All this hubbub about The Hunger Games. My neighbor gave me a copy and I read the first couple chapters. It’s written well, no problem with it there. I just didn’t get sucked into the story. Call me picky, call me heartless, call me what you will. I know I’m certainly not in the target demographic for it. Here I am, a middle aged man (Oh no I didn’t. Yes I did. Mmm Hmm. Yup. Ouch!) with a wife and two kids. Honestly, it left me feeling flat so I stopped reading it. Then the previews for the movie started playing constantly on TV and my son got very excited about it. All his friends were talking about it at school and on the bus. It must be cool then right?
We read the first Harry Potter book together a couple of years ago and we loved it. I could not have been happier. I myself loved the book when I first read it too. Little did I know that it would be so much more fun reading it along with my son hanging on every word. When he asked if we could read The Hunger Games together I said, “Sure. Why not?”
The main issue I had with the book when I first started reading it was its lack of originality. (In my opinion at the time of course.) Years ago I read a Japanese book called Battle Royale by, Koshun Takami. The premise was very similar. Set in an alternate timeline, a group of schoolchildren are rounded up and sent to an island where they must battle each other until only one of them survives. All of this is done so the oppressive government can prove to the ordinary people that there is no point in fighting back. The government has all the power and can do to them whatever they want. To those who’ve read The Hunger Games this might sound somewhat familiar.
Now, I’m not a snob. Well, not a total snob anyway. I know the old saying “There is nothing new under the sun.” I understand that much of what is considered to be the greatest art in history is not 100% original. That’s all well and good. Every great blues song is based on the same chord progression as every other great blues song. The Beatles started out playing covers of other artists’ material. So did Led Zeppelin. These are all good things.
My initial problem with The Hunger Games was that it seemed a little too close to being the exact same story. A few small changes here and there, but basically it was the same story as Battle Royale. One other old phrase I neglected to remember during my first reading attempt was, “Good artists borrow. Great artists steal.”
As we read the book together, I see the excitement through my son’s eyes. I hear the eager anticipation in his breath while he waits to see what happens next. Each night we progress one chapter at a time through Katniss’ story in the dystopian country Panem. It’s so much more fun not being cynical about it and just going along for the ride.
So far she’s a terrific heroine. Katniss is tough, loving and sentimental without being wimpy or “girly”. I’m not one to jump on the Teen Fiction bandwagon that’s been over-popularized by books like Twilight. I’m most definitely not a part of that demographic, but I do understand its appeal. When I was a teenager I got sucked into all things sci-fi and horror. I buried my nose in the words of folks like Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Stephen King, Clive Barker and J.R.R. Tolkein.
I’m nervous to admit it in public, but I collected the Mack Bolan: The Executioner series of pulp adventure novels. I remember searching for older, out of print copies in used book stores and at swap meets and then laying them out in order on my floor to choose which one to read next. Mack was a rebellious secret agent who fought the mafia, blew up terrorists and all around evildoers in bloody/gory yet creative ways, gets laid a lot and miraculously saves the world in each and every one of the over six hundred monthly installments. Basically he was a tougher, Americanized version of James Bond. All the noise and bravado with none of the panache. So who am I to nit pick about stories being too similar? I’m asking myself that same question.
I never paid attention that back then most of the books around were directed at boys like me. Books girls had were ultra-romancy stuff and soap opera type high school stories about cheerleaders or social misfits. There obviously was and is a need for a cross breed between geek-boy/sci-fi and geek-girl/girl-power stories. Bully for Suzanne Collins and Stephenie Meyer for breaking through and finding that need and addressing it.
I’ve got to say that I’m really looking forward to tonight when we get into the next chapter. I find myself eagerly anticipating what comes next too. So what if the story rides that fine line of reminiscence to that book I read and loved before. It’s a damn good story with great characters that we really care about.
Now just don’t expect me to start reading Twilight…