And my favorite read for 2010 is (drummmmrrrrrrooooooollll) Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games Trilogy.
Though I said in my previous post that my choice is somewhat predictable, it actually came as a surprise to me that this emerged as my best read for the year.
First off, I am not particularly fond of the YA genre. I don't dislike it, but sometimes, YA makes me feel old, mocking me, reminding me how the young adult experience is so far removed from my current midlife status. It makes me a little sad that it seems ages since I came of age. So, I usually end up reading stories that resonate more with the soccer mom within me. Secondly, I don't like war themes. I am of the school of thought of the 1980s era philosopher Boy George who averred that war is stupid. It is.
So it is surprising that this is my choice.
I also didn't want to choose this because it was such a commercial hit, and I would have preferred to impress others with something more esoteric so I would seem deep and offbeat. But, when I looked at my list of reads, the trilogy really was the one that made the biggest impact on me.
This was my review of the trilogy, which would explain what the book made me feel. But several months after reading the books, I saw something different in my reading experience that propelled the set to my number one spot. It really goes beyond the book itself, beyond whether the book is likable or not, well written or not.
Sometime last year, I spoke at a digital publishing conference, Future of the Book. There, I shared my online book club experience, and I talked about how the usual solitary activity of reading has been transformed by digitalization into a shared reading experience, one that involved multiple media and an all-star cast of readers, one that transported the reader out of the armchair into a more social, kinetic, sensory milieu. And my experience with the trilogy perfectly illustrates that phenomenon.
The experience started with Hunger Games, the first of the series. Discussion boards were abuzz with readers' reactions to the book. It was violent. It was exciting. It was incredible. A breath-stopping page-turner. And people could not wait for the sequel. I succumbed to the social pressure, so I borrowed my niece's copy and read it. And I was suckered like everybody else. Suzanne Collins is a skilled writer who can make you flip pages furiously.
Then, our book club discussed the book. A lot of movies and comedy shows parody book club meetings as events where boring, bored, lonely housewives sit in a sea of chintz as they sip hot tea and eat soggy cucumber sandwiches. Our book club is so not like that.
The Hunger Games discussion was preceded by a paintball fight. I didn't join because I hate wearing those uniforms awash with other people's sweat, but I know that the other Flippers had tons of sweaty fun and were energized for the discussion. Flipper and book blogger Peter (rhyming) lead the discussion at R.O.X. at Bonifacio High Street. Not your usual reading group venue. The discussion was lively, and the quiz game and the prizes by Scholastic made it even more exciting.
Can you see what I mean about turning reading into a shared event?
It didn't end there. In August, Scholastic launched the last book of the series, Mockingjay, in an event that included Live Action Role Playing (LARP) games and all the usual product launch gimmicks -- themed cocktails, tattoo booths, a photo wall. Plus the not so usual -- some bloodshed. Scholastic invited Flips Flipping Pages to participate in the discussion, and I was so thrilled to see our logo co-branded in the promotional tarpaulin. And even though at that time I had not yet read Catching Fire and Mockingjay, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Not content with all that, our book club also conducted an unofficial discussion on the trilogy. I forced myself to read books two and three in 2 days, so that I could participate.
A lot of people were disappointed with Mockingjay. And I definitely agree with most of their arguments about why it sucked. Like some of the haters, I also was not happy about how much time Katniss spent sleeping, hiding in closets, and being a lame prop. But, because I read the two books as if they're one, book two's exciting parts made up for book three's more lethargic segments. Plus, I particularly enjoyed the last parts of Mockingjay when the ragtag team of warriors stormed the Capitol. I thought that was packed with excitement that created stunning cinematography in the movie in my mind. Those parts compensated for the book's bad parts.
The part I remember best was when little parachutes fell from the skies; this segment left a vivid imprint in my highly charged imagination. It was also the part I hated the most because it involved the death of a character I didn't want to die.
I finished the book, breathless and emotionally drained. Because of the many negative reactions to Mockingjay, I first could not decide if I liked the book or not. But as I drove to the discussion and processed my shock, anger, and imagined loss, I decided that I really liked the read.
Flipper Jan Ruiz led the discussion by asking thought provoking questions and dazzling us with fabulous slide transitions. And even after the live discussion, she carried the discussion online, so that those who were absent could participate.
Fast forward to last weekend. I finally bought my own boxed set of the trilogy a few hours before our discussion of our Best and Worst reads of 2010. National Book Store even gave me a leather bookmark as a freebie. And I shared with the 35 or so readers present why the Hunger Games trilogy was 2010's best read. That rounds up my Hunger Games experience.
Anyway, my point for all of the above is that reading Hunger Games went beyond just reading the book. It was an experience that lasted for months and involved social interaction, a reading experience I would remember for a long time.
My last point. I only had a minute to share my best book choice, so I only focused on the book's commercial success. I said that it pleases me when authors earn rock star pay for their efforts to keep the reading industry alive and assure us that there will always be new generations of avid readers. It's true. It's utterly unfair when writers are starving and only those with movie star looks and athletic talent can rake in the millions. So, when authors break through and get richly rewarded for their dedication to their craft, I want to cheer them on.
Kudos to Scholastic for hyping this book, for competing with all the media noise dominated by soda brands and skin whitening products, and promoting books so that more people would read. Kudos to Suzanne Collins for writing with the readers in mind while still staying true to her vision for the book. And kudos to readers, whether or not they liked the Hunger Games trilogy, for preserving the wonderful art, sport, and passion that is reading.