Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Hunger Games

Synopsis: A post-apocalyptic story set on the future North American continent in a country called Panem, which is made up of a capital and 12 surrounding districts. As a reminder of the control of the capital over the districts and to deter rebellion, a yearly tribute of one girl and one boy ages 12-18 is required from each district for competition in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. When Katniss' younger sister Prim is chosen as tribute during the reaping, Katniss, knowing it is a death sentence for 12 year old Prim, volunteers to take her place.

A great read. Not only was it well crafted (which was particularly impressive considering the author chose to write it in the present tense!), but it made me think about the complexities of topics from survival to the ethics of reality television. People today may not watch gladiator-like fights to the death on tv, but they do indulge in what we could call the emotional slaughter of other people for the sake of "entertainment." They laugh when people are purposefully made fun of, shamed, and demeaned. Many argue that this is acceptable behavior on our part because those who are appearing on reality television programs have freely chosen to be there. They have given away their right to...what, exactly? I still find this attitude towards the treatment of others in our modern society disturbing. Mostly because I feel that this goes far beyond reality television. The belittling of people as a form of entertainment is really problematic. Alas, I digress...

This book got my brain going on all sorts of topics from reality television to the affects of fear-based government to how humans cope with conflicting emotions in survival situations. The list goes on. Of course, like so many books that I like, it also deals with agency. I especially loved seeing which characters played the game on their own terms, and which allowed themselves to be manipulated into playing to the crowd, as well as what the consequences of either choice could mean in terms of survival.

Really a fantastic read.

Quote: "I don't want them to change me in there. Turn me into some kind of monster I'm not."

The Remains of the Day

Synopsis: "The novel's narrator, Stevens, is a perfect English butler who tries to give his narrow existence form and meaning through the self-effacing, almost mystical practice of his profession. In a career that spans the second World War, Stevens is oblivious of the real life that goes on around him -- oblivious, for instance, of the fact that his aristocrat employer is a Nazi sympathizer. Still, there are even larger matters at stake in this heartbreaking, pitch-perfect novel -- namely, Stevens' own ability to allow some bit of life-affirming love into his tightly repressed existence."

This book aches with all that goes unsaid. It is quite a feat in this medium to adequately convey the emotion behind everything that is left unexpressed, especially when the narrator himself seems unaware. This book is really artistically crafted around the apparent disinterest of Stevens in anything beyond his profession and the "dignity" that he strives for therein and what lies beneath the words and events on the page. What is really expert about it is that though Stevens appears unaware (I have to say "appears," because there is always a sense that there is some kind of unmentioned denial of anything of consequence going on throughout the whole narrative) the reader still clearly sees everything that is going on that Steven's does not and it is heartbreaking. A really tragic tale of what can be forever lost when people fail to see what lies right before them and to seize the moments and opportunities that make life meaningful.

A taste of the sad tale (even more so when you read the book and see what he's talking about):
"What is the point in worrying oneself too much about what one could or could not have done to control the course one’s life took? Surely it is enough that the likes of you and I at least try to make our small contribution count for something true and worthy. And if some of us are prepared to sacrifice much in life in order to pursue such aspirations, surely that is in itself, whatever the outcome, cause for pride and contentment."