Once upon a time, in one of my early years of teaching, a parent asked me why I had The Hobbit on the reading list, but wouldn’t allow my students to read Harry Potter for a book report. “How different are they, really?” she wondered.
I had no idea.
I made up some sort of answer, I’m sure, about the difference between a craze and a classic, and how I wanted my students to develop an appreciation for quality literature, yada, yada, yada… She seemed satisfied, and I went on my merry little way.
A few years and a few more parental inquiries later, I figured I should maybe actually read these books that had everyone donning pointed hats, whittling wands, and waiting for letters. Maybe, I should see what all this madness was about.
So I did.
And I wrote a review.
By this time, I was teaching high school Literature, so we began to discuss these topics in class: What really is the difference between a classic and a craze? How do you determine an author’s underlying philosophy? What is the standard by which we evaluate literature? Is reading a “fluff book” really going to melt your brain??
And then came the inevitable question…”Miss F, what about The Hunger Games?”
I tried to laugh it off. “Umm…what about it?”
“What do you think about it? Have you read it? We want to know what you think. You should read it.”
I turned cold. “Please don’t make me read that. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be stupid.”
Exclamations and accusations abounded.
“How can you say that?! You haven’t read it!”
“You make us read stuff in Lit class that we’re pretty sure is going to be stupid, but you tell us to read it anyway.”
“Yeah, what happened to not judging a book by it’s cover?!”
I was cornered. (Phooey on them for being such good listeners!)
“Fine,” I said. “I’ll try to read it when I finish the book I’m reading now.”
And I did. I swear. I finished Ivanhoe and tried to read The Hunger Games. After the first page, I put it down. I couldn’t stand it. The writing style annoyed me.
So, I started reading LOTR.
My students had not forgotten, though. Every so often they would ask if I had read it yet, where I was in the book, did I like it. I avoided and evaded.
Finally, I knew I could avoid it no longer. Like getting a shot, or changing a diaper, I just had to buckle down and do it.
I fired up my kindle and clicked on the title.
After the first page, I was annoyed.
The second page made me want to scream.
By the time I reached the third page, I was quietly rocking back and forth in agony.
The writing style, the switching back and forth between first and second person, the present tense, the complete lack of logical thought (first chapter: she puts on her shoes before she puts on her pants!) all threatened to crowd in on me and overcome my sanity.
I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t.
But I had to.
My students were expecting an opinion, and if I wanted my teaching to have any credence, I had to follow through.
Like Katniss developing a strategy to survive in the arena, I developed a strategy to survive The Hunger Games…
1. Pretend Katniss wrote the book.
Ok, to be fair, Katniss lives in what, for all extents and purposes, is the post-apocalyptic West Virginia, where not only have they forgotten how to spell words like capital and mutation, they also have lost their grasp on some of the more delicate aspects of
English grammar. She may not understand that authors shouldn’t randomly switch between first and second person, or that stories written in present tense are rather grating to read.
(Side note: just why are those kids in school??!! I don’t know about you, but if I’m an evil dictator trying to maintain my hold on a rebellious people, the first thing I’m going to do is outlaw education. Knowledge is power. Power is dangerous. “Your only use to the state is what you can produce. Oh, your daddy died in a tragic mine accident? I’m sorry. Now go take his place.” …and why coal??!! They have cloaking hovercraft, for crying out loud! Why are they still using coal as a heat source??)
However, even if Katniss couldn’t navigate the intricacies of grammar rules – especially that elusive rule about having a subject and a verb in every sentence – I really do feel that Katniss’s editor should have fixed some of that.
2. Create backstories and resolutions.
Setting aside the complete disregard of the English language, one of the most annoying aspects of the book was the introduction of random characters without explanation or backstory. These characters would la-de-da along for a chapter or two, then be dropped completely, never to be heard from again.
To save my sanity, I would create backstories, purposes, and resolutions for them. For instance: Cinna wasn’t from the capital. He was a rebel plant that had been quietly working his way into the upper echelons of fashion so that he would be in place when the time came to create a face for the rebellion. (Remember, he asked for District 12, and Haymitch told Katniss to do whatever her stylist told her to do.) Katniss felt an affinity with him because he, like her, didn’t belong in the facade that made up every day life in the capital. After the revolution, Cinna was found deep in the prisons in a cell next to Effie Trinket.
That was just one example. There are also the arcs of Bonnie and Twill, Madge and her aunt, the canary, Rue’s family, Caesar Flickerman, Haymitch, etc.
3. Realize that, as bad as it is, at least it’s not Twilight.
I mean, really…it could be worse.