So I’ve been binge reading, which is kind of my reward to myself for quitting my job. It’s one of the things I used to spend every spare moment doing, and then somehow the spare moments turned into stolen moments and vacations, and that’s no good for anyone. As part of my splurge I decided to read the books everyone’s been talking about: 50 Shades of Grey and the Hunger Games.
I have this to say about 50 Shades of Grey: don’t bother. I’m still not entirely sure why I bothered except for morbid curiosity and that I got a recommendation for it from the strangest source. But when the reviews on the internet say the writing is bad, they aren’t kidding. The writing is so bad I actually fell off a chair, I was laughing so hard. It’s the kind of writing that’s just unintentionally funny. Now, in her defense, it is really hard to write about sex without resorting to terrible clichés. But it wasn’t just the sex scenes, it was just the general inability to pick up a thesaurus.
I could go on a big rant about my other reasons for not liking it (they probably aren’t what you’d expect), but then I would use up all my space and not be able to talk about the Hunger Games, which was far more interesting. At the moment I’ve just started book three- when people say you will read these in a few days, they aren’t kidding. They’re just the right mix of tension, interesting thoughts, and pure entertainment. The first one reminded me of a dystopian version of Island of the Blue Dolphins. If you’ve never read that, you should go pick it up.
I actually caught myself thinking several times that maybe this is this generation’s version of that book, though of course in my generation we had Island of the Blue Dolphins for girls and that one about the boy in the woods for boys. Regardless, the theme is apparent- most kids love books about having to survive in the wilderness. Why is this? I know why I loved them- it’s the same reason I still love these books and their adult counterparts (Into the Forest). What surprises me is how much the current generation loves them.
I loved the knowledge, even as a child, that I could escape. I fantasized constantly about running away to the woods. I loved knowing that it was possible to survive. Sure, I had no idea which plants were edible or how to make a bow and arrow, but I would have killed to have someone teach me (instead I learned math. YAWN). I loved the idea of there being a way out, and it wasn’t just an escape from making my bed and doing my chores. It was far more than that. I remember being frustrated- by having to go to school every day, by sitting in cars, standing in lines, being indoors, generally all the things that make this society what it is. I still hate those things. I sit in my office all day fantasizing about running away to the woods. Only now that I actually have a lot of those skills, I’ve realized that the woods that seemed so large when I was a child are in fact just the trees that fill the ditch between one neighborhood and the next, and that it’s kind of hard to survive in woods like that. Oh, and illegal.
But as a kid, I wasn’t thinking about things like whether I would be arrested for tax evasion. All I was thinking was that the girls in those stories were strong, and sure of themselves, and didn’t need anyone else. They could leave with nothing but a knife and a decent pair of boots and be set to go. Katniss is a heroine of that caliber- which is to some extent why I’m afraid to see the movie. I’m afraid they’ve watered her down. I love that she’s self assured to the point of sometimes being a little callous, though her family is what always pulls her back from the edge. She has a lot of doubts, which is interesting, especially in the later books. But when it comes down to it: she can use a bow and arrow, which was always my ultimate obsession when it came to woods survival.
What is most interesting to me is that things haven’t changed much. Kids want a way out, and they want to imagine that they have that power within themselves- the power to set out on your own and survive. It’s an important reminder to myself that I knew there was something wrong with the way we’re all living long before I could articulate exactly what that was. It’s fascinating- and maybe a little alarming- or exciting- that kids still are able to just sense that. They know this isn’t how people are supposed to live. It’s no wonder they crave that escape. Kids are still able to stand up and say, mom, this is stupid, I don’t want to go to school and sit at a desk all day. They haven’t been brainwashed yet into thinking this is necessary. They want all the things we all want, down on some level- the freedom to climb trees, swim in streams, and most of all, not be dependent on a job or money or the rules for your survival. Kids get that. They see their parents get up every day and force themselves to go to work- all for food- and I know I used to wish I could hunt and gather food so we’d never have to go to work (or school).
It’s really no wonder I liked the Hunger Games so much, because I’ve never given up on that fantasy. It took me the better part of my life to get around to learning those skills (still working on the bow making), and I have a long way to go, but I haven’t given up. Now I wonder if my kids will hate me for making them go out in the woods and learn the names of all the edible plants- or will they be just as excited as I would have been, if someone had done the same for me as a kid?
I also have to mention that yes, the Hunger Games is remarkably like Battle Royale, but a lot less trippy. I found there to be something really disconcerting about Battle Royale (which is intentional, I know) that was lacking in the Hunger Games, possibly because you’re anchored by Katniss’ thoughts, rather than just watching these kids slaughter each other. Either way, curious to see the movie…