The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

When the name “Primrose Everdeen” is called out at the lottery, Katniss volunteers to take her younger sister’s place as District 12’s female participant of the annual Hunger Games, a cruel punishment and system of oppression created by the government that rules the fictional country Panem. As heroic as Katniss’ act may sound, she is not portrayed as an idealized heroine. She is aggressive, selfish and always keeps her guard up, no matter what.

Collins creates a dystopia where Panem is what is left of North America after wars and natural disasters. Panem consists of twelve districts (the thirteenth district was allegedly destroyed years ago, in the old days of rebellion) and the Capitol, from which the entire nation is controlled. While most inhabitants of the districts live in poverty and starvation, the inhabitants of the Capitol enjoy life in luxury and exuberance. Every year the Hunger Games are arranged. A boy and girl of each district are sent to the arena, where they are forced to fight for their survival until only one of them is left alive.

I admit I was a bit sceptical towards The Hunger Games at first, due to the terrifying concept of the Hunger Games themselves. Twenty four children, some of them young adults, are thrown into an arena filled with weapons and deadly traps, where they are forced to kill each other, for the amusement of the shallow citizens of the Capitol. All of these young characters will have to perish and our main character will probably have to kill some of them. We get to know some of them closely, we come to care about them, and all of them will have to die in order for Katniss to live. I did not know how I could possibly like this story, but I was proven wrong. Even if the concept of the Hunger Games is filled with horror, the story was really worth reading. It is worth reading because of the horror of the Hunger Games.

The story is very dark and it’s subject matter is dealt with seriously. Perhaps some of the deaths in the arena are only brushed upon and dealt with quickly, but that is a result of the first-person perspective. Since Katniss is our narrator we only get her view of the battlefield. Due to this, we never know what threat awaits her around the corner, which adds to the thrill of the story. The story was a real page turner and made me want to read the sequels, Catching Fire and Mockingjay.

The cities have all burned. The world is covered in soot. Gray snow falls from the sky. How can something so sad and depressing be so wonderful?

I’m reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and am astounded by the beauty of the story, an uncanny kind of beauty found amidst the darkness and the gloom. Ash, soot. Ghastly remnants of trees and buildings, of things burned in the early days of apocalypse. Dead nature. Grayness, grayness, grayness. The emptiness. The hollowness. The hopelessness.

And at the centre of the story – the raw love of a father, the precious son, the fragile yet indestructible relation between father and son. Their endless strife to survive, to get through yet another day. There is no yesterday. There is no tomorrow. There is onlynow.

I’m not even halfway yet, but I’ve been captivated since page one.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Guy Montag is a fireman, but in the fictional future of Bradbury in Fahrenheit 451 a fireman is no longer what you expect. A fireman does not put out fires, he starts them. Whenever the alarm goes off, the firemen assemble and race to the scene of the crime, where they quench the thirst for knowledge, by burning books that have been condemned illegal. Firemen are now crime fighters. Owning books is now a crime. Our main character, Montag goes about his business burning books without any considerations. Only, lately his hands seem to have gathered a will of their own. There is something forbidden hidden in his apartment and consequently, something forbidden in his mind. Montag represses his feelings of doubt and discomfort, tries to go on leading his less than fulfilling life, until one day, when he meets someone who tilts his universe.

Clarisse McLellan is seventeen years old and, in her own words, crazy. According to the standards of the fictional future she lives in she deviates from the norm, since she takes time to think things over, to ponder, to wonder and stare in awe at leaves, at the sky, at people. The simple habit of conducting a meaningful conversation has become an oddity, something strange and dangerous. When Clarisse and Montag first meet, he is scared senseless by her unusual ways, but slowly his mind starts waking to the reality surrounding him, and he realises that it’s not Clarisse who is crazy, it’s society.

Why burn books? They are dangerous of course, since they demand time, concentration and thought, something that the society in Fahrenheit 451 does not allow. Every second of the day, the citizens of Bradbury’s society are bombarded with commercial and mindnumbing information, streaming constantly through television walls and screens, on billboards, through radio. Montag’s wife is the perfect example of a mindless citizen, watching their television walls all day, listening to radio all night;

“And in her ears the little Seashells, the thimble radios tamped tight, and an electronic ocean of sound, of music and talk and music and talk coming in, coming in on the shore of her unsleeping mind.”

The constant noise from the walls, screens and radios drown out any form of higher thought, which is also the purpose, and everything seems to move at an insane speed. Drowned in the stream of meaningless noise, feelings and thoughts are reduced to the simplest of forms. But the perpetual machine of motion and noice must be kept up, lest someone stops to smelll the flowers again. Once Montag starts questioning his place in society, finding that he no longer fits it, time almost grinds to a halt. It feels like watching a roaring fire freeze in motion.

Fahrenheit 451 is a very interesting and thought provoking reading experience. Frightening to say, but there are many things to recognize in today’s society, comparabale to that fictional one of Bradbury. Our television sets roar at us, commercials call to our attention from our radios, computor screens flash at us. We are all part of a society built on the accessibility of information, and information is accessible at all times. This is a good thing, in many ways, but sometimes there is so much information to sift through that it all just becomes white noise. And how do we know that the information we get our hands on is true, un-corrupted and reliable? Luckily we can turn off our televisions, our radios, our computors.