Wednesday, March 28, 2012
So what do I think?
Well, lots of things. First of all, everyone knows that there's a very tiny correlation between what's popular and what's valuable, right? (Exhibit F: Jersey Shore.) I don't know that too many people out there would argue that THG is great literature--just great entertainment probably. Many of the posts I've read about it are about its high can't-put-it-downability factor. I've read snack-food analogies. (A book--a series of books--can definitely be a bag-of-Mini-Snickers experience. I know: I read series mysteries with a druggy's frenzy.)
Second, I sort of admire what Collins has done to attract both genders: a young girl for a hero (one who pauses now and then in her homicide/self-defense to talk about her hair and complexion--and boys) yet lots of gore for that other gender, too. She also has an Evil identified--"the guv'ment," of course (a bogeyman in recent decades). And she has other gamers who are big and stupid and cruel (and so, of course, deserve to die, right?). And she mixes into her pasta of anti-war sentiment (sending our young to kill one another!) some red sauce, very spicy at times. Young people explode, die with broken necks--a spear into the body of a little girl! (Let's pause for a page to cry, then get over it and go for revenge!) Some dawning sexuality, too, never hurts--chaste, though, ever chaste (so far).
She also gives us a first-person narrator, a device, since Poe perfected it, that draws readers in immediately. And she uses the present tense, too, to keep us in a bit of suspense about our hero's survival. (Not really ... but I'm sure that was the intent.)
Collins also scores well with readability. I measured the first two paragraphs--I got (depending on which instrument I used)--scores ranging from third through sixth-grade reading level. The last three paragraphs--from third through eighth. So ... lots of people can read the book. Smart move. I would estimate that the overall level is probably about fifth grade, especially in the middle sections where things are moving quickly.
And like many narratives aimed at a YA market (TV shows, movies), it features adults who are, for the most part, corrupt, incompetent, cruel, ineffectual, burned out, whatever. The Cosby Show this ain't. It's not a good time to be an adult in the YA world (Karate Kid notwithstanding).
And of course, it's also derivative--Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" and Richard Connell's "The Most Dangerous Game" (stories that were in about every high school literature anthology for decades) come quickly to mind, and do all sorts of other people-doing-harm-to-other-people-for-entertainment films and stories.
It's difficult to assail something popular--especially in this time when charges of "elitist" land hard upon the head of anyone who dares admit to having read a classic novel, gone to an opera or Shakespeare play, understood a scientific issue, watched a film with subtitles (and not needed them). There's a man in the coffee shop where I go in the morning who gives me a hard time now and then about all the reading I do. (He considers his ugly ideas "humorous," of course.) I know, certainly, that some do not wear their learning lightly; they do act as if they are "better" than others who have not had their education, their advantages. But I really think there are far fewer such folks than some think. And I'm all for making "educated," once again, a term of praise rather than opprobrium. But that's another blog topic ...
For now? I'll cop out. I still think, pretty much, that reading something is better than nothing. I still think that reading-for-fun is highly valuable (I do it, so it must be valuable!) And I still think that there is a continuum of entertainment that runs from, oh, The Ultimate Fighter to Finnegan's Wake. And we should recognize that there are types of entertainment--physical (we jog, workout, walk, play tennis), purely emotional (movies we know will make us cry--or laugh--or scream--or all of the above), intellectual (learning new ideas, challenging ourselves to read or do something that's not easy--but valuable). And there are other sorts, too.
Most of us do not dwell at either end of that entertainment continuum all the time (though we may go for a visit). We all know where Moby-Dick lies on that continuum--and Jackass III. And Hunger Games? I bet you know where it fits, along that line, somewhere. And Suzanne Collins knows perfectly well, too. It is what it is; it ain't what it ain't.