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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Hunger Games – Book Review


          Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games is one of the best books I’ve read in quite a while, and not just because I haven’t read nearly enough lately. In fact, if it wasn’t for an ending that didn’t quite measure up to the rest of the story I’d be tempted to call it one of the best books I’ve ever read.

          I feel a little silly praising the novel that much because it seems to be extremely popular among kids from what I’ve heard. Of course, that amounts to knowing that my nephew got through the book in about a day. I also read the book at an extremely quick rate despite going on a mini vacation just after starting to read. So, I might go a day or so without reading at all, but whenever I sat down with it I read large portions of the book. Normally I’m setting goals of how many pages I want to get through in a day.

          I found the story incredibly inventive as selected kids from different districts of a futuristic North America are forced to fight to the death once a year as punishment for a previous rebellion against the capitol. The main character, Katniss Everdeen, was very likeable from the beginning, and, while her ultimate fate is somewhat predictable, her compelling spirit leads to plenty of tension in this page turner.

          I’m a bit surprised Hunger Games is considered a young adult novel due to the overriding sadness that pervades the story due simply to the nature of the action. These kids have no choice but to fight to the death to secure their own survival.

          The ending comes up just a little short because the author seemed to be working too hard to set up the next novel in the series. That said, it’s certainly not a “bad” ending nor does it do much damage to the overall story.

          I can’t wait to watch the movie, and would absolutely recommend Hunger Games. It’s been so long since I tried to write a full review of anything – which I’d like to think of as recommendations or opinions at this point for various reasons – I’m struggling to remember the scale I used in the past to rate books. But after a quick glance at some of the old posts I’ve written I would say it is worth it to make a point read this novel.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Reluctant Re-entry


          I’ve never been good at re-entry into my daily routine after a vacation. As a writer who hasn’t been paid a dime for his work all year and sets his own schedule, I shouldn’t have all that much difficulty nowadays. Yet, somehow I still resist getting “back to normal.” I can’t even describe how bad I was at it when I had an actual 9 to 5 job in an office.

          Even a short trip to Ohio to see my niece from Hawaii play in a national volleyball tournament during the week of July 4th had me struggling to get back into blogging. It turned out to be a really nice trip. I saw the female side of the Hawaii family, learned that my brother and his family are surrounded by some truly nice people, and watched the kids play a sport I’ve never paid much attention to. I even learned that it’s actually possible for young people to have a coach who is competitive, yet still understands who his players are and that they are still kids. It was a very refreshing change from what I saw at my nephew’s baseball game day before I left, where a father with a son on the other team screamed about the umpire through the entire game.

          For me, the highlight of the trip was the unexpected connection I felt with the coach of my niece’s team. My mom and I drove to the tournament – unfortunately, mom had to do 99.99% of the driving because once again I confirmed that driving on major highways just makes me too tense – and by coincidence the coach and his wife were the first two people we saw. They instantly remembered my mom from a previous tournament she had attended and obviously liked her a great deal. It was especially fun for me watching the coach match my mom’s level of sarcasm, teasing the hell out of her, instead of the usual compliments that flow her way. Don’t worry, my mom loved every minute of it and can dish it out just fine.

          I know mom was always with us, but I really felt like the coach and I connected a bit – a pretty rare occurrence for me with someone I just met. We had dinner two of the three nights we were with the team and sat with him and his wife, and just had some drinks together the last night. He just has a great outlook. He was the same guy on a bad day for the team as he was on a good day. And it was obvious he loved to tell stories; he had an energy for the details of what he was telling you about. He knows my brother and nephew as well, from their neighborhood, and it was very funny to hear about my brother through the eyes of this guy.

          After being back home for about a week, I was almost ready to begin blogging again. I was working through the doubts about why I bothered, given the miniscule amount of hits I get, and the time and effort it takes away from writing that great American novel so many of us think we have in us.

          Then I watched Meet the Press on Sunday morning followed locally by @ Issue. In fact, the shows were just sort of on in the background. Yet, I heard dribs and drabs about whether or not Mitt Romney left some company when he said he did and the controversy over the new law requiring voters to have an I.D. at the polls. Instead of searching for the truth and/or solutions to what seem like readily answerable questions/problems, there was nothing but debate.

          Somehow it brought me right back to where I was mentally before the trip to Ohio. In the spring / early summer I was interviewed for an Inquirer column because I had the audacity to question whether or not there were too many events down by the Schuylkill River, where people are supposed to be able to cycle on weekends but get crowded out by the charity of the week. I was thrashed in the comments section of the online version of the article. Later, I spoke up on a disability listserv questioning a particular topic that has led to a post on this blog getting large amounts of hits and brought several comments filled with anger toward me. (I’m so averse to dealing with the topic that I don’t even want to mention it by name here.)

          I don’t mind debate and, in fact, expected the reaction that I received on philly.com. The listserv reaction was absurd to the point that I resigned from the group. But the amount of noise and nonsense that came from these two minor occurrences in my life coupled with the endless national rhetoric over every issue that comes up has me wondering if “resigning” from everything from trying to follow politics to producing a minor blog is the only way to avoid the chaos that has become public debate.

          Every comment section of every newspaper article seems to be filled with vitriol from everybody looking to push their own agenda. Commenters often commandeer articles and literally make their online pages about completely different topics. The anonymity of commenting online seems to give “beer muscles” to us all, and has destroyed the natural filter that stops most of us from making outrageous or just plain rude statements when our face and name go with the over the top words we speak or type.

          Even a show like Meet the Press has become nothing more than people pushing an agenda. There’s no sense of conversation any more. People are too busy screaming over each other to hear anything. Maybe it’s always been that way.

          It has all made me wonder not for the first time what I’m doing with my time and if there’s some better way of spending it. Is blogging really accomplishing anything? Will I ever publish? I’ve even drifted into the bigger questions we all ask ourselves now and then like, is it all just a lot of noise?

          I’ve been here before and eventually I get over it. Getting over it may not include tweeting / Facebooking and/or blogging any more, but it probably will. It will certainly include writing of one form or another. Whether I’m doing it in an office for a salary or on my own to keep my sanity, writing is one of the things I always return to.

          It would just be nice to have a few more nights of having drinks and a few laughs with some new (or old) friends sprinkled in to the regular routine to help deal with the noise. It was nice to have a few of those nights in Ohio.