One last chance for summer reading
No need to take notes on these non-required texts
Published: Monday, August 15, 2011
Updated: Monday, August 15, 2011 23:08
For many students (myself often included), the lull of summer offers an escape from the written word, a respite from all the required chapters and articles. Some are so eager to abandon books after finals that they can forget that an entire segment of society views reading as a leisure activity, with summer as the prime season for "pleasure" reads.
At first, the idea of optional reading may seem like a needless expenditure of time, but the books that no one required you to read are indeed valid sources of entertainment. So in the precious few moments you have before course syllabi arrive to dictate the next three months of reading material, take a gander at a few of the titles that I've read recently (of my own volition) and actually enjoyed.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
Justly compared to the Harry Potter and Twilight series of recent years, Suzanne Collins' dystopic trilogy, led by The Hunger Games (and followed by Catching Fire and Mockingjay), is the latest young-adult saga set to be fashioned into a multimedia cultural juggernaut.
Much like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games is captivating because it steadily develops a detailed, alternate reality that seems just enough removed from our own to render it simultaneously fantastical and relatable. (And like Twilight, it has enough warm and fuzzy emotions to keep you caring.)
But Collins constructs a much darker diagesis, set against a backdrop of severe economic disparity, famine, and brutality and housed in the sprawling totalitarian republic of Panem (which rose out of the ashes of North America). In response to a quashed rebellion many years ago, those in command in the Capitol instituted the titular Games in which one boy and one girl are selected from each of the 12 districts that ring the Capitol for a highly orchestrated and televised fight to the death.
Collins keeps the tempo quick with direct prose and plenty of active combat to keep the characters from ruminating too much on their respective situations. She spaces out the details, deliberately doling out precious snippets of both Panem's history and the back story of protagonist Katniss Everdeen throughout the text. There are a few sappy spots, and Collins's style isn't likely to dazzle more discerning readers, but a plot with just the right number of twists and the tension caused by forcing teenagers to kill each other make The Hunger Games a genuine page-turner.
Plus, with this selection you'll get a jump on the buzz that is expected to build around the forthcoming film adaptation (scheduled for a spring 2012 release). Gary Ross (of Big and Pleasantville) is directing with a sizeable budget, and in the meantime, you can attach faces to names like Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence of X-Men: First Class), Peeta (Josh Hutcherson of The Kids Are Alright), Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), and Cinna (Lenny Kravitz).
This Wicked World by Richard Lange (Back Bay Books)
Richard Lange's grimy debut novel focuses on former Marine and ex-con Jimmy Boone as he navigates the "cholos," "vatos," and "cabrones" of the Los Angeles underbelly. Beginning with a visceral and hallucinatory prologue, the events of This Wicked World are set in motion by the death of a Guatemalan immigrant. As a sort of repentance for the misdeeds of his past, Boone impulsively takes on the informal investigation into the strangely gruesome circumstances surrounding the illegal immigrant's demise. I'll spare the best details and simply say that Boone is quickly immersed in a sordid underworld replete with dog fighters, drug dealers of every echelon, and an endearing, toothless pit bull named Joto.
Boone's perspective is supplemented by glimpses into nearly every other character's viewpoint, including a world-weary desert kingpin and his fed-up moll. Lange alternates frequently but effortlessly between characters and the result is a rich assortment of competing motives and clashing tempers. The shuffling of perspectives also allows Lange to delve into the pasts of his characters, exposing the moments that made these men (and one woman) into the thugs and anti-heros they are. The central characters are all different amounts of broken, resentful, and flawed, but Lange doesn't create any pure villains. Instead, some of them have decent intentions that often lead to wayward actions. Others exhibit barbarism and malicious greed in the pursuit of quasi-honorable goals.
Riffing on the tropes of noir storytelling, Lange throws the dark and shadowy detective genre into the sun of Hollywood and the Mojave Desert. Most of the time the setting is bleak, seedy, and shady, but it's nonetheless vividly and authentically rendered by Lange. Plus, it's the perfect arena for the characters of This Wicked World to confront the onslaught of action Lange orchestrates. Honest and credible, this detective story is caked with the grunge of human behavior—and all the better for it.