Book Notes: Suzanne Collins’s The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

On the heels of our recent discussion about the demise of the genre of male Bildungsroman, I have to report that Collins has written a very decent male Bildungsroman. It follows the formula established for the genre sixty years ago. I have very little doubt that Collins is entirely unaware of the formula but you don’t have to understand gravity to be governed by its laws. It’s fascinating to observe how closely authors from different continents and eras follow the formula. There’s a trip, a return, an exalting friendship, a debasing one, an attempt to break societal norms, a repentance, another attempt. It’s a script that people follow without knowing it exists.

Of course, the only reason why Collins’s male Bildungsroman works is that she set it in a dystopian futuristic society. Try to set it in actual reality, and you’ll end up with an indigestible snooze fest.

Another interesting thing is that when Collins tried to write a female Bildungsroman in her Hunger Games series, the Bildungsroman part crashed like a drunk driver on a highway. The plots were very entertaining, don’t get me wrong. But the main character should have auditioned for a part in Frozen because she was clearly incapable of any growth.

In short, I liked Ballad about 5,000 times more than the previous three novels. Also, the original songs are very good. And yes, they even rhyme.

The Flu Flu

OK, I have come across an even more annoying variant of “have you been vaccinated for COVID?”

It’s “have you had your flu shot?” I have, so I said yes.

“No,” the person replied aggressively. “I mean the FLU flu. You know. COVID.”

If you think COVID is “just like flu,” then why are you so aggressive about vaccines?

Not only am I constantly and aggressively solicited to provide private medical information, I now have to make an effort and guess what people mean by the “flu flu.”

Long COVID

Two thirds of people with “long COVID” never had COVID. It doesn’t mean their suffering isn’t real. But it does let us guess with a near complete certainty how they lean politically.

P.S. There’s also no doubt that some people – although a lot fewer than make the claim – can have long-term effects from COVID. They still need to have COVID first, though.

The Lidia Falcón Interview

When I was growing up, women turned into old ladies when they hit menopause. They’d put on headdresses and sit on a bench downstairs to gossip, criticize the neighbors, and complain about old age. The Soviet system obliged this mentality by retiring women at 55. Men retired at 60 but their life expectancy was 12 years shorter in peacetime, so the issue of old age was often moot.

This is why talking to Lidia Falcón, who at 85 has more energy and leads a fuller life than many 25-year-olds, was quite an experience. I learned a lot of fascinating stuff and got an invitation to visit the writer when I go to Spain but the most valuable takeaway is that old age begins when you decide it begins. I also really enjoyed how in a long conversation there was no mention of COVID and no complaints about young(er) people.

I also discovered that two of the projects I’m working on and that I walked into seemingly randomly are connected. This has no value for scholarship but it has a lot of value for me.

“I’ll definitely come over for some coffee when I’m in Spain,” I said at the end of the interview.

“Coffee?” Lidia asked. “Umm, I was hoping for something stronger. Maybe even much stronger, you know?”