Friday, September 30, 2011

THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games is a 2008 young-adult science fiction novel by Suzanne Collins, and the first in a trilogy. In a post-apocalyptic dystopian totalitarian state, children are selected to fight to the death on live television.

This is hardly an original idea; it’s most strongly reminiscent of Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale and, to a lesser extent, Stephen King’s The Long Walk and The Running Man (the movie more so than the novella). Yet Collins manages to keep the setting and the games themselves reasonably fresh. And, after something of a slow start, the book becomes an entertaining, page-turning affair.

Like far too many recent young-adult novels, The Hunger Games is written in the first-person present tense. I don’t know if this is an attempt to engage teens perceived to have short attention spans or what, but it’s obnoxious, and it provides no benefit over conventional past tense (one eventually gets used to it, fortunately).  

Aside from this, Collins’ writing is solid (although the copy editing on this book is rather poor – not her fault). Katniss is a satisfactorily sympathetic character: she’s impulsive but self-sacrificing, and clever, resourceful, and self-sufficient without being deal-breakingly sassy or annoying. The book has a couple of convenient plot coincidences, but nothing unforgivable.

As young-adult books go, The Hunger Games might be as dark and violent as they come. And the novel stumbles here because it doesn’t seem to have much to say about its subject matter (beyond “the government making kids kill each other is bad”). The protagonist is forced to kill other children to survive (most of them, like her, are in this situation through no fault of their own) – you would think that this scenario would lend itself to some psychological self-exploration, but Collins punts on this issue, as Katniss, with only superficial reflection, is implausibly businesslike on the subject – she never thinks much about the people she’s killed, even during her many quiet times. This suggests a disturbing degree of amorality. It’s as though all these kids get dumped into the arena already in full-on Lord of the Flies mode. Collins herself seems much more interested in 1984-style criticism of totalitarian government, which is the subject she’s set herself up to address in the sequel. All of this may put off certain readers, and not unreasonably. In short, Collins’ treatment of moral issues is a legitimate concern, and a missed opportunity – her scenario, unlike, say, The Running Man, doesn’t lend itself well to action movie-style morality.

On the whole, The Hunger Games, while hardly a perfect book, is suspenseful and entertaining, which always overcomes a lot of flaws. It’s recommended to readers who like this sort of thing – if you can acknowledge the moral issues.  


Friday, September 16, 2011


The Subversive Copy Editor: Advice from Chicago is a 2009 book on editing by Carol Fisher Saller, a senior manuscript editor at the University of Chicago Press. The book’s subtitle is How to Negotiate Good Relationships with Your Writers, Your Colleagues, and Yourself, and this is Saller’s primary focus.

The Subversive Copy Editor is divided into two sections: one on dealing with the writer and working on behalf of the reader, and the other on working with colleagues. Saller’s advice, generally, is to take a common-sense and courteous approach to dealing with anyone and everyone. Her insight into the dynamics of the copy editor’s working relationships is probably the most valuable part of the book.

Much of the book seems geared toward new editors, and there’s a lot of basic, getting-started information here. On the whole, though, it isn’t very subversive – unless remaining calm and not killing yourself stressing out over minutiae is subversive.

Saller’s writing style is light and clever, and it makes this book generally enjoyable to read. Saller is also quick to discuss her own mistakes, which certainly helps the reader relate. Even if much of what she has to say isn’t profound, it’s nice to hear it from somebody who’s experienced and credible.

This is quite a short book, but the pace feels a little too leisurely at times, particularly as Saller seems to try to hit a number of disparate targets. Not everything in the book is for every copy editor, and few if any editors will find every chapter relevant or helpful. That said, though, most any editor can get something out of this book.

There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking here, but if you’re looking for an easy, common-sense book on copy editing, The Subversive Copy Editor is a winner.