Just as names are important in Harry Potter, they're an important clue in The Hunger Games. Some District names derive from plants (Katniss, Prim, Rue); others from nature's elements (Gale), others from the agricultural process (Thresh, Seeder, Chaff, Haymitch); and still others from food (Peeta, "the boy with the bread"). In the Districts, names are related to nature in some way. These contrast sharply to names in the Capitol and inner districts, which have come straight from the Roman Empire: Octavia, Flavius, Portia, Caesar, Claudius, Brutus, Plutarch, Cato, Venia, Cinna. (This last one is especially telling, because in the play Julius Caesar, there are two characters named Cinna: one conspires against Caesar, and the other is a humble poet who dies because he is mistaken for the first Cinna. Collins's Cinna has embodied a little of both.)
The land in which this story is taking place is called Panem, a Latin word meaning bread. In the Roman Empire, a vast network of conquered peoples, the emperor asserted both his authority and his magnanimity through panem et circenses ("bread and circuses"). In this approach, the Empire appeased the people's basest desires by distributing free food to the provinces and providing gladiatorial spectacles for their entertainment. Over time, the people of Rome demanded larger and ever more violent performances, using conquered peoples from around the world who were forced to fight each other to the death as gladiators.
You've got your work cut out for you when you're Stephenie Meyer. When you dare to write an in-between novella, the same people who criticized your doorstopping tomes of old now complain that you're holding out on them by penning a 168-page glorified short story. The people who got angry that there was too much of the Edward-Bella-Jacob love triangle in Eclipse now rant that The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner: An Eclipse Novella doesn't have enough of their lovelorn woes. And everybody assumes it's all just a marketing ploy to promote the Eclipse movie, which hit theaters yesterday with the largest-ever midnight launch in history. In short, you just can't win.
I'm sorry to add to the criticisms because I hope that Meyer will continue writing about this fascinating world she has created, and I don't want to be that vampire whose special superpower is whining. The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner is okay. But I have to say, I was hoping for more.
Bree Tanner is a don't-blink-or-you'll-miss-it character in Eclipse, whose story intersects with Bella's in the final battle scene.
I blame my mother for introducing me to the Gosselin family. During one of her visits last year, TLC was running a marathon of Jon & Kate Plus 8, and Mom was glued to the screen. I watched several episodes with her and was surprised to find that she knew each child's history and personality. Watching the show for the first time gave me more than a few schadenfreude moments. I saw one episode where Jon and Kate take the kids to Disney World. I couldn't imagine the stress of keeping track of them all, or scheduling their naps, or dealing with Mouse-induced meltdowns times eight. Those parents deserve a medal, I thought.
And yet the family has come under intense media scrutiny for, well, allowing the media to intensely scrutinize their lives. Americans just can't get enough of the Gosselins. As our own families get smaller, we're endlessly fascinated by ones that are supersized. We watch the Gosselins' show in part because we know that although our lives might seem crazy, we'll never be potty-training six toddlers simultaneously, on tiny toilets all lined up in a row. We'll never have to hold back some of our trash from one week to the next just because our allotted bins are already full of diapers. We'll never have half a dozen kids with fevers all at once. Thanks, benevolent universe!
If we haven't gotten enough of the Gosselins yet (even with Jon's well-publicized adultery and Kate's disastrous recent turn on Dancing with the Stars), the Zondervan book I Just Want You to Know promises the dish on Kate's kids, religious beliefs, and supersized life. I was prepared to cynically hate this book. And you know what? It's actually not bad, and there's a surprising amount of material on religionRead more of this review on my Flunking Sainthood blog at Beliefnet.