Jake Ryan, urine, and two good books

*Note to readers: I am visiting family for the Thanksgiving holiday, so posts will be fewer for the next couple of days

It is all about learning lessons and consistently applying them to your life. One learns lessons without realizing it, and then you apply them to your daily routine without a thought. I clean the bathroom and I have learned an important life lesson: if you’re the one who has to clean up the piss; aim better or sit down.

Seems learning lessons and telling stories about them is a great way to write a profitable book. Tina Fey’s Bossypants is a good example. All those years writing and acting improv at Second City and SNL has been hugely profitable for her. It also seems that realizing universal truths and lessons is a good way to tell stories about 14 year-old girls and 19 year-old boys. Comparing two teen characters in novels is also a great way to discuss life lessons.

Teen girl literature has reached a point of cultural saturation. Forks, Washington, is a tourist destination because imaginary vampires and werewolves are fighting the classic battle of good versus evil there. (Forks is, right now as I write this, about 2 hours from where I sit in the play room of my family’s house here in Tacoma) Grown-ass women are coo coo over Coco Puffs for the Twilight series. I guess Jake Ryan would be even hotter if he sucked  blood. Before you throw up in your mouth, this is not a blog post about vampires or werewolves. It is about the first book in the Hunger Games trilogy, which has a 14 year-old girl protagonist and The Sojourn, which has a teen boy protagonist.

21st Century America has not reached World War I cultural saturation. Other than one bad-ass video and All Quiet on the Western Front, my youth was not filled with WWI references. WWI was the Great War, but so few of us know anything about it. My grandfather fought in the trenches of France and blinded in one eye by mustard gas. War is nasty business, and its survivors are seldom eager to recount it. WWI has become a few paragraphs in high school history classes, yet it laid the foundation for the rest of the 20th Century and its legacy remains with us today in the aftermath of the Cold War. Without WWI, there is no Hitler. With no Hitler, there is no present day Europe with its unified Germany. Present day Ireland, Spain, Italy, Greece, and Portugal ought to be thankful for a unified Germany and its strong economy.

The connection between a “young adult” science fiction story and a WWI novel is easier to see if they the books are read in close proximity and one takes the time to list the commonalities. Both are stories about survivors and growing from child to adult through pain and violence.

In the world of life lesson novels the formula (that these two books have) is pretty simple. If I was going to write a novel, here is what I would include:

– young hero/protagonist (learning important lessons are better for youth)

– 1 parent homes (Hunger Games: single mom where dad died in mining accident; The Sojourn: single dad where mom died in a train accident… ramifications of the violent deaths of a parent run through these stories like a main artery)

– Outdoor survival skills (… I skin a buck, I can run a trot line … it’s the survivalist’s code)

– pain and suffering (getting hurt, and causing pain and suffering on others is how our heroes learn about themselves… killing other humans is key to survival)

– hunting skills (along with outdoor survival skills like starting a fire and killing fellow humans, killing large animals plays a key way in which the heroes hone their skills)

– Winning is the result of surviving (winning at a last-man-standing game and war means nothing else but coming out of the meat grinder with only a few fingers or toes missing… but the minds of heroes are the real scarred body parts)

– realization that being a pawn in a larger game is key to winning (accepting one’s role and place in life makes learning lessons a lot easier)

– hunger (not only is hunger in the title of one of the novels, but the experience of starving is an important avenue in realizing how its the little things, like food, that make life enjoyable)

Take these factors, throw in dirt, cold, and depravity and you have a damn good book. Both stories also make you realize that surviving doesn’t mean you really win; it means that you have a future filled with nightmares, regrets, and a childhood cut short. I think it is more fun to read (and as informational) Yummy Yucky. I have accepted my role as head piss cleaner-upper … it’s a life lesson I have learned and accepted.


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