17 June 2012

A Month in Reading: March 2012

I pledged to read a book a week and a short story a day in 2012. In March, I finished reading five books and I read thirty-one short stories. Here's a summary. 


In the woo woo category, I read Alchemy of Nine Dimensions by Barbara Hand Clow. In early 2011, I took a meditation class that used Clow's book as the course text. I'd been slowly reading my way through it since. The book is wonderful for the brief visualizations it includes at the beginning of each chapter. If you like the solid natural buzz that comes from really effective visualizations, I recommend it. Clow combines the woo with some quite rigorous research into different scientific fields, including geology, string theory, musicology, and quasi-scientific fields like sacred geometry.

A while back, I had a chance to view Battle Royale, the film version of the book by Koushun Takami. Yes, that Battle Royale, the book most commonly cited as being super close to The Hunger Games - so close that Suzanne Collins must have copied her idea from it. (Battle Royale was originally published in 1999.) I was super entranced by the ultraviolence of the film, which managed at the same time to connect with the pathos of a class of middle graders who must murder each other so that one of them may survive. I read the novel because I'd heard that it went into much more detail about the characters' backgrounds than the film could. It did.

(For the record, given Collins's background as a television writer and various other factors, I can see that it is possible and even likely that she cooked up The Hunger Games completely independently of Battle Royale, which is her claim.)

Battle Royale invites comparisons to The Hunger Games, of course. In a dystopian future Japan, the government takes a class of students to a remote location for a wargames exercise that only one of them can survive. There are no rules other than a few parameters that guarantee that the kill rates will be kept high.

That is where the similarities peter out, however. The students in Battle Royale know each other well: they've been part of the same class for years. They've already got longstanding loyalties, friendships, and animosities before the story begins. The question quickly becomes how well they can trust those loyalties, especially knowing that any trust can only go so far. They face a number of existential problems: do they play the game at all, or give up? In the context of the game, is it more appropriate to choose your own ending or try to fight the circumstances of the game?

Battle Royale also feels to me less like a YA book and more like a book aimed at a mature audience. It is violent and the emotional content and cultural critique seems to be pitched at a more sophisticated level. (Don't get me wrong - I love The Hunger Games, but if you wanted to ignore the bulk of the cultural commentary in that book and just read for Katniss's personal drama, you probably could.) I won't say "if you loved The Hunger Games, you'll love Battle Royale," because you really might not. But if you're into dystopian future lit you might do well to look at this significant contribution to the genre. It was absolutely massive in Japan and has been translated into a slew of other languages.

Continuing my journey into the pit of doom and on a totally level, I read The Road by Cormac McCarthy, which won the Pulitzer in 2007. McCarthy's prose is gorgeous and spare. The book is brief, thankfully, because from page one I felt like I was in a state of intense mourning that didn't ease until I finished. Wow. Just wow. This is post-apocalyptic fiction that pushes the question, "what if there was really almost nothing left?" about as far as it can go. The landscape the father and son move through is devastated, full of swirling ash and dead trees. Their food is whatever they can find in cans. Others have turned to cannibalism. They're trying to make it to the coast. As terrible as the situation is, the book is about the bond between father and son, about love that doesn't end, and about patience in the face of disaster.

I re-read The Hunger Games in anticipation of seeing the film. Great book. Not so sure about the film, though I do love Jennifer Lawrence and thought she was perfect as Katniss. I suspect it was a bit of a mess. My partner, who had not read the book but is very film-savvy, did not follow several of the primary emotional dynamics and came away with very different impressions of the characters, and no clue about what was happening in some key scenes.

Finally, I completed Neil Gaiman's collection Fragile Things. Highly recommended for "The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch," in which an uncomfortable night out on the town goes horribly wrong or possibly horribly right; "Fifteen Painted Cards from a Vampire Tarot," full of rich and brief vignettes; and "Feeders and Eaters," deliciously gross.

I read bits of Cemetery Dance, selected stories from Daily Science Fiction, issue 1.3 of Stupefying Stories, and I started in on the fabulous Fat Girl in a Strange Land antho.

Cemetery Dance 65 (December 2011) was their Graham Masterson special issue. Great interview there and two stories, "Anka" which was just awesome in a creepy fairy tale way, and "Saint Brónach's Shrift" about which I have a kind of amnesia. "Rainfall" by Maurice Broaddus was sad and lovely and evoked that feeling of trying to get things right when they just won't go. The issue is worth it for that story alone.

The standout Daily Science Fiction story for me this month was "A Different Rain" by Mari Ness. Short and cruel with an "oh" kind of ending.

I enjoyed several of the stories in Stupefying, and would keep an eye on it for future fun reading. Ron Lunde's "Highly Unlikely" forced me to stifle a laugh because it is hilarious and I was reading it at the garage while waiting for my car and did not want to appear insane.

Finally, a big hoorah for Fat Girl in a Strange Land. Crossed Genres did very well with this antho of science fiction and fantasy stories about fat women and girls. It was great to read so many stories with female protagonists, and equally wonderful to see how the writers incorporated (ha ha ha) issues of fatness, physical difference, prejudice and acceptance. So many great stories here. In March I read and loved "La Gorda and the City of Silver" by Sabrina Vourvoulias, "Cartography, and the Death of Shoes" by A.J. Fitzwater, and our very own Bluestocking's (aka Lauren C. Teffeau's) "The Tradeoff." (P.S. Vourvoulias has a book coming out that looks amazing. I plan to keep an eye on that one. You should too.)


Bluestocking said...

Just poking my head it to thank you for the shoutout! My brain is about to explode from the workshop but I appreciate the kind words!

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I felt exactly the same way about/while reading THE ROAD - "in a state of intense mourning." And I've got that Gaiman collection on my list!

Although I enjoyed the HG movie, I did think it missed the mark in a few areas, especially in character depth, etc. And I thought Jennifer Lawrence would make an excellent Katniss way back when I first saw "Winter's Bone." :)

Elizabeth Twist said...

You're welcome! I'm looking forward to learning more about how the workshop went for you when you're able to compose your thoughts.

Elizabeth Twist said...

The Road was amazing, right? You'll find something - probably lots of somethings - to love in Fragile Things.

I feel that films based on books should be more a selected series of highlights from the book than an attempt to cover the whole shebang. I thought the HG movie was skimming rather than representing the most pertinent parts of the book. Then again, I am not a filmmaker and I can only imagine how much pressure there was to make something that wouldn't cause Hunger Games fan riots.

Emily Genther said...

I too have been reading Fragile Things, though I misplaced my copy some months back :( Love Neil Gaiman though.

Catherine Stine said...

Love, love, love Cormac McCarthy. If you want to be chilled to your core, read his Child of God.

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

Wow you read fast. I've only read two books in the time that you read five. I love Neil Gaiman though. Funny that Suzanne Collins seems to have read that Japanese book, Battle Royale. Originality doesn't really exist.

Unknown said...

What an epic and awesome way to spend a month, E! I need to pick up Battle Royale for sure. After seeing the film, I'm not sure I have the fortitude to get through The Road. lol

Also really love that you devoted time to short stories. Might have to try this some day, but as Michael said, i'm not sure I'm that fast!