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Of Bread, Blood and the Hunger Games: Critical Essays on the Suzanne Collins Trilogy (Critical Explorations in Science Fiction and Fantasy) [Paperback]

Donald E. Palumbo , Mary F. Pharr , Leisa A. Clark , C.W. Sullivan

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Book Description

7 Nov 2012 Critical Explorations in Science Fiction and Fantasy (Book 35)
The World of The Hunger Games is an anthology of scholarly but accessible essays on Suzanne Collins's epic trilogy. Spanning multiple disciplines, its contributors probe the trilogy's meaning using theories grounded in historicism, feminism, humanism, queer theory, as well as cultural, political, and media studies. Although the contributors demonstrate diverse critical perspectives regarding Collins's novels, their work has three elements in common: an appreciation of the trilogy as literature, a belief in its permanent value, and a need to share both appreciation and belief with fellow readers. To that end, this anthology's introduction acknowledges the significance of the series as both young adult and trans-generational/trans-genre literature. The 21 essay-chapters that follow the introduction are grouped into four parts. Part I considers the trilogy in the context of "History, Politics, Economics, and Culture," while Part II interrogates "Ethics, Aesthetics, and Identity" within the novels. Part III examines issues of "Resistance, Surveillance, and Simulacra," while Part IV looks at some of the "Thematic Parallels and Literary Traditions" that readers can find in Collins's narratives. The anthology also includes a core bibliography of dystopian and postapocalyptic works, with emphasis on the young adult category--itself an increasingly crucial part of postmodern culture.

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Of Bread, Blood and the Hunger Games: Critical Essays on the Suzanne Collins Trilogy (Critical Explorations in Science Fiction and Fantasy) + Approaching the Hunger Games Trilogy: A Literary and Cultural Analysis + The Hunger Games and Philosophy: A Critique of Pure Treason (The Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series)
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A must read for academics and fans alike! 10 Dec 2012
By Kelly Garbato - Published on Amazon.com
Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book through Library Thing's Early Reviewer program.

In anticipation of the 2012 release of the film, a number of books about The Hunger Games trilogy hit the market - much to my geeky joy. As far as academic volumes go, Smart Pop's most excellent THE GIRL WHO WAS ON FIRE was one of the early releases (later updated to include several chapters on the film), followed by THE HUNGER GAMES AND PHILOSOPHY: A CRITIQUE OF PURE TREASON from The Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series; OF BREAD, BLOOD AND THE HUNGER GAMES: CRITICAL ESSAYS ON THE SUZANNE COLLINS TRILOGY (part of the Critical Explorations in Science Fiction and Fantasy series); APPROACHING THE HUNGER GAMES TRILOGY by Tom Henthorne; and finally THE PANEM COMPANION, written by fan/academic V. Arrow. I was lucky enough to win a copy each of OF BREAD, BLOOD AND THE HUNGER GAMES and APPROACHING THE HUNGER GAMES TRILOGY from Library Thing (and still hope to snag a copy of THE PANEM COMPANION on its blog tour!).

Though written by academics - not a few of whom use papers previously presented at academic conferences as jumping off points - OF BREAD, BLOOD AND THE HUNGER GAMES can be enjoyed by everyday fans and serious scholars alike. Whereas academic pop culture anthologies run the risk of coming across as dry and even a bit tedious, OF BREAD, BLOOD AND THE HUNGER GAMES is neither. With few exceptions, the authors are engaging and insightful. Where jargon appears, it's thankfully kept to a minimum.

In contrast to many similarly-sized academic anthologies - which usually feature twelve or so essays - OF BREAD, BLOOD AND THE HUNGER GAMES contains a whopping twenty-one essays! As a result, each piece weighs in at just eight to ten pages. Though I was often left wanting more, this is far better than the alternative - namely, nodding off in the last few pages of the piece, even as you wish for the author to get to the point and wrap it up already! Perhaps the individual essays' short lengths is what helps to keep OF BREAD, BLOOD AND THE HUNGER GAMES feeling so fresh, concise, and to the point.

The twenty-one essays in OF BREAD, BLOOD AND THE HUNGER GAMES cover a range of topics, from crisis economics to food as a cultural metaphor and the shifting boundaries of human and "other." Reality television rears its oft-ugly head, and art, fashion, and propaganda also make for common topics of discussion.

While an existing knowledge of THE HUNGER GAMES trilogy is assumed, when the texts are discussed in relation to other works - THE RUNNING MAN, the Harry Potter series, TWILIGHT, BATTLE ROYALE, ENDER'S GAME, and William Shakespeare's Henriad all make appearances - the authors do a good job of explaining the pertinent details (that is, at least given the space allotted).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of my favorite pieces examine gender in the trilogy. In her contribution, "Of Queer Necessity: Panem's Hunger Games as Gender Games," Jennifer Mitchell makes the argument that Katniss - who is able to transition between masculine and feminine gender roles with relative ease, sometimes exhibiting "male" and "female" characteristics simultaneously - is at her core a genderqueer protagonist. Likewise, Ellyn Lem and Holly Hassel ("`Killer' Katniss and `Lover Boy' Peeta: Suzanne Collins's Defiance of Gender-Genred Reading") see the trilogy's blended genres (romance vs. war story) as a way to "bridge the gap" between young adult literature that, traditionally, has been stratified along gender lines. Peeta, the gentle, caring, and peaceful baker, exists opposite the "male-identified" Katniss, holding her morally accountable for actions. This mixing and flipping of gender roles provides a much-needed contrast to traditional YA fiction (the history of which Lem and Hassel summarize neatly for the reader, in a highly enjoyable and informative intro).

As an atheist, I expected to hate Tammy L. Gant's "Hungering for Righteousness: Music, Spirituality and Katniss Everdeen" - indeed, the first few pages are filled with furious scribblings - but I quickly came to love it. Largely absent from THE HUNGER GAMES `verse, religion has been replaced, in part, by music. "The ubiquitous presence of folk songs, lullabies, and songbirds suggests that Suzanne Collins uses music to fill the space meant for religion in Katniss's life." Not because religion is necessary - rather, the human heart needs hope and a sense of meaning (spirituality, if you will) to take flight.

Also intriguing is "Apples to Oranges: The Heroines in TWILIGHT and THE HUNGER GAMES." Amanda Firestone asserts that it's unfair to compare Katniss Everdeen's feminist merits to those of Bella Swan, since the two are born of completely different genres (post-apocalyptic/dystopian fiction and romance), each of which are governed by different rules and conventions. While her argument is compelling, I couldn't help but come away with the conclusion that, if Firestone is correct, romance is inherently (or at least traditionally) misogynist and thus much more poisonous to young women (and men!) than the violence found in THE HUNGER GAMES and its ilk. At the very least, the romance genre is in need of a drastic overhaul.

Given the whitewashing of the film(s) - see, e.g., the tumblog Katniss is Olive-Skinned - I'm a bit disappointed that none of the essays looked at the intersection of race and class in THE HUNGER GAMES. While it's true that OF BREAD, BLOOD AND THE HUNGER GAMES only discusses the trilogy, these are important enough topics of conversation to merit a mention on their own, even absent the film's whitewashing. Indeed, there's even one essay that talks about the story's geographical setting - "Coal Dust and Ballads: Appalachia and District 12″ - in which a look at race and class would have been right at home.

Also annoying: while several authors mention Katniss's early insistence that she remain childfree, only to eventually succumb to starting a family with husband Peeta, none note that he seems to have coerced - or, at best, pestered - her into doing so: "It took five, ten, fifteen years for me to agree. But Peeta wanted them so badly. When I first felt her stirring inside of me, I was consumed with a terror that felt as old as life itself. Only the joy of holding her in my arms could tame it. Carrying him was a little easier, but not much."

While this is perhaps meant to be charming or even inspiring, I find a lack of respect for a woman's bodily autonomy anything but. Pregnancy and childbirth can be a trial even in the best of times. Begging your wife who, as a survivor of multiple death games and a war on top of that, is recovering from PTSD and not keen on birthing and parenting kids, to do it anyway? "For me." That's just plain cruel. If you want children and she doesn't, perhaps you aren't that compatible after all.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Hunger Games trilogy has more to say than meets the eye 20 Dec 2012
By Daniel Estes - Published on Amazon.com
Every now and then a work of fiction marketed to young adults takes hold of the public consciousness. Fans of all ages connect with one another to dissect and discus the story beyond the mere narrative. Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy is one such example, and therefore deserves a closer, more critical examination.

Of Bread, Blood and the Hunger Games, edited by Mary Pharr and Leisa Clark, is a collection of scholarly essays aimed at exploring the larger themes from the three books. The writing here is more accessible compared with similar publications though casual fans of the story may still find it challenging. In my opinion, the strongest essays are the ones that focus on the subjects of reality TV entertainment versus gladiator-style voyeurism. Good examples of this are found in Part III, "Resistance, Surveillance and Simulacra."
5.0 out of 5 stars The best anthology so far 25 Aug 2013
By SJVM - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
This is a very helpful collection of academic but quite accessible articles on the Hunger Games trilogy. I learned something from every one of them, and even though some rather overlapped (how much can one really say about elements of reality TV and issues of gender?) and a piece that focused really clearly on the mythological and historical elements of THG would have been welcome, this is a very useful volume for people who want an academic/theoretical account of this popular trilogy - it's not written for young adult fans of the series, who have plenty of other materials.
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