100 Years Is A Long Time to Last

December has the centenary anniversary of two of my favorite authors – Shirley Jackson and Penelope Fitzgerald.  Have you read The Lottery or The Blue Flower? If you have not, consider celebrating with a few of these authors’ good stories.

unknown-1A few years back I was so excited to hear a local book club had invited the author of The Lottery to speak; imagine how disappointed I was to discover it was a local author with a fictionalized memoir of buying a winning ticket in the sweepstakes.  Sadly, many in the audience had not read or heard of the famous author of horror and fantasy, Shirley Jackson.  When I read Jackson’s short story The Lottery as a young girl, her eerie Gothic world fascinated me, and I soon went on to read The Haunting of Hill House.  Her practice of writing one thousand words a day – more ambitious than Virginia Woolf’s goal of two hundred fifty – cemented her place in my list of writers to model.  December 14 is her 100th birthday.

unknown-2 Discovering Penelope Fitzgerald’s short novels accidentally opened a quiet escape for me.  I have her Man Booker Prize winning novel, Offshore, on my to-read list, but my two favorites of her writing are The Blue Flower and The Bookshop.  In her obituary for The Guardian, Harriet  Harvey-Wood wrote of her: “Throughout Fitzgerald’s novels, there are certain recurring themes, the most striking of which is the single-minded and blinkered innocent (usually male), whose tunnel vision causes disaster to those around. There is an example in almost every book, the most satisfying perhaps being Fritz von Hardenberg, Novalis in The Blue Flower.”  Perhaps because she found her voice later in life (writing The Blue Flower when she was 78), Fitzgerald represents an author to emulate. December 17 is her 100th birthday.

Addendum:

22trevor-obit-blog427 Today, a friend told me William Trevor died, and I looked for his obituary in the New York Times.  Although his birthday is in May, he deserves recognition.  I discovered Trevor when I read he was a favorite author of the revered British actress Maggie Smith, and I enjoyed his lyrical Irish flavor in The Story of Lucy Gault.  Have you read it?

 

The Hunger Games

Target practice on children has been a theme that occasionally pops up in literature – from Jonathan Swift’s 18th satirical essay, A Modest Proposal, suggesting we eat them for population control to Shirley Jackson’s haunting short story, The Lottery, having the winners stoned by family and friends.  The latter is closer to Suzanne Collins’ young adult science fiction  The Hunger Games, the first book in a trilogy.

True to form, Collins has adventure, true love, and villains – and a subliminal message.  The hunger games occur annually in the future – after the world as we know it has been destroyed, rebuilt, destroyed again, and finally at a place you wouldn’t want to live – unless you had lots of money (maybe not so different from today?).

Katniss

When Katniss’s 12-year-old sister’s name is announced as the district 12 (coal miners district) female representative to the murderous games, she volunteers to take her place.  The baker’s son, Peeta, becomes the male “tribune,” and they form an alliance that helps them both as they try to survive, without killing each other.  The Gamemakers’ rules  demand that out of 24 children, only one can be alive at the end.

Pitting children against each other in a fight to the death, the games are televised for the pleasure of gladiator thrill seekers – think Survivors episodes.   The games have a futuristic and macabre quality:   the controllers can strategically shoot fireballs at the participants just to liven up the action and electronic chips keep track of each participant and projects their moves (ala the Truman Show).

You know Katniss is going to survive – hey, she’s the heroine and this is the first in the trilogy – but you’ll still be on edge as she encounters each terrifying obstacle and almost dies a thousand deaths.  Collins hooks you into the action, and it’s fun – like riding an upside down roller coaster in the dark.

Katniss is better than Wonder Woman or Supergirl; her powers are those of a real girl and anyone young and resilient, smart and strong, true of heart, could tap into them – although shooting a rabbit in the eye with a bow and arrow might take some practice.

Part of growing up, at any age, is knowing how to play the game – unless you refuse to play or make your own rules.

I started this book in the morning and could not put it down until I finished.    What a trip – check it out for yourself.