Wednesday, March 28, 2012


I haven't read The Hunger Games and I don't plan to, I don't want to see the movie either.  It may be a perfectly good book and I've heard good things about the movie, but the theme too closely mirrors a book I read a long time ago that gave me nightmares for years.  It too was about a future time and an all-controlling government.  Instead of a fight to the death by a bunch of teenagers, the young people in this book were runners who were required to run continuously for days in a mega-marathon.  Anyone who collapsed, fell, left the course, got sick, or in any way stopped running or failed to reach the finish line was shot by guards stationed along the endless course.  Huge crowds of people lined the route to watch.  To me it was too much like the sickos who filled the coliseums of Rome to watch Christians, gladiators,  and others out of favor with the rulers, battle lions, or the depraved ball games once played by ancestors of the American Indians that resulted in the entire losing team being executed to the roar of approving crowds of onlookers.  I know just enough about The Hunger Games to not want to be part of the blood thirsty voyeurs watching kids kill kids on their big screens no matter what kind of positive messages this fantasy is supposed to relay. 

All my life I've taken books a bit too seriously.  Not only do I see the characters in my own books as real people caught up in real situations, but I see the books I read by other authors the same way. You'd think anyone who has been a newspaper reporter and reads as much as I do (I've read over forty full length novels so far this year) could easily read anything and not be affected too much by it, but it just doesn't work that way.  Needless to say, I avoid reading horror novels.  Once my high school friends dragged me to a horror film on Halloween and while everyone else snickered and laughed, I tried not to crawl under my seat or wet my pants.  I'm still haunted by that disembodied hand. 

Perhaps because I internalize what I read so deeply, it has made me tolerant of other people's likes and dislikes in reading material. It has also made me thoroughly dislike the "required reading" assignments given to junior high and high school students.  I'm not against "suggested reading lists" as long as they are very diverse, but great care needs to be taken when asking an entire class to read one specific title if no consideration is given to teenagers' wide variance in maturity, life experience, moral standards, or interests.  I applaud one teacher I know who picks out half a dozen books and allows her students to choose which book each wants to read then divides the class into groups like book clubs according to the book chosen for discussion purposes. Many people don't like to read because the books they've been assigned to read in school convinced them they don't like reading, whereas young people who are exposed to a wide variety of reading material and who are allowed to develop their own tastes usually enjoy reading. By the way, I suggest that adult readers avoid falling into a rut of reading only one type of book.  Even favorites are better when interspersed with other genres and non-fiction books. 

As a fiction critic I'm quite opinionated, yet I hope because I like or dislike a book is never the reason a reader decides for or against reading that particular book.  My purpose in pointing out a book's strengths or weaknesses is to provide readers with a starting point in determining whether or not they wish to read the book.  If there are particular types of books that make a reader uncomfortable, a subject the reader has had enough of, if the reader wants strong character development, or if he/she prefers high action--these are among the pointers I try to give readers to help them decide if the book is a good fit.  Most of us have had the disappointing experience of having a friend rave about how wonderful a particular book is only to spend our hard-earned money on it, then discover the book is boring.  

It's always good to remember people, even close friends, have different tastes and life experiences they bring to a book.  It's good, too, to occasionally step outside your comfort zone.  Over the past few months I completed reading all thirty-five of the Whitney finalists.  Some I didn't care for, a few even put me to sleep, but most were exciting enjoyable experiences.  I was delightfully surprised to find a YA novel that really spoke to me and though I avoid speculative fiction as much as possible, I was amazed by some really good books in these two categories. A category I usually enjoy disappointed me and several categories left me wanting to give more than one excellent finalist a first place position.   I recommend this list of 2011 Whitney finalists to anyone who wants to diversify his/her reading experience.  

Even though I'm all for a diverse reading experience, I still dislike horror, and will continue to be rather picky about which speculative novels I read.  Just like everything else in life, I think it's good for readers to know their limits and to be tolerant of others whose tastes don't match our own.  That said I find nothing wrong with avoiding a genre that causes discomfort, violates your moral standards, or you find socially repugnant.  Only as a person experiments with different genres, takes time to read reviews, or discusses books with others can he or she find what works or doesn't work for him or her.


Gale Sears said...

Great blog, Jennie. Thank you for your insight.

Stephanie Black said...

Isn't it wonderful that there are so many different genres of books? The Whitneys have been a great thing in introducing me to books I otherwise never would have read. I've enjoyed many of them, absolutely loved some of them, and heartily disliked some of them, but it's good to expand my reading experience (except this year I'm going so slowly I'll be lucky to finish two categories . . . )