I was so excited that Stina KC agreed to write for this series. I'm just getting to know Stina through other blogger friends and I've enjoyed bonding with her over great C.S. Lewis quotes, ill-fitting maternity clothes, and our love of YA. Stina KC is a fledgling writer who blogs occasionally at http://stinakc.wordpress.com/. After turning 30, she decided it was finally okay to write for strangers on the internet. She is an angsty Anabaptist/Anglican hybrid who likes to write about faith, motherhood, and being all grown up. Stina lives in Minneapolis with her husband and daughter.
“Miss Eliza Bennet,” said Miss Bingley, “…is a great reader, and has no pleasure in anything else.”
“I deserve neither such praise nor such censure,” cried Elizabeth; “I am not a great reader, and I have pleasure in many things.”
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Call me lowbrow if you must, but I loved reading The Hunger Games series.
It was the winter of 2012 and I was learning how to be a mother. My newborn daughter was fussy, nursed constantly and rejected both pacifiers and bottles, forcing me to spend many hours trapped on the couch underneath her weight. I reserved books from the library in droves, looking up titles that I found on top ten lists from esteemed literary critics over the past few years. I read and read, and when I couldn’t read anymore, I watched Downton Abbey on my laptop until thirst drove me off the couch and into the kitchen.
I can’t remember where I heard about The Hunger Games trilogy, but somehow I put in my book reservation at the Hennepin County library before the first movie came out. I spent months on the waiting list, slowly inching forward as the two hundred people ahead of me had their turn with the popular books.
The premise for the novels was disturbing – a game that pitted teenagers against each other in a death ring? I am not someone who enjoys horror movies or violence-as-entertainment. I refuse to watch the movie No Country for Old Men or the Breaking Bad TV series with my husband, no matter how many awards they win.
Despite the violence, I knew that The Hunger Games was marketed to teenagers and I had even seen the preteens at church clutching worn copies in the fellowship hall. I figured that, if a 12-year-old can handle these books, I could too.
(And, for me, that’s part of the draw of reading the occasional YA book. Unlike literary fiction for adults, I don’t have to worry about the residual “ick” from over-the-top cynicism or unredemptive characters. I am very good at melancholy on my own, thank you very much, and new motherhood wasn’t the time to add more complex emotions to my hormonal mix.)
My husband and I were learning to take care of our daughter in the egalitarian manner of new parents – we took equal turns endlessly rocking, swaying, and shushing the baby in hopes of nighttime sleep. But when I finally got my battered copy of The Hunger Games, I started volunteering for the late night shifts. I would nurse my daughter to sleep while flipping page after page, obsessed by the story of strong, detached Katniss and her fight for survival. I was inspired by Katniss, in awe of her strength, her resolve, her courage. She was unlike any other heroine I had ever encountered in literature.
Smart analyses of The Hunger Games will likely dissect its dystopian themes, parse away at symbols for Empire, greed, and the current world order. And though I resonated with the subversive actions that Katniss and her beloved District 12 represented, I wasn’t really reading the story on that level. Instead, I was entranced by a perfectly plotted story, a roving suspenseful and original tale that had me constantly wondering: what’s next? What now?
After I plowed through the first book in two days, my husband picked it up and started reading. Soon, we were out volunteering each other for the late night shifts of holding the baby, the same baby who would often wake the moment we laid her down.
Reading The Hunger Games was pure pleasure; it didn’t require lots of inference or work from me as the reader although it is a smart-enough story to merit deeper analysis. I was caught up, swept up, engrossed in an innovative story with a complex plot and compelling characters. And, when you are battling sleep deprivation and a cranky baby, there is nothing like a good story.
As an adult, is there something lost when we limit ourselves to only “serious” genres? Is there purpose in pleasure – in reading books for fun, in being lost in nostalgia or transported to another world through stories?
Yes to both.
I like reading many kinds of writing and don’t avoid books just because they’re popular or “young” for me. If anything, dipping into YA fiction like The Hunger Games has shown me the skillfulness of writers who can create driving narratives and pace a story impeccably. It has also broadened opportunities for me to connect with younger people by serving as a reference point for what is happening in broader culture.
As for purpose in pleasure, well, really. What a question. Reading for fun is what got us started on books in the first place as kids, from The Little House on the Prairie to Watership Down to The BFG to The Baby-Sitters Club series. I didn’t care if they were classics or well regarded; I loved all of these books for their characters, their stories and the imaginative worlds they opened for me.
Just because I am an adult now doesn’t mean I shouldn’t enjoy getting lost in a book with a great story, even if all the main characters are teenagers. After all, God made us in God’s own image: one of creativity, one of imagination, and one that finds great pleasures in many things.