Friday, March 23, 2012

Hungry for Entertainment?

The Hunger Games is out in theaters today and there is a great deal of chatter about it to say the least.  Fans of the books have been excited for weeks, counting down the days to its release.  Hollywood insiders are speculating this series will be far more popular than the Twilight movies and possibly on par with the Harry Potter films (go ahead and note my juxtaposition of the terms "movie" and "film" in that last sentence because it was intentional).

The Hunger Games books have action, suspense, drama, humor, violence and romance.  This is one of the reasons why they appeal to youth and adults.  What's not to like?

But this has also led to a number of people suggesting that the trend of adults fawning over young adult fiction indicates we, as a society, are becoming dumber.  What's next, wonders this critic, a dramatic film trilogy based on the Hardy Boys?  Perhaps adults will start buying chunky board books with soft, touchable bunny tails on the pages that they can stroke between their thumb and forefinger.  Maybe the next big movie-based-on-a-book that adults will be anticipating will be James Cameron's big budget production of The Velveteen Rabbit (spoiler alert: I hear the stuffed rabbit makes the kid really regret tossing him aside).

The issue I have with this stance is that it lumps all books that can be considered young adult fiction together.  To be certain, The Hunger Games is directed toward a younger audience than myself.  I won't argue with you there.  But there are certain novels in the young adult genre that are well written and can attract more mature readers.  For instance, I would have no problem suggesting an adult read The Phantom Tollbooth despite the fact that it is decidedly a children's book. I would not expect the same adult reader to enjoy the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books.  I see no problem with an adult reading and enjoying Harry Potter but would cast a sideways glance at one poring over The Boxcar Children series.  Books that fall within the young adult genre due to technicality are not all equal.  Some are quality literary works that can carry their weight with an older audience while others are meant for kids and still others are nonsense that pander to the adolescent masses, and that is fine.

What is more, I question anybody's right to tell someone else what is and is not acceptable literature.  Sometimes it's fun to read a book that is slightly below your average reading level.  It's relaxing.  It's good for your imagination to inject some creativity and whimsy into your day.

Of course, in saying that, I am guilty of generalizing about young adult fiction as well.  The Hunger Games is anything but whimsical.  On the contrary, the book series has a dark tone to it and is often violent and jarring in its imagery.  Its focus is on the effects that poverty, oppression and war have on children, specifically, and people in general.  In fact, I'm concerned that the film's PG-13 rating will not allow for much of the violence in the novels and will effect the power of its message.  After finishing the series I had an uneasy feeling in my stomach for several days.  If that isn't the mark of a decent book, I'm not sure what is.

Overall, I like hearing that any book is popular.  It renews my faith that western society is not crumbling into illiteracy.  It reminds me, as bookstores around the globe fold, that it is not so much because we don't read anymore as it is we have found other methods by which to do it.  The popularity of tablet readers like iBooks, the Kindle and the Nook give me hope.

So go ahead and enjoy that young adult fiction all you want, grown ups.  And while you're at it, pick up a comic book or a graphic novel or two.  I have plenty of suggestions if you're interested.  Then, if you need a break between chapters of Moby Dick or War and Peace, you can turn to one of them.

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