I think that many readers– myself included– fall prey to the common misconception that there are two distinct categories of literature. The first of these categories could be considered “hard literature” (I don’t know if these names already exist– I’m completely making them up on the spot). These are the texts we are often forced to read for literature classes, including the classics that sit on our dusty shelves until we eventually feel guilty enough to pick them up and crack open their stiff spines. An obvious name father opposing category would be “soft literature,” which encompasses those books that we willingly read for pleasure.
One of the greatest distinctions between these two categories in our minds is our purpose for reading them. The former, we read to analyze, think critically about, and learn from; the latter, we read to be entertained. While I have never been a resolute believer in this concept, until recently it has had at least a slight influence on the way I read. I didn’t realize this, however, until I was assigned to read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins in my Introduction to Literature class this past semester.
I read The Hunger Games a few years ago and loved it, but I hadn’t read it since then because the end of the trilogy had kind of put a sour taste in my mouth– but that’s a topic for another day. When I read books like this one I tend to view myself as a fan, but my professor was asking us to read this novel as both a fan and a critic. Intrigued, I was eager to experience the story from a different perspective than when I first read it.
What my class found through close reading and thought-provoking discussions was honestly extraordinary. I never imagined that there were such interesting, controversial undertones apart from the obvious themes involving insurgency, the proliferation of the media, and the ignorance of many people in modern-day society.
For example, we talked about how up until the Reaping when she is forced to wear a dress, Katniss does not necessarily have a clear, definitive gender. She hunts with Gale, wears masculine clothing and even takes on the role of the father figure in her house by providing for Prim and her mother. In contrast, Peeta embodies a much more feminine role compared to Katniss. As the son of a baker he is a very skilled cook and painter, both of which are generally considered to be feminine talents. These observations caused some people in my class to wonder whether or not Katniss was actually gender fluid. While I don’t particularly agree with that claim, it is nevertheless very interesting to think about.
Not only did I discover several deeper layers within this story that can be endlessly analyzed and contemplated, but my overall feelings towards the characters also changed in this second reading. When I first read The Hunger Games years ago I was a firm opponent of Peeta for some unknown reason. In my mind Gale was the more suitable partner for Katniss, and perhaps in some ways that is true. However, after having read the book again I have come to really appreciate and admire Peeta. He’s just an average, innocent guy trying his best to survive, and he has to deal with Katniss’ conflicting emotions regarding himself and the Games. People definitely don’t give him enough credit for his cleverness and ability to strategize. After all, he’s the one who furthers their “star-crossed lovers” image, which is essentially what allows them to survive. He also balances out Katniss emotionally, much more so than Gale. So I must admit that I’ve had a change of heart: I now believe that Peeta, not Gale, would ultimately be a better match for Katniss.
Overall, rereading The Hunger Games has reminded me of all the reasons why I loved it the first time around. It’s one of those books that you can’t help but get caught up in as soon as you start reading it. The concept of the story itself is absolutely brilliant, and I was glad to see that it was still able to excite me even though I knew how it would end. While it will never top some of my personal favorite books and series, it is still evident that Suzanne Collins has written a fantastic novel that will surely continue to captivate readers for years to come.
My Rating: :0) :0) :0) :0) 4 out of 5 smileys
Would I recommend it to a friend?: Yes! To all of my friends! (And maybe even to a stranger or two… it’s SO good!)
What are your thoughts on this book? What do you think about the concept of “hard” and “soft” literature? Let me know in the comments section below!