How I read (My struggle with The Hunger Games)

Too intellectual? You’ve got to be joking

I love Star Trek books and historical fiction. I’ve got a fondness for certain physics textbooks, but I’ve never read War and Peace, or the Great Gatsby. I’ve not read Shakespeare* since school.

So do I feel smug or horrified when the Mother describes me as ‘too intellectual’ for the book she’s reading? Is it praise or is she slighting herself? She recommended Hollow Tree House, Little House on the Prairie and Daddy Long-Legs, and they’re all amazing books. It was the Mother who handed me Jane Austen and most of the business-flavoured self-help books I’ve read belong to her.

Can you even be ‘too intellectual’?

Just because you read the words on the page doesn’t mean you understand the depths of their meaning. On the rare occasion one of my literary friends comment on something they’ve been reading, I’m in awe of their insight. They can see why I feel what I feel.

Which is worrying, because how can I expect to write well if I’m blind to the method?

It’s true I like books that challenge me, that make me think. These aren’t necessarily inaccessible books. They aren’t limited to ‘intellectuals’. Plus, who does the Mother think she’s kidding, she’s the one who set me on this trajectory. She’s the one who demonstrated that learning isn’t an activity reserved for children, it’s a lifetime habit.

If I’m ‘too intellectual’ for a story, the Mother most certainly is too.

How to enjoy The Hunger Games

I confess, I struggled to read The Hunger Games.

The struggle wasn’t because it’s not a good book. My young cousin, the Little Mermaid (whose 3 hour abridged telling of the story is available for recital at family dinners) adores it. As does my grown up, married, ex-colleague Maple who kindly gave me my copy.

So if it is ‘good’, why did I struggle?

Because it takes a different method of reading to what I’m used to. Like getting back on the bike, or going out for that first run, it’s harder than it once was.

Which is how I realised that I read differently now.

There’s a pencil in residence beside the bath, and sticky notes peering over the Chekhov sitting on my bedside table. I’m scribbling opinion in the margins, I’m underlining repetition even if I’m not sure why.

This isn’t how one enjoys The Hunger Games. Such a story is for reading under the covers with a bright yellow torch stood up like a lantern; Katniss’s adventures need swallowing whole, like those of Julian, Dick, George, Anne and Timmy. The appeal is in the tension, the forward motion. You’ve got to race through it before someone arrives to tell you to turn off the light.

Which no-one does because I’m all grown-up.

With Chekhov I cherish the words and the way they’re sewn together like an elegant tapestry. I reread the same paragraph three times in case there’s anything else hidden there. With The Hunger Games I was frustrated, challenged, bored perhaps. At least until I let go and accepted I didn’t need full sentences, or even every paragraph. A skim of the page was enough. The what happens next.

Once I let go, I was addicted.

Which means now I’m fighting an inner conflict. Was The Hunger Games a good book, or not?

What I’m certain of though is that I’m not ‘too intellectual’ to read it, even if it’s a children’s book. After all, it made me think.

So I have another confession to make. Before I read it, I considered that I might me past such books. That somehow such a story could be beneath me. I was wrong.

How do you read?

*It’s true I’ve watched and loved Julius Caesar, Henry V, Twelfth Night and Measure for Measure on stage, but recently when given a list and asked which play I’d prefer to see next I didn’t recognise any of the names–I had to tick all the boxes.