Monday Miscellany: Big- & Small-Screen Edition

The making of a blockbuster

Salon exclusive: The behind-the-scenes story of the readers and booksellers who launched the Hunger Games franchise

Laura Miller’s commentary:

The Hunger Games franchise, with Oscar-nominated actress Jennifer Lawrence in the starring role, aims for a spot in a select but very sweet pantheon: movie adaptations of bestselling children’s book series that have become box office juggernauts. The Harry Potter movies set the pattern, and the Twilight films proved that it could be replicated. So far, the Hunger Games’ chances look good; according to a poll conducted by MTV’s Nextmovie.com, the film version of Collins’ dystopian young adult novel is even more eagerly anticipated than “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2.”

Contributing to the appeal of The Hunger Games trilogy is its popularity among adults as well as young adults–popularity bolstered by Stephen King’s early review of the first book for Entertainment Weekly. And the battle sequences should appeal to boys as well as to girls.

Read Miller’s account of how the world of children’s and YA literature functions as a massive social network that pumps books like Collins’s long before they are ever published.

Schools debate educational value of ‘The Hunger Games’

Part of the huge network that publicizes children’s and YA literature, discussed by Laura Miller in the article above, is teachers who incorporate the book into their lesson plans. This article in The Seattle Times discusses how local schools and parents are approaching the question of whether the book and film are too violent:

Around here, the debate is playing out at a handful of middle schools, where administrators are hoping to tap into the movie’s popularity for educational gain while parents are worried the kids are too young to comprehend its themes.

The principal of one middle school initially approved a planned field trip to the movie but then cancelled the trip when some parents complained. Students from other schools will see the film in groups, “then participate in class discussions about issues it brings up, especially related to violence, youth empowerment and government abuse.”

Jeanne Brockmyer, a psychologist and professor at the University of Toledo, said the educational benefit of controversial books and movies depends on how they are used in the classroom. Research indicates that a discussion of the consequences of violence is the most effective avenue, she said.

This discussion of the appropriateness of The Hunger Games in the classroom is particularly intense in the Seattle area:

While the series is popular across the country — it currently occupies the top spot on The New York Times list of best-selling children’s series — it has an especially strong following in this area; Seattle ranked No. 4 on a recently released list of the top “Hunger Games” book-purchasing cities on a per-capita basis.

The Mockingjay Problem

Note: The article linked here contains spoilers about Mockingjay, so you may want to avoid reading it until after you’ve finished the book.

While schools and parents debate the discussion of The Hunger Games in the classroom, Slate is already wondering how the filmmakers will adapt Mockingjay, the final book of the trilogy, for film:

But if the first Hunger Games book introduces some awkward elements for a teen-friendly, mainstream movie, the third in the series, called Mockingjay, will force filmmakers to turn massacre and despair into blockbuster entertainment. . . . Whatever Mockingjay is—a bold and unflinching climax to a best-selling series or a disjointed leap into antiwar protest fiction—there’s one thing it probably isn’t: a book that’s easily adapted for the screen.

According to writer Erik Sofge, Hollywood has traditionally taken three approaches when forced to adapt “a beloved, but dark work of science fiction or fantasy to the big screen”:

  • Play chicken
  • Tactically rewrite
  • Screw the fanboys

Sofge says that Hollywood might use any one of these three approaches. Which one would you prefer?

Plan Your Own ‘Mad Men’ Dinner

AMC’s hit TV series Mad Men has been sidelined for almost 18 months by contract negotiations. If you want to throw a party to celebrate its return, consult “The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook by Judy Gelman and Peter Zheutlin, who have painstakingly gone through each episode to figure out where and what each character was eating or drinking.”

According to Publishers Weekly writer Mark Rotella, “All the classics are here—beef Wellington, Waldorf salad, rib eye cooked in a pan, chicken Kiev, and for dessert, a pineapple upside-down cake and an apricot apple pie.”

But wait, there’s more:

In the spirit of Mad Men and 1960s cuisine and culture, Running Press will publish in April The Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Sixties Cookbook by Rick Rodgers (I Love Meatballs!) and Heather Maclean (who wrote The Skinny Italian with Teresa Giudice of Real Housewives of New Jersey fame). They offer fun and fact-filled recipes, cocktails, and menus for pigs in blankets; quiche Lorraine; date nut bread and cream cheese sandwiches; chicken Divan, and much more.

And there’s even a menu for your dinner party.

As an additional treat, Flavorwire offers The Definitive ‘Mad Men’ Reading List, “an extensive list of books featured in, based on, or that inspired Mad Men.”

The Way We Read Now

The best case I’ve seen for electronic books, however, arrived just last month, on the Web site of The New York Review of Books. The novelist Tim Parks proposed that e-books offered “a more austere, direct engagement” with words. What’s more, no dictator can burn one. His persuasive bottom line: “This is a medium for grown-ups.”

Dwight Garner admits that he still prefers to read his books “the old-fashioned and nongreen way, on the pulped carcasses of trees that have had their throats slit.”

It’s time to start thinking, however, about the best literary uses for these devices. Are some reading materials better suited to one platform than another?

Read what he has to say about these devices:

  • smartphone
  • ereaders
  • iPad

He offers suggestions for some texts that work well (or not) for each type of device.

And here’s his advice on how to listen to an audiobook on your iPhone without using earbuds:

Keep an audio book or two on your iPhone. Periodically I take the largest of my family’s dogs on long walks, and I stick my iPhone in my shirt pocket, its tiny speaker facing up. I’ve listened to Saul Bellow’s “Herzog” this way. The shirt pocket method is better than using ear buds, which block out the natural world. My wife tucks her phone into her bra, on long walks, and listens to Dickens novels. I find this unbearably sexy.