Ok, I admit it. Last night, when I was supposed to be diving brain-first into Terry Tempest Williams' "Refuge," I read the "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins instead. And as much as it pains my pretentious literature nerd soul to jump on the bandwagon, I'm hooked.
My editor loaned it to me for the weekend while she's at the New York Press Association conference, even as I rolled my eyes at the YA shot heard 'round the USA Today.
"Read it, you'll love it," she said. "I couldn't put it down," she said. "Text me as soon as you're finished," she said.
It was practically an assignment, so you can understand why I had to get right to "work."
Which is how I found myself sitting in my car that evening, waiting to cover a chamber of commerce meeting, with a large coffee and a thick young adult novel, trying to devour as many pages as I could before the clock ticked its way toward my next obligation.
Is "The Hunger Games" a well-written book? I don't think so, not by a long-shot. Collins' language is simplistic at best, trite and stilted at its lowest points. Her characters, for the most part, are broadly drawn, predictable and one or two-dimensional in the parody of teenagers that adult writers so often (probably accidentally) create. She makes only halfhearted attempts at world-building, relying on action to substitute for scene and character development.
But damn, is that action absorbing.
Let me just say that I have high standards for my reading material. Call me a spoiled MFA, but I like a book that captivates me, not only with its narrative, but the words used to convey it. I'm a sucker for a well-turned phrase and will happily spend days with an author whose voice I enjoy, whose syntax wraps me up like one of those synthetic blankets hotels always use between the top sheet and the comforter. I've been known to put aside a book not because the story wasn't interesting, but because I couldn't stand the way it was told.
When I first started "The Hunger Games," I frowned, scoffed, indignantly adjusted the seams of my leather-elbowed tweed blazer, swilled my aged scotch (metaphorically, of course, maybe) and texted a friend, "This is awful. Why am I reading this?"
She responded, "It's a literary big mac. You know it isn't any good, but you can't keep yourself from licking the wrapper."
I huffed and I puffed and I found myself blowing through the rest of the book in one greedy, delectable evening. To my surprise, around about page 300, I forgot the language was boring. I forgot Collins' abyssmal grammar frustrated me. I even forgot I didn't care about her characters or that her tendency toward explicit exposition got in the way of the story.
Because suddenly, it didn't. "The Hunger Games" is fast-paced enough to make the reader forgive its literary inadequacies, and where Collins falls down on the job, the reader's imagination can more than compensate. And for once, I didn't find myself resenting her for it.
"I love it. When can I get the next one?" I texted my editor after I blearily closed the cover of my latest guilty pleasure.
"I'll be back on Monday," she replied. "And I'll bring it to work with me."
Terry Tempest Williams glared at me from the tattered cover of her masterpiece as I put down my phone and sighed. Don't judge me, Terry. Like you never read "Us" magazine.
Monday can't come soon enough.