I hope my pick for the most significant book of 2013 will surprise you. It surprises me. For one thing, it’s not a book. It wasn’t published in 2013. And I’ve never mentioned it on Litkicks before.
Before I explain, here’s a quick wrap-up of my year of reading and blogging. There was a lot of philosophy, history and politics. Early in 2013, I got into Jacques Derrida. This was for me a belated discovery (isn’t Derrida supposed to be sophomoric? I’m no sophomore) but a happy one. In July I took a trip to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for the 150th anniversary of that amazing Civil War battle, and then went back home to begin obsessively reading a whole lot of books about the American Civil War. I’m planning to write more about the literary legacy of the Civil War as the battlefield sesquicentennials of Wilderness and Spotsylvania loom. Continuing my weird march through what may seem to my readers to be randomly assorted moments (ahh, but they’re not!) in American history, I also read and blogged extensively about disgraced Vice-President Spiro Agnew this year.
I wrote a lot about music and film in 2013. The death of Lou Reed, one of my all time favorite singer-songwriters, inspired in me a vast blast of sudden blogging, which was exhausting. As I mentioned in a comment to one of the above posts, I sure hope Bob Dylan has a good doctor, because I don’t want to blog that much again anytime soon. I also continued my series of articles about musical memoirs, because it pleases me to do so, and I hope it pleases some of you too. The next installment in the “Great Lost Rock Memoir” series drops in January.
I got pretty excited about Baz Luhrmann’s film version of The Great Gatsby in 2013 — not so much because Baz treated F. Scott Fitzgerald well (he didn’t) but simply because he tackled the classic with such audacity and fresh verve. That’s what I like to see in a film adaptation — let the source material be damned. I also approved of another literary film, the Beat Generation-inspired Kill Your Darlings, and I hope I’ll get to write about the new Kerouac adaptation Big Sur soon, if the movie can manage to show up anywhere in my vicinity of possible viewing.
Now, let’s talk about the most significant book of 2013. This book wasn’t published in 2013, but the second installment of the popular movie series came out this year, and it was a knockout. I’m talking, of course, about the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins (which is why I say it’s not a book — it’s three books — hah!).
I read all three Hunger Games books because my kids told me too; in this case, as in so many others, my kids were right on target. These are gritty, painful stories about an oppressed society about to burst into revolution. The grim scenes of downtrodden enslaved communities are matched by subversive satire about wealth and excess whenever the protagonists leave their homes to visit the Capitol, a bright city in which everybody dresses like Lady Gaga. The knowing send-up of reality television and high-stakes entertainment is wonderfully clever. The love triangle between Katniss Everdeen and her two suitors Gale Hawthorne and Peeta Mellark is brilliantly drawn and recalls the fine agony Scarlett O’Hara faced when trying to weigh the relative merits of Ashley Wilkes and Rhett Butler in Gone With The Wind.
I’m picking the Hunger Games trilogy as the most significant book of 2013 not because of what Hunger Games is, but because of what the world in 2013 is. I sense hope in the air. I hear the song of the mockingjay, distant but approaching.
Hunger Games is about a revolution that badly needs to happen, that finally begins to happen. Here in the real world, it seems that Edward Snowden’s well-placed revelations about the privacy invasions required to maintain a hyper-military state have made a wide impact. My favorite President Barack Obama had a rough year — the launch of Obamacare was a mess, and I’m sorry to see that many voters who dislike Obama are taking the opportunity to blame our government’s privacy invasions personally on him (I think this misses the point) — but it’s good news that as of December 2013 the vitally important healthcare legislation known as Obamacare has managed to stand. In Kiev, Ukraine, the citizens are protesting in the streets. All over the planet, there is a growing awareness of ecological concerns. Maybe the happiest surprise of all in 2013 was the arrival of Pope Francis, the first Pope from South America, who stunned the world by declaring some truths that many of us already knew, but never expected the leader of the Catholic Church to say: that gay people may seek God, that a politicized obsession with the legality of abortion has harmed the Catholic Church’s greater message, that vast income inequality is a growing problem that must be addressed, and that trickle-down economics has not proven itself to be a humane policy.
In the first book of Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen discovers the extent of her own strength and skill. In Catching Fire, the second book and second movie, Katniss’s discovery is not about her own strength and skill, but about the strength and skill of the community that supports her. Perhaps this is why the second book/movie is even more thrilling than the first.
I’m not in the habit of embracing the products of pop culture, or of seeing violent flashy movies in theaters packed with teenagers. But there is great value in opening one’s mind, and this book/movie franchise really is that good. But anyway, that’s not why I’m picking it as my favorite for 2013. I’m picking it because it has inspiration to offer. It’s a story about hope for the future. And I think 2013 was a mockingjay year.