The Hunger Games

You know that band you listened to waaaaay before they were popular? And how then one summer, everyone else suddenly jumped on the bandwagon?

In the blink of an eye your band is played on every station, and everyone you know is professing how AMAZING they are.

And maybe you have this righteous, little feeling of knowing them first, and in your mind at least, therefore loving them best.

No? Maybe it was just my hipster college friends that got that way about bands.

In case you’ve been living under a rock – or more likely, your life doesn’t revolve around media consumption and YA fiction, there is this thing called The Hunger Games.

It was a book, and now it’s a film.

And most middle schoolers (and women in their 30s) are sort of obsessed.

Anyone in-the-know can tell you it’s a mash-up of genre tropes we’ve seen before – many will argue it’s just Battle Royale and The Running Man rehashed.

It is, but that’s not a weakness. And in fact it adds some twists to the bog-standard post-apocalyptic narrative which move the dialogue into an interesting, contemporary space.

But I’m not here to review the work on the page or the screen. If you want a book review you can start with Stephen King’s.

I am going to tell you a story.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Once upon a time, I had this really important job in children’s books.

The kind where you travel around the world on business and work with famous people.

Part of my job, the part I loved best, was enthusing young people themselves. Doing interesting  projects, making exciting things happen, and more often than not, just gabbing away – hoping my personal enthusiasm was infectious.

Well, one World Book Day a few years ago, I was asked to speak at an ultra-posh private school. The sort where every pupil wears a tie, most play rugby, and some of them board.

It was sort of like this, but without wizards.

Their excellent librarian (and School Librarian of the Year 2010 thankyouverymuch) asked me to give a talk about books and reading.

I had an appointment with the 200 13-year-old boys on campus. In the slot just after lunch.

At the point were they are all hyper from sugar and a quick run around the school yard, and not interested in some lady who wants to tell them how books changed her life. Not interested at all.

To say they were loud and cheeky at the outset would be an understatement. But then, I probably would have been at that age too.

So, despite the jostling and jitters, I started with what I knew. And asked them what they knew. And slowly (and not without jibes and silliness), we all settled in.

Sure, some of them volunteered that they only read Top Gear magazine and World of Warcraft manuals, often with a jeer in their voice, hoping I would balk at their choices and possibly make that dowdy, disappointed face perfected by geometry teachers the world over.

But I am not that kind of lady.

A few of them were genuinely surprised my theory was and is “read whatever you like, just read. The important thing is you enjoy it and explore your own interests. It’s not what I think you should read that matters”.

And later, a wee upstart in the back tried to point out a flaw in my logic, and unexpectedly prompted a stirring debate  about violence and gore.

Which is how we came to The Hunger Games.

I’d read it the year before – it hadn’t yet been published, one of the many perks of that uber-job – and couldn’t put it down.

For all the horror and sorrow and death, it was truly compelling. I’d stayed up all night reading for the first time since high school.

I spent a good portion of this hour telling the 200 boys in my stead about the bloodshed and survival and brutality of this extreme novel – and that I’d loved it; for it asked questions of violence and it made you take a stance.

I maintained then, and I still do now, that I do not think fiction should shy away from things just for the sake of prudence (or censorship)- but I don’t believe gore in and of itself is entertaining or interesting.

It was quite the hot topic that afternoon, as zombie lovers and space invaders all voiced their own opinions on the subject.

~~~~~~

After the bell, they all scampered away with furtive “Thanks Ma’am”s and I mostly just patted myself on the back for surviving the hour.

I went back to my regularly scheduled day job, hoping rather than believing at least a couple of them might think twice about stereotypes and literature.

… until a couple of weeks later when I got a note from the librarian.

The Hunger Games had been recently, and rather quietly, published in the UK. He had ordered in a single copy of the book, long before I’d visited the school, but now the waiting list was a mile long.

Loads of boys were turning up asking “you know that lady who came to talk to us about the throat-slitting book? Do you have that?”.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

I have that insider, I-knew-them-when feeling about The Hunger Games.

I guess I could be smug about picking a ringer before the wildfire spread, but I’m mostly excited I got other people to read and love it too.

Those boys are now finishing High School. I hear my visit still comes up on occasion. And I am still known as “that throat-slitting lady”.

Not quite the impression I expected to make – but a memorable one.

And it seems one that got them into the library, so I count it as a victory.

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Comments
One Response to “The Hunger Games”
  1. Anika says:

    LOVE this. You are a great throat-slitting lady who has turned me on to many a book in my life.

    Like

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