Feb 252012

My dear friend, Michelle Farley, told me that I must read The Hunger Games series.  She assured me that I would plow through them all in no time.  As per usual, she was right.  I bought the trilogy and read all three books as one.  It has been a long time since I have read something so engrossing and so addictive.  I literally couldn’t put it down.  It immediately became one of those–just one more chapter– books that keeps you up reading into the wee hours of the morning.

The Hunger Games is a young adult novel (the first of three), written by Suzanne Collins.  The series is set in the future, in a dystopian society called Panem which is divided into 12 districts and controlled by a corrupt central Capital.  Panem is what used to be known as North America.  The Reaping is an annual event where each district provides two tributes by lottery–one girl and one boy, aged 12-18, to participate in the televised Hunger Games.  The teenagers fight to the death in a survival game and in the end there can only be one victor…

The heroine, Katniss Everdine is 16, smart, strong and skilled.  It is refreshing to see a young heroine whose top priority is not to find a boyfriend.  Aside from the fast paced plot and vivid descriptions, there are much deeper themes that run throughout the novel including poverty, censorship, privacy, classism, violence, survival, leadership, alliances and corruption–to name only a few.  These timeless themes harken back to some of themes explored in classics such as Brave New World, 1984, Animal Farm, Grapes of Wrath and Lord of the Flies.  Many school districts are now including The Hunger Games as part of their reading curriculum.  I can already imagine some really innovative comparative essays developing now.

The highly anticipated, star studded movie will be released March 23 which I am really excited about.  That said, READ the book first.  Michelle who recommended the book is on her second read in anticipation of the movie release.

May the odds be ever in your favour–Let The Hunger Games begin!

For your book club discussion:

1. How does Katniss feel about the country of Panem? Why does she need to make her face “an indifferent mask” and be careful what she says in public?

2. Describe the relationships of Katniss with Gale, with Prim, with her mother. How do those rela- tionships define her personality? Why does she say about Peeta, “I feel like I owe him something, and I hate owing people.” How does her early encounter with Peeta affect their relationship after they are chosen as tributes?

3. How does the fact that the tributes are always on camera affect their behavior from the time they are chosen? Does it make it easier or harder for them to accept their fate? How are the “career tributes” different from the others?

4. Why are the “tributes” given stylists and dressed so elaborately for the opening ceremony? Does this ceremony remind you of events in our world, either past or present? Compare those ceremonies in real life to the one in the story.

5. When Peeta declares his love for Katniss in the interview, does he really mean it or did Haymitch create the “star-crossed lovers” story? What does Haymitch mean when he says, “It’s all a big show. It’s all how you’re perceived.” Why do they need to impress sponsors and what are those sponsors looking for when they are watching the Games?

6. Before the Games start, Peeta tells Katniss, “ . . . I want to die as myself . . . I don’t want them to change me in there. Turn me into some kind of monster that I’m not.” What does this tell you about Peeta? What does he fear more than death? Is he able to stay true to himself during the Games?

7. Why does Katniss ignore Haymitch’s advice to head directly away from the Cornucopia? Did she do the right thing to fight for equipment? What are the most important skills she has for staying alive – her knowledge of nature? – her skill with bow and arrow? – her trapping ability? What qualities of her personality keep her going – her capacity for love? – her intelligence? – her self-control?

8. Why does Peeta join with the Career Tributes in the beginning of the Games? What does he hope to gain? Why do they accept him when they start hunting as a group? Why do groups form in the be- ginning when they know only one of them will be able to survive?

9. What makes Katniss and Rue trust each other to become partners? What does Katniss gain from this friendship besides companionship? Is Katniss and Rue’s partnership formed for different reasons than the other group’s?

10. Discuss the ways in which the Gamemakers control the environment and “entertainment” value of the Games. How does it affect the tributes to know they are being manipulated to make the Games more exciting for the gamblers and viewers? Does knowing that she is on live TV make Katniss be- have differently than she would otherwise?

11. When does Katniss first realize that Peeta does care for her and is trying to keep her alive? When does she realize her own feelings for him? Did Haymitch think all along that he could keep them both alive by stressing the love story? Are they actually in love?

12. What do you think is the cruelest part of the Hunger Games? What kind of people would devise this spectacle for the entertainment of their populace? Can you see parallels between these Games and the society that condones them, and other related events and cultures in the history of the world?

13. In 1848, Karl Marx wrote in The Communist Manifesto, “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” Discuss this statement as it applies to the society and government of Panem. Do you believe there is any chance to eradicate class struggles in the future?

14. Reality TV has been a part of the entertainment world since the early days of television (with shows such as Candid Camera and the Miss America Pageant), but in the 21st century there has been a tremendous growth of competitive shows and survival shows. Discuss this phenomenon with respect to The Hunger Games. What other aspects of our popular culture do you see reflected in this story?

 Posted by on February 25, 2012
Feb 222012

One detail that will leave many women of the world wanting me dead only to gain access to my Germ is this:  The Germ does not snore.  In fact he looks like an angel when sleeping.  He is such a sleeping angel that I can’t help but snap the occasional picture.

He resides somewhere between a sleeping baby or a cat sleeping in sunlight.  There he is, my wonderful Germ enjoying peaceful, quiet, non snoring slumbers.

I know far too many happy couples who are forced to sleep in separate rooms, wear earplugs and suffer from the ills of disrupted sleep–all because of the snoring issue.  Silent sleeping is just another one of the many great gifts bestowed on this gem of a Germ.

Fait des beaux rêves mon amour…

 Posted by on February 22, 2012
Feb 212012

I might be a little late to the party, but one of my nearest and dearest, the beloved Dr King has been repeatedly suggesting that I read Lloyd Jones’ Mr Pip for years.  I finally did and what a read.  I knew after the first few pages that Mr Pip was going to be a special book.

The novel is set in the early 1990s in the small South Pacific island country–Bougainville, during a civil war.  The story surrounds the one white person, Mr Watt, who remains on the island and takes over the role of school teacher for the island children.  With nothing but an old copy of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, Mr Watt, or Pop Eye as the children call him, reads one chapter to the class daily until the novel is finished.  The Dickens classic transports the children and the villagers into Victorian England and out of their war torn country.  Mr Pip draws attention not only to the power that literature yields and the countless places it can take us, but also, the timeless and universal themes Great Expectations explores.  Things in the novel get a lot more complicated when the soldiers of Bougainville are determined to uncover the man known as Pip…

Mr Pip made me long to read Great Expectations again.  The interpretation of the Dickensian characters through the eyes of the island children (and their parents) is brilliant.  This book is a fast read, beautifully written with countless points of discussions for reading groups. It is unlike anything I have ever read and really is a great book.  Just be warned–you may find yourself forced to dig out your old copy of Great Expectations as your next read…

Mr Pip discussion questions for your book club meeting:

1. Is it important that Mr. Watts is the last white man on the island? Why?

2. Why does Matilda write Pip’s name in the sand alongside the names of her relatives? Why does this upset her mother? How does this contribute to Dolores’s feelings about Mr. Watts’s instruction of her daughter? Are these feelings understandable?

3. Why do you think Mr. Watts pulled his wife in the cart? Why did he wear the red clown nose? What meaning did that have for them?

4. What is the message Matilda’s mother is trying to express to the children with the story of her mother’s braids? How is this related to the issue of Mr. Watts’s faith in God?

5. What did you think of the lessons that the mothers of the children bring to the classroom? If you were the parent of a child in Matilda’s class, what lesson would you teach the children? What might your mother have taught the class?

6. Who is Dolores warning the children about when she tells them the story about the devil lady and the church money? How does this story justify her actions regarding the book and the redskins? Do you agree with Dolores’s refusal to bring forth the book? With Matilda’s?

7. Where do you think Gilbert’s father takes Sam? How do you know? In your opinion, was it necessary that he do so?

8. Why does the corned beef in Mr. Watts’s house “represent a broad hope” for Matilda? Discuss Mr. Watts’s reaction to Matilda’s fragment. Do you believe that Grace was alive when Matilda arrived?

9. Discuss how the characters in this story struggle to reconcile the concepts of race and identity. Does it seem to dictate their interaction with each other? How does it influence their concepts of self? What moments, especially, helped reveal this to you?

10. What is the meaning of the story of the Queen of Sheba? Why does Mr. Watts bring it up? Why is it significant that Dolores is familiar with that story?

11. Why does Dolores step forward to declare herself “God’s witness” to the murder of Mr. Watts? Were you surprised that she did? Why does she insist that Matilda remain silent?

12. Do you think Matilda was able to return home? How would that outcome affect your reading of both novels?

13. Discuss your memorable experiences of being read to as a child. What book made the greatest impact on your life? Did any book come to you at precisely the right time, the way Great Expectations was brought to Matilda?

14. On Great Expectations and Mister Pip: Are both Mister Pip and Great Expectations universal coming-of-age tales? How did you react to the blending of these two distinctly different settings and time periods?

15. The initial lines of Great Expectations are reflected several times in this novel. Compare them to the opening lines of Mister Pip. What connections do these first sentences draw between the themes of both novels?

16. How is Dolores’s treatment of Matilda similar to Estella’s treatment of Pip in Great Expectations? How does this relationship help Matilda understand Pip’s attachment to Estella? Is it necessary that this attachment be severed before Pip/Matilda can grow individually?

17. What is signified by the changing of one’s name, both in Great Expectations and Mister Pip? Why does Matilda not change her name?

 Posted by on February 21, 2012
Feb 172012

The first thing I did was obvious.  Start writing a list.  Needed:  12 new things (do/try/experience) for the Champagne year.  One item on the list was to sing on stage.  That however is cheating as it is not new.  It is something I have done my entire life.  What I haven’t done is rap on stage.  Yes, rap.  I am a white cousin who likes to go gangsta (usually after some show tunes).  Jay Z is my boy and my kitchen and car are my forums. The audience is typically the Germ, my lovelies or a shared performance with Dr King.  This time however there was a real audience.  Sadly no Sean Carter in the house, but a little Marshall Mathers would do just fine.  Enter Eminem.

There is no question that rapping on stage counts as one of my twelve new things.  Before I took the stage, there was some serious performance anxiety, but the always encouraging Germ kept citing his favourite expression which I suspect will be a mantra throughout this year.  “Feel the Fear and DO IT anyway  So I did it.

Here is a video to prove that I did it.  It is definitely not the most flattering dress or stance, but it was my one shot, the only opportunity that I got…

Dr Joi would say that I am a hot mess.  Either way, I think it is pretty funny but the real bottom line is that I did it.  10 more to go!

Lose Yourself
 Posted by on February 17, 2012
Feb 142012

It just so happens that I married one of the greatest people in the world.  Lots of people think that about their spouse, but anyone who knows the Germ will likely agree with me.  He is consistently wonderful.

The champagne year has provided me with a unique opportunity to celebrate the Germ and let the world know why he is the greatest person I have ever met.

For example…

I was getting my makeup done for an event (Laura Mercier–always brilliant, flawless and classic) and the artist was applying false lashes to complete the look.  We had a conversation regarding how challenging it is to apply  your own false lashes.  The first always seems to go on well, but the Lord be with you while trying to get the second lash applied in the same way.  The artist then shared a story that actually changed my life.  She once rode the metro with one lash on, the other in hand because she just couldn’t get the second eye on right.  She simply stated  how much easier it is to have someone apply lashes for you.  As she spoke these words, I knew that I had just the person.  Later that evening I asked the Germ to take on the role of official lash applicator.  He gladly accepted the new role and has been applying my lashes ever since.

The Germ loves symmetry and is wonderful with details.  I thought this new information was the greatest discovery and was eager to inform all of my girlfriends that their lash dilemmas were finally solved.  Their men could apply their lashes for them.  Not only was it going to save them time and money, but also heart ache.  It was so simple.  It took my Germ less than two minutes and they were applied perfectly.   I was later shocked to discover the amount of men who flat out refused to partake in this beauty endeavour.  Refused.  They wouldn’t think of it.  I still don’t understand.

In less than two minutes, I am transfixed into a glamour puss, ready to take on the world with the help of my Bambi lashes, applied enthusiastically by no one other than my beloved Germ.  These small details, little acts of kindness and helpfulness are only a sliver of the countless reasons why I just love my Germ.  Everyone should have one.  The world would be a better place.

 Posted by on February 14, 2012