

The Hunger Games I quite enjoyed and Erik picked it up tonight for the first time. Quite enjoyed...but  I can't say I loved it (though many others in my book club most certainly did) and I haven't yet rushed off to buy the other two in the series.

There has been a gnawing sense of dissatisfaction with my reading of late. I was unable to pinpoint it until recently, after our last book club where we discussed Sarah's Key, another decent read I couldn't in all honesty say I loved. I was talking with another friend who noted that so many of the books we read are good and entertaining, but not really great reads.

I thought about this for awhile, and it is true. We read what amounts to a great deal of fluff. And I'm not opposed to fluff in any real sense. I too want light and easy at the end of the day, the end of the week.

At the same time, when I read other deeper books such as Pasternek's Doctor Zhivago, something awakens in me.  It's not just the philosophy, the intelligent commentary that gives pause on nearly every's not just the incredible detail that forces you to slow down and savour every line...

It's the beauty and poetry and majesty of the way books like this were written. Clever. Thoughtful. Insightful. It's the quality of the work, the satisfaction of perfectly chosen words and deliberate actions.

That realization started me on a new course of action. Revisiting the classics. And so here I am reveling in Wuthering Heights, Lady Chatterley's Lover. Setting aside Howard's End, The Portrait of A Lady. Enjoying well written pieces that cross my path: I just read and was delighted with P.D. James' The Children of Men which my mother in law left for me at Easter. Not the story - which was well done - but the writing, which was paced and modulated and felt crafted.

Crafted. I guess that's what I am looking for. Not all the time, no. But enough of the time. Half Blood Blues is a modern book that met that criteria (I thought). I'm sure there are others.

Today, my daughters joined their first book clubs. A place to read and enjoy books with friends, where opinions are formed, where it is safe to speak out, where they can hopefully discover something about themselves. We really left it up to them to pick books, figuring that it has to be fun. I'm good with that.

But as a reader, as a mother, as a college teacher who faces students unable to get through a 7 page short story because the language and ideas are too difficult, part of me is edgy. If they start off on fluff now, will they ever graduate to better books? Can I somehow slip into their list a few classics - Jane Eyre? Little Women? - and encourage them to read these as well? Or is it enough for now (and I have reluctantly accepted that it is) that they are reading and discussing?

But what I really want to do is shout this from the rooftop.

Screw The Hunger Games...I want my kids to read To Kill A Mockingbird.


Leanne Haines said...

I read "To Kill a Mockingbird" again this year, and I loved it. I read "The Hunger Games", and I liked it, but I know exactly what you mean. I get so frustrated reading books that don't capture my imagination, that I feel I need to "stick with" until the end. I do wish my kids would get excited about reading great books, but for now, I just wish my kids would get excited about reading ANYTHING! Maybe it is time to go back to the classics. But I still find myself hoping that the next book I read will be "it". We do need to talk soon!

Bibliomama said...

No, they'll be fine. I started off reading fluff and was soon enough reading everything in sight. And it's no good pushing heavier stuff on them before they're ready - I read Lord of the Flies way too young and it confused and scared the hell out of me. I try to stick in a classic every few books, but there is modern fiction that gives me that same feeling of being awake to the world. Are you on Goodreads? Oh, and see you tomorrow probably. Yippee!

mindreader said...

For a deep reading experience, I plan to read Infinite Jest this summer, following the schedule they used for last summer's Infinite Summer...should keep me occupied for this summer at least. And, I surfed around and found out that it's not too bad to read on my iPad, what with needing two bookmarks to read the 1000+ page tome. Holding the iPad instead of the huge volume should save my wrists, too.

Brie said...

When I grew up my mom worked at a library. I wasn't aloud to read "fluff" books like Sweet Valley High. But I was reading, and loving, Jane Eyre in grade seven.

Now I find myself turning to fluff. I'm tired. I want something easy to read. I don't want to be challenged. I also want a book to be good, but not good enough when I have to put it down because my kids snuck up on me while I was reading it.

I did read The Hunger Games. I didn't like it. Not because of the writing, but because I felt manipulated. I don't need to read about kids being chosen to die and killing each other off. I may have been able to read that before kids, but I don't have the stomach for it now.

Melissa Yuan-Innes said...

As one of the book clubbers who loved Hunger Games, I have to say, I relished HG *and* To Kill a Mockingbird. To me, reading widely and passionately is the best of all worlds. However, given our limited time (to tie into your most recent blog), we do have to feed our souls. And if that means Dr. Zhivago and smirking heros (three points!), go for it.

Denise Nielsen said...

Brie - totally agree. I think fluff is a key component in everyday reading,e sp. when we get older. And more tired. And less energetic:)

Melissa, I love what you said..."Reading widely and passionately." SO true.

Bibliomama, Leanne - you are kindred spirits

And mindreader, I have not read that, but you have my deep admiration:p

kwrites said...

I just read The Hunger Games trilogy and liked it - again, not loved. I borrowed them from a friend and looked forward to them after a YA reader I know gave a review of them that made them seem "readable" to grownups. (In his review, he was quick to hold the Twilight series with some disdain - which made me happy.)

That said, I did just re-read "To Kill A Mockingbird" and watched the movie with a friend who had never seen it. I am always amazed at the love I still have for this book. I estimate that I have read it once a year since I was a teenager - which is to say I have read it many many times. There are not a lot of books I've come across that I can say I would read again and again. (Wally Lamb's "She's Come Undone" is a modern one I did love.)

I did read "Sarah's Key" after a friend lent it to me. I found it dragged and was depressing for sake of being depressing. I can't imagine wanting to read another book by the same author.