Saturday, December 31, 2011

Reflections: Catching Fire

Adam C. Zern opines on Suzanne Collins's Catching Fire:

"The Hunger Games didn't necessarily end with a thud or as a cliffhanger, aside from wondering what will happen with the main character's personal life, it just ended.  The author's intention for a sequel was very clear, and from a long-term, global perspective, a sequel was deserved within the context of the story.  The focus of the first book was almost totally the main characters' struggle to survive during the brutal Hunger Games with a few hints of revolution against the Capitol.  From the second book, I wanted the story to start moving into that realm of revolution and radical change.  The book, however, doesn't move down that path as much as I hoped or expected.  Yet, it's still an enjoyable book, and is designed, mostly, as a book to raise the stakes for the third and final chapter.

Catching Fire is somewhat of a slow-burn (no pun intended); although, it's not crippling to the book's overall pacing.  The reader is subjected to a little too much romantic vacillation from Katniss, the main character, as she strives to define and determine her love or lack thereof for Gale and/or Peeta.  Having said that, the feelings that Katniss develops for both characters gives sufficient and understandable motivation to Katniss and it eventually works for the story.  The author clearly saw a need to continue the main plot point and conflicts from the first book.  The way she does this at first felt contrived and a little cheap.  However, after some thought, I was willing to accept her premise and reasoning and willingly allow myself to be immersed in the story.

The best part of Catching Fire is mostly certainly the end.  With around ten pages left in the book, I began to be very curious as to how the author was going to conclude the second book in her trilogy.  The ending is excellent.  It pushes the stakes to an entirely new level for the series and its characters.  It's compelling and interesting and finally gets the story to where it needed to be.

Catching Fire is a strong follow-up to The Hunger Games.  Although it hangs on a little too tightly to the conventions and conflicts of the first book, it does move into new and interesting territory.  Above all, Catching Fire gives the reader plenty of reason to finish The Hunger Games saga."

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Reflections: A Christmas Carol

Adam C. Zern opines on Charles Dickens' classic short story:

"To say that Charles Dickens' story, A Christmas Carol, is well-known is wholly inadequate.  During the Christmas season, and sometimes during other seasons (think An American Carol), A Christmas Carol can feel ubiquitous.  I, like so many others, have seen several film versions of Dickens' famous tale.  The different versions can be incredibly varied; for example, The Muppet Christmas Carol and Scrooged are made for very different audiences.  After watching so many different adaptions, I was very curious to see how the original story held up and if it was worth all the attention it has received over the years.

In all honesty, I don't know if I have read an author who is as talented and adriot as Charles Dickens.  Although A Christmas Carol is very short, a short story really, it has Dickens' flair and powerful prose.  Brevity is perhaps the story's greatest strength.  In only a few paragraphs the read has a complete understanding of the level of Ebenezer's Scrooge's cynicism and bitterness.  The visiting spirits come in quick succession and each didactic episode is as instructive for the audience as it is for Scrooge.  There are several themes in the story that I think resonate strongly with readers - being given a second chance (redemption) is but one of them.  And perhaps that's the great secret of A Christmas Carol.

I did wonder if A Christmas Carol was possibly one of the first stories to use melodrama as a viable storytelling technique.  Regardless, I can't help but think that the semi-crippled, perfectly natured Tiny Tim is a character contrived to not only force an emotional reaction from Scrooge but also from the audience.  I couldn't help but wonder if A Christmas Carol were publised recently whether a modern, cynical audience might scoff at Tiny Tim instead of being endeared to him.  (Or perhaps that's just my own cynical self talking?).

Why is A Christmas Carol such a memorable tale?  Charles Dickens.  It certainly helps that the story shares a powerful message, but such a profound message needs to be told in a profound way.  No other author can do it quite like Charles Dickens.  It's an enjoyable and meaningful read."

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Reflections: The Thirteen American Arguments

Adam C. Zern shares his thoughts on Howard Fineman's The Thirteen American Arguments: Enduring Debates that Define and Inspire Our Country:

"I found Mr. Fineman's book at the Book Warehouse for pretty cheap.  The title and and subject matter intrigued me; although, I love just about anything that deals with American history.  Shortly after beginning to read the book I realized I wasn't getting exactly what I was looking for  So, what was I looking for?  I wanted a book similar to Thomas Sowell's masterful work A Conflict of Visions.  I wanted an in-depth compare and contrast, an objective, intellectual look at both sides of some of the debates and dilemmas that have shaped America.  Mr. Fineman's book came close at times, but never really measures up when compared to other more enriching books.

Mr. Fineman's book isn't bad.  But it's not all that great either.  At the beginning of each chapter, he begins by establishing the fundamentals of these so-called "American Arguments."  He discusses some of their origins and how they have transformed over the years to play an important role in contemporary politics.  It sounds like such a good idea, and it really is.  It just ends up being a little too shallow by the end of many of the chapters.  The focus on modern politics makes sense, but it leads Mr. Fineman down a subjective path more often than I would have liked.

The Thirteen American Arguments isn't without worth, but I wouldn't recommend it to others simply because I know there are much better books out there - A Conflict of Visions being just one.  If you have liked Howard Fineman's reporting or previous work he has done, give the book a read.  If not, there is not much reason to add this one to your Thousander list with so many other books, much better books, available."

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Reflections: The Hunger Games

Adam C. Zern shares some thoughts on Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games:

"My feelings toward young adult fiction has changed quite a bit over the last several years.  When I used to think of young adult fiction, the first thing that would come to mind is Goosebumps for some reason.  That stereotype and my aversion to young adult fiction stopped when I read Lois Lowry's The Giver.  I saw how something so simple could be exceptionally powerful and moving.  Since reading that book, I have been much more open to young adult fiction.

Which brings me to The Hunger Games.  The first book in a trilogy (a seeming necessity these days), The Hunger Games is a very good read.  It's thrilling and suspenseful and in parts very, very tender.  One of the book's greatest strengths is its ability to deal with some rather gruesome scenarios, such as a fight to the death game between 12-17 year-olds, without becoming morbid or gratuitous.  In fact, in what could have been the most excruciating scene in the book, the death of a particular character actually ends up becoming the most meaningful and moving (I won't spoil anything) moment in the book.

The book is not without its problems.  The nature of the main audience, young adults, does demand some storytelling silliness from the author.  For example, the motivation of a particular character will be very clear through skilled writing, and then the author will use her main character to purposefully and unmistakably say or think out loud for the audience what they should have been able to deduce without hand-holding.  It's a small annoyance that shows up a little, but it is sad that some subtly had to be sacrificed.  I also think the author could have used the nature of her story, which is very compelling and intriguing-including the sci-fi world she has created-to explore some other powerful themes.  But the main audience may have dictated some pruning, which might not have been required otherwise.

In the final analysis, I think The Hunger Games is just fine the way it is.  I might have wanted some more from the book, but I greatly enjoyed what the author gave me.  I'll probably finish the trilogy, and I hope I enjoy the next two books as much as I did the first."

Other Topics of Interest:
Bedtime Stories with Adam & Sarah: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Reflections: Catching Fire
Reflections: Mockingjay