March 30, 2012

My hunger for literature

I've never been much for fiction. I much prefer a true life story about some great human achievement like the Pyramids or Hoover Dam, or a gritty biographical story like "Team of Rivals" about Lincoln's Cabinet.

In high school I read my share of fiction, and my parents also took "Reader's Digest" which then serialized lots of popular stories of the day.

One non-fiction work I remember from RD was "Life Among the Savages" by Shirley Jackson. She wrote about parenting her children -- I think mostly sons -- in a very witty way, much like Jean Kerr did later in "Please Don't Eat the Daisies."

I got interested in Shirley Jackson and was thrilled when our freshman literature book (high school) contained a story by her called "The Lottery." Long build-up to my point, but yes, most of us are familiar with the building horror in that story.

I had not thought about it for a long time until I decided last week to read "The Hunger Games" which is very out of my comfort zone. I don't really like violence, and I don't think I've ever read a YA novel in my life. Missed all of Harry Potter and Twilight, but here I am now near the end of the second book, staying up way too late at night to find out what Katniss and Peeta will do next, rather, what will be done to them next.

Because the movie debuted last weekend, there's been much media coverage as well as discussion among the friends. Would you let your fourteen year old see the movie? Would you let your fourteen year old read the book?

I'm not sure about the movie, but I would have allowed my child to read the book at fourteen. I think it does depend on the child and his level of maturity at that time, but for this particular young man my husband (who is a librarian and avid reader) always provided our son books from the time he could read. The caveat here is that not only did he provide the books but then we all talked about them.

I've had some pretty intense discussions this week from people who think that was really the wrong approach. (And frankly, I will tell you that I wasn't too happy when Senior gave Junior something by Jacqueline Susann.
Here's the BUT in this discussion. But if you use the work as a springboard for discussion, reading books like "The Hunger Games" can be a very good thing. Since I started the series, I've been in disbelief, awe, horror, revulsion--well, most of the emotions I get when I watch the NBC "Nightly News."

A comment I heard was that "Why would you let your child see a movie or read a book like 'The Hunger Games' when a young man like Trayvon Martin is shot, most likely in cold blood?"

The reason is the same as it has always been. Literature (and I'm not debating the quality of a particular work here) broadens our horizons and makes us think about life's very difficult questions.

In high school I also read "Julius Caesar," "Lord of the Flies," and "To Build a Fire" for the first time. I distinctly remember my sophomore English teacher (poor dear was a little dotty and had a lisp) but I can hear in my head her lecture about man's inhumanity to man and man versus man and man versus nature.
In reality, we daily see examples of brute force, power usurped, murder by incredibly cruel means, and the ravaged victories of nature over man.

Letting your children -- at an age appropriate that you determine -- read or see such things as "The Hunger Games" gives them further understanding into a very difficult and complex world.