Finished “Catching Fire” by Suzanne Collins…

…and I’m already starting the third and final book in the “Hunger Games Trilogy,” Mockingjay. The second book ends with a bit of a cliffhanger, so I’m glad that I didn’t discover this series until all three had been published (I similarly lucked out earlier this year with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo books). I won’t review Catching Fire separately, but intend to write a longer post about my impressions after I’m done with the final installment. One review of the second book at I read online (I think it was Bloomberg.com) mentions something like ‘Collins has joined J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer as authors who have written books for children that adults want to read.’ I’d have to agree with that. I’ve been reading some ‘deeper’ stuff lately so these books have been a refreshing change.

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“Bread and Circuses” – Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I was pleasantly surprised by this book.  One of the many benefits of my joining the blogging community this year is that I’ve been made aware of many more books than in previous years.  This book, and the Hunger Games Series was frequently touted by the book blogs that I browse.  It’s another YA book (I seem to have read a lot of them this year: Beastly, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Twilight, etc.) that is told in the first person by a young, teenaged girl.  Maybe hard for me to relate to – but this was a good, quick-moving story that held my attention.

Described in one place online as “Gladiator meets Project Runway” (well, that’s catchy but not really accurate), it is a “dystopian novel” set in a future North America, where the tyrannical capital city oppresses twelve provinces (“Districts”) that once had the audacity to rebel, an action that reduced the number of districts from thirteen to twelve.  As punishment, there is an annual “Hunger Games” where two youths (one boy, one girl) from each district are chosen (by a complicated lottery) to participate in a battle to the death (nice central government, huh?).  The result is an imaginative story which, though not wholly original in concept, is very well done (reminiscent of, for example, the Theseus & the Minotaur myths, with similarities to the gladiator contests of ancient Rome, with bloodthirsty tv audiences – think of the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, The Running Man.  I was also reminded of the classic Shirley Jackson short story, The Lottery).

Oh, and the term “Bread and Circuses” comes down to us from the original satirist, Decimus Junius Juvenalis (commonly known as Juvenal) who lived in the 1st & 2nd Century A.D. who lamented that the once great Roman populace who “once bestowed commands, consulships, legions, and all else, now meddle no more and long eagerly for just two things – bread and circuses.”  Read “gladiatorial games” for circuses.  This is a sentiment those in the Capital City of “Panem” (the fictional country in these novels) would be familiar with.  In fact (wow) I just realized that panem is the latin word for bread, as in “panem et circenses”… I’m sure that’s intentional.  At least I think I am.

below: a close-up of Katniss’s “Mockingjay” pin.  In the novels, the Mockingjay is a new species of bird, resulting from the unintended breeding of the government’s genetically engineered “Jabber Jays” and female Mockingbirds.

The book is the first of three in the series, followed by Catching Fire (which I’ve already downloaded and begun reading) and Mockingjay, which was released just over a month ago, and for which the buzz about pointed me to Hunger Games.  I won’t spoil any more of the plot in this post, but I would recommend it as an entertaining and diverting read, no matter what your age.

Author Suzanne Collins