Let’s Talk Books – The Hunger Games Trilogy

Warning: Spoilers

The Hunger Games trilogy will always stand out to me because it’s one of the few series I’ve both heard of and read before a movie adaptation came out and the rest of the world jumped on the hyped-up bandwagon. If we’re being perfectly honest, when I first heard about The Hunger Games movie coming out in early 2012, I had a pretty smug attitude towards it. I was all like, “Oh, The Hunger Games? Yeah, that was actually a book. And, uh… yeah. I read it. No big deal.” (Although it’s not like I’ve been reading the series since it was first released; in fact, I barely made this cutoff by reading the trilogy in the summer of 2011, so I wasn’t too smug about it).

Anyway, Mockinjay Part 1 was just released (I’m never going to adjust to addressing movies in parts). One of my friends told me it wasn’t very good because nothing interesting happens in the first half of Mockingjay. I hardly even remembered anything about Mockingjay, let alone most of the series, so since people will probably be talking about it for a while, now would be a good time to reread the series.

The Hunger Games

One of the first things I noticed was how straightforward the narration is. I remember this being one of the stronger things about the series as a whole, and I’m glad to say it was still effective in the first book. Katniss paints a pretty good picture of what her life is like: illegally hunting for her own food to keep her little sister and mentally unstable mother fed, choking down a deep-seeded hatred and fear for the people that oppress them, following their ridiculous circumstances for living, and constantly feeling underfed and despaired. I got a pretty good idea of what her home life looked like, and its movie adaptation matched that image pretty well. The Hunger Games starts off pretty intensely for a young adult book, (I’d even argue for a book in general), and as a whole it keeps a decent rate of intensity throughout the entire novel.

One of the reasons this works so well is because of Katniss’ narration throughout the book. It’s almost written entirely around her own thoughts being portrayed to the reader, as there’s little dialogue between characters. Katniss’ commentary on the world is the novel’s strong point, so keeping conversations to a minimum isn’t an issue at all, especially because Katniss doesn’t trust many people and part of her struggle is identifying who to count on and who’s an enemy.

About half the book is spent preparing Katniss for The Hunger Games while depicting the Capitol that hosts it. Katniss lives in one of the twelve districts under the Capitol’s oppression, and every year two children from each district are chosen to fight each other to the death in an isolated arena for the Capitol’s amusement. Where life in the districts is poor, the Capitol thrives in trivialities; people dye their skin, get exaggerated haircuts, impractical, flashy clothes… basically, the Capitol is supposed to represent a wasteful, rich tyrant. This first half of the book includes sending Katniss through a number of makeovers to impress the Capitol and get their support for her in the Games. A bit dragged out, but it does a good job at identifying the type of people each side represents.

The second half takes place in the Games, following Katniss and her iron will to survive. You might think reading 200 pages of what’s essentially one of Lost‘s season one episodes may not be entirely thrilling compared to watching it, but it’s done surprisingly well. There’s some confusion that constantly trips Katniss up regarding the other chosen person from her district; prior to the start of the Games, they were supposed to be allied as long as possible, but he’s off doing his own thing. Katniss spends the majority of her time avoiding other people and obstacles while using her hunting skills to survive. Eventually she makes an alliance with a girl named Rue, who reminds Katniss of her sister back home. Katniss eventually loses her to another contestant, and she makes a memorial for her. Doing so shows an act of defiance to the Capitol, and unbeknownst to Katniss, starts a chain of events among the districts that leads to a rebellion during later books.

Katniss and her other district tribute, Peeta, eventually find each other and continue (well, more like finally begin) the alliance they were supposed to have. Earlier in the book, during an interview that was being broadcast to the Capitol, Peeta admitted he was in love with Katniss. Their mentor suggested rolling with a star-crossed lovers bit in order to gain sympathy and better support from the Capitol viewers while they performed in the Games. Peeta, who is now badly injured, provides an opportunity for Katniss to nurse him back to health, increasing the intensity of the fake romance they’re supposed to have.

This romance is actually an extremely interesting part that shows a lot about Katniss. If you’ve never read or watched The Hunger Games before, you may have heard how she’s an amazing role model of a character, especially compared to Bella from Twilight, which was extremely popular around the time The Hunger Games was first released. And there’s good reasons for that claim; she’s an independent woman, was forced to grow up too young, is realistic, supportive of those she loves, and is able to adapt to change. She’s a very strong character in these regards, but she is also very weak in others. Katniss naturally has a difficult time trusting other people, especially Peeta. Peeta, who’s from the same home as her, supposed to naturally be on her side, is an enemy in the end, and his survival in the Games means her death. They’re forced to be enemies, but he said he loves her, and now she has to pretend to love him back in order to put on a good show. She comforts him, holds him, kisses him, displays so much intimacy she doesn’t really mean just to survive.

The thing is, Peeta isn’t putting on a show. He really loves Katniss. Katniss is playing with his heart. At times, disturbingly so, especially when she thinks about what her relationship with another friend from home is like. She’s doing what she has to do, and it’s cruel, and she forces herself not to feel guilty for it because that’s eventually going to lead to her death. This romance shows a dark, unlikable side of Katniss that’s a polar opposite of the role model she’s often portrayed as. And although she (and most other characters, for that matter) have cliche personalities, she makes for an extremely complex character.

She eventually defies the Capitol again by suggesting a suicide pact with Peeta when they’re the last two tributes. Before they can kill themselves, the Capitol stops them and declares them both winners. Again, this continues a chain of events that leads to rebellion in the next two books, but at the moment Katniss has no idea what her actions have caused (both for the Capitol and Peeta).

Overall, I really liked the first book. For a young adult novel, it can get pretty dark, although it never strayed too far from the level of intensity it started with. Definitely recommend reading it if you haven’t yet, the writing style fits this particular entry extremely well and provides an experience you can’t get with the film.

Catching Fire

When I told a friend I was rereading The Hunger Games, she took the words right out of my mouth when she said Catching Fire is a very “middle” book. The “middle” of many series, whether they’re books, movies, video games, or even TV shows, has the unfortunate role of providing a sort of “filler” between the beginning and end of the overarching story. It can never really provide a beginning the way its previous entries can, and it usually doesn’t provide any sort of conclusion. It’s not a law that the mid-book in a trilogy has to suck, but Catching Fire, unfortunately… does, for lack of a better word.

Okay, it doesn’t really suck, but it was noticeably disappointing my second time reading it. It starts several months after the first book ends. Katniss and Peeta are living with more comfortable conditions because of their victory in the Games, although Peeta’s pretty pissed off that Katniss doesn’t share his feelings. They’re noticeably more formal with each other, but it’s done mostly out of spite. Katniss has also started recognizing her feelings for Gale, her friend from the first book that seemed like he was going to be important but was only really around for the first couple of chapters. This is also the same guy I mentioned earlier, the one that distracts Katniss from the fake relationship with Peeta even further.

Yeah, now we have a love triangle. Granted, you could see this coming all the way from the beginning of the first book, but now it’s official. I’ll just say this right now, all that stuff I said about Katniss’ darker side gets even more complex now. Katniss switches back and forth between liking (or seeming to like) Gale and Peeta, and she hurts both of them constantly throughout the rest of the series. It’s almost childish, actually. She switches so easily, and I hate saying that because the narration definitely says what a hard time she has understanding her feelings and the situation, but… well, it just doesn’t do a good enough job, I guess. Or rather, it could be doing a better one.

Catching Fire is where I started noticing how this trilogy has a lot of potential for complex storytelling but doesn’t take the risks necessary to reach greater heights. I mentioned before how none of the characters have much of a personality beyond a standard trait or two. For example, Katniss, buries her emotions and feelings and does whatever she has to for survival. Gale is strong and is driven by a hatred for the Capitol. Peeta is emotional, but artistic. They’re not exactly boring, but you’ve probably seen these characters before.

So wouldn’t this love triangle (that, again, Twilight had influenced so many things to try during the time this book came out) be so much more interesting if we really got the time to know each character? Yeah, man! Too bad Catching Fire decides to spend a solid two-thirds of the book telling the same Capitol tour story the first book gave.

And yeah, you hardcore Hunger Games enthusiasts, it’s not exactly the same. Katniss and Peeta tour the districts and give speeches the Capitol prepares for them. Except, not really. Katniss and Peeta choose their own words and end up inspiring some of the districts to rebel. President Snow, the leader of the Capitol, ain’t too happy. He even started the book by surprising Katniss in her home, basically saying “Don’t fuck with me.” Now he’s pissed, and puts Katniss and Peeta in the next Hunger Games, under the guise that it’s the 75th anniversary of the Games and a special rule will be chosen from a box. The rule states this Games will include tributes that have already won existing games (the winners are supposed to be immune from being chosen again).

He’s a swell guy.

So basically this, and all the makeover sessions, is what most of this book is about. I guess you can say we start seeing the flames of rebellion starting to grow (Catching Fire? Get it? Ha.) between bouts of love triangles and new dresses, but ultimately it’s just showing how evil the Capitol is all over again, only longer. It was okay during the first book, when we were getting to know the world, but now that we’ve got a pretty good grasp on it, wouldn’t it have been better to start focusing more on character development? I can’t say it’s not there, but it’s certainly not enough to stand out.

In fact, I’ll just say it. It was a chore to get through Catching Fire. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t until the actual Games started two-thirds in until the book began to get interesting. I finished the first book within a week; it took me three to motivate myself enough to finish this one.

But just so you don’t think I completely hate it, I will say the Games are much, much more interesting this time around. The first book was basically a forest, which worked well because it suited Katniss’ isolated personality and promoted the tone of the book. But the new arena is smaller, forcing the tributes to meet more quickly, and it’s rounded, with jungles on the outside and water on the inside, with a beach balancing between the two. The arena is divided into twelve sections, each representing a clock (and district?), and every hour one of the sections has some kind of horrible event occur.

Here’s the tricky part. Katniss and Peeta have formed alliances with a number of different tributes that ultimately become “the good guys.” There are some small reflections how only one of them will walk out alive, but you get this overall sense of teamwork that makes the entire experience seem completely different. What made The Hunger Games a good book was the narration; so much of it took place inside Katniss’ head, and that complimented the lonely, dark feeling the story had. Now we have a whole bunch of characters talking with each other all the time, which wouldn’t be so bad, except…

The writing style never adapted to this.

So I don’t know if this is something everyone may get, but the font size, style, length of paragraphs, and many other technical aspects of writing can go a long way towards influencing the readers’ perception of a story. In the first book, where there was a lot of narration and not so much dialogue, the writing style works, but here there’s significantly more dialogue and the way it’s combined with the narration feels… sloppy.

It may just be a me thing, but it kind of irked me how a simple back and forth conversation feels like it takes forever when the dialogue is sprinkled among descriptions and narration. I know that may sound stupid, but for me it’s extremely distracting. Like everything blends together, and since a lot of details are often being given within fairly large paragraphs to start with, just looking at the page, let alone absorbing information, can be a little taxing.

Like I said, the writing style in The Hunger Games works so well because it compliments Katniss, her thoughts, and her acting by herself. I’m not saying adding so many new characters and conversations is a bad thing (in fact, it makes the overall story more interesting), but Catching Fire is such a different type of story than the first book, and I feel like the writing style needed to change along with it to be more effective. I don’t know if that makes sense, I’ve always had trouble explaining this type of thing, but hopefully I’ve made my point.

Mockingjay

The last book starts very… awkwardly. Some time has passed since the end of the previous book, just like Catching Fire, but at least then we were back in familiar territory with familiar characters. Mockingjay starts in District 13, long-thought destroyed and abandoned by the Capitol. In reality, its inhabitants have lived underground, preparing for another rebellion against the Capitol once it has enough support. Katniss, after being rescued from the Games at the end of the second book, is adjusting to life here and learning that the rebels aren’t much better than the Capitol. She’s constantly being remade into a symbol that can spark all districts to unite and fight as one (so basically, more makeovers).

The reason it’s so awkward is because there’s a slew of characters introduced that I honestly can’t even remember. There’s Coin, the president of District 13, and Boggs, this solider guy Katniss seems to respect, but that’s it. There’s a bunch of other names for a bunch of other characters with small roles that are ultimately so forgettable you have to wonder what the point of even naming them were.

Aside from that, I never really understood what District 13 is. It’s supposed to be underground, and it seems like it’s pretty far down there, but they launch hovercrafts to all over the country like it’s no big deal, and there are times when it seems like Katniss is outdoors entirely while in the district. The other two books gave me a pretty good idea of what the world looked like, but Mockingjay seems so disorienting in comparison.

It also didn’t help that once they started ground combat in the districts and Capitol, everything was basically a war zone, with buildings being destroyed and all that jazz. In terms of place, Mockingjay may have well been a dream where random scenes are loosely connected.

However, the narration and descriptions seemed to come back to the level of effectiveness the first book had. The awkward mishmash of dialogue and narration is still there, but this is probably the most intense book in the series. After a certain point, it felt like every chapter ended on such a graphic or strong depiction of something. It also helps that Katniss is the most mentally unstable she’s ever been. I don’t know why the end of the second book affected her in a more dramatic way than the first, but Katniss has become distrustful of almost everyone. Her love triangle continues, even when brainwashed Peeta, who was captured by the Capitol at the end of the second book, returns and tries to kill Katniss. Both of them are extremely unstable, and I think the book does a good job at showing what being used can feel like. And then, perhaps my favorite revelation of the entire series, happens when Katniss realizes she’s a cold monster for the way she’s switched back and forth between Gale and Peeta. Again, it would have been more interesting and sympathetic if we got to know every character a little better, but at least Mockingjay took this in a unique direction by showing Katniss realize what she did. And make us feel like she did.

Mockingjay is a bit odd because even after everything that’s happened, it’s still so forgettable for me. It’s not really about anything but the war on the capitol, and the series transformed from a dystopian survival story into a science fiction war story, and the transition feels nonexistent. I heard Mockingjay was rushed because of deadlines, and it sort of feels like it. It’s not that it doesn’t feel like a finale, it feels like it’s missing a book between this and Catching Fire. There’s such a dramatic shift in genre that it honestly doesn’t feel like a Hunger Games book, but some parallel world of one.

Overall, what did I think of this series after rereading it? Well, I certainly didn’t enjoy it as much as my first time, but I still had a good enough time. The first book was good, the second not so much, and the third, well… the third was something, all right. If you want to give the series a shot, but don’t know if you want to commit yourself the whole way through, you’re in luck. This happens to be one of those trilogies where the first book handles well enough as its own thing. If you like it and want to explore more of this world and story, there are two more books. If not, well no harm done.

But as a final note, I wanted to say this would make a much more interesting TV series. I’ve watched both the first and second movies while rereading the books, and honestly, I think there’s just so much more potential for a deeper story than either the books or movies could handle. I think extending each book into its own season can give room for some much needed character development. For example, it’s supposed to be so cruel for Katniss to learn to distance herself and kill other teens in the first book. Wouldn’t it be more intense if an entire episode was dedicated to her growing closer to Rue and pushing away thoughts of eventually having to kill her, and then having another episode dedicated to finding Rue’s killer, showing a more animalistic, savage side to her as she hunts him down?

How about Cato, the “bad guy” of the first book? We don’t really know him too well, do we? He’s one of the kids trained to fight in the Games his whole life, and he’s painted as sort of a villain for the sake of having one. What if there was an episode where we got to know him more? Show how he used his other teammates and disposed of them when they were no longer needed (you know, that’s actually longer than a couple of brief scenes). Or show the episode from his perspective; have some flashbacks of a terrified child forced to become a killing machine. His death would certainly seem more powerful than how it was in either the book or movie.

Just a thought. Anyway, I’m glad I finally revisited the series, but I’m definitely ready to read something else now. ALL of this aside, I’m not much a fan of reading a series of books in the first place, so take this as you will. Happy New Year! 🙂

Info for my edition of The Hunger Games:

  • Published 2008 by Scholastic Press
  • Hardcover, 374 pages
  • ISBN 978-0-439-02348-1

Catching Fire:

  • Published 2009 by Scholastic Press
  • Hardcover, 391 pages
  • ISBN 978-0439-02349-8

Mockingjay:

  • Published 2010 by Scholastic Press
  • Hardcover, 390 pages
  • ISBN 978-0-439-02351-1
Advertisements

Top 10 Books I’ve Read in 2014

I’ve always wanted to make a top 10 list. So why not? Let’s do it. I was going to save this for my last post of 2014, but I’m pretty sure there’s going to be one more Let’s Talk Books segment before the year is over, and since I’m fairly certain my last book to read this year isn’t going to make the top 10, I don’t see why I can’t present this one week earlier. (Ha. Present. Christmas is this week. That’s funny to me.)

First, I want to say this list does not contain books solely released this year, so if anyone has stumbled upon this post looking for the top 10 books released in 2014, well then I’m sorry, but this isn’t that list. It’s just a top 10 list from books I’ve personally read this year.

I wanted to make a couple of rules or else this list would have been a little unfair. I’m only choosing one book per author and one book per series. Also, there are a lot of things that went into consideration for this list, including my preference in writing style, originality, and how memorable it was for me. I tried not to let my own bias influence what was placed where on this list, but I’m not perfect, so take this with a grain of salt if needed. Oh, and if it wasn’t obvious, there might be spoilers.

Well enough talking, let’s do this.

#10. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

I was a little surprised to see this sneak up on the list. I’ve liked the Harry Potter series since elementary or middle school, but I was never in love with it like most of the fans I know. I had a decent grasp on the overall plot and main characters, but I’d forgotten so many details. It was obvious that it’s been a while since I experienced anything Harry Potter-related, so over the summer I finally started giving the series a long-overdue reread. And while I really enjoyed getting into this universe again from the beginning, my feelings for the series remained the same: I like it, but I’m not in love with it.

That being said, I was really happy to discover just how much I loved the fourth book in the series. I always remembered this one being my favorite, and now I have a good reason why. There are major turning points in this book: Voldemort’s finally been resurrected, Ron and Hermione’s feelings start to become more complicated, Hogwarts and the rest of the wizarding world are starting to reveal more of their weaknesses and secrets to the readers, and I feel like Cedric’s death is what causes Harry to actually see what a threat Voldemort is, as opposed to hearing everyone else say what a threat he is. The entire last part of the book is intense, and while I’d agree that Voldemort drops a shit ton of exposition, it contains info that I’d waited almost four books to find out about.

The first three books, while having an overarching plot of preventing Voldemort from returning, always had their own separate plots that began and ended within their respective parts. The Goblet of Fire is, at least in my opinion, when Harry Potter starts becoming a little more mature, both in its subject matter and writing style, as well as starting something that doesn’t end when the last chapter is over, let alone end positively.

Unfortunately, I haven’t finished rereading the rest of the series yet, so it might be premature to say this is still my favorite of the series. But compared to the other three (especially Prisoner of Azkaban, which honestly felt a little underwhelming), Goblet of Fire definitely stood out the most in the series.

#9. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

This was the book I did my first Let’s Talk Books segment on, so I guess it’s not surprising it made the list. Since I already talked so much about it, I’ll try to keep this short, but if you want to know more you can read what I wrote on it here.

This year was my first time reading this book since I was in high school, and not only did I still like it, I enjoyed it even more. I wasn’t exactly the smartest guy when I read it the first time, so maybe it was good I grew up a little and learned better literary analysis skills in college before coming back to this one.

Aside from what I already wrote about it, there’s not much more to say. As someone that still feels lost and burdened by what society labels as “normal,” there was a lot in this book I could relate to. McMurphy’s an extremely entertaining character, the descriptions of the Combine are very strong, and although it’s more likely I’d view the movie again before reading the book (it’s faster to rewatch a movie than reread a book, after all), there’s an extremely satisfying charm to seeing the world through the Chief’s point of view, which the movie fails to show. It makes the ending a lot more satisfying, too; seeing the Chief break free after spending so much time reliving his memories and struggles makes the escape seem well deserved, even a personal achievement.

I can’t say much more. It’s a really good book that I feel still stands strong today.

#8. Bill Warrington’s Last Chance by James King

I picked up this book a couple of years ago as an impulse buy. Something about the cover really drew me in. And I know you shouldn’t judge a book by it, but never underestimate the power of a well-made one. It’s certainly more interesting than the bland, giant text some authors use to broadcast their names and titles.

Of course, I wouldn’t have bought it if the book didn’t sound interesting. And thankfully, it was. Bill Warrington’s Last Chance is about a dysfunctional family (already a plus for me) that mostly centers around Bill Warrington, a grumpy, unlikable old man whose actions keep pushing his family away, and his granddaughter April, a teenager who dreams of becoming a musician and wants to get the hell away from her mother. Each chapter focuses on one character’s point of view (another plus for me), but I forgot there are also April’s mother and uncles’ perspectives, as well. I always remembered the book being just about Bill and April, so it was nice to see a varied amount of voices spread throughout the novel.

Bill and April end up taking a cross-country trip with the rest of the family following after, and I guess you can say there’s a lot of coming-of-age, maturing, and self-reflecting themes throughout the book. The book has some mature elements to it, but it never goes too hardcore or anything. It’s not like it’s a family that has physically abused drugs and each other, but I feel like it does a good enough job to capture the realization of how distant and hurt people can become due to a moderate amount of dysfunction many families can produce. In that way, I feel like it’s relatable to many people, but not so intense that it would stand out for all of them.

Still, there’s something about this book I really like, and I can’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe it’s because we get to see everyone’s story play out; they all seem simple at first but then develop a pretty decent level of complexity I honestly didn’t see coming. Maybe it’s the familiar themes of family dysfunction I can relate to. Maybe it’s all the different POVs and how well they work together. Maybe it’s the pacing. I honestly don’t know. But something about it grew on me over the years, and when I reread it in the spring I couldn’t help but love it all over again. It’s definitely something I would at least recommend borrowing from the library, as I’m not sure a lot of people would love it the way I do. But it still earns a spot on my top 10 list.

#7. Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk

Another book I did a Let’s Talk Books post on (don’t be surprised if this is a thing with this list), so again, I’ll try not to repeat myself. You can read it here if you want more details.

I read Fight Club for the first time last year, and it instantly became one of my favorite books. So when I got a Barnes and Noble gift card last Christmas, one of the first books I went out and bought was something else by Chuck Palahniuk. I picked up Survivor, and it was one of the first books I read this year.

As a writer, there were a lot of aspects to this novel that I liked. The pacing, the many detailed descriptions of how seemingly random things work, Fertility Hollis, how the chapters and pages counted down; everything about the writing style seemed very different from what I was used to reading, and I think it worked out very well. It reminded me of my experimental writing workshops from college, and made me happy to see a published novel that took risks I don’t think many readers could appreciate.

If I get another gift card to Barnes and Noble from someone, I’m definitely going to check out another book by Chuck Palahniuk. Survivor definitely made me want to check out more of his work.

#6. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

No. No. No no no no no no.

Why. How. You’ve read my rants about this book, right? How is it even possible this book worked its way into my top 10, let alone this high?

Well, I have no clue. But as I was assembling the books for this list, I couldn’t help but feel I remembered The Fault in Our Stars almost better than any other book. This is where some bias may come in; the time when I was involved with this story was a really shit time in my life, so maybe that’s why it always seems to come to mind when I reflect back on 2014.

But even so, wouldn’t a shit time make this book rank even lower, if at all? Well, yeah. So there has to be something else besides it being memorable for unpleasant reasons.

Well, there’s Hazel and Augustus. They’re easily my two most hated characters of 2014.

Hmm. Doesn’t really help explain why this book is #6.

Well, I’ll be honest: in terms of writing style and originality, I can’t give The Fault in Our Stars much credit. But all of its shortcomings aside, and as much as I hated the two main characters, I still liked the book (liked it enough to read it twice, apparently). It may not make much sense, but… well, in some weird, creepy way, I guess I warmed up to the book sometime during my rage-fueled yelling sessions as Augustus said something disgustingly corny. And, well… like it or not, it is extremely memorable. And I don’t want to admit that, because every previous book on this list is technically better than The Fault in Our Stars on my radar. But well… I don’t know! I just remember this book most of all, and I have to give the book credit for that. It must have done something right that I can’t quite grasp at the moment. Perhaps a retrospective should be in order sometime in the future.

#5. The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore

Although a couple of other people have been threatening his position lately, I think it’s safe to say that Christopher Moore is my favorite author. He’s the man that got me back into reading, he’s influenced some of my own writing, and he presents a brand of humor in such a way that only he can. And I even had the opportunity to meet him this year when his new book was released! Too bad it was during the before-mentioned shit time. It’s a very weird feeling to have one of the best and worst times of your life intertwine simultaneously.

That being said, The Serpent of Venice also has some bias as being read during such an important time in my life, let alone this year, so it’s memorable factor is naturally going to be high. But it’s also really good, which is why it places so high on the list. The Serpent of Venice is the sequel to Fool, a wonderfully humorous retelling of King Lear from the fool’s perspective. The fool, Pocket, returns as the main character in this book, which retells Othello and The Merchant of Venice, as well as Edgar Allen Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado (unlike Fool, I haven’t read any of the works The Serpent of Venice is based on, so I can’t personally say how much of each work is represented in the book).

If you liked Fool, you’ll probably enjoy The Serpent of Venice just as much, if not more. Pocket is such an enjoyable character, and it’s always entertaining to see him take advantage of his role as jester to openly make fun of and criticize every major villain in the plot. The only bad thing I have to say about it is, without spoiling too much, everything Pocket worked to achieve in Fool is practically thrown away. But since the book works so well on its own, as well as the fact that it was extremely hard to put down once I got into it, I’m proud to say it deserves its place on this list.

#4. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

I know this might piss a lot of people off, but tough. The Catcher in the Rye is still a good book and one of my favorites. I just did a Let’s Talk Books about it, so go read that if you want more details about why this book has such a connection with me. But short and to the point, I love the train-of-thought narration. I love what a flawed character Holden Caulfield is. I love the commentary he feels the need to express on everything. I love how I don’t feel alone when I read this book.

Both personal preference and the quality of the writing style earn major points with me. There’s not a lot to say that hasn’t been said already. It’s a great classic that I hope to always enjoy revisiting.

#3. Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks

This is definitely one of the most memorable books I read this year. Once again, I went over it in a Let’s Talk Books post, so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much here. Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend is pretty much exactly how it sounds; the main character is an imaginary friend and must find his kidnapped real friend. It’s a good story, although a little predictable at times, but I still thought it was a fun and unique read.

Of course, what really won me over was the rules established by the author for how imaginary friends can behave. You’d think they can just appear and reappear at their creators’ will, but no. These imaginary friends live their own lives outside their creators. And they’re only as capable as their creators imagine them to be. For example, a young child may not grasp the concept of an imaginary friend moving through doors, so if one gets trapped in a closet, the imaginary friend’s life is at risk. The child may forget about him and never come back, and by the time the closet door is opened again, the friend will have disappeared.

There are lots of rules like this peppered throughout the book, and it makes even the smallest tasks seem surprisingly intense. It’s definitely worth picking up the next time you’re at the book store.

#2. A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby

Ah, Nick Hornby. He’s the only fiction author my sister reads, and I finally decided to see what he’s all about. She let me borrow four of his books over the year, and I’m pretty sure three of them were going to go in my top 10 if I didn’t limit one book per author. It was a close call between this and High Fidelity; I loved them both almost equally, but High Fidelity’s ending really let me down, so I’m going with A Long Way Down.

I read this during the middle of a pretty bad depression, and in hindsight, that probably wasn’t the best idea; it’s about four different people who run into each other as they’re each about to kill themselves. They all resolve to put that on hold for a predetermined amount of time, and even though they don’t like each other, they end up helping each other move past their depression and issues.

The fact that none of them really like each other (in addition to being told from each of their points of view) makes the entire book really interesting when it could have been easily predictable or cheesy. I can’t even say they like each other by the end, but that aspect makes them all have an interesting relationship with each other that I don’t think even they understand. It’s like they’re all on their own personal paths to something, and the others are there for company and some degree of support, and that’s it. But the fact is, they all have depression and suicidal thoughts in common, and that alone forms a weird bond between them.

Like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Catcher in the Rye, there’s a lot of stuff in this book that clicks with me. There were so many quotes and passages I felt I could relate to that I started keeping a Word document of book quotes. You could say that about all of the Nick Hornby books I read this year, actually. There’s something about his style that hits pretty close to home.

I know the premise sounds depressing (and I won’t lie, it is), but there’s also a good deal of humor mixed in as well. It’s definitely an interesting read, and something I’d recommend checking out at some point.

#1. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

You know how much I loved this book. You must have known it was going to show up on here somewhere, maybe even predicted it was going to be #1. I think even when I was considering a top 10 list, I knew it was going to be #1. I tried justifying how that wasn’t fair, because it’s not written like a traditional book and how it’s a collection of short stories and illustrations from a blog, so it should be in its own separate category, but I couldn’t do it. Hyperbole and a Half was my favorite book I read this year.

This book made me laugh the whole way through. Like, laughing out loud, had to put the book down because I was in tears laughing. As a 20-something-year-old, I felt like there was so much I could relate to in this book, which happens to be written by another 20-something-year-old. Allie Brosh recounts a number of funny, exaggerated stories from her life that bring a smile on my face by just thinking about them. The fact that she can openly talk about her anxiety and depression issues through her stories, as well as being brave enough to poke fun at them, is also a major plus in my book.

She combines narrative and intentionally crude drawings for an amazing story-telling experience that couldn’t be achieved by using just one or the other. Coming from a writer, this may not make much sense, but no matter how good you are with words, I’ve always believed that sometimes a picture can just get something across much more effectively. This is something Allie Brosh seems to understand, and she takes full advantage of it in her book. She’s actually inspired me to start incorporating some art of my own into different projects, and hopefully I can focus enough to make that happen next year.

Well, there you go. My top 10 books of 2014. This was actually harder to make than I thought it would be, so if you’re still reading, thanks. If you have any Christmas money you’re looking to spend (or if you need to make a last minute gift purchase for someone that may like these books), give one of these a try. And if you want, let me know some of your favorite books you’ve read this year. Merry Christmas! 🙂

For Ex-Christmas Fans

It’s here again.

I don’t want to be a Grinch and spoil the holiday for those that enjoy it, so if you’re someone that feels the need to spread Christmas cheer, this post probably isn’t going to be too appealing. This is more for those that are looking forward to the holiday season ending.

Sigh. What happened, Christmas? We loved each other once.

It used to be my favorite holiday. And I mean, come on: compared to dressing up and getting candy on Halloween, or shoving my mouth with Peeps and more candy on Easter, Christmas had presents. Like, non-consumable, things-I-actually-wanted-but-couldn’t-get-because-I-was-a-kid presents. Action figures. VHS tapes. Books. Video games. Things I saw in stores, during commercials, advertised in magazines, things I’d seen all year, things I’d developed a hope of receiving at the end of the year. I don’t want to say I was deprived of fun things as a kid, but unless it was a Happy Meal toy, the only time I was going to get anything a kid would actually want was on my birthday or Christmas.

So yeah. Christmas. Kind of a big deal when I was a kid.

And I don’t want to sound cheesy, but family was a pretty big part of Christmas, too. We invited my grandparents and cousins over every Christmas Eve. There was always a genuine rush of excitement upon seeing them, and the bags of presents they brought was a pretty nice touch, too. Christmas music played all day and night, and my dad would make a fantastic dinner. And as soon as it was over, either he or my grandfather would say “Who wants to open presents!?” We would all rush over to the tree and start opening the gifts from our grandparents, uncles, and aunts (gifts from parents would be spared until Christmas Day). And afterward, we would watch A Christmas Story, a favorite of my dad’s and just as much an annual tradition as everything else.

And then, as if that wasn’t enough, my parents and grandparents would hype all of us up over Santa coming that night. And it was like, “Whoa. You’re telling me, that mom, dad, grandma, and grandpa bought all of these presents for us kids, and now tomorrow there’s going to be another person with even more presents?”

We were kings, really. And the adults were bringing their yearly offerings.

On Christmas day, my sister and I would sneak downstairs and dig into our stockings before our parents were up. And when they finally got up, after like, a million hours, we tore into the rest of our gifts. The floor would literally form a whole new layer over the carpet as we sorted through our new stuff. I always felt some strange sense of bonding with her as we compared what we received. We would play with them all day, and sometimes my best friend from next door would come by and show what he got for Christmas, too.

When I became a teenager, things started to become a little different, although Christmas still remained my favorite holiday. I was really into anime during high school, so now when my parents asked what I wanted for Christmas, it was always awkward because I had to write out the names of TV shows or soundtracks because how the hell was an adult supposed to remember some obscure Japanese title they’ve never heard of?

At the time, I really didn’t think I minded; I was a teenager, I didn’t want my parents all up in my business about what I liked, I wanted my own space to explore interests on my own. But thinking back on it now, I think part of the magic Christmas had during childhood was that my parents did know everything I was into. They knew what I liked, and they knew how excited I would be to get my gifts.

But you know what? That was okay. I had friends that knew how much I would appreciate what I got. Friends that would be excited for me and who I would be excited for as well. Where in childhood Christmas was all about receiving, my adolescent years presented me with the fulfilling sensation of searching for presents to buy for other people. I don’t really know what changed, but I found myself looking forward to seriously thinking about what I was going to buy for people. Exchanging presents with friends was always so… great, to be blunt. I can’t really explain why. Maybe it was because my friends didn’t all live in town, and the fact that they were thinking about me made me feel like I was special or something.

And god, I’m so embarrassed to admit this now, but back then, I loved the Christmas hype most of all. I loved seeing everything decorated. I even started hanging Christmas lights around my room the day after Thanksgiving. I loved hearing Christmas music on the radio and in stores. I loved the Christmas specials.

The Christmas specials! Look, the Grinch, Peanuts, Rudolph and all them… yeah, okay. Classics or whatever. But for me, a big Nickeloden fan, Christmas specials stepped up their game my freshman year of high school. Nickelodeon was doing this series of commercials that had stop motion clay figures of all their Nicktoons singing Christmas songs, and it seemed like every show got its own holiday special that year. The Fairly Oddparents had a surprisingly good Christmas episode that was honestly a little heart warming. Invader Zim did its own twisted take on Christmas, and considering what a huge fan me and another friend of mine were of the show, our excitement easily showed as the premiere grew closer.

But I think all fans of Nicktoons from that era can agree on the Christmas special that stood out most: the Spongebob Squarepants one. The way Spongebob kept saying “Christmas,” Mr. Krabs’ high-pitched lines when they sang the Christmas song, the super sad picture Squidward took of Spongebob when Santa didn’t show up, how they put the donkey over his face as he was mocking Spongebob for believing in Santa, and the ridiculous gestures Santa made when he eventually made an appearance – I think most people can agree the Spongebob Squarepants Christmas episode is one of the most nostalgic, memorable, and loved Christmas specials from the generation us 20-somethings grew up in. To this day, it’s probably the only Christmas special I’ll try going out of my way to see.

And judge me all you want, but when Squiward feels bad, dresses up as Santa, and says “I didn’t bring Christmas to Bikini Bottom, Spongebob. You did,” I’m sorry, but… tears. Tears all around.

But yeah, during my teenage years, and even my early college ones, I loved how hyped the world seemed about Christmas. It was really embarrassing how much I loved it. I even remember when I was 16, I was talking to a friend during art class about it. She hated how commercialized Christmas was, and I argued I loved it because it hypes the world up and actually seems to make people nicer to each other (oh, 16-year-old me… enjoy that naivety).

Sometime during college, though… I don’t know, Christmas. You just started becoming something else.

Like clockwork, the end of every fall semester put an enormous strain on me because of final exams, papers, and projects. I didn’t even have time to think about Christmas until the semester was over. And even then, I began feeling more and more worn out and unable to get excited about the holiday as each year passed. It started becoming something that came and went, rather than a day I couldn’t wait to count down to. I still liked it, but the magic started to run out around this time for me.

It also didn’t help that unfortunate circumstances seemed to start gathering around this time, either. I lost a couple of good friends rather suddenly pretty close to Christmas. One of my friends lost her husband in the middle of Christmas night. My grandmother died the week before Christmas. Things like started happening, and it’s hard to get back into the Christmas spirit when you have memories like these taking up residence in your head.

And it’s not like I’m the only one that feels like this. In fact, I’d say a good third of the people I know have some kind of nasty memory that gets in the way to enjoy Christmas. Depression becomes pretty common around this time of year, especially when the rest of the world seems so happy. And like other times of depression, it’s easy to feel like no one wants a party pooper around.

I think one of the reasons why Christmas became such a hated time of year for people with this problem is because they have this idea that Christmas is supposed to be a happy time. It’s supposed to be an end-of-the-year celebration, “the most wonderful time of the year,” as so many radios and store speakers insist on persuading us. And we feel awful for our own personal reasons, and the world becomes forced positivity being shoved down our throats. It’s incredibly suffocating, especially when we’re busy dealing with our own shit inside our heads. And we can’t be honest about how we don’t want any of this, because it ruins Christmas for those that like it.

It’s even harder when you used to like Christmas, too. You’re very aware of how much things have changed. And you’re very aware that things aren’t going to go back to being the same. You may want to really like Christmas, but… well, you just can’t. You can try, and you may even stop hating it for a while. Who knows? Maybe you can reach a decent ground with Christmas again. But until that time comes, it’s just so… awkward. And with the season being hyped the way it is, complete with its own obnoxious soundtrack everywhere you go, and beginning as early as September (no one’s thinking about Christmas in September, stores!), the entire last quarter of this year can be so difficult for a lot of people. And when no one else can understand that, Christmas becomes an extremely lonely time of year.

Loneliness is often difficult to talk about. Loneliness can make you feel vulnerable. You feel isolated. You feel empty. And again, when the whole world seems to be talking about how wonderful this time of year is, it makes you feel even worse. Even if there’s other people around, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not lonely. Loneliness is very much a state of mind. If you’re surrounded by other people that you don’t get along with or understand you, it’s easy to feel alone. And because Christmas promotes togetherness, it’s easy to feel even more lonesome during the holidays.

And then, of course, there’s family. I feel like many people who enjoy Christmas either still have a great support network of friends and family. I can see why they’d still enjoy the holidays. But for others, friends have come and gone. Family isn’t quite what it used to be. Drama develops and Christmas becomes more about accommodating your relatives’ issues while still trying to remain positive. And as we get older, it becomes more difficult to meet new people to include in our private lives. If there’s not a lot of people around to start with, looking forward to meeting with the ones who are still here, but aren’t on your good side, is very difficult.

Christmas. My friend. What happened? Surely all these dumb, grown-up emotions and problems can take a backseat, right? Wasn’t Christmas about the presents?

It’s weird, but all those memories of presents involved other people. My parents and grandparents giving them to us. Opening and comparing them with my sister and cousins. Shopping for the perfect gifts for friends. It’s easy to look forward to the presents most of all when you’re a kid, but whether you like it or not, you become more selfless as you grow up. The presents involve other people. Christmas involves other people. And if you don’t have the right people, Christmas becomes a chore. A state of mental health you deal with and try to move on from. A distant memory whose magic is long gone.

I don’t want to be a downer. I really don’t. I still make efforts to enjoy Christmas. I just made a Perler bead ornament of Link from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. That’s something. Right?

But I can’t deny it. I’m one of the people – one of the many, many people – who find Christmas depressing. This post is for those people, who get scrutinized for hating “the most wonderful time of the year.” I wanted to trying exploring the reasons why Christmas has lost much of its magic for me over the years, and I hope in the process some of you were able to understand why Christmas isn’t great for you, either.

But let’s not end on such a bum note. I still want to enjoy Christmas. Somewhere inside of you, I think you do, too. So just remember that much like depression, you don’t have to let the negative aspects of Christmas own you. You can try making new traditions. Try focusing on doing happy things for you, even if it’s not Christmas related. Try making this time of year something to look forward to, even if there’s been a lot to make that seem impossible.

Just keep trying. Christmas still wants to be your friend. It has flaws and doesn’t understand what happened between you either, so try making it understand. Teach it and yourself why things have gotten so distant, and then see if there’s any way you can make something work out.

Keep trying. Stay healthy. And good luck with the holidays. 🙂

 

Missing Places

You ever miss something that no one else does?

Back in October(?), shortly before I moved, I was taking my dog for a walk around a reservoir close to my house. I ran into my neighbor there, which usually happened anyway whenever I went there (I think he jogged there a lot). He was the father of my best friend from when we were kids. He lived next door and I used to be at his house every day, playing with my best friend. Honestly, as far as childhood memories go, I think I have more memories of his house than mine.

My best friend moved into that house a year after I moved into mine. I was 8 and he was 7. I don’t exactly remember how we met; we probably just saw each other playing in our yards and started playing together (we didn’t have fences at the time). I do remember him inviting me over to play Super Nintendo, though.

As I’ve mentioned in several previous posts, playing video games was a big thing for me and him while growing up. Naturally, I have a lot of memories of playing them, especially in his room and basement. Occasionally his dad would move the games into this larger spare room. He had a lot of cousins (I think his father alone had something like 7 or 8 siblings), so having the extra space was nice when everything wasn’t hooked up in the basement.

At one point, I started going to his house each morning before school. I don’t remember why; part of me thinks it was to avoid dealing with bullies at the bus stop, but I’m not sure. All I remember is eating cereal and watching cartoons with him, mostly Pokemon, when each morning was a new episode.

We drew a lot, too. Cartoon characters, video game characters, our own made up characters and comics, a lot of stuff, really. I don’t think we limited ourselves to any one room, but there was a guest room across the hall from his room that I remember spending the most time in. There was a set of double windows that let so much natural light in, and the room didn’t have a lot of stuff in it to start with, so there was plenty of space to stretch out on the floor and draw.

That same room had a computer in it. His family had the Internet before mine did, so I remember going online with him to look up stuff about Pokemon cards or pictures of things to print so we could draw from them. I think his house was the only place I listened to the magic that was dial-up.

I’ve been wondering if it’s strange to be thinking of his house so often lately. A lot of the memories I’ve been thinking about involve that house, and since I just moved, maybe it’s not too weird.

Anyway, so I ran into his dad at the reservoir. Turns out, he hasn’t been living there lately. He’s been trying to sell it and only came back once or twice a week to tidy up. It’s kind of weird how we moved into our houses around the same time and moved out of them around the same time, too.

But where I was sad, nostalgic, and almost even mourning moving out of the house and neighborhood I’d grown up in, my neighbor was telling me how he couldn’t wait to get rid of that house. And I don’t know why, but hearing him say that really depressed me. I wanted to tell him how much fun I had in that house, how important it was to my childhood, but I didn’t. Me and his son went our separate ways when I entered high school, and although we’re all on okay terms now, I thought it would have been inappropriate to share those thoughts.

But I couldn’t help but wonder what happened with that house after I stopped seeing his family on a regular basis. I don’t remember anyone in that house wanting to get out of it; I always assumed they were pretty content living there. But my childhood eyes could only see so much, I guess. Maybe my neighbor always hated it, maybe he didn’t. But it was just so depressing to know I wanted to walk around it one last time before I left, and he just wanted it off his hands.

And it’s not like the fact that someone else having completely different feelings towards a place than you do is a news flash to me or anything. It’s just… I don’t know. I don’t really know what my point here is. Just seeing him there at the reservoir, telling me how he couldn’t wait to get the hell out of there, knowing it was the last time I was going to see him, learning his son, my old best friend, moved shortly before and I would probably never see any of them ever again… I don’t know, it just made me miss his house even more. Because people will come and go, and I suppose places can do the same thing, too, but the house just seemed more permanent in that regard. Like, I know things will never ever go back the way they were, but at least I could always look at the house and be reminded of all the memories attached to it.

But his attitude towards it… I don’t know. It just really bummed me out, I guess. Maybe I was hoping those memories were important to another person, too.

Let’s Talk Books – The Catcher in the Rye

Yup. We’re talking about it.

However, I don’t really want to go too into analyzing the book in this post. Actually, I wanted to talk about the love and hate surrounding Catcher in the Rye, and there’s certainly a lot of it.

So I read Catcher in the Rye for my sophomore English class in high school. High school was a pretty strange time for me; I’d gotten too frustrated reading books on my own because I never seemed to grasp what my teachers wanted me to take from them. It had turned me off of reading for a long time, and the only stuff I actually read a lot of was manga. I didn’t rediscover my love of reading until after high school, but that’s besides the point. All that being said, I remember Catcher in the Rye being one of the required readings I enjoyed, although I honestly don’t remember why. It wasn’t like I read this during high school and fell in love with Holden Caulfield or anything, which happens to be one of the things haters of the book hold against the fans. I’m fairly certain I forgot everything about the book shortly after finishing it.

I didn’t pick it up again until last year. I was 25 and I loved it. It had been on my to-revisit list for a long time, I finally found my copy, I read it, and I loved it. I was surprised by how much I loved it. There’s usually a decent amount of distance between me and any work of literature from this time period, but I was shocked at how well it held up for me. From a writer’s point of view, I find it really impressive that a book written so long ago has a train-of-thought narrative style that feels not exactly modern, but familiar enough for me to find extremely likeable.

For me.

Look, I’ll admit it right now, as much as I love Catcher in the Rye, I get why it’s not for everyone. I can see why people hate Holden Caulfield. I can get why they don’t like the train-of-thought narration. I’ve tried this style of narration before for some of my writing assignments in fiction workshops, and it was very, very hit or miss. Whether or not it’s done well seems to be irrelevant; I honestly think this writing style is something people either love or don’t, and I’ll bet if you asked the fans and haters of this book what they thought of the train-of-thought style the novel uses, they’ll love and hate it, respectively.

I can understand why they think it’s overrated. To be extremely blunt, nothing “happens.” This is one of the major complaints people have about the book, and I guess in the literal sense they’re right. Holden gets kicked out of school, he dicks around and complains for 200+ pages, and the book ends. In the sense of literal things happening, nothing much does happen.

The thing is, this is a book that’s more about the observations the narrator is making rather than the physical things that are happening in the plot. I can see Holden desperately trying to connect with other people on the spur of the moment and getting mad when they don’t turn out like he hoped they would. I can see Holden struggling to accept how the adult world is filled with people that constantly need to show off to others to obtain their self-worth. I can see Holden missing the innocence of childhood and trying to avoid the inevitable fact that he not only will become one of those “phony” people he hates so much, but is actually in the middle of that change.

(And as a side note, another common complaint about Catcher in the Rye is that Holden is a hypocrite and does many of the things he hates other people do. Yeah. He does. That’s the point. I honestly thought that was fairly obvious, but it’s something that seems to fly over a lot of the criticizers’ heads. Holden is a teenager. His beliefs and his actions aren’t always supposed to be the same. That’s not how teenagers tend to work. And if that’s not enough, Holden does flat out tell the readers that he’s “the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life.” (22) He establishes his potential as an unreliable narrator pretty early in the book. When people hate him because of these things when his character is intentionally built around these flaws, it kind of makes me feel like they’re missing the point. Sorry for the rant, I just wanted to get that out of my system.)

I like stories that are more about the observations and ability to connect with readers that have similar thoughts. I’m not saying plot isn’t important, but after reading and writing short stories for my fiction workshops during college, I’ve learned to appreciate this aspect to storytelling. It’s not like Catcher in the Rye is the only book to do this. Hell, it’s not like books are the only thing to do this. Movies do this, too. Clerks is a pretty good example of not a lot happening in the plot but still being able to show something through character interactions and observations. But literature and films aren’t the same, and I guess it’s not completely fair to try comparing the two. I think the point I’m trying to make is, some people need a beginning. They need people physically going places and physically doing things, and they need to be more interesting than everyday events. Some people need a bad guy. Some people need a romantic interest. And then other people need characters to relate to. To have a story make a comment or observation about real life that makes the reader feel like they’re not alone. Different people come to books (and all forms of media) for different reasons, and I think Catcher in the Rye is one of those books that only caters to a certain type of audience.

What about Holden Caulfield? Well, like the way the story is presented, people either seem to love or hate him. A lot of what I said about appreciating the writing style can be applied to appreciating the main character, so I don’t think I need to go over him too much in that regard. What I do want to try to talk about is why Holden (and I guess to an extent, the book, although the book and Holden are so closely linked they may as well be one entity) is obsessed over, for better or worse.

Liking or hating Holden Caulfield also seems to be closely linked to the reader’s personality and tastes. People like characters. People don’t like characters. They finish the book and move on.

Not Holden. Like the characters in Twilight, people hear someone talking about them and come rushing over, either adding praise or criticism. Is it something in the hype? Catcher in the Rye is a pretty popular book, I guess. Everyone knows it and most people have read it at least once. But it’s old. And yeah, it’s talked about a decent amount in literature circles, but it’s not like there’s a ton of posters and t-shirts waiting in a bookstore for a herd of fans to pick up (you need to go online for that). If you didn’t like Catcher in the Rye, and you heard great things about it beforehand, I wouldn’t blame you for thinking it was at least a little hyped up.

But what about other popular classics? 1984? One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest? Lord of the Flies? Anything by Shakespeare? There’s a ton of stuff just as popular as Catcher in the Rye, and while it gets its fair share of hate as much as love, it never seems nearly as bipolar as the love and hate this book receives. It’s almost like you have to dedicate yourself to loving or hating it.

So is there something else? Well… all right, hear me out. Let’s say you know someone who has a lot of trouble expressing themselves. This person is very lost in life and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. They want to do something, there’s a definite drive there, but they don’t know what it is and they wear themselves out trying to think of it. They have a lot to say about a lot of things, and despite needing to get it off their chest and needing someone to listen, understand, and try to support them through life, it can come off as very whiny.

Sound familiar? Are you one of these people? Were you one of these people? Do you know someone like this? Do they frustrate you? Is the situation frustrating because you want to help them but can’t, and you get mad at them? Do they simply annoy you?

Holden Caulfield is one of the most real characters I’ve come across, for better or worse. Holden has serious emotional issues. He needs help. It’s hard to see for a lot of people because it comes off as whining. But as my regular readers may be aware of, I write a lot of posts about mental health and trying to cope with things. I can’t help but feel the ability to understand, tolerate, and deal with mental health is a big factor in dealing with Holden. A lot of people complain that the only reason fans of Holden Caulfield like him so much is because they are him.

You know what? Yeah. We are. Not all of us have our shit together. Not all of us have found our place. Not all of us can communicate with other people the way we’d like. Not all of us have found somebody. A lot of us are lonely and scared and angry and need to know we’re not the only people in the world like that. Looking at Holden at a personal level, this is why we love him. And I don’t think that’s something we should be ashamed of. Should we aim to be like him? No. Should we aim to recite his word as law? No. That’s not the point of Holden, or any flawed character for that matter. He’s a mirror that shows some parts of our lives, whether it’s past or present, and we take comfort in knowing we’re not alone.

Communicating with many people that hate Catcher in the Rye is like communicating with people that either don’t have a tolerance for people with depression and other mental health issues, or don’t understand them.

At least for me.

I don’t want to generalize, but if I’m going by my personal interactions with people that hate Holden, this seems to be a recurring theme. Maybe this is why I felt the need to try understanding why people hate or love this book so much, and the need to voice my own opinions about that love and hate. I reread this book last week, and I honestly couldn’t help but notice the similarities between how people talk about Catcher in the Rye and how people deal with mental health. I don’t want to criticize anyone by saying that, or assume anything, or make any kind of hurtful statement to those that genuinely don’t like the book. But the way people almost unprovocatively lash out at Catcher in the Rye makes me feel like they have some personal issue with someone like Holden Caulfield.

Or maybe not. Who knows? Maybe they really just hated the book and that was that, and I’m looking too much into other people’s reactions. :p

At any rate, I hope this made some sense. It’s a little hard for me to put my thoughts about all this together, and I’m sorry if it turned into a bit of a jumbled mess. If it’s been a while since you’ve read Catcher in the Rye, whether you loved or hated your last read, try it again. I think this is going to be one of those books that affects people in different ways at different times in life.

Info for my edition of The Catcher in the Rye:

  • Published 2001 by Back Bay Books
  • Paperback, 277 pages
  • ISBN 9-780316-769174