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The Hunger Games/Catching Fire/Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins

I knew I would read The Hunger Games (trilogy) before watching the films, and I pushed it higher up on my list after my sister spent Christmas reading it. On vacation. In San Diego. Where there are whales and pandas to watch. I been avoiding spoilers as much as I can (even when the articles on the film looked really interesting), so all I really knew was that the main character was named Katniss Everdeen, the Hunger Games were a reality-tv competition where the contestants had to literally kill each other, and there was a girl named Rue who was black.

It’s easy to read The Hunger Games – the first book, at least – as an indictment of reality TV and our collective enjoyment of watching people suffer, in whatever way, for our entertainment. But for me, the trilogy is much more an indictment of what we choose not to pay attention to, especially as people in the higher income strata of the world. Social awareness has come a long way since the days of Jane Addams, etc., but things like the Mike Daisey story (to keep with relatively current events) show how far we still have to go. So many times the real people involved in things are forgotten or ignored – or worse, like Haymitch, ignored except when they are useful. We get complacent about the things in our lives, and forget to recognize where they come from. We start thinking that our problems are the only problems, and the worst problems, and we forget that there are other people who also have problems, who have more fundamental problems, or who are willing to share the burden of our problems.

And that’s true of the people in the Capitol – the ones who paint their faces and throw food away while other people are starving, the ones who only think about the Districts during the Hunger Games, or when a supply chain breaks down. It’s true of us, in the “western” world, the affluent world, who don’t really think about where our products come from or the background to our entertainments.

But it’s also true of Katniss. She has such a hard time with unconditional love, both giving it and receiving it. She has grown accustomed to seeing people in terms of what they can do for her – which is completely valid given the circumstances of her life – and is well aware that she is seen by many others only in terms of what she can give them and what she symbolises for them. It takes ages for her to accept that Peeta, for example, loves her for herself, not for anything she can do for him – only to have him turned by the Capitol. Is it any wonder that she has no trust in other people’s motivations towards her? But that ends up hurting her in the long run: because she can’t trust other people to see her as anything other than a tool or a symbol, she misses out on quite a lot of allies.

Another thing that The Hunger Games presents, in several different ways, is how not to run a country. Fear and oppression publicly paraded is effective for a while, but it is fragile. All it takes is a spark of rebellion, and the awareness that the few cannot always oppress the many. Unfortunately it takes unity to rebel. If one participant, one district, rejects the rebellion, it fails. The Hunger Games themselves couldn’t have happened, and wouldn’t have lasted, if the champions had refused to kill each other – but only if all the champions had refused. Some of Katniss’s initial power as a symbol comes from her refusal to bow completely to the Capitol’s whims – but the rebellion would have been a lot easier if all the champions in the Quarter Quell had been with her, or if all the districts had joined together peacefully. And it nearly fails.

I really enjoyed these books – as much as you can enjoy dystopian worlds where people kill each other for the entertainment of others, where the main character is used and manipulated by everyone around her despite her best efforts to rise above it, where the allies can be just as evil as the enemies. The world is sadly realistic – it’s not our world, but it’s not too far off what our world could become. I definitely want to see the films, but even more I want to reread the books.

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What I’ve been reading

Not much. I got sucked into playing Civilization V, where a quick games takes about three hours.

But here’s some of it, with commentary.

http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/15/american-migration-reaches-record-low/

I don’t have any feelings one way or another about overall migration patterns. No, what really annoyed me about this article was the inclusion and therefore implications of the map at the end. It’s a map showing the general percentages of population living in the state in which they were born.

My problem with this is that it’s in an article about declining migration. So the implication – especially with no other data – is that the people living in the state in which they were born have ALWAYS lived in the state in which they were born. It would be much more appropriate for the article to have the map showing relative migration to, from, and/or within the state.

It’s not that the information isn’t interesting – it is somewhat interesting to me to see what states have higher percentages of people either staying or moving back, or what states have the highest percentages of non-natives. But it’s completely misleading the way it’s presented here. For example, just out of my own circle, both my sister and my best friend are currently living in the states where they were born. Neither of them spent the majority of time of the rest of their lives, especially their childhoods, in those states. If you asked my sister where she was from, I’m 99.99999% sure that the answer would not be the state where she was born/the state where she currently lives. But both of them are included in the percentages of “native” residents on this map. Going back to family history, my great-grandfather was technically born in Mississippi, but their plantation was across the river in Louisiana. Even though he lived there essentially from birth, this map wouldn’t consider him a native of Louisiana. By contrast, my parents have lived in the same town for twenty years – but it happens to be a town that’s not in a state where either of them were born.  They’re not “natives” by the standards of this map.

I’m vaguely interested in migration patterns – that is, I find interesting things in migration patterns. But this map doesn’t work for those. What I would rather know, what would be more relevant to the article as a whole, would be questions like “what states have the highest percentage of residents who have lived there for at least ten years? Twenty years?” “what states have the highest percentage of returning natives – people who were born there, moved away for any non-educational period of time, and then moved back?” “what states have the highest percentage of in-state migration, or the highest percentage of incoming residents from other states?” The map as it is presented here is completely irrelevant to an article about overall migration.

 

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2012/03/long-lost-fairy-tales.html

Okay, fair enough that some of Schonwerth’s fairy tales are already in various archives outside of Regensburg. But I still can’t get enough of this story, especially as someone who keeps rewriting and restructuring her fairy tale based novel. Especially if there is a cache of prince-based stories rather than princess-based stories….these need to be translated into English or I need to brush up on my 19th century German, because I think I’ve found the new (hopefully last) piece of my puzzle for my book.

 

http://agirlandherfed.com/

The best thing about March Madness is the non-basketball brackets that pop up. The worst thing about March Madness is the non-basketball brackets that pop up – because now my reading list is exponentially larger. This, and http://www.allnewissuescomic.com/ are the two story-based comics that I have found (SO FAR) from a webcomics bracket, so I’ve spent the last couple of days reading allllll the archived strips. All New Issues is fun in a QC kind of way; A Girl and Her Fed is different with lots of sex jokes but also some very real statements about security versus privacy from both an institutional/governmental perspective and a personal perspective. I have to admit, though, that I’m a little bit confused about the machinations of the actual plot – but that doesn’t matter because I’m enjoying the banter and the ghost of Benjamin Franklin.

 

That’s all I’m giving you for now – but there’s still a bunch of tabs up on my browser. There may be more later.

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I’ve started a new blog

It’s called Musicians in Literature.  And it’s waaaay more specifically focused than this one. And I will still probably post on this one more. But you should check it out anyway.

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Stephen Bloom wrote this: http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/12/observations-from-20-years-of-iowa-life/249401/?single_page=true

So I wrote this: http://mendramarie.blogspot.com/2011/12/reaction-to-stephen-bloom.html

And someone else for The Atlantic wrote this: http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/12/look-to-iowas-future-not-its-past-a-response-to-bloom/250117/

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Organisation!

There’s been some stuff recently about how people organise their bookshelves. (Alexander McCall Smith put out a call on Twitter for advice, and the discussion was picked up by the Guardian.) So I thought I’d put in my two cents as well.

Everyone who has more than a shelf or so of books has to deal with organisation. I’ve gone through several iterations of bookshelf sorting, ranging from your basic by-author to the more adventurous ISBN. (There was a while there where I knew which ISBN numbers were given to which publishers. I am a nerd. I freely admit this.) I’ve done Dewey Decimal numbers for my non-fiction books, as well as LOC categorisations.  (I think some of the French study books I had a teenager still have stickers with Dewey Decimal numbers on them.)

As an adult, I’ve been in charge of a couple of libraries. I tried, mostly, to separate fiction and non-fiction, but there was also the trick of keeping age and reading-level texts together, without limiting the students’ access.

I do think, contrary to some of the commenters in the article, that alphabetically-by-author is one of the best ways to organize books. Within categories, of course. As a grad student, I kept my for-fun reading and my course-based reading separate. For-fun reading was mixed between fiction and non-fiction, organised by author. Course-based reading was kept together by which module it was for, generally chronologically by placement in the module.

One of the things I’ve most enjoyed in our current dream house – although because of heating issues I haven’t done a ton with it yet – is setting up a new organisational system. I’ve got categories again: children’s books, fantasy/sci-fi, historical (non-fiction and fiction), general non-fiction, “classics”, Japanese language and manga, folklore and fairytales…..  This time, though, I’ve decided to mix up the traditional alphabetical system. For categories that don’t cross genre, I stick with alphabetical. But children’s books are approximately by reading age, with same authors or series grouped together. Classics are in approximate chronological order. And my favourite, historical, is by time period, with all the Robin Hood non-fiction together, followed by the Robin Hood fiction, then general medieval, then historical biography chronologically, then historical fiction chronologically.

This is only a temporary system, of course. No system is ever perfect or permanent. I’ll have a few days between Christmas and New Year’s where my boyfriend isn’t back from his parents yet, so I may play with it some more then.

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Thoughts on reading and friendship

I read a lot of blogs. News blogs, celebrity blogs (for a certain definition of celebrity – mostly authors, as I look at my RSS feed), publishing blogs, a couple of cooking blogs….  Sometimes links in those blogs lead me to other blogs that I then subscribe to (although sometimes I go through a decluttering phase and the new subscriptions fall prey to my service industry, shift-based job). And sometimes things in those blogs lead me to consider things that are not the point of the blog at all.

Which is a long-winded way of leading up to this blog post, which caused me not to think about the different types of friendship, but the ancillary mentioned that “women who love books…are especially prone to close friendships with women because there is an obvious subject to talk about: books.”

I cry foul. And not just because, as Rachel points out very well, books are not the only shared interest that can lead to extended conversation and eventual friendship. I cry foul because books are not an automatic point of common interest, even when both people love books and reading.

True story: I met a new colleague one year while teaching abroad. We shared our love of reading. She asked what my favourite books were, and I listed a few of my all-time favourites (Room with a View, Rilla of Ingleside, Outlaws of Sherwood, etc.). She’d never heard of any of them. I asked hers. “The Notebook, by Nicholas Sparks,” she said. “Because it’s just so well-written.” That was my first clue that we were going to have nothing in common. (We didn’t.)

I attended a seminar during my Master’s  about writing CVs. The instructor suggested that, when describing interests, you should avoid saying things like “I like reading” and “I like music” because the categories are too broad. I don’t know how effective it is on CVs to say “I like historical biography and classical music” but at least it gives more of a sense of the applicant’s personality and tastes.

Because that’s the thing about books (and music) that is not as true about, say, knitting or even cooking. The categories are too wide to give any sense of what the person actually enjoys. Someone who reads exclusively non-fiction and someone who reads exclusively Mills and Boon (Harlequin) are not going to have a lot to talk about – even though both of them would describe themselves as readers and probably as people who love books and reading.

Friendships – any sort of relationships – have to be built on points of commonality. The two people involved don’t have to have everything in common, of course: how boring is it to have a conversation about books that goes, “I loved that book!” “Me too!” “And this one!” “Me too!” “And … now what do we talk about?” But just saying “I love books!” isn’t enough of a commonalit y to build a conversation on, much less a relationship.

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Something Different

I have posts coming on two, nearly three books that I’ve finished in the last couple of weeks, but first I wanted to link to this:

http://the3six5.posterous.com/may-17-2011-kendra-korte

the3six5 is a really, really cool project that started last year: Every day is a 365-word-maximum entry from a different person, so it’s like a worldwide diary. I’m so glad that I got to be a part of it this year, and I’ve really enjoyed reading it for the last 500+ entries.

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