Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Shopping, shopping, shopping....

Oh dear...the bookshop... Our local indi bookshop, Oscar's. I am going to blame it on the pressures of contemporary culture, and any number of other factors that a well-practiced book junkie can summon up to justify a literary spending spree...

Actually, it could have been worse. It could have been a lot worse. Consider this scenario... There is a new blockbuster film out in the cinemas that everyone is talking about; an adaptation of the first novel in a teen series. Sixteen informs me that the book was fantastic, and haven't I read it? Really? And no, I reply to the incredulous face - after all, I've read everything, haven't I? - I haven't read this particular series. You should, he tells me, cos it's fantastic. And then there's the movie and all the hype. And then, there's this thing I have that reacts against that kind of hype and refuses, utterly, to have anything to do with whatever the new, fabulous thing is that everyone should read/see/eat/ I put lots of energy into not buying/reading/eating/seeing whatever the new super-hyped thing is. It's how I missed out on the beginnings of Harry Potter, never watched Friends or Sex and the City (both of which I'm catching up on way after the original telecasts), and any number of other things - some of which I've discovered way later and some of which I've never taken on.

This time, it's The Hunger Games. So much advertising and such a lot of commentary - and it's the latter that's finally got me to the point that I went to the bookshop to buy a copy of the first book. Recently, there was an opinion piece by Clare Cannon in the Sydney Morning Herald that caught my attention. She's a reviewer and had read and reviewed the books originally, but says she won't see the film. Her commentary focused on the artificiality of the concept. She points to the glorification of violence, the desensitisation of violence and murder that is, in the narrative, justifiable in order for the lead character to survive, desensitisation - again - to sexual exploitation, and sensational story telling...likening it to the graphic depiction of war and other acts of violence that we are now accustomed to seeing on the evening news.

A family friend of mine, a contemporary of Twentysix's, is a high school teacher, teaching back at their high school. She's on holidays at the moment, and decided to read The Hunger Games, because her students are all talking about it. She posted on Facebook how disturbing she was finding it, and made a comment that had she read it at the age a lot of her students are doing so, she'd have found it even more disturbing. We chatted about it and I sent her the link to the aforementioned article. I have yet to hear her final view of the book.

However, I now own a copy of the first book and it's my next read, so watch this space for my thoughts. I am certainly less eager to see the movie at this stage as I am bothered by the commentary so far.

In addition to The Hunger Games - which is why I went to the bookshop - I came away with two other books. One was impossible not to buy - it was on a sale table outside the shop...and it cost $10 for a ducky little hardback. The Lost Art of Reading by David L. Ulin is a 'ruminative essay' that speaks to the concept that, in these days of electronic media, 'reading is a revolutionary act.' Given where I started with this blog, this was $10 worth of irresistible purchase!

That in hand, I went into the shop in search of The Hunger Games, which meant wandering past many shelves full of books, against which I am simply not proof after many weeks of reading deprivation and, when I did manage to read, re-reading.... So, when I found Joanna Trollope's latest offering, The Soldier's Wife, I picked that up too. I do enjoy her books - she's one of the most consistent exponents of the contemporary novel. It's not high literature, but it's good solid writing of current times and issues, and she tells a good story peopled with believable characters.

There were many other books picked up, and resolutely put back. Tough call with many of them. But I have three new books that will find homes in different parts of the bookcases. This post is pre reading any of them, so there will be reviews and my commentary to follow...


  1. I look forward to your review Kaz. There's been much debate with some of my friends who have teenagers, regarding this film and the books. I've not read the books yet, just a few snippets and summaries, but the idea of children killing each other for entertainment bothers me at a very deep level.

    Countering that are my own recollections from my teenage years, where I seemed to have a distinct lack of empathy. Stuff that I read and saw, I observed from a distant perspective, and it wasn't in my nature to contemplate the reality, or the morality, or the horror of it. That isn't the case any longer, and I wonder if thats a part of growing up, or whether I'm an aberrant case.

  2. Okay, I'm in. You are doing this work at a depth I can only dream of. I hope to learn a lot from you, and hopefully, some of that will show up in the less frequent book reviews I do at the Hideout.

    As to The Hunger Games, I have neither seen the movie, nor read the book, and I promise you, I never will. I don't watch "reality" shows about competitive singing; patronizing a presentation based on children killing each other for a reality show should be grounds for spending the rest your life in a mental institution. That said, it does reflect the direction that society seems to be going, at least here in suburban America. The last two generations have seen the meteoric rise of the street gang and the pedophile. When I was a child in the 50s, our folks would push us out the door after breakfast, and they didn't expect to see us again until the street lights came on. Now, you don't send your kids out to get the mail unless you're standing in the door with a 12-gauge in your hand, so perhaps this movie that is so "entertaining" today will be considered a predictive documentary in another generation. Hope I'm not here to see that...

  3. Hi guys,

    I have reached chapter 8. At this point, I can say that as a storyteller, Collins has me hooked, but it's with a growing sense of fascinated horror. I can't not keep reading now, because I need to know what happens - even though, due to all the hype, I have a good idea. However, I also find I don't exactly want to know HOW it happens...

    Quick chat with Sixteen last night - and remember this is the kid who isn't really a reader, although getting into English at Year 11 level has begun to change his attitude about how to read... He read this book 'because everyone else was talking about it' - and reiterated to me how cool and amazing he found it. He is THE generation that has grown up with all the electronic and digital games - most of which involve splattering someone with a digitally manipulated weapon to get points, and ultimately win the 'game'. He has also grown up with television programming that is heavily weighted to competitions and 'reality' shows - both of which he loves and will watch over just about any other available choice.

    Methinks a revisit to 'The World of Pooh' or something equally innocuous will be in order at the end of this particular odyssey.

    I've asked my high school teacher friend if I can quote her on her response to this blog post, which she left on Facebook - look out for it and see what you think from someone between the generations.


  4. There I was reading along, and thought, hey, that high school teacher sounds exactly like me...haha then I realized! Slow on the uptake tonight!

    To be honest, I'm really looking forward to reading your review of it. I read the entire trilogy over the last two and a half days and the more I think about it, the more I'm having trouble deciding if I like it or loathe it. This in some ways is a compliment because the last time I read something to keep up with my students it was Twilight and I loathed it immediately!

    The Hunger Games is certainly written with a structure and language that keeps its target audience in mind, and nails it! I'll admit, even when I was most repulsed I couldn't put it down so kudos to Collins for that.

    But I still can't get past the raw violence and calculated kill or be killed thought process. As you read, not just the single book but the series, you pick up on the pretty damn obvious political statements and comparisons with our current world. But we are adults and not thirteen year olds.

    The teacher in me sees how this book can present excellent opportunities for discussion about ethics and morals, and the grey area that can form between what is 'good' and what is 'evil' at a SENIOR secondary level. Hence I can see the appeal to Sixteen, but I think even then there needs to be a 'debrief' in order for the book to have the positive impact I think it's trying to make underneath all the gore. At its most basic this is a story about a teenager who faces difficult ethical and moral decisions, who constantly questions (as teenager are apt to do) yet who is angry because despite the decisions they make, adults still have ultimate control. Sound familiar at all? It describes a significant number of the kids at any high school. And I think Year 11 and 12 is a good time to discuss the issues that The Hunger Games raises.

    But I teach 12 and 13 year olds. And whilst I'm the first to tell you that I have some who are mature beyond their years and some old souls who could cope with the discussion the novel demands, the majority of them could not.

    I wouldnt usually describe myself as conservative, or maybe I'm just cursed with an over active imagination, but I felt physically ill during some of the scenes in the book and I wonder if many parents know what their Tweens are actually going gaga over? There have been many disturbing stories set in dystopic worlds - personally a Clockwork Orange and 1984 unsettled me somewhat and perhaps traces of them could be found throughout Collins's books- but there is a distinct difference between them and the Hunger Games: they are written for adults by adults.

    Looking forward to hearing what others have to say.

    Until then I'll keep ruminating until I sort the mess this book has caused in my own mind...


  5. The books concept, as said by the author in an interview in the lead up to the movie release, is stated as being the nightly news on the American war in Iraq and Afghanistan meets big brother and the biggest loser... i.e. raw, visceral violence of the modern era crossed with a reality TV format. The author stated in the interview that as she watched TV the lines between what was on the news - footage of the war in Iraq and the wider Middle East and the reality TV shows on afterwards started to blur and there became a point where there was no distinguishing them from each other.

    I though the author was a bit troubled when she said that she couldn’t tell the difference between the News and a reality TV show. For me, growing up (in my tween and teen years) with access to violent and explicit video games such as the call of duty series and all sorts of other war games; I can easily tell the difference between stylised realistic violence on a screen, in a book, or where ever else it may be compared to the real thing on the news, the real thing that soldiers experience and people experience outside of my loungeroom.

    The criticisms that the author made in the interview about the blurring of lines that she experienced and how it is bad for children and society are completely undermined by what this book now represents. It blurs the lines between fictitious graphical violence and what is actually real. It further compounds the issues of desensitisation to adult issues such as morality, violence, survival, sex, etc. The fact that it has been made into a movie where it is not advertised for its commentary on modern society, but on “upcoming heart-throb” what’s-his-name as the male lead proves that what the author set out to do and to combat has backfired. What the author wanted to comment on about society and pop-culture is what her book has become – the very ideals she was campaigning against and criticising.

  6. I had heard that about the origins of the concept for the book. And I can see where Collins might make that connection, especially between what those in power choose to tell us is 'real' and the actual reality of the world (which of course depends on individual people's perceptions). Sure, maybe the book does present a gruesome mixture of the reality shows 'Survivor', 'Big Brother' and numerous others but these are questions that are explored in many other stories. Lord of the Flies jumped to mind immediately. This book also left me deeply disturbed when I read it as a teenager. Like The Hunger Games it involves children killing children in an isolated area where there are no adults. The difference between the novels? LOTF is written for mature readers, children are not merely pitted against each other for the 'entertainment' of adults but to explore the debasing levels people will be driven to in a disaster in order to ensure their own survival. Still questioning morals, but it is not adults here knowingly telling the children to kill or be killed.

    In regards to the reference to the blurred lines between the news and 'reality' shows, I am still uncomfortable with my twelve and thirteen year old students, the majority of whom have little or no understanding of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (mainly because they were too little to remember most of it, and it's not exactly something that has made its way into curriculum) and who have grown up knowing almost nothing but reality television, reading the story and only seeing the violence in it. When I ask them about it, they tell me about the violent, yet somehow exciting games, and the girls gush over the teenage love story. There is not one metion of political or social critique, and nor do I expect there to be...they're fresh out of primary school! I do think Collins is trying to have a positive impact but, as I said in my earlier comment, I think it's a more appropriate discussion in senior secondary. I agree with Phoenix...this could well have backfired on her. To support Phoenix's comment about the advertising slant of the film, at this stage my Year 8 girls only see the violence as a means to the romantic strand of the story reaching its ultimate destination. And that worries me a little.