As a personally optimistic person prone to anxiety and despair about the future, I probably ought not read much dystopian literature.

Reading Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games

As somebody who has grown up with competition (as participant and spectator), I found it easy to engage with the Hunger Games as a game, as a contest of skill, strategy, and luck, to be played out for entertainment.  It is blood sport, but as a fictional blood sport with no real participants, no human beings are actually killed.  Reading about a game where fictional people kill each other to the fictional death is not terribly different than watching a game in which real people compete to a real but nonlethal outcome.  It’s a contrived contest for our amusement that is ultimately harmless: again, nobody was actually hurt during the playing of the made up Hunger Games, so there’s nothing disturbing in engaging with the book in this way.  The first person, present tense narration doesn’t put the reader in the view of the Panem audience, so Collins is not calling on the reader to judge himself/herself for voyeuristic enjoyment of the violent, exploitative contest (as a different narration form might: though the parallels are there, Collins doesn’t require us to think about how we watch reality television, or whether we enjoy watching football players risk serious brain injury for our sometimes quite serious but often casual pleasure).

But of course the book isn’t just about a game, but about the powerful maintaining control over the powerless, about inequality and exploitation, about injustice and the means of domination.  I’ll leave those topics aside for now, as hints point to these topics as a greater focus of future books in the series.  And there is the major theme of performance: how Katniss is constantly aware of how the audience perceives her actions (and must, for that has a direct impact on her chances of survival), how this constant need to perform confuses for the performer herself what is real feeling and what is for appearances.  I suspect this is something that at a conscious or unconscious level taps into adolescence: finding one’s “true identity” is so tied up in how others perceive one and how one wishes to be perceived by others that authenticity cannot help but to be blurred and confused, one’s own feelings difficult to grasp.

The book is full of action and suspense, the kind of reading I don’t encounter so much anymore.  Most of my reading now is slow and reflective, an engaging experience in a different form than the intense, feverish engagement that The Hunger Games gives.  I may need to take a break to read another type of book before diving into Book Two.  But maybe I won’t be able to.

How did I come to be reading this book?

My wife and I don’t always read for the same reasons, or in the same ways, or with the same tastes, but I suppose I should take her recommendations more often.


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