Suzanne Collins on the books she loves

Suzanne-CollinsImage Credit: Todd PlittBella who? These days it’s all about Katniss Everdeen, the tough-as-nails 16-year-old star of Suzanne Collins’ hugely popular post-apocalyptic series. When the first novel, The Hunger Games, blazed onto the scene in September 2008, it became an immediate best-seller. Stephenie Meyer wrote on her blog, “I was so obsessed with this book I had to take it with me out to dinner and hide it under the edge of the table so 
I wouldn’t have to stop reading,” and 
Stephen King reviewed it for EW, calling it “a violent, jarring speed-rap of a novel that generates nearly constant suspense.” 
 Catching Fire, the second book in the trilogy, was published to equal hubbub in September, prompting Lionsgate to snatch the series’ film rights—though the question of who will play Katniss is still up in the air. 
 Now Scholastic has ordered a massive 
 1.2 million first printing of Mockingjay, which goes on sale Aug. 24. So it seemed like a pretty good time to give Collins our 
EW book quiz.

Entertainment Weekly: Which classic have you never read—but pretended you did?

Suzanne Collins: I sort of half read Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge. It was assigned in 10th grade, and I just couldn’t get into it. About seven years later I rediscovered Hardy, and consumed four of his novels in a row. Katniss Everdeen owes her last name to Bathsheba Everdene, the lead character in Far From the Madding Crowd. The two are very different, but both struggle with knowing their hearts.

What book would you use to swat 
 a fly?

I try to catch flies in cups and put them outside. After
 I wrote The Underland Chronicles…well, once you start naming cockroaches, you lose your edge.

Tell us what your favorite childhood books were.

I’ve had a lifelong love of 
 mythology, so I’d have to top the list with Myths and Enchantment Tales, by Margaret Evans Price, which belonged to my mom when she was a girl, and D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths. Fiction standouts include A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle; The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster and Jules Feiffer; and Boris, by the Dutch writer Jaap ter Haar, which I still think is one of the best war stories written for kids. Unfortunately, it seems to be out of print in this country.

Are there books you’ve gone back to and read over and over again?

It’s embarrassing to admit how many times I’ve reread the following: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, 1984, Lord of the Flies, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Germinal, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and A Moveable Feast.

Is there a book that scared the pants off you?

The Hot Zone, by Richard Preston. 
 I just read it a few weeks ago. Still recovering.

Is there a book you always meant to pick up but never did?

The Idiot. I read several stage 
 adaptations when I worked for the Classic Stage Company, so I have a general idea of the story, but that’s a different experience. And I love Dostoyevsky’s writing, so I’ve been meaning to read it ever since.

What do you want to 
 read next?

Okay, well, now it has to be The Idiot. Next book I buy.

Comments (50 total) Add your comment
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  • Laura

    I had been hearing about these books for a few years, but never read them. I just finished the first two in two days and can’t wait for the third. They are gripping and exciting and make readers want to know what happens next!

    • megumi

      Agreed! These books are fantastic. Great books for all ages!

      • Monica

        I have been wanting to read Mockingjay since the first reeviw I read. I have on my wish list but being retired leaves only a small budget for books., sigh..Hey, maybe I can win one of these two in giveaway.lolThanks for the opportunity to enter this awesome giveaway.misskallie2000 at yahoo dot com

    • Talat

      This review is from: First, I want to sitablesh that I adored the first two books I’ve read them multiple times and recommended them constantly at the bookstore where I work; I read them aloud to my husband, gave them to friends and relatives, and I’ve looked forward to Mockingjay’s release for MONTHS! Once I got the book I didn’t read it for several days a little silly, but I realized I didn’t want the story to end. I should have kept to that instinct, because I have finished the book and now I just feel sick. I don’t want to own it and I don’t think I’ll ever re-read it. It wasn’t even well-written! I don’t say this off the cuff it wouldn’t be fair to criticize the book this way simply because I didn’t like the ending but it’s true, and here’s why: **********SPOILER ALERT*********SPOILER ALERT***********SPOILER ALERT*********** It was predictable and contrived. Collins created lots of expendable characters (Hi there, Team 451!) and then spent most of the book killing them off. It reminded me of the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie, where characters whose names you don’t know are being killed left and right so you know this is SERIOUS without having to lose a major character it’s a cheap trick, and I expected better of Collins. And cheating like this doesn’t actually work; it was so unlikely that she was going to kill off Katniss, Gale or Peeta in the middle of the book that it didn’t really create the suspense she was going for. Prim’s death (and Finnick’s) could have been used much more thoughtfully; instead we had a blitzkrieg of constant attrition to remind us that THIS IS WAR. It wasn’t evocative it just made me feel numb. This endless dying is interspersed with even-more-endless strategy and technical details. I repeatedly found myself skimming, which never happened with the previous two books. But these passages were so boring(!), and I kept hoping to find that Katniss had figured out a purpose or an orientation or had reached out to Peeta or even just accurately assessed something but no luck. Which brings me to character development, relationships, and philosophical reflections on values and motivations. They were vital in the previous two books, but they are nearly nonexistent here, and the book is fatally flawed because of it. Peeta is barely present, and if you discount the time that Katniss spends crying in corners, injured and in the hospital, taking morphling, or being manipulated or controlled by others and wandering around confused, she isn’t really present either. And Gale is unfairly characterized in order to resolve the love triangle it’s baffling, because Katniss of all people isn’t in a moral position to judge Gale, and I thought that was part of the point. Ultimately, the story is hijacked hey, that’s a good metaphor! by anti-war propaganda and a damn-near nihilistic outlook. I understand that Collins wanted to communicate that war and violence aren’t glamorous. I think she’s right. But (ironically) she’s done real violence to her characters and the merit in the world she created in order to bludgeon us with that value. In a way, you could call this book more realistic . And yet I think a book that accurately reflects the gritty horrors of war would show how people use dark humor as a coping mechanism. This book had none of the wry humor of the previous two. And for pity’s sake, what was Collins trying to achieve with the ending? I agree with those who say that Katniss agreed to a renewed Hunger Games featuring the children of Capitol citizens in order to get the opportunity to stop Coin it’s the only thing that makes sense, given what Collins is clearly trying to convey, and it fits best with the character of Katniss. But it’s not made explicit in the text. Leaving this up to conjecture was a major error on Collins’ part, or very bad editing. It’s not wise to be subtle in the philosophical part of the book that is meant to put the heavy-handed part into some kind of context. And the last four pages, where we finally learn: Peeta or Gale? An afterthought. I think what is worst is that by making this choice, Collins makes the war the only important part, the only real part of Katniss’s life all the rest calls for is a brief summary. Almost all injury, very little road to recovery (those real or not real conversations were one of the few highlights of the book). It’s baffling to me that this tacked-on ending is still fairy-tale-esque (that is, Katniss did settle down with her True Love and have children). But why bother giving her this semblance of a fairy-tale ending when it’s so clear that she’s DEAD INSIDE? It could have been insightfully ironic though that’s a little sick but it’s not. It’s just empty. Apparently, once you’ve been in a war, nothing not even consummation of true love or the birth of your

  • Briana

    I love The Hunger Games! I am so excited for Mockingjay!

  • ellie

    Great series, but a pity that EW had to frame this story (like they do everything about YA) in terms of TWILIGHT. THE HUNGER GAMES is a fabulous series of books and deserves to be recognized on its own merits.

    • Lilly

      100% agree. And its not just anything YA related- Its any BIG book series that somehow gets compared to twilight.

  • Izabella

    I have about 5 different series and triologies that I have been reading for a while now! They are all really great and in the Hunger Games, Vampire Academy, House of Night Series, I have finished the twilight, Vampire Diaries and on a different note The Sword of Truth series written by Terry Goodkind. I am a very avid reader!

  • Tiffani

    I’m sad that Suzanne is not proud of the Underland Chronicles. I loved every minute of those books, and I’m an adult. I couldn’t stop reading them. I secretly wish she would go back and write more. The last book left the reader hanging.

    • Lisa

      I agree! I’m 28 years old and just finished reading the Underland Chronicles. I really enjoyed the series and my daughter is starting them now (she’s 10). Obviously, The Hunger Games is what got me looking to see what else she wrote though…Can’t wait for the next book!

    • Joy

      She didn’t say she wasn’t proud of them, just that after writing them, she’s not as good at smashing bugs!

  • Vivian

    I love Hunger Games!! I can’t wait until August 24!!

  • Jill

    I want to name my daughter Katniss (if I ever have any children!)!! I recommend this series to all the teens who come into my library, but the waiting list is huge!! I’m near the top of the list for Mockingjay, but I still might have to go buy a copy, just because I love the series so much!

  • nunnya

    CANT WAIT! I’m counting down the days.

  • Lisa_lovesbooks

    I love the hunger games but after you said that reading her other books and it leaves you hanging god knows it would suck if in Mockingjay she did that. Let’s hope it ends epic that’s my dream sence a trilogy is to short for Katniss’s
    story in my opinion anyway.

  • Fan

    I love these books !! I know it’s a trilogy but still I am hoping that she keeps writing about Katniss even after Mockingjay. I think what makes these books so great is that she has kept all of the filth and profanity out of the picture. This makes the books enjoyable for all age groups not just kids and teens but all book lovers.

  • heather

    I truly enjoyed The Hunger Games series so far, but I do agree with the other fans comments that why do they have to compare to the Twilight series and put it in the category of YA genre, it is sort of insulting the intelligence of it’s readers.

  • Tonya

    I loved the Underland Chronicles – they are hands down the books I recommend most to my friends and blog readers! (and yeah – haven’t really been able to smash bugs with the same gusto myself ever since)

    Phantom Tollbooth was my absolute favorite as a child – another I recommend highly (as a matter of fact, I wonder if that neighbor has ever returned my copy…)

  • alex

    these books are awesome, i can’t wait till mockingjay!

    • ME

      Neither could I but now it’s out!!! I read it already and it’s really really good!!!

  • ME

    I LOVED ALL 3 BOOKS!! I CAN’T WAIT FOR THE MOVIES…SUZANNE ROX!!!!!

    • me

      wait there comeing out with a movie

    • Almedina

      that there is aonther sieres that the characters of that one show up in these and these characters show up in them. They are never main characters and they aren’t really important to the plot but apparently it’s really cool and well done.

  • Kathy

    I love the books. The Grandkids are reading them and so are the teachers at school.

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