Thursday, May 5, 2011

Why I Didn't Buy "The Hunger Games"; or Reading Pet Peeves

I was out shopping the other day, waiting for Beloved Husband to return from wherever he had gone off to, and I saw a rack of current Young Adult bestsellers. Among them was "The Hunger Games," by Suzanne Collins.

Since this is a book that has been getting a lot of buzz lately, I picked it up and read the back cover blurb. It sounded intriguing--just the sort of dystopian future story I loved as a teenager.

I almost put it in my shopping cart, but something inspired me to open it to the first page and read the first line: "When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold."

Aw, crap. First person present tense.

I put the book back on the shelf.

I know there are many reasons authors, especially those writing for the YA market, choose to write in first person present tense these days. They like the immediacy, the intimacy they claim it brings to a story. And, I'm told, it's better suited to the short attention span of today's teens. They don't want to know what happened yesterday, or even ten minutes ago. They're only interested in NOW.

The problem is that I guess I'm just too old school for that. I like my books to be in good, old-fashioned past tense. If it was good enough for Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, it's good enough for me. I can and have struggled through a few FPP novels, but it's generally just that for me--a struggle. My brain trips and falls on it just as surely as my feet find and trip on the curled-up edge of an area rug. It's reading, but it's no longer fun.

I know I'm not the only one to have these sorts of prejudices. I prefer to write in first person past tense, but I have a friend who has an intense dislike for any first-person story. Other friends dislike stories with non-human main characters, too much romance, or any four-letter words whatsoever.

As a writer, I already know that it's impossible to write a book everyone will love, and that if I were ever to try, I'd be far more likely to end up with something that everyone hated, or, at best, something that left everyone feeling indifferent.

In the end, a writer has to be true to his or her story, and tell the story in the way it needs to be told. But I have to admit that I wonder how many authors are writing in first person present tense because they truly believe that their story calls for it, and how many are doing so because they want to sound hip and trendy?

Hmmm...I suppose in the future, e-reader technology could advance to the point where a reader could select the tense and POV in which they would prefer to read a given story. That might be kind of cool, actually.

But until that happens, I'm afraid I'll be leaving "The Hunger Games" on the shelf.

[Addendum: As I finished writing this up and posting it, my music player application chose to play Jethro Tull's "Skating Away (On The Thin Ice of a New Day)". Which includes the line, "Well, do you ever get the feeling that the story's too damn real and in the present tense?" I think that's what we call "irony."]