what does it mean, i wonder, that my sabbatical begins with a dystopian novel in which the killing of kids by kids is not only a part of the plot, but the very basis upon which this story is based. how, i wonder, have my friends who enthusiastically recommended this book and the series to me, managed to read the book in one sitting? i keep stopping, partially due to the fact that suzanne collins’ writing evokes powerful emotions — namely tears that well up, particularly when i am reading out in public. i have about 20 pages left to read until the end of the first book and i really don’t know what is going to happen. i find myself wishing and hoping, like a naive child, for a happy ending. but what is happy in a world order in which stratified deprivation and outward power plays are the norm? it is perhaps a wonder, then, that collins weaves in not only occasional bits but robust strands of humanity throughout the text. friendships and family loyalties are written to reflect the specificity of the universe collins has created while still maintaining a sort of universal appeal outside of the horror of this society’s acceptable ways of being.
she certainly has me and millions of others talking — not only about the strong female protagonist, katniss everdeen (i especially love that she and her sister are named for plants; i always thought that geranium and rhododendron would work well as names for feisty gals with conviction), but collins seems to also have put our own society under a microscope. one might walk away thinking “well at least we don’t have kids killing each other for sport.” but do we perhaps have a society in which the pains of some benefit the pleasures of others? in which resources are scarce when they need not be? where vanity and superficiality rule in a time when we need the qualities of perseverance, honor, compassion, and criticality expressed by katniss and a few of the other adolescent characters that come alive in collins’ words.
i don’t mean for this post to be a book review; instead, i take this time and space to work through my complicated reading of ‘the hunger games’ to suggest something broader about the way texts can work their way into our consciousness. as academics, are we able to write in a way that allows ideas to linger in the reader’s mind long after they have closed the page? do we have patience to allow an interaction that may last ten seconds in ‘real’ life to unfold over 3 or 4 pages in writing like sebald does? this seems a good moment as any to bring up ‘ways with words,’ the ethnography written by shirley brice heath that continues to surprise and educate me each time i read it. that text was and still is an example of patience in storytelling. can we imagine and enact that same practice of patience now? or are there too many demands on us to produce more! faster! now! and in many formats…? it’s as if we shouldn’t bother writing the middles of books; just the beginnings and ends, since that’s all that there seems to be time to read.
dystopia is having its way with me, and i hope in my next post i can surface with renewed optimism about a world that has been exhausting me lately.