Sunday, September 11, 2011

Rite of Spring?

After a long wait, I finally got a hold of The Hunger Games, which everyone on the hold list seems to have been reading.  Classified as a Young Adult book, this is a strange futuristic tale of a country (ours, in a future I hope doesn't come) in which a terrible yearly rite is carried out.  Each year, every district is required to select two young people to participate in the nationwide Hunger Games, which seems similar to Survivors but without the scruples.  In the Hunger Games, the last one alive wins.

This book is quite dark, but engrossing.  It put me in mind of Shirley Jackson's The Lottery, a story I read in high school, about a contemporary community which still practices something like the pagan rite of spring sacrifice.  I won't say too much more; I don't like spoilers.  This isn't a book I'd give to my young teen, but it is a well-constructed story with an unexpected ending.  Even better, it begins a series, and I'm waiting now for the second installment, Catching Fire.

Switching genres entirely now, I would like to recommend an excellent nonfiction book recently published.  1493, by Charles C. Mann, is subtitled Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, and could just as easily have been called The Columbian Exchange.  Mann's sizable tome covers all populated continents, as he documents the ripple effect (in some places, more of a tsunami effect) that the European conquest of the Americas caused.
Mann also published 1491, about the Americas before Columbus.  I enjoyed this book, but not quite as much as 1493.  In 1493, he spends some time on the devastating effect of European diseases on the local people, whose populations were decimated by smallpox, measles, and other diseases they had never experienced, and writes at length of the effect of the malarial mosquito on Europeans.  Anyone who is interested in food will find interesting the chapters on origins of certain fruits, vegetables, and grains we take for granted as native to our lands today.

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