Wednesday, August 31, 2011

ASK NICK SULLIVAN: Letters To Esquire's Fashion Director, Answered by Zac Little

What shades of blue trousers are best when wearing light brown or “cognac” shoes?

Drew Iocovazzi, West Hartford CT

They make cognac shoes? Now I’ve seen everything! If you can’t fashion pants out of a snifter (and you really can’t, I’ve tried) then I guess you’d be best off with Robin’s Egg Blue. When in doubt, always go with Robin’s Egg Blue. That’s especially true for expectant parents in China when they want to decorate a nursery. Might as well hope for the best, you know?

Being a short, slim man, ties often look too big, too long, and out of proportion to the rest of my body. Sometimes I’ll wear skinny ties, but are they formal enough for job interviews and the like?

Minh Doan, San Jose CA

Hold up: they are “too long” for you? You realize that, when you are tying the tie, you can determine the length, yes? You’re pretty much good until the back-end piece of the tie (I’m sure that end has a name, but Nick Sullivan is on vacation) exceeds the length of the fore-end. (The same governing principle applies to balls and penises.) Unless it’s still too long for you even when both sides of the tie are equidistant, in which case, how short are you? How big is your whole body? Would it fit in a jar, say?

I have a bold fashion suggestion if in fact you are like, 20 inches tall or less: clip-on ties. It’s risky, but interviewers respect audacity. And if you really want to nail a job interview, and I mean seal that shit up like the Cask of Amontillado, I’ve been telling people to wear the end of a noose around their necks. It’s fashion-forward and socially commentatious. That may or may not be a word, but again, Nick’s in the Hamptons.

Out of necessity, I wear a Blackberry in a holster on my belt. This puts a bulge in a buttoned suit jacket, but my job requires that I have it on my person at all times. What can I do?

Jeff Barker, Sacramento CA

Just attach a second holster for this violin, which is actually the world’s smallest! But seriously folks, I just talked to a 55-year old unemployed carpenter who used to have to carry around an ENTIRE BELT of tools, which really messes with the sleek appeal of a buttoned suit jacket, BELIEVE ME. I asked him your question, and he just said something about $22,000 of credit card debt and the fact that he can’t pay for his daughter’s college education. So I guess we don’t have an answer for you.

How would you explain the difference between a blazer, a sport coat, and a suit jacket?

Mark Calicchio, San Pedro CA

Same as the difference between and asshole, a douchebag, and a fuckface.

If one’s suit bears peaked or notched lapels, is it appropriate for his vest to bear lapels? Furthermore, if one’s suit bears peaked lapels, is it appropriate for his vest lapels to be notched?

Nick Karras, McAllen TX

WHAT ARE YOU EVEN SAYING? FURTHERMORE: HOLY SHIT.

Why do boys get the blue clothes and girls get the pink? I recently made the point that this wasn’t always the case and have been trying to find out whether it’s true. Can you help?

Mitchell Miller, Milwaukee WI

Is this what passes for cocktail chatter in Wisconsin, Mitchell? Christ you Midwesterners are fucking boring. Also: you made the point without knowing whether or not it was true? What’s up with that?

But seriously, don’t fuck with me Mitch. I see what you’re getting at. Is this about a co-worker making fun of you for a pink shirt or something? Admit it. I know, I know, boys can be so mean. It’s awful. But if you run to Esquire’s fashion director instead of just punching the asshole in the face, you’re going to get a reputation as a tattle-tale. And maybe nobody will give you any guff about it to your face, but there will be talk. And then one day, when you least expect it, you'll get a shiv to the back. I’m assuming you work at a prison, of course. Or Target.

A colleague of mine recently claimed that one should never wear a tie with a blazer or sport coat. Is there any truth it?

David Hardaway, Austin TX

I can’t believe you’re coming to me with bullshit like this, David. Of course not. OF COURSE NOT. This like the 30 minute rule after swimming, or the Presidency of Dwight Eisenhower. OLD WIVES’ TALES, DAVID! Designed to scare little children and keep them from leaving the grounds of Hailsham. You can wear a tie with whatever you damn well please.

Your colleague is an asshole, and you should tell him to his face next time you see him. Preferably while you are wearing a plaid tie with a camouflage sport coat, just to fuck with him.

I would like to know your thoughts on necklaces. I’m interested in a simple necklace and maybe something like a cross or a horseshoe with it.

Jonathan Howard, Louisville, KY

A: No. No. No. No. No. NO. A cross or a horseshoe? A CROSS or a horseshoe? A cross OR a horseshoe? A cross or a HORSESHOE? I suggest getting a really heavy chain, actually, and putting both a real cross (as in, made of two tree trunks) and a REAL HORSESHOE on it, then wearing it backwards so it slowly chokes you to death. That is my advice.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

BLOGGING THE HUNGER GAMES, pt. 9: Katniss On A Hot Tin Roof

Hey, so it's taken a while for this book to grab me, but I think it finally did. And I'm happy about that! I've been reading those blurbs on the back of the book from people like John Green (oh hey here's a picture of me with his autograph), calling it “perfectly paced,” and I was kinda like “what?” I didn't see what the big deal is. And now I sort of do!

This chapter concerns the pre-game interviews that take place two nights after the Gamemaker's scores are released. The Hunger Games have a long preseason, huh? When we last left our heroes, Peeta had elected to be coached separately for the duration of said preseason. Ouch, Peeta! I feel like there is a Smith's song about being hurt by the son of a baker, but I can't remember which one it is. “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out”? Meaning a pilot light in an oven? That can't be right.

Chapter 9

Katniss goes through two paragraphs of rapidfire inner turmoil after hearing the news about Peeta. But in the end she concludes that it's probably a positive thing, as it will put most of her inner turmoil to rest. (Oh how wrong you are, kid.)

“Good,” I say. “So what's the schedule?”

Here we see how practiced Katniss's cold, unfeeling act is—this chapter picks up seconds after the other one ended, but in between Katniss cycles through several emotions and thoughts. It's a very nice effect produced mostly by a simple chapter break. So after breakfast Katniss goes off with Effie, who gives her a crash course in poise. Expect a montage in the movie: Katniss falling down in heels, Katniss trying to smile while she speaks and grimacing by accident, and so on and so on. Later that day Haymitch takes over interview prep, but rather than helping much he just gets frustrated and drinks (understandably). He's not sure what angle to take with Katniss (let her be on top, that's what I say).

“[Peeta] has a sort of self-deprecating humor naturally,” says Haymitch. “Whereas when you open your mouth, you come across as more sullen and hostile.”
“I do not!” I say.


Hahaha. Katniss, you tend to assume everyone has bizarre ulterior motives when they interact with you. “And what do you REALLY mean by that?” After a few failed hours with Haymitch, Katniss goes to her room and trashes it in a fit of rage. YES! ROCK AND ROLL! It's short lived, though. That redheaded Avox girl shows up for turndown service and Katniss helps her clean the mess. Then our narrator apologizes for not saving her when she (sort of but not really) had the chance. The Avox notes the obvious (I mean not out loud, but with like, gestures) fact that Katniss would just be an Avox too if she'd done anything, and Katniss realizes that's probably true but still feels like a bitch. They have a nice moment together (I'm not going to make a lesbian sex joke because NO TONGUE!) and, uh, I guess that plot line is resolved?

Next day Cinna takes over the My Fair Lady duties and succeeds where Haymitch failed by saying, basically “You're not a cunt, you're just a cunt around Haymitch.” The (mostly bogus) realization puts a spring in Katniss's step, and she and Cinna resolve that honesty is the best policy on the interview stage. Cinna will be up on the dais, and he tells her to look at him when she talks, to answer like she's talking to a friend. Also: picture everyone naked! Act like you are in a room full of your naked friends! Except Peeta, that might be weird.

Then Cinna rolls out her dress, which is a “covered in reflective precious gems” in a flame-like pattern.

The slightest movement gives me the impression I am engulfed in tongues of fire.


Maybe we should get Cinna a therapist, no? I mean, this is getting kind of ridiculous. I'm sort of surprised his interview strategy wasn't “what if you keep a bunch of lighter fluid in your mouth and then light a match?”

That night Katniss takes the stage with the other tributes in front of a screaming crowd. The interviews are conducted by a Dick Clark-like figure named Caesar Flickman whose appearance has also remained unchanged in forty years of broadcasting. We again get a vague sense that body modification is pretty extreme in the future, but Katniss could as easily be describing current, Montag-ian levels. And the outfits/hair colors would seem ridiculous (Flickman's got blue hair and lips) if we weren't living in the era of Nicki Minaj and Katy Perry. The future is now! I went to a restaurant last night where they took orders on iPads!

Every one of these tributes is underage, right? Because Katniss describes the girl tribute from District 1's “see-through gold gown” and I was like hey! But then I was like HEYYYYYYY...and suddenly I'm seeing all of Katniss's talk about half-naked tributes in a creepy child-beauty pageant kind of way and not just the normal sexy objectification way. We hear briefly of the other interviews: one boy is a “ruthless killing machine,” one girl is “cunning.” Rue gets interviewed and explains that her advantage is that she's difficult to catch. I'd make a relatively innocent playing hard to get joke but again KIDS EWWWW. Then it's Katniss's turn.

And guess what? She's perfectly charming! She says her favorite part of the Capitol is the lamb stew. She makes a joke about how scary Cinna's fire dress was. Then she shows off her new dress, twirling around for the audience and giggling. GIGGLING!? Even (or maybe especially) Katniss can't believe it. At the end Flickman gets solemn and asks about Prim and the moment Katniss volunteered, but she doesn't say much beyond that she promised Prim she'd win. Then it's Peeta's turn. Oh god, it's Peeta's turn.

"Handsome lad like you. There must be some special girl. Come on, what's her name?" says Caesar.
Peeta sighs. "Well, there is this one girl. I've had a crush on her ever since I can remember. But I'm pretty sure she didn't know I was alive until the reaping. "

Uh-oh. Get out of there Katniss!

"Winning...won't help in my case," says Peeta"
"Why ever not?" says Caesar, mystified.
Peeta blushes beet red and stammers out. "Because...because...she came here with me."

Well, okay, so that happened.

Stray Notes & Observations
  • So this marks the end of Book I: The Tributes. Next time we start Book II: The Hunger Games. What is the advantage of breaking a book up into books? It seems to vary from work to work. In Breaking Dawn it's there to mark three separate arcs (well, two arcs and then a final morass) but also to indicate shifts in narration. We're sticking with Katniss for Book 2. The Hunger Games are about to begin, but a more understandable breaking point would therefore have been like, the moment Katniss gets dropped into the arena. So why now? I suppose we will see.
  • I didn't watch the MTV Music Video Awards, but I did check out the Hunger Games teaser trailer that premiered there. Pretty cool, I thought! And that's all I thought. It was pretty short.
  • Y'all are probably back to school, huh? How's that going?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

No Church In The Wild: An Advice Column

I always seem to attract women already in relationships. It's become somewhat of a problem because I'd like to get into a serious relationship. How can I break the cycle I'm in and find a nice girl to settle down with?

It kind of sounds like God is giving you lemons and you're just stubbornly refusing to set up a threesome at your lemonade stand, buddy. These women are coming on to you? First of all: I'd like to know what kind of cologne you're using. Secondly: You must be black right? Oh god, that sounds so racist! But you're definitely black. I'm so flattered a black person is asking for my advice, first time out! Wow!

OK, so you're an infidelity magnet and you want to reverse the polarity of your field. This is pretty easy: You have to avoid places where you're likely to find girls in relationships. So stop picking up girls at the Bridal Emporium and the maternity ward, is what I'm saying. I know, I know, they're soooo good to go, but don't! There are also less obvious pickup spots you should avoid. Like, if you are at a store where silverware is sold, GET THE FUCK OUT. Literally no one buys silverware except for people who are married or on the fast-track to matrimony. Ditto mattress stores (single people just fuck on cots, or the floor) and lingerie stores (single girls don't have to bother with fancy bras and panties; literally anything, or nothing, will work. Plus that was kind of a weird place to pick up chicks anyway, girls probably thought you were a pervert).

Where should you go instead? There are obvious hotspots for singles: clubs, speed-dating clinics, pharmacies. But another good idea is to check the obituary section for places where memorial services are being held and search for a key phrase: "he is survived by his wife." TRUST ME ON THIS ONE.

I'm sorry you're going through this, I really am. I feel your pain. I mean, I'm married, but I had a really hard time finding an apartment over these last few months. All of the good ones were taken and plenty of landlords seemed to just be leading me on. But in the end my cousin tipped me off to a place that was opening up in her building, and now here I am. So I guess what I am saying is, if the rest of my advice fails you, just ask your cousin!

What do you do about a best friend who lives with you, but never cleans up after herself?

How hot is she? Maybe just let her get away with it? No, but seriously, DON'T YOU HATE THAT SHIT? I feel bad for you. Roommates who are always like, making smoothies and shit and then never cleaning the blender and just letting that raspberry gunk just petrify on the blade ARE THE WORST. And then you have to throw out the blender, and you think to yourself "Oh, I'll just buy a new blender and keep it in my room." And you do for like a day but then every time you look at it sitting on your dresser you just feel like SUCH A DICK so you finally bring it back out and let her have at it and the cycle just REPEATS and you get into such a LATHER and then you just RINSE. Whoa, what happened there? Sorry, I'm just really frustrated on your behalf!

Now most people in your situation get passive-aggressive. And that never works. But I'm not going to tell you to just have a heartfelt conversation instead. And I'm not going to tell you to create a chore calendar and hold them accountable for their chores. That won't work either! I'm of the opinion that passive-aggression only fails because it never goes far enough. Therefore I recommend like, fucking medieval passive-aggression. Don't just leave her dirty dishes in her room; put the dirty dishes IN HER BED, under the covers! And then jump on the bed so all the dishes break and her bed is full of old food and broken glass! When you find her dirty laundry on the floor of the bathroom, sell it on E-Bay to the creepiest perverts you can find! And give them her email address! Make that cunt suffer!

Or maybe just don't move in with friends in the first place. It's usually a bad idea. I mean, living together is not like hanging out but just for longer; there's lots of mundane day-to-day shit (dishes, bills, fucking smoke alarms) required for running a household that is just corrosive for friendships. Move in with someone you hate!

My boyfriend of 2 months is terribly clingy and insecure. As my time to move away to university approaches he's been getting worse and worse. I recently threatened to break it off but then he panicked and said he'll change. I want to believe him but I'm starting to doubt everything. I'm thinking our problems will just worsen with the distance between us. Do you think it's worth trying to make it work or should we both just move on?

Oh, it's going to be HELL ON EARTH. But I still think you should give it a shot for the first few weeks. Here's why:

I mean, first of all, you obviously care enough about this dude to ask. If you 100% wanted to kick him to the curb you just WOULD. So you owe it to yourself to try and make it work because if you give up prematurely you might kick yourself later (if say, you're next BF is EVEN MORE clingy and insecure). The second reason is pretty obvious, too: Skype sex. The third reason is the least obvious but most important: it's cool to be off the market when you first get to college. Guys like the dude from question 1 will pine after you--unattainability increases demand, just ask an economist like Tim Geithner (he has a crush on Michelle Obama). So when the ax does finally fall on Mr. Clingy, make sure you go cry somewhere in public. If you aren't actually sad, just fake it. Splash some water on your face, rub your eyes a little, and storm through the student union. Rumors will fly, and guys will be emailing you late at night like "Need a shoulder to cry on, baby?" Of course by "shoulder" they mean "cock" and by "cry" they mean "suck," but you can figure as much.

Oh hey I just re-read your question and saw that you've only been dating for two months? Dump his ass. Right now.

Got a problem? Get at me here. Click this to tweet, and feel free to offer your own advice in the comments. But let's remember who the expert is here (Dr. Phil, I mean).

Friday, August 26, 2011

BLOGGING THE HUNGER GAMES, pt. 8: This One Goes To Eleven

Last time our girl Katniss made a classic job-interview mistake. Pro tip: if you're trying to get interviewers to pay attention to you, don't shoot an arrow at them! Shit, I'd work at The Atlantic right now if I hadn't committed that same faux-pas. So Katniss fired one off at the Gamemakers when they seemed more interested in their dinners than her archery performance; in the Gamemakers' defense, archery is fucking boring. But Anyway Katniss stormed out of the room without being dismissed, leaving on the high note like George Costanza. So now what?

Chapter 8

After a bold and defiant move like that, one hardly expects Katniss to burst into tears, but that's what she does. She takes the elevator to her room, ignores calls from Effie et al., and then sobs into her pillow for a while. Awwwwwww. She fears what will become of her, but tables that when she realizes her family could be threatened, too. Eventually she concludes that the Gamemakers will get revenge by giving her a low score. Scores? Huh? This is an emerging pattern in the book: Katniss goes rambling along until she mentions a new rule or concept. She's just like, “Oh by the way, mockingjays are...” So, scores: it turns out that since the Gamekeeper demos aren't televised, the only part the public sees is a ceremony in which the board members assign a score to each fighter based on how they did. The Hunger Games have a long-ass televised roll out, huh? This is day three! Who do they think they are, American Idol?

Katniss goes to dinner and confesses her act to Peeta, Haymitch and the gang. Effie is shocked, but Haymitch is charmingly unfazed.

“Well, that's that,” says Haymitch. Then he butters a roll.

He and Peeta brush off any potential consequences, much to Katniss's relief—the Hunger Games are about the most threatening thing you can do to a person already, and the risk of public outcry would be too great for them to punish the other members of the Everdeen family (OK that part doesn't make much sense, given that we've already seen that the government controls the media and everything else. Public outcry is rarely a problem in futuristic dystopias for that very reason. So Haymitch being so dismissive of the idea that The Man would go after Prim or Mama Everdeen kind of renders the whole book a little toothless, all of the sudden; if this government isn't evil enough to kill Prim how dare they even call themselves an evil government? But whatever, oh well).

Eventually even Effie is kind of delighting in the idea of the foppish, comsumptive Gamemakers being shaken up by Katniss's arrow, and just like that our girl is past the embarrassment stage and into the self-deprecating anecdote stage. I love that stage! She even seems to make up a part of the story where one of the Gamemakers falls into a bowl of punch. Good embellishment, Katniss!

After dinner they watch the scores being announced. Peeta gets an eight, that weird little chick Rue gets a seven (huh?) and Katniss gets...ELEVEN! Oh, did I mention that it's a scale of 1-12? By the way, it's a scale of 1-12. Haymitch concludes that they must have liked her temper. “They need some players with some heat,” he says. For some reason I thought of The Real World: Hawaii, and how they selected that chick (Ruthie!) who got so drunk she basically died in the first episode. That season was when I realized exactly how crass and exploitative Reality TV had become, or maybe had always been.

Of course the argument back against the above is that Reality TV stars are willing participants in the exploitative spectacle—that our cultural values have shifted so much that any fame, whether it's infamy or whatever you call the Kardashian brand, will do. There's an element of that at work here, with the Careers who sign up eagerly for the Games. I've been saying for a while now that our culture is getting so extreme and crazy (and the 2012 elections have barely started!) that the standard hyperbole of satire barely suffices to criticize us anymore (watch Mr. Show today and it's barely even a comedy so much as a documentary). But at the very least we can be happy that we don't have people signing up to LITERALLY kill one another on a TV show. Yet.

Do people watch Reality TV because it's dumb and easy to digest? Or is there more at work there? The humor on Jersey Shore plays to a denominator so low it approaches absolute zero (ask a Jersey Shore cast member what absolute zero is and they'd probably guess a brand of body spray) but I'm not totally willing to discount the blurred lines between fiction and reality as part of the draw. Every TV show is reality TV in a way, given how conscious we are of celebrity culture and all that--it's Chandler but it's also Matthew Perry--but maybe the interplay between real and fake on a sitcom isn't enough for people. Reality TV, even the most contrived stuff, is closer to the edge. We watch reality TV to be entertained but also to think about the way media manipulates our perception. Or is that too optimistic?

The next morning Katniss watches the sun rise over the city and thinks of Gale. Incidentally Gale is also probably thinking of Katniss while HE watches the sun rise over the morning wood. HEYOOO! She thinks back to the first time she met Gale, in the woods while hunting, and it's hella boring. Like, there's a part where they're sort of flirting after a tense confrontation, and it's fine, but I will spare you. The point is, Suzanne Collins is reminding us that there are multiple possible love interests up in this bitch:

I call him my friend, but in the last year it's seemed to casual a word for what Gale is to me.

“Fuckbuddy” is better, right? A little more formal, I'd say. So Katniss finishes masturbating and goes down to breakfast, where she's weirded out by everyone's silence at the table. Haymitch eventually explains that Peeta has asked to be coached privately, away from Katniss's eleven-earning eyes. OH SNAP.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

ASK NICK SULLIVAN: Letters To Esquire's Fashion Director, Answered by Zac Little

I am trying to settle the brown-suit, black shoe dilemma. People can obviously wear what they want, but what’s the fashionably acceptable pairing?

Howard Lindsay, West Hollywood CA

This year is all about MATCHING, Howard. I know, it’s a bit of an old-school notion, but these things go in cycles, just go with it. If you are wearing a black suit, pair it with black shoes and a black tie. Always. But don’t stop there. Wear a black shirt and black socks. Die your hair black. Black lipstick. Make sure you order all of your food that day “blackened,” as in Cajun Style. Try to seem like your very soul is black (in other words be an asshole to everyone). And you should probably be a black man too, just to me safe. If you are white, Howard (and I sense that you are), I would recommend wearing an all white suit with all white accessories (if your wallet is black or brown leather, switch it out for a money clip. Stylish!) and getting your teeth whitened.

We’re lucky that in today’s fashion world there is a color suit that corresponds to every race. It used to be that the Japanese were shit out of luck every fall!

Is there any kind of “man purse” that a man can carry to store all of his stuff?

Angelo DiMaggio, Oyster Bay NY

I too have long been advocating for a purse-like bag in which I can store my multivitamins, canned food, and the like. But alas Angelo, the fashion police are heteronormative fuckwads with pepper spray and billyclubs (so to speak). I long for the enlightened day when men will be able to carry small bags (I hope we will call them "man sacks") without being frowned upon. But until then: use your pockets, jackass.

Is it ever fashionable to wear a small, sleek knife clipped to the inside of your pants pocket when having a night out on the town? Thanks!

Matt Anderson, Atlanta GA

Not nearly as fashionable as a hand gun at church. But if you absolutely must bring a knife, just make sure you cut off your own head with it at the end of the night.

Like many 19-year-old college students, I spill on myself a lot. When liquor is involved, it gets bad. What are the best fabrics for going out?

Max Goodman, Oxford OH

First of all: TMI. Second of all, you can never go wrong in a track suit. Bitches will think you’re mobbed up, and they’ll swarm you like flies. Most of them will want OxyContin, but you’d be surprised what you can trade that for. That’s how I got my son! I had sex with a drug-addled hooker, I mean. I didn’t trade her for the kid. But I probably could have. You see what I’m saying?

I am 34 years old and in a position to buy a nice watch. My budget is more or less $10,000, and I’m trying to find one that stands out but is subtle, too. I’m thinking a Rolex, but which one?

Nicholas Schmids, Brookfield, CT

Fuck you.

Monday, August 22, 2011

BLOGGING THE HUNGER GAMES, pt. 7: The District Sleeps Alone Tonight

Science fiction writers who fear the political advance of religion write about a future in which religious lunatics have taken over (see The Handmaid's Tale). The Hunger Games seems to be warning us more about the effects of a violent culture of excess (it's somewhat conservative that way). Now, this has got to be the easiest way to write a novel about the future, right? Think about the things you hate the most and imagine they controlled you. Nobody writes about a horrible future in which everything they DO believe in comes to fruition, except the Left Behind guys. And fuck those dudes.

Chapter 7

I started to wonder for a while there if YA just didn't lend itself to close examination. When I was doing Twilight it felt like many of these posts were writing themselves; S. Meyer fell into the same traps so many times that creating a narrative about her narrative failures was almost too easy. And I felt like the same thing was starting to happen here. Katniss cycles from hardship-hardened tough woman to sweet and almost naïve girl back to suspicious and tough so many times in chapters 2-7 it was getting ridiculous. In this chapter, though, S. Collins turns her liability into an advantage, showing the cycle happen a few times in rapid succession during a kind of montage of Katniss and Peeta's training sessions. Our heroes trade witty banter and learn battle skills and all the while Kat lifts her guard up and pulls it back down like a wet t-shirt. It becomes endearing, in a weird way. That said, if this relationship were drawn out any more this would be a graphic novel. HEYOOO.

Katniss wakes up and has an uncomfortable shower because she's too lazy to bother trying to figure out the fucking nozzles and buttons. MONDAYS AM I RIGHT? She steps on the cat and tells it to fuck itself (or maybe that was me) and puts on a burgundy tunic (gentlemen start your engines) and heads down to breakfast. Eventually Haymitch and Peeta turn up and Katniss tells us that they're about to start three days of training, after which they will individually audition for the “gamemakers,” whoever the fuck they are (I'm guessing the descendants of Milton and Bradley). Haymitch asks what special skills they have and what follows is a weirdly flirty scene in which Katniss and Peeta sing each other's praises and then act annoyed at each other for doing so. Peeta talks about our narrator's accuracy with a bow, and how his father always pointed out that Katniss hit the squirrel in the eye every time out. Gross, Katniss. Also:

I never thought about Peeta eating the squirrels I shot. Somehow I always pictured the baker quietly going off and frying them up for himself.

What a creepy image! What's WRONG WITH YOU, Katniss? (“Oh, I just assumed your dad was having sex with those squirrel corpses.”) Anyway, Katniss tells Haymitch about how strong and muscle-y Peeta is and then they both look at each other like “Oh, have we maybe been obsessed with each other since childhood?”

[A]pparently, I have not been as oblivious to him as I imagined, either...I have kept track of the boy with the bread.

Peeta gets more and more exasperated as Katniss refuses to acknowledge how awesome she is, and he tells Haymitch, “She has no idea. The effect she can have.” It's hard to know if he means because people pity her or because she's sexy, but Katniss assumes the former so it's probably the latter. But it's ambiguous, and in a good way! This is the moment where I stopped being annoyed at Katniss's suspicions and the tensions between our heroes and started being interested. Until now it seemed like everything was a product of Katniss's insecurities, that Peeta was in love with her and she was just too self-deprecating to figure it out (has anyone ever read "The Frog Prince" as an allegory for self-esteem issues? If not I JUST DID BOOM). Now the picture seems more complex. Of course, it could still just be that Peeta luvs Katniss like krazy, that he has a notebook at home with “Peeta Everdeen” and “Katniss Mellark” written in a bunch of different milky pens all through the pages, but it doesn't feel like we're inexorably marching there at the moment, at least.

Haymitch tells them not to show their real talents in front of the other tributes, to use the training days to learn some new skills. Good advice. You gotta know when to hold them (That's what she said (about balls)). And he also mandates that they stay together at all times in public. That makes Katniss real mad:

It's such a joke! Peeta and I going along pretending to be friends! Talking up each other's strengths, insisting the other take credit for their abilities...

Hey girl, nobody made you do that last thing (that's what he said (about balls)). She gets on the elevator, and tells us it takes “less than a minute” to get to the training center in the basement. Well, of course! You're only going down 12 floors! Whoa, is this elevator actually really shitty by our standards but nice for Panem standards? What I'm asking is: at what level of technology should we picture Panem, really? Just because it's the future doesn't mean shit is actually advanced, you know? Think about it: it's implied that District 13 was bombed, but the only other weapons we've heard about (and continue to hear about in this chapter) are shit like swords and maces. Why don't Hunger Games contestants use guns? Why didn't Katniss and Peeta travel to the Capitol by plane? We're getting Soviet again with all this technological mix and match.

Katniss and Peeta start training in various stations (the “go around to different stations” thing is something we used to do in gym class when our teacher was feeling particularly lazy. “Okay, you guys go play basketball! You kids throw shot-put or something. Whatever!” It's slightly over-explained here and then somewhat comically mirrored later when Katniss explains that lunch is handled in the same fashion. So you can go straight from the hog-tying booth to the pulled-pork quesadilla cart!) and Peeta turns out to be pretty gifted in the field of camouflage. While Katniss watches him paint his firm, toned body (maybe while drooling a little) he confesses to her that he decorates the cakes in his father's shop window. Katniss recalls the beautiful cakes and tries to reconcile them with her idea of Peeta. Damn, the last time I saw someone in so many different lights I was in a lamp store.

Some other stuff happens: Katniss struggles to find conversation topics with Peeta and forbids him from talking to her in private—the resulting silence is even more fraught with sexual tension (or not, I'm not sure). They get tailed during their training sessions by Rue, the small female tribute who reminds Katniss of Prim. So the big question for me is: Is Katniss going to kill anyone when the games begin? Or is she going to survive some other way?

I was kind of under the impression we'd be in the training center enduring various interpersonal dramas between tributes for a while, reality show-style. So it's a little crazy when Katniss skips the three training days in a single paragraph. Suddenly it's audition day, and Katniss has to go last. After running around and shooting arrows at all kinds of shit like a boss, she looks up and sees that the Gamemakers (who are like the Hunger Games board of directors, I guess) are bored and not paying attention to her, instead looking at a roast pig they're about to have for dinner. So Katniss shoots an arrow directly at their table, taking the apple out of the pig's mouth. Hey, it's no William Tell, but at least it wasn't a William Burroughs.

Stray Notes & Questions
  • There's a dark moment when Peeta is trying to make Katniss see how talented she is and he reveals that after the reaping, his mother basically told him she thought Katniss had a chance at winning the Hunger Games. Implying that he, her son, did not. MOMS, HUH? Yikes.
  • We've seen a lot of Katniss's self-deprecating side, so it's surprising and interesting when she looks around the room at her fellow tributes and concludes that she has “a healthier body than most.” A few of them, though, are “Careers”—kids from the wealthy districts who are trained from birth to win the games. Even odds says the careers are all going to cancel each other out once the fighting starts.
  • Speaking of once the fighting starts, what's going to happen when that happens? Imagine The Hunger Games to be a heist story, because right now that's sort of what it is. There's a big event coming up and we've met our team and we've learned the rules of the big event, and soon they're going to go in and do the thing. Heist genre conventions dictate that everything doesn't go according to plan once the heist starts: there's an obstacle no one anticipated, someone turns out to have shifting allegiances, or maybe some combination of both. So look for that, is what I'm saying.
  • How are you liking this book so far?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

BLOGGING THE HUNGER GAMES, pt. 6: Avox Populi

This chapter begins awkwardly and boringly:

The Training Center has a tower designed exclusively for the tributes and their teams. This will be our home until the actual games begin. Each district has an entire floor. You simply step onto an elevator and press the number of your district. Easy enough to remember.

Yes, please tell us more about the elevators! (You could have AT LEAST made a joke about how THIS building has no 13th floor for a DIFFERENT reason, Katniss.) And it doesn't get much better from there, wandering to a kind of nebulous and boring reveal. Not to give away the store but: essentially Panem takes some of its political dissidents, cuts out their tongues, and makes them... work in luxury hotels. When the evil government central to your plot treats political prisoners better than most current nations it's hard to feel much of anything. Avoxes have JOBS, you know?

Chapter 6

Effie Trinket is all excited about the splash our heroes made at the opening ceremonies and is talking Katniss up about their chances:

“Everyone has their reservations, naturally. You being from the coal district. But I said, and this was very clever of me, I said, 'Well, if you put enough pressure on coal it turns to pearls!'”

That's a pretty good rendering of the kind of thing a person like Effie Trinket would say, and the incorrectness of the statement is a decent Sopranos-style gag. But Katniss goes on to explain precisely where pearls come from, the fact that Effie Trinket was thinking of diamonds, and that it's actually graphite, not coal, that can be pressed into diamonds, and in the process kind of ruins all the fun. You're supposed to murder OTHER TEENAGERS, not jokes!

Katniss gets to her fancy quarters and describes the high-tech amenities: a shower with hundreds of automatic settings, a window you can manipulate for different views, a bed that fucks you in several positions (well, on that last one I'm reading between the lines). She can order any food she wants, so she walks “around the room eating goose liver and puffy bread” until she gets called down to dinner. Faced with unlimited room-service options, I can't imagine goose liver would be my first choice. Have you ever even HAD a pulled-pork sandwich, Katniss?

Then she goes to dinner where Cinna and his partner Portia are waiting along with Peeta, Effie, and Haymitch. Our narrator is served wine and tries it for the first time in her life. Sadly, she gives up on it halfway through her glass, disliking the “foggy” feeling in her brain. What? How could you not like that feeling!? It's SUCH A GOOD FEELING, especially when you're dancing! Maybe you just need to power through this drink and have a second one, Kat. Let me make you a cocktail or something, maybe? Anyway a server comes to the table and when Katniss claims to recognize her, the rest of the people at the table are horrified. Haymitch explains, after the girl flees, that she's an Avox, a criminal who had her tongue cut out. He suggests that it's unlikely she'd know her, and it's clear that knowing her would be kind of an issue (friends of the communists got blacklisted too). Katniss starts to remember some long-forgotten trauma while Peeta covers her ass, claiming that the girl is a “dead ringer” for someone they went to school with.

They eat a cake (which was set on fire before serving, like a damn Flaming Moe) and Haymitch brings up the hand-holding in the parade, calling it “the perfect touch of rebellion.” Coincidentally that's my band's name, but anyway Katniss realizes that the other tributes barely acknowledged each other. “Presenting ourselves not as adversaries but as friends has distinguished us as much as the fiery costumes,” Katniss tells us.

Peeta walks Katniss back to her room and indicates he wants to know how she knows the tongueless girl. Katniss wants to talk about it, but also worries that confessing will allow Peeta to have another advantage over her (shut up, Katniss). They head to the roof of the training center where the wind will prevent any surveillance and Katniss explains that one day while she and Gale were hunting they saw the Avox and a boy fleeing through the woods. A hovercraft showed up (a hovercraft showed up? There are HOVERCRAFTS!? YESSS) to capture the girl and kill the boy, but not before the girl cried for help and Katniss didn't move from her hiding place.

Never mind that her inaction probably saved her life and that there was certainly very little she could do to fight a damn hovercraft and that for all she knows the girl was a murderer—Katniss feels guilty (though not guilty enough to even remember the whole event at first). She goes back to her room and the Avox is picking up her fire suit clothes off the floor (with oven mitts, I assume). Way to double down, tongueless girl (“You couldn't save me from capture AND you can't use a hamper?”-Tongueless Girl). Katniss rather unfairly compares the way she watched the girl get captured that day to the way people watch the Hunger Games, and muses that the Avox will probably enjoy watching her die.

Stray Notes & Questions
  • This chapter doesn't really have a central event, but the running motif is voice, and the power(s) of speech. Effie blathers on in the elevator, Katniss notes that all you need to do is whisper into a microphone to order food, Katniss obsesses over the cry for help from the girl that was one of the last sounds she ever made. Peeta speaks very carefully at the dinner table and every time he says something that could be construed as anti-government. He takes Katniss to the roof to avoid being overheard. Katniss, we know, has never been very good at holding her tongue.
  • "Vox" is Latin for "voice," so "avox" is "without a voice." Clever (enough)! I'm glad Latin survived the collapse of Western Civilization.
  • So something's going on with Cinna, right? The only other character I can think of with his name is Cinna in Julius Caesar, and THAT Cinna was a conspirator who overthrew the government and recruited Brutus for same. JUST SAYING.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

BLOGGING THE HUNGER GAMES, pt. 5: Panem's Next Top Model

Last time Katniss's paranoia about Peeta reached ridiculous new levels, and our heroes reached the Capitol city. Today we travel very quickly with them through the opening ceremonies of the Hunger Games. I mean, seriously, there is so little detail! In a way, that's a good thing: Katniss is familiar with the ceremonies and the people and is kind of bored with it, so when the President gives a speech she can't be bothered to tell us what he says. But we would kind of like to know what he says! Or what stuff looks like! Suzanne Collins is building up Katniss as a character at the expense of building up Panem as a tangible, believable world.

My Twilight bonafides aside, I am generally speaking a novice in the world of current YA fiction. This wave is all sci-fi and fantasy, and when I was a YA myself all the books were about kids our age surviving in the wilderness. Hatchet, My Side Of The Mountain—we loved that survivalist shit! Until the Branch Davidians. But the point is you can picture a kid on a raft in a river pretty easily. I never really thought about the difficulty of writing huge set pieces until recently, and what I've been coming back to is the Quidditch World Cup. That's the best example of this kind of thing being done right that I can think of. JK Rowling has a huge leg-up in that her main character isn't world-weary and hardened; Harry is all “I love magic, gee willikers!” for the first four books. But Suzanne Collins could have found a way to split the difference—Katniss just kind of staring at the floor and dismissing shit while Peeta genuflects out loud? I'm just spitballing here. Maybe she'll get to filling in the details of the world we're in later. In the meantime, there's this.

Chapter 5

Katniss is in the “Remake Center” getting a full body wax. You read that right, they're removing all of her body hair. All of it? ALLLLL OF IT. So apparently that hasn't gone out of fashion a few hundred years from now. Sorry ladies. Katniss doesn't like it, she says her skin feels “sore and tingling and intensely vulnerable.” That sounds kind of hot to me, but whatever.

“You're doing very well,” says some guy named Flavius.

“Some Guy Named Flavius” is my new band-name. Flavius and the others in the room are not Katniss's stylists, as it turns out—they're just interns or something. And here we get an idea of what Capitol residents look like. Ever heard of the Mermaid Parade on Coney Island? Take that and multiply it by a gay pride parade and then divide it by a purple Teletubby: Flavius has orange hair and purple lipstick, Octavia has dyed her skin green, and Venia has “aqua hair and gold tattoos above her eyebrows.” They also have a highly affected manner of speech where they barely move their mouths and the end of their sentences go up like they're asking a question. Is that what mumblecore is?

They leave Katniss totally naked in the middle of a room and Cinna, her stylist, arrives. She says she was expecting someone “flamboyant,” but he is in a simple black shirt and pants with “close-cropped” brown hair. She was expecting mid-90's gay and got mid-aughts gay, in other words. Cinna tells her to put a robe on and they have lunch; he presses a button on a table and it appears. Katniss eyes at her fancy meal and wonders how much work it would take to prepare it herself. Get ready to feel guilty:

What must it be like, I wonder, to live in a world where food appears at the press of a button?

This is why Mark Zuckerberg kills all of his own meat. Trader Joe's has, somewhat ironically, spiritually disconnected me from the earth! Anyway I'm liking this class consciousness stuff that keeps popping up, and I'm interested to see where it goes. Cinna watches Katniss looking at the food and says, “How despicable we must seem to you.” Well, yeah. In Panem the rich profit from the literal death of poor people, there isn't even the kind of abstract distance we have here where a factory worker's labor contributes to the inflated salary of an executive who gives money to a politician who starts a war for the executive's friends and the factory worker's son gets drafted and the factory worker dies of a heart attack at 55. It's a much more direct line, and I think the dispicability of Panem's upper class is not in dispute at all. Not that Cinna mounts a defense of The Hunger Games, yet, but his sentence suggests that Katniss isn't seeing the big picture. I think she's seeing it just fine, Cinna.

Also, it's a little weird that Katniss has all these intense, vague moments with Cinna since I can't possibly imagine how he'll be involved in the story later. She assumes he got stuck with District 12 because he's a new employee. He says he requested it specifically. She notices that his manner of speech is mostly free of Capitol affectations. OK, what of it? It doesn't add up to much because pretty soon the only important thing is the fire suit.

Katniss tells us that every year the tributes are outfitted in costumes based on the industry of their respective districts. Coming from the coal city, D12 is kinda screwed because mining outfits are deeply unsexy. So past stylists have generally throw a mining helmet over a skimpy outfit a la a slut with some bunny ears on Halloween. Yes! My favorite. Sometimes it's even better: we're told that one year contestants were naked except for strategically placed coal dust. I get how that would work for a girl—it would sort of be like Ashley Greene's bathing suit. But for Peeta what's the deal? Would he tuck it back like a coal-dusted Buffalo Bill? Would they paint it like two pieces of coal and a log?

So Katniss dreads whatever kind of bondage-gear she'll but dressed in, but it turns out (again) that Cinna is different. He (and his partner assigned to Peeta) puts our heroes in black jumpsuits and then gives them a cape that is later ignited with synthetic fire. So Katniss and Peeta appear to be burning like lumps of coal. Unattractive as this sounds, it's apparently breathtaking—we get a very brief description of a parade/opening ceremony in which people go crazy for the kids from D12, throwing roses and shouting “Katniss! We love you baby!” or whatever. And Katniss sees herself stuntin' on the jumbotrons and indeed finds it hard to be humble. She starts blowing kisses to the crowd.

I can hear my name being called from all sides. Everyone wants my kisses.

The other thing is Katniss and Peeta are holding hands, per Cinna's instructions. Katniss holds on tight and worries she'll fall off the chariot, and Peeta later confesses to feeling the same way. SYMBOLIC.

I can't help feeling strange about the way Cinna has linked us together. It's not really fair to present us as a team and then lock is into the arena to kill each other.

Right! That's what I have been SAYING! They pull away from the crowds and into the “Training Center” and Peeta and Katniss have the aforementioned “I was so nervous but you were great,” “No, I was so nervous but you were great” conversation. And right on schedule, Katniss realizes this semi-romantic interaction was actually deadly subterfuge. Peeta is only trying to get her panties off so he can CHOKE HER TO DEATH WITH THEM!

Because two can play at this game, I stand on tiptoe and kiss his cheek. Right on the bruise.

These two are headed for one hell of a hatefuck, am I right?

Stray Notes & Questions
  • Talk to me about the themes you are seeing so far, five chapters in. We've got threads about government and corruption, class warfare, parental issues. In this chapter we even get a brief foray into reality television.
  • We don't hear what the fighters from most of the other districts are wearing, but it's fun to imagine. Maybe District 6's industry is information technology and they just put microchips over their nipples!
  • How do you think the waxing scene will be depicted in the film version of this? Will they do it for real, like Steve Carell in The 40 Year Old Virgin?
  • What if Cinna's last name is Bonne? I will laugh forever.
  • Katniss & Peeta: Which one is Kanye and which one is Jay-Z? Discuss.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

BLOGGING THE HUNGER GAMES, pt. 4: I Didn't Come Here To Make Nice

Last time Katniss and Peeta, our young killers-to-be, boarded a train to the Capitol. We learned that drunken fuckup Haymitch is to be their coach at the Hunger Games, which is pretty bad news. This guy is not coach material. Bleary eyes, defective hearts CAN lose, you know?

It's a little weird that there are coaches. After all, Katniss and Peeta are like teammates only insofar as they hail from the same place. They'll still have to kill each other sooner or later, right? That is not how most team sports work. Granted, cricket could happen like that and I would have no idea, but the team sports I know about don't work that way.

Chapter 4

Haymitch is face down in his own vomit, which is a gross enough image without getting into the gory details. But Suzanne Collins gets into the gory details anyway, describing the “slippery vile stuff” in excruciating detail. I mean, we don't hear about the individual food particles in there or anything, but Haymitch gets up and accidentally wipes vomit all over his face and you know, we get it, I'll spare you. Peeta takes Haymitch to his room to clean him up and Katniss wonders what his game is. Dammit Katniss, will you never trust your fellow humans?

Oh, maybe she will! Katniss realizes that she's being ridiculous and Peeta is just a nice guy. But her reaction to that realization is unexpected:

Kind people have a way of working their way inside me and rooting there.

For most girls it's the tough guys with the leather jackets and the gruff exterior that do that, right ladies?Anyway:

And I can't let Peeta do this. Not where we're going.

Where we're going we don't need niceties! Katniss runs back to her room and throws the cookies Peeta's dad gave her out the window, swearing to have nothing to do with that nice jerk Peeta. BUT BUT BUT OH NO: the cookies land in a patch of dandelions (damn!) which causes Katniss to again remember Peeta's original gesture of kindness. Wow, if you told me there was a kind of weed that could cause vivid flashbacks I never would have guessed it was dandelions!

We get a little more detail about how 11-year-old Katniss learned to provide for her family after her father's death, picking up right where we left off: The sight of the dandelion in the schoolyard that day caused her to remember the edible plants her father had once cataloged in a recipe book (Yeah, you read that right: the sight of dandelions from the train window triggers a memory in which the sight of dandelions in a school yard triggered another memory. DANDELIONCEPTION!) and after a few successful gathering sessions Katniss tried her hand at hunting, as her father had also left her a bow.* Pretty soon she was old enough to start collecting grain rations in exchange for entering herself in the Hunger Games, but her family needed more than just food so Katniss gradually learned to barter as well (as her father had left her a green visor and a knack for haggling**). It's a nice little story of too-young girl learning to survive on her own—pulling herself up by her bootstraps and then trading those bootstraps for some soap.

*Boy, Katniss's dad sure did leave lots of stuff in place in the event of his death in a freak mine accident, huh? Let me guess: he's still alive! He IS Peeta Mellark! He's hiding in Effie Trinket's wig! Haymitch is puking him out in small quantities!
**I thought about haggling skills being passed on genetically and then grossed myself out with the image of a sperm trying to talk his way into an egg. “C'mon, roll the dice on me, baby!”

As Katniss got better and better at providing for her family, her mother slowly returned from the abyss. Prim was thrilled, but Katniss says her mother's initial inaction had caused a rift between them that was never repaired. Back in the present, all of this reminiscing causes Katniss to sit in her private car and stress about her family for a while before drifting numbly into sleep. The next morning she goes to breakfast with Peeta and Haymitch and we get a better sense of the deprived life kids in District 12 lead when Katniss looks at an unfamiliar “rich brown cup.”

“They call it hot chocolate,” says Peeta. “It's good.”
I take a sip of the hot, sweet, creamy liquid and a shudder runs through me.


Do you REALLY want some hot chocolate right now? Me too. It's a nice little maneuver on Suzanne Collins's part, because it appeals viscerally to younger readers and nostalgically to the older ones. (Maybe it's just from looking at Tumblr a lot but I feel like nostalgia is being over-exploited lately. I say that as someone who is mostly immune to nostalgia; my adulthood is way better than my childhood ever was and I still get trapped for 20 minutes on Tumblr sites that are just cover art for videogames from the 90s.) Anyway Katniss swallows all of the hot creamy liquid (you are welcome) and then references the fact that Haymitch is supposed to be giving them tips. And Haymitch laughs it off. So Peeta angrily knocks his glass out of his hand, and in response Haymitch punches him in the face. Then Haymitch reaches for his bottle of booze, so Katniss stabs a knife into the table next to his hand.

Whoa, shit just got REAL! And then suddenly Drunky McVomitface starts dishing out the real advice. He tells Peeta not to ice the bruise on his face—that way he'll look tough. He assess the physical condition of our heroes and declares them “a pair of fighters” for once. And he makes a deal with them that is hard not to hear in like, Tommy Lee Jones's voice: “You don't interfere with my drinking, and I'll stay sober enough to help you.” Katniss and Peeta figure it's better than nothing, but um, is it? Look at the inverse of his statement: “If you stop me from drinking, I'm going to get really drunk.” But whatever, we have our uneasy Spaghetti Western compromise now and I'm happy with it. Haymitch's only advice for the moment is to obey their stylists when they get to the Capitol. Hold up, they have stylists? What kind of sissy battle to the death is this shit?!

The train passes through a tunnel on the way into the Capitol and Katniss has a minor panic attack—turns out she doesn't like being underground. What if the Hunger Games take place in a bunch of caves this year? Oh shit oh shit oh shit! When they emerge from the other side of the tunnel, Katniss and Peeta are struck by the “magnificence” of the Capitol. Katniss says the TV cameras have never done it justice, which is ironic because she so fleetingly describes the place that we, the readers, can't picture it at all! We hear that it's really colorful and people have weird hair and painted faces. So I'm just picturing this:
People in the streets stare eagerly at the train, and Katniss walks away from the window in disgust. But Peeta hangs out and waves to the Capitol denizens, telling Katniss, “Who knows? Maybe some of them are rich.” This statement causes Katniss to somewhat ridiculously trace back over every gesture Peeta has made so far, suddenly seeing it with new, paranoid eyes:

I have misjudged him. I think of his actions since the reaping began. The friendly squeeze of my hand. His father showing up with the cookies and promising to feed Prim...did Peeta put him up to that?

Of course! How could she not have seen the dastardly intent behind that handshake? Of course! Peeta would definitely use his last moments with his parents to plot against her for no reason! It all makes perfect sense! Hahahaha no it doesn't! Shut up, Katniss!

Stray Notes & Links
  • Speaking of dandelions: Cat Marnell is a highly compelling writer and former Lucky editor who now blogs at XOJane on her favorite beauty products, vices and psychological issues. Her piece on Amy Winehouse was great, and a few days ago she wrote "How To Make Your Whole World Smell Like A Dandelion (Plus: Not Being A Pillhead Anymore Is Confusing)" which is about a profound experience involving the image of a dandelion and is certainly worth a read. If more beauty blogs had such searing, bracing, funny honesty, I'd read a lot of beauty blogs! But as it is I just read the one.
  • WTF with Marc Maron is a podcast you must have heard about by now—everyone is obsessed with it! And for good reason! One of this week's episodes features an hour long interview with Parks & Recreation's Aubrey Plaza, who is great, and you should listen to it. How does it relate to The Hunger Games? Well, THG is about traumatic experiences in a girl's late adolescence, and Aubrey Plaza had a stroke when she was 20!
  • You guys listen to Watch The Throne yet? What do you think? Without even knowing what happens next (thanks for being cautious about spoilers in the comments, BTW) I can tell you I'm going to name an upcoming post “No Church In The Wild.” That's just something that's for sure going to happen.
  • So you're kind of on your own in the comments, I guess. Go crazy!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

BLOGGING THE HUNGER GAMES, pt. 3: Sweet And Tender Hooligan

Last time our narrator Katniss Everdeen and a dude named Peeta Mellark were selected as the “tributes” from their home district for that national Hunger Games tournament. “Tribute” is intended to have all those sacrificial connotations, by the way; the government of Panem essentially demands that two kids from every town get killed once a year. Which seems unreasonable, right? I mean one kid, sure. But two? You're getting greedy, Panem.

Then again, Panem doesn't seem to be fighting any wars right now and how many kids from our nation's cities die every year in Iraq and Afghanistan? Where's the real dystopia? Whoa, did I just blow your mind?

Chapter 3

After a song and the reading of a few more oaths or whatever (you know how these ceremonies do) Katniss and Peeta are spirited from the stage and Katniss is held in a room where loved ones come to say goodbye. Peeta may be in the same situation or he may be Effie Trinket's sex slave now—who's to say? Mrs. Everdeen and Prim show up and Katniss urgently feeds them instructions as to how they'll get by without her. It reads at first like “this is how you'll get by while I'm away” but slowly it dawns on us that Katniss is planning on being dead soon. She tells us that kids from other, wealthier districts train their whole lives for the games—they're all 'roided out and have bachelor's degrees in knife play or whatever. So even though living in The Seam probably sucks, there's an admirable purity to the place (a point reinforced by some of Katniss's visitors in this chapter). Being poor keeps them from plotting how to make themselves extra-deadly and evil. Which is a pretty much an essential truth about socioeconomic brackets—inner city neighborhoods might be violent but the kids who grow up in rich neighborhoods go on to wreak more havoc. I'm just dropping truth bombs left and right today!

(In college I took a poetry workshop in which I wrote a poem called “Preamble.” It was a pretty corny but totally earnest plea for the working man, and my professor fucking hated it. She actually stood up on her desk like it was a soapbox and yelled “Rich people are bad! Poor people are good!” to make fun of me in front of my mortified classmates.)

Katniss has a cathartic moment where she screams at her mother that she can't “leave” again, can't mentally check out and leave Prim to die. Her mother's odd excuse is that she didn't have the right medicines to fix herself then, and she does now. That's totally not reassuring at all, but they leave and Mr. Mellark, Peeta's dad, comes in next. Katniss is kind of like “Did you get the wrong room?” because she only sort of knows him, but he hands her a package of cookies and tells her he will look after Prim and then they sit in comforting silence for a few moments. Katniss is happy to realize that though people “deal with” her, they really love and will protect Prim.

OK but our girl is being pretty hard on herself, right? She's acting like she's an unpopular citizen ten minutes after everybody stood silently and made a wordless gesture of thanks and appreciation at her. I mean I think people like me, and no one has ever given ME a wordless gesture of thanks and appreciation, you know? But her feeling totally syncs up with the idea we have of Katniss as a person: she's tough and rational but only because she's deliberately sublimated her human side. She wasn't born a hardass, it doesn't fit naturally, but she's making it work. And being a beloved member of the community doesn't really jive with her realpolitik views, so she doesn't see it.

Her next visitor is Madge, and OK, I can't shake the image of the warehouse worker from The Office but this Madge is the Mayor's daughter and I'm assuming she doesn't look like Madge from The Office. She begs Katniss to wear her gold pin, which is of a bird and oh, it's on the cover of the book, so I'm sure that pin won't be important or anything later. Moving on! Gale turns up next and in case you forgot that there is nothing romantic between them Katniss reminds us in literally the first sentence of his section:

Finally, Gale is here and maybe there is nothing romantic between us, but when he opens his arms I don't hesitate to go into them.

So is this happening because Katniss is in denial about her feelings for Gale too? What I'm hoping is that ISN'T the case and rather Suzanne Collins is doing this to push back against the potential Twilight-ification of her work. (“This isn't romance, it's hard sci-fi!”-Roman Collins) To further underscore that this (maybe) ain't your daddy's YA (huh?) Katniss and Gale talk strategy while mentioning the environs of Hunger Games past. I guess every time they switch it up, like levels in Mortal Kombat. Gale insists that she'll be able to make a bow because firewood has been available in the arena since a botched year in which contestants were dropped into an arctic landscape and just fucking froze to death.

You could hardly see them [at night] because they were just huddled in balls and had no wood for fires.

It's funny in a kind of bleak way, everybody being disappointed that they can't see a bunch of kids dying, talking shit about the Hunger Games on Twitter like it's an award show. “Hey do you guys remember the year that Soy Bomb guy jumped into the Hunger Games?” It's also kind of funny to imagine a bunch of government employees prepping the battlefield each year. “Hey Tom, should we put some spikes on this rock?” “Shit yeah, hey what if we dig a moat?” Anyway Gale's visiting time is up and he gets dragged from the room mid-sentence: “Katniss, remember I—” Remember I what? Remember I love you? Remember I have no romantic feelings for you? Which is it?!

Peeta and Katniss are ushered to a train, past hordes of paparazzi yelling “Katniss! Look this way honey! Can we see the back of the dress Katniss? Can we get Katnis for In-Style?” Our narrator observes that Peeta has been crying and wonders if he's doing some kind of reverse-psychology strategy for the fight, trying to look weak on purpose. I'm thinking it's more like he really WAS Effie Trinket's sex slave for a few hours back there (“It's tradition,” she'd whisper in his ear). But seriously what's with Katniss always assuming everything is a battle strategy? Pretty soon they end up on a train eating dinner and I half expected her to be like, “I notice Peeta is just pushing his peas around on the plate. Could he be making a map?”

Katniss is taken to a private car where she showers and puts on new clothes. She remembers Madge's pin and looks at it, recognizing the bird as a mockingjay. What's a mockingjay, you say? Katniss gives us a little history: During the rebellion, Panem bred birds called jabberjays, which could hear and repeat back whole conversations. When the rebels figured it out, they fed the birds false information. So the government gave up on the plan and released the birds into the wild where they fucked a bunch of mockingbirds and lo, a new type of bird that couldn't replicate speech but COULD replicate music and melody was born. Katniss's father was very fond of them and liked to sing to them, and having the pin on feels like “having a piece of” her father with her. Jeez Katniss the man was blown to bits in an explosion, try to be a little more sensitive!

At dinner Effie Trinket compliments Peeta and Katniss on their table manners, which prompts Katniss to immediately abandon her table manners; I like this girl. Then they watch video of Reapings across the country. Katniss is disturbed by the selection of a girl who reminds her of Prim. So she'll probably die, right? As our heroes laugh at Haymitch's drunken antics earlier in the day, Effie Trinket notes that he is essentially their coach in the Games, which is something we haven't heard before. Her fleeting mentions of sponsorship and the “presentation of any gifts” are intriguing—there is more to this than just dropping some kids in a place and saying “fight!” I guess—but then fucking Haymitch shows up again and vomits all over the floor and the chapter ends. If this is her idea of comic relief, Suzanne Collins needs to reconsider the need for comic relief. Whoa, as I wrote that my cat just threw up.

Stray notes & Questions
  • Contrast Katniss, just forty fucking pages in, with Bella Swan after thousands of pages. I have an incomplete but vivid sense of Katniss as a person that doesn't feel constructed in a cheap, contrived way. It's kind of amazing. I used to defend Bella Swan/Cullen against accusations of being an ill-defined cipher, but that was before Breaking Dawn (though the problems start in Eclipse) when all sense of her faded away in the service of relentless, meaningless plot machinations. Of course that could happen here, too.
  • TWSS Alert: Katniss and Gale are talking about whether or not she'll be able to make a bow, and Katniss says, “I don't even know if there'll be wood.” Don't worry baby, just give me ten minutes.
  • Geography lesson: Katniss tells us the Capitol is in what was once known as the Rocky Mountains, District 12 is along the Appalachians. Why are the cities built along mountain chains instead of the coast? Is that where the coast is now? Also: I'm pretty sure Katniss is just confused and she's from the Ozarks. Also: Haymitch is Teardrop and Effie Trinket clearly does meth. “My Life Is Winter's Bone”-Katniss Everdeen

Monday, August 8, 2011

Look At Your Life, Look At Your Teen Choice Awards

Either Hollywood is totally transparent and every motivation is totally clear or it is totally impenetrable and all we are seeing is the fourth or fifth layer of smoke and mirrors they are throwing in front of us. This can be true of politics too, and interpersonal relationships, even. With no way of knowing for sure what you're really seeing, you essentially have to pick an illusion. Your version of the truth.
Which isn't to say people who are listening to Watch The Throne right now in order to hear the secret Illuminati messages aren't crazy--those people are totally crazy. You should keep Occum's Razor in mind when you are designing your version of the truth. But when Taylor Swift excitedly holds Ashley Greene's hand and Ashley looks game in a kind of passive way, it's either because Taylor Swift really cares about the Teen Choice Awards or because she wants to look like she cares about the Teen Choice Awards (and because Ashley Greene genuinely doesn't care but is a nice person or because she wants to look like she doesn't care and is nice or maybe just because she took a bunch of beta-blockers in the limo).
It's tempting to ignore the urge to set up a kind of bedrock principle of Truth when you talk about celebrities. The act of observing something changes it; the Teen Choice Awards happen in anything but a vacuum. You can't shave your pubic hair with Occum's Razor, you know? It's fun to suggest that their traumatic experiences with Joe Jonas have led Ashley Greene, Taylor Swift and Demi Lovato to enter into an emotionally respectful polyamorus relationship together, but that (probably) didn't happen last night. Ashley Greene is a kind of boring and average nice person thrust into a weird set of circumstances; Taylor Swift is a teenager exploiting and being exploited by her tangled and ridiculous teenage emotions. Again: probably.
Because even Taylor Swift is eerily capable of handling a red carpet. The Teen Choice Awards were held at the Gibson Theater in LA last night, the same place where I stood on the red carpet a few months ago and held awkward interviews with whoever the harried publicists threw at me. I watched the live feed from several cameras last night and had Vietnam-like flashbacks at my computer, watching reporters jockey for position and listening to photographers and producers shouting "Ashley! Ashley! Can you look over here Ashley? Can I get Ashley for In-Style? Jesus Christ, can I get Ashley?" People like Zooey Deschanel stood in the midst of all that commotion and struck calculatingly seductive poses. In the pictures she looks fine, I'm sure, but in the context of that whole tableau it was indescribably off-putting and terrifying.
But for every moment that makes Hollywood look like an incomprehensible illusion factory there are human ones, too. On live camera three Joel McHale complained about the heat, couldn't figure out which camera he was supposed to be talking to and then apologized profusely for getting in the way of someone's shot of Nikki Reed. He told reporters he felt bad that they had to stand out there for so long (which is exactly what five or six people on the other side of the barricade told me in June). Right before the show started the live cameras finally found Ashley Greene, who was standing at the barricades by the doors signing autographs and telling everyone it was nice to meet them. "I'm pulling Ashley right now," someone could be heard saying. Ashley glanced over her shoulder at the voice, turned back to the fan she was talking to and said, "It's okay."

Coverage of the TCAs via 247Greene: Part 1, Part 2

Friday, August 5, 2011

BLOGGING TWILIGHT, The Rough Drafts

I'm moving in like ten days, so I have been packing up my old apartment. Now, I'm a borderline hoarder, as it turns out, and I have been coming across various scraps of paper that later became AFO episodes, essays and of course blog posts. I doubt you can read my handwriting, but it was sort of fun for me to find this shit; I'd forgotten that I wrote most of Blogging Twilight, New Moon, and Eclipse out by hand, but I did. I should totally pick up that habit again, it was an affectation that impressed the hell out of most of my college professors. Do you guys still write things by hand?

After the jump I've posted a couple of rough drafts and links to the final products.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

BLOGGING THE HUNGER GAMES, pt. 2: Dear Sons And Daughters Of Hungry Ghosts

Last time we met Katniss Everdeen, big sister of the year and budding domestic terrorist (probably). She and her family attended The Reaping, which is draft-day for a government-sponsored Battle Royale called The Hunger Games. Surprise, surprise, Katniss's little sister Prim got selected for the fight.

I'm very much aware of the race-bending/whitewashing controversy around the casting of The Hunger Games. Lots of readers were happy that Katniss Everdeen was, for once, a protagonist not described as a pretty white girl. But of course, when it came time for the movie adaptation they cast a pretty white girl. Shit. So the post-racial book fell victim to our present-racial times, right? Well, wait a second.

We heard in chapter one that even though Katniss and Gale are post-ethnic hybrids, Prim and Katniss's mother are blond-haired, blue-eyed Aryans. And now poor little pure, white Prim is in danger, and hardened, tough nonwhite Katniss has to go and save her. The story was, when the casting announcements were made, that the racial politics in America had been dealt another blow. Maybe we weren't as far along as we thought.

Chapter 2

Katniss is too stunned to do much of anything for a few seconds, but as her sister steps toward the stage she snaps out of it and screams: “I volunteer!” What? Very quickly she explains to us that people can volunteer if they want to go in another's place. Oh, well that's good! Prim wraps herself around her older sister and begs her not to go, and Katniss has to fight the urge to cry while she shakes the little bitch off. She notes that if people see her crying on the news, she'll be marked as an easy target; there's no crying in Hunger Games ball. Katniss's sudden presence causes some procedural confusion on the stage—I guess people don't volunteer all that much—but she is quickly introduced to the crowd as their female “tribute.” And then something interesting happens.

To the everlasting credit of the people of District 12, not one person claps...I stand there unmoving while they take part in the boldest form of dissent they can manage. Silence.

Instead, nearly every person in the crowd “touches the three middle fingers of their left hand to their lips and holds it out” to Katniss. (Did you try to imitate the gesture? It's OK, I did too. Were you not really sure which fingers were your THREE middle ones? It's OK, I wasn't either.) She says it's an antiquated gesture meaning “thanks,” “admiration” and “good-bye to someone you love.” Now, we barely know Katniss, and this is a gesture we are JUST hearing about now. That this image is still powerful, moving even, is sort of unusual. I don't know why I care yet, but I care already!

And then Haymitch, the former District 12 champion, stumbles drunkenly in front of the camera and falls off the stage like Ryan Adams. Ah, well.

The bulk of this chapter is actually an extremely detailed flashback, because the name of the male tribute is called and it's a dude named Peeta Mellark, a “stocky” blonde guy with alarmed blue eyes. Let me guess, is he Polish? (I can make Pollack jokes because my old roommate Paul was Polish and here's a true story: it literally took four of him to change a lightbulb once.) Anyway, it turns out he and Katniss have a history. No, not like that, perverts. Our narrator recalls the few months after her father's death in which her family began to starve—we find out that rather than get a job to provide for her family, Mother Everdeen just retreated inside herself (and not in a sexy way). Starvation happens all the time in her district, Katniss says, but officials always list something else as the cause of death like “exposure.” Because they don't want it to look like their citizens are starving? Um, why is it called THE HUNGER GAMES then? Wouldn't THE PLENTIFUL MILK AND HONEY DEATH MATCH be a better title?

Anyway with her mom hidden away at home in her blanket-fort of sorrow, eleven-year-old Katniss was forced to act. But there's only so much an eleven-year-old can do to run a household without the annual rations provided by Hunger Games eligibility—Katniss & Prim's Homemade Lemonade only brings in a couple of nickels unless it's a really hot day, you know? So our heroine goes wandering through the negro streets at dawn with her purgatoried torso looking for an angry fix when she stumbles into the Mellark family backyard, transfixed by the smell of bread. Mr. Mellark is a baker, and Mrs. Mellark is, as it turns out, a big ol' bitch. She tries to chase Katniss away and then goes back into the house to beat her son for burning two loaves of bread. Peeta comes outside then and casually tosses the burned loaves to poor, starving Katniss.

Peeta's so discrete about the whole action that we can't tell how premeditated it was—did he burn the bread on purpose so he could give it to her? The next day, at school, Katniss sees him (with a big bruise on his face) staring at her. She looks down at her feet to avoid him and sees the first dandelion of the season, which gives her hope that she'll be able to keep her family alive. It's a heavily symbolic moment for our narrator (I mean she pretty much says “it's a pretty important motif in my story—I mean life”) and ever since, springtime and survival and Peeta and bread and pita bread are all associated in her brain. Back in the present, Katniss is pissed because she never even thanked Peeta for the whole thing and now she has to kill him. Ain't that always the way?

Stray Notes & Questions
  • I'm starting to come around to the present tense thing. The overwhelming consensus last time was that doing so creates a sense of urgency. Okay, fine, but Edgar Allan Poe wrote “The Masque Of The Red Death” in past-tense and still managed, you know? Past-tense is (or was) the English-Lit, Western-Civ standard. It's also a little bit harder to do—part of me feels like writing fiction in the present tense is setting the cognitive bar a little low for your readers. Am I being a tense snob?
  • This is hard to work into a re-cap, but there's a recurring jokes about odds that I'm enjoying so far. Effie Trinket, one of the HG officials, has a little catch-phrase: “May the odds be ever in your favor.” The first time we hear it, Katniss and Gale are mocking it while they hunt. Katniss references it a few more times before Effie Trinket actually says it herself. And several times in this chapter, Katniss will comfort herself with the probability that she won't have to do something only to recall that the odds are rarely, if ever, in her favor. I see what you are doing there, Katniss.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

BLOGGING THE HUNGER GAMES, pt. 1: Papa Was A Rodeo

So, here we go! Blogging The Hunger Games! If you're new to this blog you should know that you by no means have to read along with me. I will do my best to make everything clear to even the non-reader, and you can still make lots of sex jokes with us in the comments. If you ARE reading along though, as many of you planned to do, I really want to hear from you! What were your first impressions of chapter 1?

Part 1: The Tributes

When I was little, my brother and sister and I liked to play a game with our babysitters called “Guess That Spice.” The way it worked was, we'd blindfold the sitter, sit her down in front of the spice cabinet, and proceed to hold various jars of herbs and powders under her nose. The punchline to the game, such as it was, was that after oregano and thyme and what have you we would subject them to powdered mustard, which to us was the worst smell/concept imaginable. And then we'd all have a weird laugh. It was one of our better games—much better than when we'd play “toll booth” on our bikes, riding in endless circles and handing a rock to a standing friend in the middle of each lap—and I look back on it fondly. I'm assuming this series, The Hunger Games, is about similar sorts of innocent fun activities between children.

Chapter 1

Our narrator wakes up to find herself alone in bed. That's always a drag, but it turns out she's only looking for her sister anyway. Said sister is named Prim, and with a name like that somehow I doubt she's passed out in a gutter somewhere after a night of hard-partying. Indeed she's in bed with their mother, for “this is the day of the reaping.” So that doesn't sound good.

Our narrator gets up, looks at her sister fondly and her mother not so fondly, puts on her hunting boots, and heads out. She describes the way her “district,” known as “the Seam” is usually “crawling with coal miners” at this time of day:

Men and women with hunched shoulders, swollen knuckles, many who have long since stopped trying to scrub the coal dust out of their broken nails, the lines of their sunken faces.

Sounds like a Springsteen song. But all the broken heroes have the day off for The Reaping, which, again, doesn't sound like a birthday party (but DOES sort of sound like a volume of E Street Band b-sides). I can sense that sooner or later we're headed for a long bout of exposition, explaining what the districts are and what The Reaping is and why our narrator hates her mother, but Suzanne Collins thankfully puts that off for a while and lets a few minor details of the world seep in like so much coal dust.

(It certainly could have gone the other way. I mean, what if this book started with “My name is Katniss Everdeen and today I'm going to tell you about something called The Hunger Games”?)

Our narrator hops a fence that “in theory” is supposed to be electrified 24/7, but the so-far so-nebulous dystopian government is too cheap to pay for it. That's a cool detail, evocative of North Korea, and even gnarlier is a passing reference to the existence of cannibals roaming on the other side of the fence, which is part of the reason our narrator retrieves a bow and arrows she's stashed in a tree. Her father taught her to use the bow before he was “blown to bits in a mine explosion” five years ago. “There was nothing even to bury,” she says. Yikes. Coming down from the risk-free, deathless environment of Twilight, this shit is no joke! Anyway dad crafted several bows our narrator keeps stashed in various places (“If there's a bow stashed in the woods in Act I, someone will shoot it in Act III.”-Suzanne Chekov), and we're told he could have made money selling them but if he'd been caught he'd have been “publicly executed for inciting a rebellion.” With bows and arrows? Why are tyrannical governments so insecure? Buy a goddamned sports car, tyrants!

Our narrator tells us she was quite the budding radical as a child—that she'd spout off anti-government rhetoric at the market, terribly embarrassing her mother, Mrs. Levov—but that sooner or later she learned to hold her tongue (“If there's a silenced dissident on the wall in Act I...”).

In the woods our narrator, who we learn is named Katniss, meets her platonic friend Gale, the only person she can be herself around. She assure us that there's nothing romantic between them, that even though he's very handsome she's never thought of him that way and even though she gets jealous when girls swoon over him it's because she's afraid to lose her hunting partners. Okay, sure.

Hmmm. So Katniss is all “fuck bitches, get money” and her best friend with whom she emphatically is not involved is named Gale. Is she Oprah?

Katniss and Gale apparently have the same black hair, olive skin and “gray eyes.” I'm imagining the kind of future race Time Magazine wrote about a few years ago—a blend of everything. Oddly, though, Prim and Katniss's mom have “light hair and blue eyes.” That might be worth keeping in mind (“If there are white people on the wall in”—okay, I'll stop now). Katniss refers to her mother again and explains that she went catatonic after her husband's death, leaving our narrator to pick up the slack. Wait a minute. We've got a main character here who is going to be played by Jennifer Lawrence. Her mother is catatonic, her father is gone, and Gale refers to catching a squirrel to prepare as a meal. Stop me if you've heard this one before:
That's pretty weird. Or maybe Jennifer Lawrence has weirdly specific demands for the movies she appears in. “Is my mom catatonic? Can I eat a squirrel? I'm in.” I'm assuming those scenes were cut from X-Men: First Class and will be on the DVD.

Gale and Katniss hunt, then hawk their wares in the Seam's black market; there's a kind of old Soviet vibe to the Seam, what with the coal and incompetent leaders and the easy-going corruption. And indeed they even sell picked strawberries at the back door of the mayor's house, which is about as heavy as you can make your hands, so to speak, without being ridiculous.

At the mayor's backdoor, Gale has a vaguely class-conscious tiff with Madge, the mayor's daughter. She's dressed up for The Reaping and mentions the possibility of “going to the Capitol.” Gale sardonically implies that because of her wealth, that will never happen. But rich people always go to the Capitol, Gale! Or is that a bad thing here? And here is where we finally get that deluge of exposition. The first of many, but whatever, you gotta serve somebody.

The Reaping is basically a casting call for the Hunger Games (not that we really know what those are yet), and every child in every district is liable to be drafted. Starting at age 12 and ending at 18, you put your name into the lottery; the “catch” is that each year you put your name in one more time than the last, so it's biased toward older kids. But poor families can enter the names of their children multiple times in exchange for more food rations (tesserae), so it's also biased against lower income brackets (Gale's folks are so hard up that he's in the lottery forty-two times). We're getting shades of Vietnam now, and it's a little unclear how people have different income levels in this socialist coal-mining town, but whatever.

The direction of the satire, in terms of left or right on the political spectrum, is hard to place, but dystopian sci-fi is smart to avoid being too direct with its political imagery. There's a reason that Tea Partiers can evoke George Orwell now and liberals got to evoke him under Nixon and Reagan: 1984 is about the potential evil of government in the vaguest way possible. Orwell certainly had his targets in mind, but the book still works today. If you get too specific, like say Dante Alighieri did (creating thinly veiled versions of his rivals as inhabitants of hell), your work won't stand the test of time. So The Hunger Games is anti-government but also anti-oligarchy, which tends to be what anti-governmental policies create. Here's Katniss trying to square that circle:

And even though the rules were set up by the Capitol, not the districts, certainly not Madge's family, it's hard not to resent those who do not have to sign up for tesserae.

Katniss goes home to find her mother (who is not catatonic anymore, I guess? It might be confusion borne from the somewhat awkward present-tense narration) and sister ready to go. She bathes and gets dressed herself, dealing with big-sister dread over the fact that this is Prim's first Reaping and she's powerless to protect her. Her name's only entered once though, so she should be fine. Right? RIGHT!? They file into the town square and are sorted by age group. Katniss describes a bit of the macabre scene, with camera crews hovering predator-like on the rooftops and Mundungus Fletcher types taking bets among members of the aged-out population.

The mayor gets up and reads a little propaganda piece about the formation of their nation, detailing the droughts and storms that destroyed North America and the rebel uprising that led to the current state of affairs. Want a little more detail about the stuff that brought our empire down? Too bad, Katniss just summarizes rather than sharing the actual dialogue with us. I guess we'll have to wait a few years and see!

The aforementioned uprising is the reason for the Hunger Games. The proletariat finally did rise up and were defeated (Sorry, Karl Marx, turns out we had more to lose than our chains!) and now children from each district are essentially sacrificed once annually, in a battle to death, to keep the people humble. Yikes, Panem! Even a notorious asshole like God had the decency to yell “Psyche!” before Abraham could swing the ax, you know? Again, there are sports cars for this kind of inferiority complex. (If only God drove a Ferrari, right? Shit, that could be a dynamite new ad campaign.)

The last child standing is rewarded with a year's supply of plentiful food for their home district, but District 12 is having a Curse of the Bambino kind of situation. Maybe this will be their year! Except no, no it won't, because a lady named Effie Trinket (of all things) gets up to select the female draftee and it's Prim. Oh snap.

Stray notes & questions
  • I have nothing to say about the fact that this book is written in present tense other than it is sort of weird. Or is it? Are there many other notable novels written this way? Is it a YA thing?
  • I wanted to downshift the sex jokes on this blog—they reached a fevered, orgasmic pitch at the end of Twilight—but Katniss is making it so hard for me (is what Gale said). The smell of bread makes her mouth “flood with saliva.” The taste of a berry “explodes across [her] tongue.” Katniss, my laptop practically inserts blowjob jokes automatically at this point. Watch yourself.
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