Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Aside #23: Hunger Pangs Thanks to the Hunger Games Trilogy

February 2012

It's been a long time since I've stayed up all night so riveted by a book or series that I couldn't sleep. 

But this past weekend it was the trilogy called The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I could not tear myself away from the pages of the books so, naturally, finished all three in one weekend.  The first movie is set to launch in March and I will definitely be among the first in line.

The trilogy works on many levels.  Ostensibly labelled a young adult book (so not), it is set in a future where the 'Capitol' selects a boy and girl from the 12 'Districts' to fight to the death on live television.  It has a strong underlying message of sustainability -- food in particular.  The heroine  -- Katniss Everdeen -- volunteers to take her younger sister's place for the deadly Games. Katniss's ensuing struggles against 'Government Control' and her battles for personal independence and survival are epic.   

As I closed the last page of the trilogy with a satisfied sigh, I realized my appetite for reading books is rising strong once again....   

Books to Appease the Hunger 

I've been seriously deprived of books and reading over the past number of years.  My world has revolved narrowly around media stories, twitter alerts, and fast response.  I was mostly too distracted to read, barely able to concentrate on a briefing note or TV program, let alone a book.

The only exception I can recall is the Millennium series and following the story of the indomitable Lisbeth Salander.  I recall racing through the first two books in the trilogy at warp speed in all-night reading marathons.  

When a friend called to say that a mutual friend had picked up the long-awaited third book at an airport overseas (it was not yet available here), I was so eager to read it that I went to over to wait while J finished the last 20 pages. 

I said a hasty goodbye, tucked it carefully under my arm, and scuttled home for a dedicated reading session, all the while regretting the early death of Stieg Larsson and the other 7 books that never will never be read.    

Insatiable Appetite for Books to Satisfy Body and Soul

I had also completely forgotten how completely satisfying it is to become engrossed in a book.  There's nothing like it.  I compare reading a good book to the adrenaline high I get from a hard, beat-stomping workout that puts me 100 feet up on the ceiling with energy.  

I've always been book-crazed.  As a young pre-schooler I can still remember the first time I picked up Green Eggs and Ham and was immediately hungry for words, more worlds, more glimpses of life beyond my own.  My appetite grew exponentially over time.   

Children's authors occupied hundreds of reading-time hours, with each Newberry Award winner (like The Giver trilogy by Lois Lowry with the struggle over 'Community' and 'Sameness' or A Wrinkle in Time by Mdeleine L'Engle and the battle with 'Central Intelligence'.  All convinced me that the Kingdom of Childhood Reading was a great place to stay.  

My ability to lose myself in book-land was legendary.  I read out the children's sections of the mobile library, the shopping mall library and got caught many times perusing adult books.  It was the same story with the dinky grade school school library, presided over by the Principal, a nun who steered me toward books of religious devotion in hopes that I would answer the call of the Church. 

Alas, I never saw any devotional light except the flashlight I used in bed at night to read under the covers.  No amount of morning fatigue and grouchiness could dissuade me from this.  My father used to sneak up the stairs to try and surprise me in mid-sentence.  He didn't realize there was a telltale squeak on at least one of the steps, allowing me enough time to quickly throw the flashlight and book into the open cupboard door where clothes littered the floor to muffle the sound.  My aim was flawless.  

In school, I perfected the art of reading the latest must-read book like The Narnia Chronicles at my desk by cracking open the desk lid with a ruler or by hiding the book in my lap partially covered with a scarf or sweater.  Maybe more of a comment on the education system but I was only caught sometimes and had the book confiscated; mostly I was able to read in solitude. 

High school libraries opened up new reading material and my reading life continued undeterred..Books were easily hidden in textbooks and in various spots around the house in attempts to hookwink my mother from finding out how many books I had checked out of the library.  

Any wonder I wasn't a straight 'A' student... I applied myself to words and not school work.   

As a young adult in university in Ottawa, I developed a Saturday bookstore circuit, from the House of Speculative Fiction on 4th Avenue, the Prime Crime Nook on Bank, the Women's Bookstore on Elgin, Octopus Books in the Glebe, the Children's Bookstore on Sussex in the Market, the university bookstores and the used bookstores in centre town.  

Later in life, I'd disappear into the soft chairs at Chapters with stacks of possible purchases propped up around me.  I eagerly lined up at midnight with hundreds of young folks to buy the latest Harry Potter offering and then would rush home to read all night.  

Happily, I've been known to 'vacation' by lugging a 30-lb book bag to the beach and hunkering down for hours behind hats, sunglasses, sunblock, beach umbrellas, blankets etc and the like.  I could have been anywhere.  When Husband and I travelled in the U.S., we'd ship home boxes of books via FedEx when we could no longer continue to carry our various book purchases. 

Books That Changed My Life

More importantly, at various points in my life, books have been instrumental in expanding my world vision.  On more than one occasion growing up and as an adult, I'd have to stop reading, put down a book, and pace, giving me time to reflect on what I was reading.  Some of these books shaped who I am today.

On one memorable occasion in my early 20s, I remember being in hospital for the third time in three years for some pretty serious surgery.  I was not having the happiest of experiences dealing with surgeons and trying to ask questions and get answers I understood. 

Fortunately, it was the era of Our Bodies, Ourselves, published 40 years ago by the Boston Women's Health Collective, and which offered the revolutionary idea that women should know -- and make our own decisions -- about our bodies, sexuality and health.  

I'd found it (and half a dozen others in the same vein) at the Toronto Women's Bookstore on my way to London, Ontario, for the latest surgery and I was reading it from my hospital bed.  

The young male interns who happened to rifle through the books while standing at my bedside were visibly taken aback.  I just didn't fit the picture of a feminist revolutionary I guess.  But the books offered enough insights to give me some semblance of control over my health.  

May Sarton is one author who has had a defining influence on my life and way of thinking.  I searched bookstores in Ottawa, Toronto, New York and San Francisco for her books and have everything she wrote from her earliest writings ... books, journals and even some poetry.  Her books remain among the few hardcover book collections I have kept intact despite my commitment to e-books and decluttering.   

Funny I would like an author like May Sarton who led a mostly solitary life and wrote a lot about relationships and spirituality.   I tend to shun such books.  But something about her writing and the fact that she she felt compelled to write using a tape recorder when dying of breast cancer in 1995 speaks to me.  

The feminist writers like Valerie Miner and other women writing for The Feminist Press were also instrumental in shaping my views on life.  Not as well known as Marilyn French (The Women's Room), I nonetheless devoured hundreds of books in that era.  

People will often ask me for my favourite author or genre of literature.  It's impossible to answer this other than ... "it depends..." Crime fiction written by women or with women as a strong central character remains a favourite.  I have only one rule.  When I find an author I like, I have to start at the first book and then read forward in chronological order.  I find it the best way to follow the maturing of both the author and the characters in a book.  

Read, Read, Read

So, the hunger for reading remains strong. It may disappear from time to time (witness the last few years) but it always roars back to ensnare me when a good book and/or series arrives.   The iPad app and the various Kindle, Kobo, iBooks apps expand the world of possibilities.  1-click and a world downloads! 



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