Sunday, January 29, 2012

Possibly regretting a New Year's resolution...

Not the resolution that I'd get caught up with my book reviews - I've been pretty pleased with my progress there, although I still have a ways to go.  No, the one that I'm feeling uneasy about these days is where I said that I'd try my best to read every book that my children recommend to me.  And they are crazy about a book that I've been doing my best to avoid (while claiming that yes, at some point, I'd be reading): The Hunger Games.

What's up with that?  I've been thinking about my possibly unreasonable aversion to reading this novel.  Some of my very favorite book bloggers have been raving about it, as have some of my favorite young readers at my library. I read Gregor the Overlander and quite liked it.  I've decided what my reluctance boils down to is the fact that I really, really dislike feeling emotionally manipulated by books.  Not moved by books, which is totally different.  I'm talking Old Yeller-like emotionally manipulated.  It seems like a cheap shot to show me a puppy, let it grow up all roly-poly and wiggly adorable, then make it be the very best friend to a lonely and possibly abused child, and then oh, no, it died!  What a moving metaphor for growing up and the loss of childhood innocence.  Not.

So there are some books I stay away from. I will never read The Bridge to Terabithia, The Yearling or Where the Red Fern Grows. I'm sure they are fine books, but no thanks, not for me. My husband teases me that I'm perfectly fine watching movies like Shaun of the Dead as people get torn apart by zombies, but I have never been able to get myself to watch Schindler's List. Yup. I never said I make sense. It's just how I am.

I didn't know all that much about The Hunger Games beyond the fact that it takes place in a dystopian society in the distant future, in which children are sent to fight to the death as televised entertainment.  But that sounds to me that by opening that book, I'll really be setting myself up for some serious emotional manipulation. I'm going to get attached to these kids, I just know it. And, you know, like in The Highlander: There can only be one.  Do I really want to put myself through this?

So my resolution has been immediately put to the test.  And the fact my daughters have used Christmas gift cards to purchase the entire series for their Nooks (which immediately makes them available on mine) means that I cannot claim that it's on a waiting list (and has been at my library on and off for years) to put off reading it.

At the same time, I have to say that my kids have been intensely captivated by this series. My older daughter (who's thirteen now) was assigned it as a group reading book in her 7th grade English class.  She is never one to blindly follow fashion, so she started reading it with a very skeptical attitude.  But before she was even halfway through the first book, she was totally hooked.  My eleven-year-old saw how much her sister was enjoying the book, and she asked to read it, too.  I gave her a content advisory warning, and she said she was okay with it, and off she went.  They have been so involved with the series that they have spent the last few weeks as inanimate bumps on various pieces of furniture that grunt a bit when prodded. They emerge to eat or, if poked vigorously enough, to set the table, do homework, or unload the dishwasher.

I have taken the plunge.  Already I can tell that reading The Hunger Games trilogy is not going to be easy for this wimpy reader, but I can why it has such appeal to so many people.  I already have a sinking feeling that someone I'm growing attached to is going to be offed before the end of the series, and I don't like it.  But I made my resolution, and I'm sticking to it.  And you all get to hear me whine about it!

We'll see how it goes...


  1. Haha (LOL) you're funny. What you're talking about didn't happen to me with The Hunger Games trilogy.

    But your reasons are why I *never* read dying teenager books or cancer books. I've done the cancer thing in real life, don't need to read about it. Why would I want to read a book about someone who has a terminal illness and dies at the end? No thanks.

  2. OMG... I didn't realize we were so similar emotionally. I am avoiding HG for many of the same reasons. I don't deal well with that sort of stuff and one of my best friends read it and said "Cat, you will not read this book". She's pretty bang on when it comes to knowing what will freak me out. Though with the movie coming out... I am torn.

    I shall now wait for your post on HG and see if I want to take a chance on it.

    (I had to watch Schindler's List for a college course and it freaked me the hell out. Would not have watched it otherwise. Do not deal well with that!)

  3. I'm that way with WWII books. It will take me years to read them because of their painful content. Then I finally feel I have to, as a human being and citizen of the planet, and all.

    I LOVED The Yearling even more as an adult. It was a great one to revisit.

    For what it's worth, I didn't feel the Hunger Games was emotionally manipulating. It's the little guy against the big guy and fighting for what's right. I loved the picture it gave of our own "violence as entertainment" society and think it would be wonderful to use while teaching about ancient Rome. Also, it would be great for discussing the irony of reality tv, and the like (especially in light of the last book, Mockingjay, where in the midst of real warfare, characters are asked, for example, to do another take or say something for the camera).

  4. Nicola - I'm sure it won't surprise you that I feel exactly the same way about terminal illness books and movies! No way. Why I'd ever want to put myself through that in a postulated situation when there are far too many real-life issues and losses to deal with, I have no idea. There are teens at my library who adore those teen dying Lurlene McDaniel novels, and I have a whole shelf full to keep them happy. I, on the other hand, have never read a single one. :-)

    Cat - I will let you know how it goes. So far I have to say I'm enjoying it, although there is that "fight to the death" cloud hovering over everything. Katniss is growing on me enough that I can see why everyone happily sees it through - you just can't help but root for her. I also love the fact that boys and girls are equally enthusiastic about the series, and that so many boys are reading books that feature a strong, admirable main character who is female.

    Caroline - I know just what you mean about feeling you have to read/watch the WWII things. I feel incredibly guilty that I haven't seen Schindler's List, as though somehow I'm not holding up my end of being a good citizen and all - but I did manage to survive a tour (barely) of Anne Frank's attic in Amsterdam - talk about an emotional wallop. I'm glad to hear your thoughts on The Hunger Games, and I'm thinking that it will be great to be able to talk about those things with my kids when I've finished it. My younger one finished Mockingjay this weekend, and she mentioned that while she was sad it was over, she liked that it was the kind of book that she can think about for a long time afterwards. I'd need to read the series just for that one comment, I think.

  5. Well.. Then you should not read The Hunger Games and definitely not the the following two... But I wish you would! I think they are amazing and wonderful and fantastic and all that. You'll laugh and cry. Sometimes I sat in absolute fright and sometimes I hated the book with all my might, but I could not stop reading.
    I don't know about manipulation, but there is risk to become attached to the characters - and you have to be prepared for some big emotional let-downs. But also beautiful friendships and see the characters trying to stay themselves, despite all their struggles and impossible challanges.
    Read it, as soon as possible! :-)

  6. Darla, all the books you name I will also not read. Except for Bridge to Terabithia, which I read as a kid and it devastated me. Movies are way, way worse.

    Me husband and I were actually just discussing this in relation to a book I just finished (On Basilisk Station by David Weber; I'll be talking about this more in my review.) He thinks I need to cultivate a bit more detachment from my fiction. The Hunger Games, I think, would cause me serious psychological distress -- not kidding. I've read enough of it and then summaries to talk about it intelligently with patrons, but I can't take it myself.

  7. Denise - I think the kind of manipulation I was worried about totally doesn't enter the picture here. I am really enjoying it, and I will have to admit I was making a big fuss over nothing. :-)

    Kiirstin - (See my comment to Denise above) - it is so not what I was worried about! Yes, it's a rough situation, but it's more of a survival story than getting attached to a bunch of kids and then having to watch as horrible things happen. I cried way more reading The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (and loved that book so much I reread it later and cried all over again). :-) I don't think I could cultivate detachment to my fiction if I tried. What would be the fun, then? If I'm not emotionally involved? I guess I could read nonfiction, but I think it's the intense emotional connection I get from really good books that I find so fulfilling. As long as I don't feel manipulated into feeling that way. I wish we could sit down with some coffee some time and talk about this!

  8. Well, I have a cup of coffee here... ;)

    I also have a lot of problems with visceral violence, particularly if it's happening to people I like in stories, though it's not necessarily about liking the characters it's happening to. Even if I don't feel manipulated, and the action is realistic, I still find it really, really hard. So a book has to be really special for me to keep reading if it's very violent (I am thinking, for example, of Croggon's The Crow, which I found brutal, but couldn't stop reading and don't regret reading at all, though it kept me up at night.)

    I agree it's entirely that intense emotional connection that makes a good book really, really great. There aren't too many books for me where craft trumps connection, although I can think of a few (The English Patient, which I adore, is more about the beauty of the language than about the characters).

    Want to write more but have a smallfry who thinks I am spending too much time on the computer and not enough time entertaining her!

  9. Kiirstin - I'm on my way over. :-) I don't think I have the same problem with violence that you do - as long as it's action/adventure, cartoony kind of violence. Which is probably why I'm fine with zombies, uneasy with serial killers, and crumble into a pile of quivering fragments with the holocaust. You read the Mercy Thompson books, right? I had a lot of trouble with one in particular, because even though so much of the violence in that is supernatural, it was still very disturbing. But, like you with The Crow (which I also loved), I certainly don't regret reading it. It's interesting to articulate these things, which I never really thought about very much before.

  10. Huuuh. You know, I hadn't thought about how I feel about different *types* of violence in a book. Like you, if it's a little campy I don't mind it nearly so much, or (often) if it's something short and sharp, not long and grinding as in a drawn-out, vividly-described war. I guess I have been known to have to stop reading a book because of a single scene, though I'll often go back to a book like that skipping that scene and often thereafter any scene with the pertinent characters in it.

  11. That's really interesting that you will actually skip those scenes/character parts and then go on to read the rest of the book besides those things. I don't think that would ever occur to me! I think I'm more all or nothing about books. Except, come to think of it, I did skim over all those horrific whaling blood and blubber descriptions in Moby Dick. Blech. Not my favorite book (which probably doesn't surprise you!)


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