For "How Do I Love These Books? Let Me Count the Ways" I’ll be revisiting the first times I read books I love and reflecting on what connects me so strongly to those books.
The Hunger Games series
I was alone in a foreign country when I found The Hunger Games. Not technically alone—I was a student in a graduate program, an exile for a month. I didn’t know anything about Madrid except that I knew everything. History, art, food, music, culture. Turns out that’s nothing when you don’t know where the grocery store is. Daily life doesn’t hinge on a deep understanding of political history. I had my own little dorm room, private bathroom, true grad school luxury. I had classes in the mornings, incredible classes, but my afternoons and evenings were free (I didn’t have to do homework since I was basically auditing). With that free time I went to museums, walked the streets, and missed my home. I pulled, baffled, on the closed doors of the banks at 3 p.m. I went to restaurants at 10 p.m., the lone early dinner patron.
There were so many fascinating moments in that month, not the least of which was my doomed search for ice (at a bar! They laughed at me!). I made friends with a few darling girls who were my classmates, with whom I had some truly unforgettable evenings. But perhaps my need for stronger connections at that time precipitated my love of The Hunger Games. Perhaps my isolation fed my connection with the characters, who became so vibrant and real to me in that time. Haymitch and Peeta stand out. And that’s why I connected so strongly with The Hunger Games, because of characters who feel so real they’re in the room, breathing and blinking (or, in the case of Katniss, annoying me to death). I raced ahead, read and re-read, spending as much time with them as I could. Yes, I watched a lot of Psych and Parks and Rec, not to mention having actual real-world adventures with my friends and on my own. But I did spend a good amount of time with Peeta and Haymitch and Cinna (and, yes, Katniss), too.
Would I have had the same connections with the book had I not been in such a unique situation? It’s hard to say. A similar thing happened with the Harry Potter series, The Handmaid’s Tale, and I Know This Much Is True. And Bridget Jones, for that matter. Blog entries on all of those and more forthcoming. But the pattern is clear: the huge books in my life came in mostly with enormous emotional connections. They carried the seeds of things I needed to make sense of the new world in which I found myself. They helped me adjust, allowed me to escape and then gently steered me back out into the world a little more enlightened, a little less afraid.
For the record, Catching Fire is my favorite of the series.