Not only am I reading “The Hunger Games,” but when I arrived at work this morning I found that the same colleague who loaned it to me had left the two sequels on my desk. I plan to read them, too.
The only thing more embarrassing than catching a guy on the plane looking at pornography on his computer is seeing a guy on the plane reading “The Hunger Games.” Or a Twilight book. Or Harry Potter. The only time I’m O.K. with an adult holding a children’s book is if he’s moving his mouth as he reads.
I appreciate that adults occasionally watch Pixar movies or play video games. That’s fine. Those media don’t require much of your brains. Books are one of our few chances to learn. There’s a reason my teachers didn’t assign me to go home and play three hours of Donkey Kong.
I have no idea what “The Hunger Games” is like. Maybe there are complicated shades of good and evil in each character. Maybe there are Pynchonesque turns of phrase. Maybe it delves into issues of identity, self-justification and anomie that would make David Foster Wallace proud. I don’t know because it’s a book for kids. I’ll read “The Hunger Games” when I finish the previous 3,000 years of fiction written for adults.
Let me see if I understand this. Looking at porn in public is less embarrassing than reading a novel keyed for a younger demographic than the one one inhabits? I… would not have guessed that.
For my part, I am rather grateful that “The Hunger Games” lacks Pynchonesque turns of phrase. If it did, I would probably have hurled it across the room by now. I think Pynchon sucks eggs. I liked “V.” and “The Crying of Lot 49” well enough, but have had enough false starts trying to read “Gravity’s Rainbow” that I know it cannot be worth whatever effort it takes to get through it. The book mark is still in “Against the Day” at the exact point where I flipped its author the metaphorical bird and put it permanently back on the shelf. Conversely, I will happily bore anyone with my theories about the various unresolved questions in “Infinite Jest” — David Foster Wallace is one of my favorite authors. If I write to Mr. Stein and tell him this, will he send me a special wristband to wear on planes so he’ll know I’m just slumming if he sees me reading “Harry Potter”?
Except, hang on a second. First of all, I dispute that movies and video games don’t require much of one’s brains. I don’t play the latter, and will defer to those more expert than me, but they certainly seem cognitively challenging. And I defy anyone to watch “Russian Ark” without using their brains. (Well OK, I guess one could, but why?) There are more and less intellectually stimulating offerings in just about any medium one would want. Mr. Stein seems to have an oddly homogenized, categorical view of them.
But even so, must we always spend our free time learning? Is it not sufficient that I must prove to the American Board of Pediatrics’ ongoing satisfaction that I am continuing to learn at my job in order to remain certified? Must I also dive into tome after tome on the weekends? If I choose to read a book for the sheer pleasure of doing so, am I by definition wasting my time? Because I’ll tell you right now that I would rather run into traffic than spend another minute with a Franzen novel. God forbid I should crack a book open for the sake of a little fun.
And finally, isn’t it maybe just the eensiest, weensiest snobbish for Mr. Stein to imply that people who would enjoy the phenomenal pop culture juggernauts of Potter or Cullen must be doing so because they lack the intellectual heft to read something else? Maybe there might be some value in knowing what it is that everyone else seems to enjoy so much? Lord knows it’s actually kind of helpful for me, when I’m talking with people in my office (who seem to be able to read our educational material without moving their lips) about what they’ve been up to lately, to be able to chat about things like “The Hunger Games” without gloating about how proudly ignorant I am of it. It makes me seem ever so slightly less out of touch, unlike the authors of certain Times opinion pieces I could name.
I’ve got news for Mr. Stein — he’s probably not going to make it through any significant fraction of the previous 3,000 years’ worth of material written for adults. Hell, he’s probably not going to make it through a significant fraction of the reading material that was written in English. Maybe he’ll seem like less of a preening prick if he stopped trying, or telling himself that he’s trying. All work and no play doesn’t do Jack, or his readers, any favors.