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Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

February 18, 2011

With Mockingjay, I finished the trilogy! I am so joyous because I feel like I’ve overcome something major. Once I started Hunger Games, this series was constantly on my brain. It’s so addicting; well-written young adult lit is like high-fructose corn syrup. You know there are things better for you, but it is just so sweet and immediately satisfying.

Mockingjay begins with Katniss visiting the ruins of her former home in District 12, struggling to determine reality. In Catching Fire she was sent into the Hunger Games again, and as this is the third book, you know she survived. But it wasn’t due to her ingenuity or the assistance of a loved one; she was set up to win—or at least escape—and has now become a cog in a much-larger machine, the rebellion. Now, this is something the reader has been cheering for all along, as the Capitol’s oppression was disheartening, to say the least. (Routine starvation, strict discipline, torture, meaninglessness.) However, now that the rebels have banded and are seizing control of the districts en route to the President’s manse, we readers hope for a brighter future for everyone. Katniss has accepted her role as the symbol of the rebellion: the Mockingjay did its job to ignite.

But it would be too easy to end the book with such a swift happily-ever-after. (Yay, Katniss is out of the Games and the Capitol is going down! The end.) Katniss has never taken direction well, and even though her team shares her intentions, she isn’t going to be used. Even though she suffers from PTSD like the rest of the Games alumni, Soldier Everdeen still manages to train in anticipation of seeing battle. She is disappointed to find, however, that her training was only to create more believable “propos,” or propaganda pieces. She’s still a pawn.

Katniss & crew end up in the midst of battle, though. Collins continues the motif of having a Game in each novel, as the Capitol is laid out with traps (pods) much like the arena. Luck, wit, and selflessness combine so that Katniss survives the trip through the city (unlike most of her platoon). But right as she sets sight on the President’s mansion, tragedy strikes: the worst thing that could happen, does. (I’m not spoiling it!)

However, this übertragedy, as predictable as it may have been, is necessary. As a result of it Katniss fully realizes her role as pawn for the rebellion, and that they use tactics common with the evil Capitol. It’s all very disheartening and disillusioning. But is anything ever positive in war? I was taken back to an essay question I had to answer on the AP US History test in 11th grade. It was something like: “Why did the U.S. drop atomic bombs on Japan? Was this the right decision?” I recall writing in my essay that, yes, it was the correct decision, because although we nuked 200k Japanese innocents, we prevented deaths of potentially millions of people. Now, of course, I recognize I was brainwashed by my history books—the ones written by the victors. Katniss faces this struggle in Mockingjay: she is currently on the winning side, but is it right?

The themes are more subtle in Mockingjay than the first two books in the trilogy, but I move just as valuable, but perhaps as not easily relatable. Therefore, I recommend Mockingjay and will recommend you read the trilogy as a whole. Each novel is a quick read, and although it’s young adult fiction, there are themes everyone can relate too. You lie if you say you are immune to romance, kicking ass, and heart-wrenching tragedy.

KK

PS I don’t have any earth-shaking quotes to share from this book…I returned it to the owner, thinking, “meh, there’s nothing that really stands out as a blindingly amazing tidbit worth drop-quoting.” But on my notecard, I wrote “[page]377—being human.” I wonder what that means. If you read it, try to figure it out.

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Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

February 7, 2011

I just finished the follow-up to The Hunger Games, and it took all of my willpower to not start the final installment of the trilogy, Mockingjay. This series is more addicting than All My Children! Catching Fire begins with our beloved badass Katniss hunting in the woods outside of District 12, the bleak city-state she calls home. She’s recently returned from winning The Hunger Games and is trying to find some normalcy. Although she’s set for life as all victors are, her BFF/crush/pretend cousin Gale’s family still relies on illegal hunting to fill their bellies—plus, it’s a great comfort for Katniss. She recounts to the reader, briefly, the events from the last book and what we should expect now: a “victory tour” where she will travel to all of the districts, rubbing her victory in their wounds. These districts, after all, each lost two tributes as she survived.

But Katniss won the Games with a move that subtly defied the district. For this, she’s turned into a symbol. Katniss, the Girl on Fire, is now the symbol of a revolution. (If you don’t pick up on this at first, Collins hammers it in your head by the end of the book.) The creepy long-reigning President Snow, who always smells of roses and blood, knows this. Because she’s a victor, he can’t make her disappear like he can other rabble-rousers, but he can put her into an uncomfortable position. One of the things I like most about Katniss is that she’s an atypical girl, and she constantly reminds the reader of this. For an adult it may be repetitive, but I think the target audience—teens—needs to be reminded. If you are a badass, be a badass. Katniss has never wanted children, marriage, or that fairy tale life. If you want that for your life, then take it. Just don’t conform to others’ expectations. Snow knows Katniss doesn’t want to marry, so he uses that to try to break her: if she doesn’t marry (who, I won’t say—I’m being purposefully vague here, in case you read the trilogy), he will have her loved ones done away with.

So that’s where we’re at as Katniss departs for the victory tour. She and her mockingjay become the symbol the starving, haggard people in the districts have been waiting for, and they greet her accordingly. When she visits her deceased once-ally Rue’s district, the crowd shows their appreciation (61):

Then, from somewhere in the crowd, someone whistles Rue’s four-note mockingjay tune. The one that signaled the end of the workday in the orchards. The one that meant safety in the arena. By the end of the tune, I have found the whistler, a wizened old man in a faded shirt and overalls. His eyes meet mine.

What happens next is not an accident. It is too well executed to be spontaneous, because it happens in complete unison. Every person in the crowd presses the three middle fingers of their left hand against their lips and extends them to me. It’s our sign from District 2, the last good-bye I gave Rue in the arena.

This bit of spitting in the Capitol’s eye didn’t go unnoticed, though, as Katniss sees the old man killed by government “Peacekeepers.” Needless to say, I cried here, for I am a sap and Collins sure can manipulate her readers. This is perfect, though. We want to side with the rebels, and we want to see the rebels side with Katniss for a good reason. She can’t be an empty symbol, after all.

Katniss returns to District 12 to her home in the Victor’s Village, where she continues hunting, working out her feelings. At this point, she thinks it’s best to take her loved ones and run, to try to eke out a living on the land, avoiding whatever punishment Snow means for her—until Gale gets caught poaching. He is whipped to an inch of his life, which makes Katniss realize that there is no running from the Capitol. They’ve already hurt her and her loved ones, and running away is the result of fear, not rational thinking—”Gale is right. If people have the courage, this could be an opportunity. He’s also right that, since I have set it in motion, I could so much. Although I have no idea what exactly that would be. But deciding not to run away is a crucial first step” (123).

The symbol has realized her importance. (Oh my Science, that must weigh on one’s shoulders!) She must now determine how best to subtly stoke the revolution, while still serving as a mentor for the Games (as that’s what victors do; Katniss’ mentor, Haymitch, won the games 25 years prior). However, every 25 years the Capitol does something special for the “Quarter Quell” games: one year, each district had to double the number of tributes. This year, the Tributes are picking from each district’s pool of victors…Katniss is going back to the arena. What happens in the arena isn’t important here. Read the book. What’s important is Katniss has to realize, that as the symbol, she provides hope but she doesn’t make all the plans. This will be the hardest part for her: trusting others.

After reading The Hunger Games I said I wanted to teach it. After reading Catching Fire, I still do. I look forward to Mockingjay continuing this feeling. There are so many invaluable themes: the importance of trust, of family, of friends; how government control backfires; that it is ok to live life on your own terms, even if that means being alone; running away is not a solution; et cetera. Discussions would be so fruitful and passionate.

Hopefully the economy will recover and I’ll find a teaching job within the next ten years. If I don’t, I’ll probably be too bitter to teach a book that focuses on finding yourself & revolution: “It doesn’t matter what you do, kids. I did everything—within reason, while being a good person—to get what I wanted. It didn’t work. All I have are some crows’ feet, an alcohol dependency, and student loans I’ll never pay off. You kiddos can take your hope and optimism and shove it.”

KK

Next up is Mockingjay, the final book. This trilogy is like crack. (If it were actually crack, I’d tell you not to do it.)

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

January 30, 2011

OMG WOW would be my 6-letter review of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, if I were so limited. However, I don’t practice word economy, so I get to blather on for a while.

The Hunger Games is the first book of an immensely popular young adult trilogy. Being a teacher it seemed appropriate to read it; being a lover of all things post-apocalyptic, it seemed necessary. Now, this novel isn’t like watchingSteel Dawn, Mad Max or A Boy and His Dog; it’s like reading an incredibly riveting short-and-sweet book. Why? Well, it is an incredibly riveting short-and sweet-book. Sure, it’s 374 pages of large type and ample white space, but the prose and plot are also just that damn swift. I never once got bored; in fact, I read it over two weekdays, which is atypical given my work/beer consumption schedule.

The Hunger Games features a badass teenaged protagonist, Katniss, who, as a poacher, literally puts the food on her family’s table. She’s lucky enough to live in the 12th District, the poorest sector in the nation of Panem. Panem is the former North America, ravaged by civil war and who-knows-what-else. (Who knows what else lies beyond Panem, either.) Each year, in order to assert their dominance over the twelve outlying sectors, The Capitol requires the districts to send a male and female Tribute to The Hunger Games, a televised fight-to-the-death. (Someone’s been watching reality TV!) Because the book hinges on this, I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to say Katniss goes to the Hunger Games. Her name isn’t drawn as Tributes usually are; she volunteers to go, which is the first reason readers fall in love with her.

This plot may seem ordinary, given the flavors of Running Man and Survivor. However, it is enhanced given the Hunger Games’ competitors’ ages: 12-18. The Tributes aren’t hardened criminals, but unlucky saps. A few of them are Careers, having prepared their whole lives for the Games and volunteered, but most of them are just kids. This shit is brutal.

A few weeks ago I was thinking about how much I’d like to read a book and cry; I often cry while watching movies and TV, but as much as I love literature, it rarely moves me to tears (did I even cry while reading The Road?). So, peoploids, it is my duty to admit I hella cried while reading this book. (See pages 22, 38, 234, 273, 343, at least.) Collins really knows how to pull on those heartstrings. Think about the first person in the world that you would die for: imagine them being sent to a certain death that you, along with everyone you know, will watch on TV. (If you say there’s no one you would die for, you have no soul.) That death will be likely be agonizing and probably humiliating; if that person is your younger sibling, could you let it happen? I know I couldn’t (So, uh, lucky you, Sam. I’ll take your place).

Collins doesn’t stop there with the tear-bait, though. Reading about selflessness is tear-inducing, yeah, but there’s so much more. And because it’s a YA novel, there’s enough romance to keep you interested (you know you were wondering). I think I’ve said enough. This book is in an incredibly entertaining read, but it also forces you to think about who you love and how far you would go to as a result (and Katniss isn’t the only character to prove her love in the book, either). There are also other themes you could pick up on too, concerning government oppression and society’s obsession with watching others bleed. Man, I want to teach this book so bad. It would make an amazing freshman read, I think.

KK

P.S. In case you didn’t pick up on it, the protagonist Katniss is female. A complicated, confused, kickass female. Thank you, Suzanne Collins.

P.P.S. Next up is Catching Fire, the second of the trilogy. I think I’ll be staying up late tonight.

Spook by Mary Roach

January 23, 2011

I read Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife for three reasons: 1. I loved the author Mary Roach’s sciency/investigative book, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. 2. Roach is smart and funny (see her TED talk) and 3. I found the hardcover at St. Vincent De Paul for $1.74.

I have a soft spot for the afterlife. If L.Ron Hubbard’s correct, I get a free trip to Venus. If he’s not, I won’t know, because I’ll be dead. Anyway, I enjoy things pertaining to the afterlife because of the folklore surrounding it. Spirit photography? Séances? I love reading about these things. (Never, however, ask me to sit around a Ouija board. Just freaks me out.)  To show you how much this fascinates me, I would like to direct you to a project I created for a Digital Imaging class. We had to manipulate photos and do something cool with them. I had been enjoying my folklore class (Wojcik FTW!) and worked it into my project: I created a LiveJournal account (named Ecto-Cooler, after the Hi-C flavor inspired by film’s greatest blob of ectoplasm) and posted fake spirit photography. I graduated five years ago, so the links are broken. However, I think it’s appropriate to recreate the page here for all of posterity.

That doesn’t mean I’m not a skeptic, though. I just think it’s a rollicking good time. So, I didn’t pick up Spook because I wanted research to prove we have souls that live on after our body expires. Nah, I just wanted to read about experiments and weird people. I recommend the book, for it most definitely featured those two things. Roach starts the book admitting that she’s skeptical, but is going to try and approach all of her reading, interviews, and observations with an open mind. This proves to be very difficult; at times I wonder why she said this. It makes you question her motives. Nevertheless, she recounts all of her experiences in labs, workshops, peoples’ homes, taxicabs…in great detail and with respect. She’s not out to make fun of anyone, but to document the search for the soul.

She interviews people who research or have a good story that proves reincarnation, weighs the soul after death, views the soul on different wavelengths, speaks to spirits, hears them in white noise, etc. Each chapter focuses on a different facet of spiritualism. We meet people who are convinced their son is a reincarnated nearby villager or that EMFs expose nearby spirits (these people probably didn’t take kindly to Michael Keaton’s magnum opus White Noise.)
Roach herself takes some courses to detect spirits (via photography or sound equipment) and determines that the people into it, although the proof is not on their side, are sincere and overly optimistic. The days of making good money contacting spirits is (mostly) gone—excepting big name mediums like John Edward, of course.

If any of this stuff is remotely interesting, I recommend reading the book. If you are looking for Roach to provide proof that the soul exists apart from our living selves, you’ll be disappointed. But if you want to learn nuggets such as “the heyday of spiritualism—with its séances and spirit communications zinging through the ether—coincided with the dawn of the electric age” (201), then this book is for you. I don’t read nearly enough non-fiction, so I don’t have much to compare this to. I enjoy Roach’s willingness to talk to anyone and try anything and her humorous approach to it all. I think Stiff is a better book (it really got me thinking of what to do with this body when I’m gone)—funnier and more interesting—but most of Spook‘s chapters kept me intrigued.

KK

Next up: The Hunger Games (Finally, I’m reading something relevant.)

Finally! Photos are up. (originally posted March 14, 2006 on http://ecto-cooler.livejournal.com/)

January 21, 2011

I finally got my photos scanned in. “Finally? You just created your LJ!”

I’ve had these photographs laying around for a while now. I like to use black and white film for spirit photography, as I think it catches spirits better. Weird preference, I know!
These photos are pretty much arranged from least dramatic to most dramatic. I don’t know what it is about my roommate, but I am glad I found her! Through Craigslist, actually. A spirit photographer and a medium living in the same apartment? It’s nothing short of amazing!


This is outside the apartment; there appears to be spirit activity in the form of a mist, around the bushes.


This is again, outside the apartment. There is a little path with lights… this area outside my door is rife with spirit activity! Check out those orbs!


Here’s where it starts to get weird — when my medium roommate and her acquaintance watch “24,” a spirit appeared out of nowhere! It must like Jack Bauer (he is a badass).


Further attesting to the spirit activity in the home, I snapped a photo of the stairs — as a spirit climbed them!


Now, this looks like the stair-climber to me! He’s so young, that’s probably why he took to my cat, Bun-Bun. This photo is nothing short of amazing — probably the most convincing photograph ever taken of a spirit. Cats can’t be suspended magically, after all!



My roommate and I were discussing the presence of spirits in our apartment, when she brought up the need for a seance. She and two acquaintances sat together channeling spirits, while I tried my best to hide and snap pictures. I didn’t want to scare an otherwise-shy spirit away!
As it turns out, this seance was incredibly successful. I measure a seance successful if we get in contact with a spirit. Well, a spirit sure did: it manifested itself physically in the form of ectoplasm! After some further investigation of the photos, I believe the spirit present was that of Pope John Paul II!

Thanks for checking this out. Comment if you’d like!

XOXO Ecto

Neuromancer by William Gibson

January 13, 2011

Neuromancer wasn’t shoved into my hands or down my pants like other sci-fi landmarks Dhalgren and Dune were. However, I felt pressure to read it as I become steeped in the sci-fi world. I’ve heard so much about it being the first popular work of cyberpunk, I knew I had to read it. I don’t know much more than the basics about cyberpunk; however, I’ve got a Blade Runner tattoo and I’m a Billy Idol fan. (That was a joke. Cyberpunk was an ill-fated ’90s album Idol put out that no one bought—even me, and I was quite the fangirl in high school.) Given how much Neuromancer means to the genre, any sci-fi fan must read it.

Our protagonist, Case, is a console cowboy, wrangling past security to perform jobs in the digital frontier. If he didn’t do this to make money, we’d consider him a hacker. However, his being paid to break security and steal makes him a thief. So, yeah, that’s Case. He stole from an employer who took retribution to its ultimate lengths: they administered a drug that damaged Case’s central nervous system. He can still function like a normal human being, but he can no longer function as a hacker, as it is necessary to hook one’s brain—”jack in”—to the computer. Since then, he’s been hustling drugs. He’s got no future doing what he loves.

But in steps a mysterious guy, Armitage, who looks ex-Special Forces. He’s got quite a job for Case, and he’ll get his brain fixed in order to make it happen. Working with Case are the creepy Finn, who turns out to be more than just a workstation tech, and Molly, a badass gun-for-hire. They have to physically break into places (that’s what Molly is for) and jack into mainframes with the highest possible security. It’s a risky operation that goes deeper than they can imagine, with more conspiracies than an Art Bell fan. However, the payoff is quite handsome, so Case accepts the job, not fully understanding the risks—or that he’ll be dealing with some serious AI.

I read that William Gibson saw Blade Runner after writing part of this novel, and figured he was done for, as people would assume he lifted the aesthetics from the film. There are times when Gibson describes a city and you picture a supercyber dystopia replete with Replicants. However, that doesn’t feel lifted; it feels like any dystopian future sci-fi you might read or watch. It’s just what happens when you put them together. However, when I read Neuromancer my brain-pictures were more of Tron-variety. I suppose there are only so many ways to describe fusing mind and computer (maybe that’s something we need to work on?). Nevertheless, I was impressed. Gibson created or co-opted much of the cyberpunk lexicon. The book is startingly alive; the atmosphere rivals what Poe does for U.S. Gothic. For this reason alone I absolutely must recommend this book. Here’s a sample (116):

Case punched to within four grid points of the cube. Its blank face, towering above him  now, began to seethe with faint internal shadows, as though a thousand dancers whirled behind a vast sheet of frosted glass.

“Knows we’re here,” the Flatline observed.

Case punched again, once; they jumped forward by a single grid point.

A stippled gray circle formed on the face of the cube.

“Dixie…”

“Back off, fast.”

The gray area bulged smoothly, became a sphere, and detached itself from the cube.

Case felt the edge of the deck sting his palm as he slapped MAX REVERSE. The matrix blurred backward; they plunged down a twilit shaft of Swiss banks. He looked up. The sphere was darker now, gaining on him. Falling.

“Jack out,” the Flatline said.

The dark came down like a hammer.

So, yeah, awesome. Sure, it  may sound like The Matrix looks, but keep in mind this was 15 years prior. So cool. Speaking of The Matrix, we cared about those characters (at least in the first one). Would Keanu Reeves survive? (I always hope yes.) Are we in danger of being controlled by machines? (Too late. Remember all those Man vs. VCR battles of 1989?)

I’m by no means a Matrix fangirl, but in comparing the two I’m able to articulate what I don’t like about Neuromancer. The plot has some great tangents and twists. But I didn’t care for any of the characters. I didn’t want them to die, of course. But I felt no connection to any of them; not even any sympathy (or hell, even hatred). Thematically speaking, it makes me wonder about the possibility of an AI-dominated future and what it holds for mankind. But there’s little else it caused me to think about. Through a critical lens I could consider the role of Molly, and how she might be a feminist hero. But that’s tenuous.

It’s hard to enjoy a book for the sake of its atmosphere and plot. You’re taught to want more out of it…and when you can’t find it, you lose enthusiasm. Readers, I have lost enthusiasm for this review. I recommend Neuromancer because it is so damn important. Reading it, you can see how so much sci-fi, not merely cyberpunk, was influenced by it. The atmosphere is palpable; the images 3-D; Gibson’s voice alive. I just want more out of it.

KK

Next up: Spook by Mary Roach. I’m a little over halfway, and it’s been a fun read thus far.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

December 3, 2010

I tried to read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. It’s one of those classics, you know, that you can easily find at a thrift store for fifty cents. My library has plenty of those. One of these days, I’ll learn to stop buying books just because they’re cheap and in the canon.

I stopped reading Jane Eyre after 75 pages. Books that expand your vocabulary and challenge you to think are a very good thing (see Dhalgren). Books that were written 163 years ago that are lugubrious and laborious are simply boring. So, adieu, Jane Eyre. I wanted to like you, being written by a female before woman had a room of her own, but I just couldn’t do it.

However, I did like that part where that sweet martyr Helen Burns died of consumption with Jane lovingly clinging to her neck. I haven’t watched any moving picture adaptations, but I would love to see the look on Miss Temple’s face as she pries Jane from your cold, dead, tuberculosis-ridden neck, Helen. You know, if the first 75 pages had been only vignettes of devout Christian girls dying slow deaths, this would have been a must-read. (Typhus did sweep the boarding school, but sadly, Brontë did not focus on this part of the narrative.)

If a book is not assigned reading (designated by your teacher/professor/Oprah), do you attempt to read the whole thing?

KK

P.S. Previous to this post, I wrote about books I’d successfully read. That’s a little unfair, though, because it makes me look like an infallible devotee of English literature. I’m not; if something isn’t engaging me, I might put it down (after a fair shake, with plenty of guilt). What else have I abandoned in the past few years? 1) The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (even though he is my favorite founding father) 2) The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (shocking, as a liberal Oregonian) and 3) A Brief History of Time (I put it down to take a brain break and read some fiction. I never picked it back up.)