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BOOK LOVE: The Hunger Games trilogy

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, “The Hunger Games,” a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed.

This mega-selling trilogy is down as YA fiction (as is Lauren Oliver’s Delirium, another of my Book Loves), but I definitely want to read more if this is where YA is at these days. I refrained from this series for a while as I thought the premise sounded pretty macabre. And it is, but after a few recommendations from trusted reader friends, I shook off my reservations and I’m glad I did. From the first chapter, I was completely absorbed in Katniss Everdeen’s journey. I’ve obviously got a thing for dystopian fiction – I love their vivid re-imagined worlds, the fast-paced action, and the exploration of control and subversion. I’m obviously not alone. Why do these stories appeal to so many people, and teenagers in particular? Perhaps it is because there is obvious and terrible injustice in the real world as to how powerful people control and manipulate others, and in these books there is an opportunity of redress by an everyday, ordinary person. The story of Katniss Everdeen might belong to a fantastical world, but I found one of its strongest themes was that there is hope to be found even in the most powerless, grotesque and overwhelming situations.

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BOOK LOVE: The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony

  “They [the elephants] taught me that all life forms are important to each other in our common quest for happiness and survival. That there is more to life than just yourself, your own family, or your own kind.”

 

This is one of the most remarkable stories I’ve read in my life, and has been inspirational to me over the past year. Lawrence Anthony’s retelling of the rescue of a herd of traumatised elephants moved me from the first page to the last. I’ve spent some of the last year writing about elephants for my new novel, and I’d planned to contact Lawrence and tell him how much his book had inspired me. When I came out of my writing haze, handed my book in, and looked up his details on the internet, I found he had died a few weeks earlier, in March 2012, aged 61.

His death was terribly saddening and shocking, and appears to have been unexpected, as he had forthcoming plans to promote his new book The Last Rhinos. He is a great loss to the conservation world, but the most touching tribute does not seem to have come from his fellow man, but from the elephants he saved and loved, who apparently, inexplicably, made the long journey from the bush to his house, and stood for two days in mourning (http://delightmakers.com/news/wild-elephants-gather-inexplicably-mourn-death-of-elephant-whisperer/).

Vale Lawrence Anthony. The world will miss you.

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Perth Writers Festival #2: The death of print?

On Sunday morning I attended a Perth Writers Festival session discussing the future of printed books in this world of rapid, almost rabid, technological change. I was completely engrossed listening to the panel of Geordie Williamson (chief literary critic of the Australian), James Bradley (novelist), Lev Grossman (novelist) and Angela Meyer (writer, Literary Minded blog) as they contributed a wealth of suggestions and observations. There were a few differences of opinion, but one thing was for certain: change is already upon us, whether we are prepared for it or not.

I came away feeling reasonably positive. James Bradley noted that, as happened with the music industry, the restructuring of the book industry would engender a new wave of creativity. Lev Grossman suggested that the new technologies need not mean the death of the old ones, but rather the advent of something ‘more complex and interesting’. And Angela Meyer proposed that the bookstores who prevail will be the ones who create a culture around themselves, such as the Readings chain in Melbourne (which I’m excited to be visiting for the first time next week). Geordie Williamson observed that we may end up seeing a more diverse industry, akin to the way things operated before conglomerate consolidation.

One question raised was whether the enhanced e-book is a good or bad thing – or indeed if it is possible to authentically translate all books into standard or enhanced e-formats.  I loved Lev Grossman’s statement that ‘just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should’ (something that sprang to mind again as I looked longingly at the scones in my local cafe this morning). Geordie Williamson’s related comment, that in our excitement we may begin to see technology as a virtue in itself instead of a tool, also rang bells with me – because my fiction books are written with the aim that I want you to lose yourself in them. I don’t want you to pause to click on words to find out their meaning unless you absolutely have to. I don’t want your e-reader battery life to run out just before the final chapter. I don’t want you to accidentally press the wrong button and find yourself reading a random page. I guess in some ways my novels (and, heaven forbid, me?!) are a little bit old school, so I’m happy I am writing at a time when I can see them in print.

I got home that night and saw on Twitter that the publishers of the Oxford dictionary have conceded there is no point in publishing the printed version any more. From now on it will be online only. I thought of my enormous dictionary in the study, which I frequently don’t bother to haul out, since I can look up a word much faster on the internet. And yet… to flick through page after page of minuscule text and find random words you never knew existed … to be able to feel the English language as a weight in your hands… The loss may not be registered by future generations, but at that moment I began to feel it.

However, on the panel, James Bradley told us that Socrates apparently deplored the coming of the written text as he said we’d no longer have to remember things. It’s a reminder that many fears prove unfounded, and that change, loss and adaptation are part and parcel of life. So while I may get nostalgic for the vanishing worlds of this wonderful business, I’m also looking ahead with optimism and excitement at what may come next, and enjoying being part of it all.