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2011 Book #12: Catching Fire

Okay, I was wrong. I said I probably wouldn't bother reading Catching Fire, the sequel to The Hunger Games. In my defense, Borges made my brain hurt, and I needed some serious leisure reading. This one certainly qualifies.

If you haven't read these books and think you might like to, you should probably stop here. My guess is that if you're reading this blog, this series probably isn't on your list.

So. In The Hunger Games, Katniss won, but the dictator interpreted the way she did it as an act of rebellion, and so did the twelve districts, so uprisings began. (To catch up on the first book, read this post or check out the Wikipedia summary, which, I'm sure, is better than my halfhearted attempt.) The dictator and the Capitol start treating the residents of the districts even worse, and Katniss has become a symbol of the rebellion. The next Hunger Games are coming up, and they're the seventy-fifth. Every twenty-fifth Hunger Games is called the Quarter Quell and is especially nasty. This time the districts are forced to choose their tributes among previous victors, and Katniss and Peeta, the tributes from The Hunger Games, are thrust into the arena again. And we get to read about another year of Hunger Games. Then, things happen, and Katniss is rescued (the Capitol got Peeta, but I'm assuming he's probably not dead), and she learns about the rebellion that's been going on during the Games. The End.

Catching Fire is basically a repeat of The Hunger Games. It has the same general structure, the same general characters, and basically the same ending. The style didn't bother me as much this time, but I'm not sure if it's because it got better or because I realized I'm reading for the plot, so the style is good enough if I can stand it.

I think that Collins's choice of writing these novels in the first person is a misstep. Sure, it adds immediacy (they're also in present tense), but we know, from the outset, especially since there are sequels, that Katniss has to win or, at least, survive. That idea bothered me more in Catching Fire because it's so repetitious.

It's also ridiculously predictable for other reasons. Besides the first-person POV, Collins is over-the-top with clues about what's really going on, even for a book aimed at seventh graders (Wait. Why am I reading this again?).

Despite its flaws, though, I enjoyed it. It's the kind of book I needed after Borges, and I know I'm kidding myself if I don't think I'll read the third one. I even have Mockingjay on my Kindle. The plot is good enough to hold my attention, and, hey, it only took me a couple days to read. I haven't decided whether to read the next one immediately or to put a few books in between. I'm kind of in the mood for another crack at Garcia Marquez.

2011 Book #13: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

I liked Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? much more than I thought I would, though I don't have too much to say about it. It's about the difference (or lack of) between real humans and animals and electronic, man-made androids and animals. It's a really interesting read: I couldn't put it down. This morning, I had at least half of it left to read. I went to Starbucks (as usual) planning to do some GRE work along with the reading, but I simply couldn't stop. I read through the rest of the novel in two or three hours. This is one of those books that I'll remember more like a movie than a book, though I'll probably barely remember that I read it at all in a couple years.

This novel isn't my first Philip K. Dick experience. I tried reading The Man in the High Castle a few years ago, but I got bored not far into it, and I quit. He's the kind of novelist I should like more than I do. It took me quite a while to get into Electric Sheep, and I'm wondering if I would have liked The Man in the High Castle if I'd been a bit more patient. But patience isn't my strong suit.

A side note: I think I'm becoming more fond of reading books on my Kindle than reading the real thing. More on that later.

2011 Book #14: Disgrace

J.M. Coetzee has been following me around. I hadn't heard of him until relatively recently, and then his name started popping up everywhere. Book-related everywheres, anyway. So when I happened to pick up Disgrace and read the blurb, I decided to give it a try, recalling how much I've liked South African lit in the past. And it was good. At the very least, it was a nice break from the intensity of books like The Hunger Games and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?.

Disgrace is about different kinds of disgrace and how people deal with it and try to move on. David Lurie (who reminds me of Tomas in The Unbearable Lightness of Being), a Romantic poetry professor, has an affair with the student and gets in trouble. He refuses to cooperate with the university committee dealing with his case, and he is dismissed. He goes to visit his daughter, who lives on a farm in the country, a very unsafe place in recently post-Apartheid South Africa. One day, as she and David return home from a walk, they are robbed, and she is raped by three people. She refuses to report the rape and deals with it by herself, her own form of disgrace. David deals with it, too. There are, of course, a few subplots, one of which involves a veterinary clinic with the basic purpose of euthanizing dogs from which David learns to deal with his own disgrace.

Oprah should be all over this one. As I said, it reeks of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which I didn't like, though it's not so preachy. Coetzee has his Kundera moments in which he philosophizes a bit excessively, but at least he keeps it in the mind of the protagonist rather than doing the moralizing himself.

My favorite part of the novel, and what will keep me reading Coetzee, is the prose style. It's beautiful. It also makes for easy reading: I think I started Disgrace this time yesterday.

2011 Book #15: Mockingjay

I think I've said all I want to about the Hunger Games trilogy. Mockingjay was just like the other two, but this time, instead of ending with a cliffhanger, it just ended. Think about the end of Harry Potter, the summing up several years in the future, but badly. In Harry Potter, I think such an ending was a good choice and provided closure at the end of an absorbing series that many kids had grown up with. Sticking an ending like that on a series like the Hunger Games was kind of pointless and dumb. Just sayin'.

All three books were quick reads, and they were entertaining enough. Mockingjay is my least favorite because, by this point, the reader knows exactly what is going to happen. It's entirely predictable. Collins even includes another trip to the Hunger Games - of sorts. The format is exactly the same as the other two, and so is the style. I got bored pretty quickly, and I'm glad I've gotten these books out of my system. That said, I did enjoy them well enough.

2011 Book #16: Chronicle of a Death Foretold

Chronicle of a Death Foretold is short, and I guess that's my only real complaint. It's similar, in a lot of ways, to One Hundred Years of Solitude, minus the vast epicness, which is my favorite thing about that novel. I'm not saying that means I didn't like this one.

It's a novel(la?) spiraling around Santiago Nasar, who is killed by two brothers defending their sister's honor. As the story progresses, we learn more and more about the circumstances and how everyone in town knew exactly what was going to happen but did nothing to prevent it for various reasons. Angela Vicario, just married hours before, is returned to her parents' home after her new husband discovs that she's not a virgi. When asked, she says Santiago Nasar took her virginity, so her brothers want to kill him. Marquez is never clear about whether he actually did or not.

Again, it's short, though I don't see how a novel like this could be very long, and if it was, it would be tiring. I miss the world of One Hundred Years of Solitude, though I know every Marquez novel can't rehash that one. He did mention a couple characters from it, though, for all I know, they could be actual historical figures. I know exactly zero about Colombian history. I do know that I'm looking forward to reading more Marquez. I'm spacing him out, though, like Murakami, especially since he's quit writing. 

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