Saturday, March 24, 2012

Guess I never ended up reading Hunger Games

I'm pretty disappointed in myself this morning.

Months ago, I vowed to read The Hunger Games before the movie hit theaters. Today, it's hitting theaters. And I haven't read it.

Yet more proof that I have become a hopeless reader. And maybe that's what disappoints me more than anything.

I have always been a slow reader, but at least in the past, I used to make my way through a couple books a year. At a minimum. But lately, I don't seem to make my way through anything.

It would be tempting to say that I don't find the time, because for the past 19 months I've been a father, and that kind of thing leaves you less time overall. But there has been no discernible drop in the number of movies I've seen -- those, I fit in. It's the reading that has really suffered.

Which, I try to tell myself, is okay. Fact is, movies are my "reading" -- they're the texts I'm consuming, because they're my passion. So while my friends may read more books than I do, I certainly see more movies than they do. Your value judgments on which practice is more objectively useful are yours -- but since this is a film blog and you're reading it, I'm guessing you're at least sympathetic to my position.

And I do this not only because of a personal love, but for professional reasons. If I wanted to be a book critic -- which I think would be a terrible job for me, because I read so slowly -- I'd probably read more books. But I'm a film critic, so films are my books.

But back to The Hunger Games. While I don't generally think it's necessary or even desirable to have read a particular book before you see the movie, I do think there can be a certain thrill to seeing something you read come to life on the big screen. From time to time, I think it's useful to create this situation for myself.

And The Hunger Games seemed like a good choice. I know it's sort of aimed at teens, but not to the same extent as Twilight, and a number of friends whose tastes I respect have spoken highly of it. Not to mention that it seemed like just the kind of quick, accessible reading to renew my interest in the joys of getting lost in a good book.

If not for a little twist of fate, I might have actually read it. A friend of mine was planning to loan me the book, but I didn't pick it up from him soon enough and he ended up loaning it to somebody else. With the pressure of having to read it and return it to the person who loaned it to me (even though he certainly wasn't planning to read it again himself), I certainly would have prioritized it. But without that pressure, it was left to me to either borrow it from someone else or buy it. With the ball in my court, I dropped it.

Yeah, there were a couple times I flirted with buying it. I had (still have) an Amazon gift card that would have been perfect for it. I also picked it up off the shelf a couple times in book stores, weighing the possibility of a purchase. But in each case, something stopped me -- like the fact that I'm still reading a book of Raymond Carver short stories my wife got me for my birthday in October, and have made almost no progress on it in the last three months. She actually bought me that book with the hope that the shorter stories would encourage faster reading, since she knows I aspire to read more. (When in fact, the opposite could be true -- you power quickly through a book because you become invested in its characters.) If I bought The Hunger Games before I finished the Carver stories, it would signal a certain defeat to both my wife and to me.

I guess I could still read the book before I see the movie. I am not by any means committed to seeing this movie in the theater, even though its 68 Metascore indicates that director Gary Ross seems to have brought it to the big screen successfully.

But now I'm also wondering if it wouldn't just be better to see the movie without reading the book. Sometimes, already knowing what will happen in a movie is a drawback to enjoying it as much as you might otherwise.

Let's take the example of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, arguably the most popular book in recent years other than The Hunger Games. (More popular, I'm sure.) I didn't read Stieg Larsson's novel, but I did see its Swedish film adaptation prior to seeing David Fincher's in December. I'd say that knowing how the novel ends, from seeing the first adaptation, did in fact affect my enjoyment of Fincher's movie. Then again, this may be a bad example, because in the end I just don't find the mystery itself in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo all that satisfying. It's also not a great example for this particular post because I didn't read the book. Reasons already discussed.

We can also look at the flip side -- enjoying a movie more because I hadn't read the book. I think one of the reasons I responded so positively to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II was because I watched it in suspense, not knowing what would happen -- whether one of our heroes would not survive the final chapter of this tale. If I'd read the Harry Potter series, I would have been watching the movie primarily to see how successfully they translated it to the screen, not getting caught up in a story whose twists and turns were, blissfully, still a mystery to me.

The nice thing about The Hunger Games, as it is now, is that I don't know what happens. Yeah, I know that the characters played by Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson are pretty likely to survive the first movie. But I don't know what happens with a lot of the other characters -- in fact, I don't yet even know those characters. Since this is a story about life and death, there are definitely going to be a number of people who die. Maybe I'm better off not knowing. Maybe I'll enjoy the movie even more.

Fortunately, I don't have to make up my mind too quickly. This movie will be in theaters at least until May, and I wouldn't be going in the first couple weekends regardless. And I don't have to worry about anyone spoiling the movie for me, I wouldn't think -- the benefit of it already existing as a book is that if people intended to spoil it for me, they probably would have done it already.

If you plan to see The Hunger Games weekend, good luck fighting the lines, and I hope it's at least better than the Twilight movies.

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