Saturday, March 24, 2012

Collins, Suzanne – Catching Fire (Hunger Games #2)

To see my review of the first Hunger Games book see:
               I am a bit embarrassed to say that I couldn’t put this young adult novel down. I was very invested in the characters and it was almost painful not to know what was going to happen to them. In this book, Katniss finds herself the unknowing symbol of revolution in a tense and oppressed atmosphere. A trip to a neighboring district (read: colony) during her “Victory Tour” prompts a powerful show of solidarity that is instantly met with repression and bloodshed. Her relationships with Peeta Mellark, her companion at the last Hunger Games, and childhood friend Gale begin to be mature, with heart wrenching consequences.
                Seen as a threat to the all-powerful city-state known as the “Capitol,” President Snow and his cohorts desperately want to kill Katniss, but cannot simply do so because of her popularity with people both in the Capitol and in the outlying districts. They come up with an ingenious plan: force previous victors to fight another Hunger Game.
                This new Hunger Game seemed a bit too contrived for my taste. I felt that Collins thought a book dealing with nothing but Katniss’s personal life would be a letdown after the blood and guts that flew for most of the previous book. To combat this, she forced Katniss to fight again by having the Hunger Game competitors be nothing but previous winners, but despite the fancy new arena and new traps, it seems a bit forced. Collins tries a bit too hard to make the book exciting. The descriptions of deaths are even more gruesome and fearful then that before, and she even has the kids review previous wins for that extra dash of blood.
                That being said, on the whole I did enjoy this book. The arena for this Hunger Game was very interesting and the books ending came as satisfying surprise. The cast of competitors were far more interesting than last time and include a woman who tore a man’s throat out with her teeth, a naked seductress, and two out of their mind drug addicts.
What I continue to enjoy most about the series is Katniss’s continued pragmatism. She doesn’t care to be primped and pampered like the fashionable women of the capital; she just wants to wear what’s convenient. She has romantic feelings, but those come second to her duties to her family and to herself. In this book Katniss becomes even more sophisticated and complex, and the reader really feels that she has emerged from the Hunger Games an adult in a teen’s body.
                Collins also has a gift for creating dynamic characters out of very little. Both Johanna Mason and Finnick Odair show up out of nowhere, become well-fleshed out and have complete 180 degree turns in personality within 150 or so pages. I was particularly fascinated with Finnick, a vain playboy with confusing motives.
                This book is great for teens, fantasy lovers, and anyone with a taste for an adventurous novel. Just make sure you start with Book One, or you will be completely lost. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

DiPrima, Diane – Pieces of a Song

I first read Diane DiPrima’s work when I was in high school. She was one of the few female voices in the beat poetry scene. For a while I was fascinated with the couple of poems I could get my hands on including “Song for Baby O” included in this collection. Now that I’ve finally figured out the magic of the lending library I got my hands on “Pieces of a Song.” I expected a collection that followed the clarity and emotional sensitivity I had seen before, but was sorely disappointed.
 “Pieces of a Song” contains over 200 pages worth of hit or miss poems. Some poems evoke beautiful and powerful images and complex emotions. Others get too caught up in hippie shtick to say much of anything. Furthering my annoyance was DiPrima’s constant contraction of words like your to yr would to wd and could to cd.
Below I have included selections from two poems to illustrate my point:
For H.D.
trophies of pain I’ve gathered.                  whose sorrow
do I shore up, in trifles?                                the weavings,
paintings, jewels, plants, I bought

with my heart’s hope.                   rocks from the road
to Hell, broken pieces of statuary, ropes,
bricks, from the city of Dis.

this morning we walked to breakfast
birds were singing
“HOLY HOLY HOLY” she whispered
“that’s what they’re saying
well, anyway whole wheat
is holy too”

This kind of up-and-down writing left me feeling overall unsatisfied.  While there are definitely some stellar poems to come out of this book, one would have to be a hardcore beat poetry fan to enjoy all of it. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Muller, Herta - The Land of Green Plums

When Herta Muller won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2009 many people were surprised. After reading her novel “The Land of Green Plums” I am too.
                The story is semi-autobiographical. It concerns a young Romanian woman who is part of the German minority during Ceausescu’s violent and oppressive regime.  The book follows the young woman from her arrival at university until her escape into Germany. Accompanying her along this journey are her friend (that she despises) Tereza and three male friends: Edgar, Kurt, and Georg. She is also haunted by the devious Captain Pjele, who is the world’s most passive villain as he half-heartedly attempts to imprison the friends at every turn.
                The book is agonizingly sluggish. It is composed of jilted, uneven vignettes. The book switches time and place so much that it is hard to feel connected to any part. Muller focuses so much on trying to create the atmosphere of oppression that she forgets to have a coherent story. Worse of all, she fails to make any character sympathetic or even fully understood. Though the back of the book claims that it is “a powerful, affecting story—one that makes clear the real value of small triumphs and fleeting moments of happiness,” a better description may go something like this:
A young woman goes to school and at some point meets three boys. She then meets a number of unpleasant people with unpleasant quirks. She talks about her mother’s back pain and tells short stories about her disappointing childhood. This repeats ad nauseam.
Occasional moments of brilliance do not make up for dreary nature of most of the book. The one real highlight of the books comes at the beginning when the protagonist tells the story of Lola, a strange thieving girl driven to suicide.
                I really had to grit my teeth to get through this one. It was so uninteresting and so insistent of its own power that I had read it in tiny bits like a pill you have to cut in half.