Thursday, May 31, 2012

Thoughts on ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK by Piper Kerman

I have just reread ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK: MY YEAR IN A WOMEN'S PRISON by Piper Kerman, published in 2011. This is a memoir about exactly what the subtitle says: a year spent in prison by Piper due to a drug-related conviction. Piper's memoir is note-worthy because she not only tells her story but also reflects on the larger social implications of the ways that prisons and the criminal justice system function.


Piper grew up in the northeast, graduated from Smith, and fulfilled her parents' expectations for someone of her social class. After college graduation, Piper was ready for some less conventional adventures. She became friends with a woman in her thirties who was involved in international drug trafficking. Piper traveled around the world with this woman and even on one occasion transported drug money (though not drugs themselves) across international borders.

After this money-transporting adventure, Piper realized that she needed to extricate herself from this dangerous friendship. She moved to the West Coast, got a job, developed a circle of good friends, and found a steady boyfriend, with whom she eventually moved to New York when he took a position with a magazine there. Soon, Piper's boyfriend (Larry Smith) became her fiancé.

Five years had passed since Piper's drug-related transgression. She had put all drug-related involvement behind her, she was now an upstanding contributing member of society, she was looking forward to marriage with Larry - and one day federal marshals came knocking on her door to tell her that she was being indicted for drug-related criminal activity. Piper had to break the news to Larry, to her parents, and to her friends that she would probably go to prison.

Because Piper had the means to hire a top-notch attorney, she was able to plead guilty in exchange for a light sentence of 15 months, of which she served 13 months and was released early on good behavior. Piper served her time at the minimum security federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut.


Piper found prison life to be restrictive, humiliating, and sometimes terrifying. The prisoners had to stand at attention to be counted several times during the day and night. To receive visitors, prisoners had to submit to strip searches. And it was always clear that the guards had absolute power, including the power to deprive a prisoner of privileges, to take away a prisoner's good time earned, and to cast a prisoner into solitary confinement.

At the same time, the women in this minimum security prison supported each other. Some women were untrustworthy, but many showed kindness. When a new prisoner arrived, the experienced prisoners offered words of encouragement and helped the new arrival by supplying personal items until the new woman's paperwork went through and she could buy items herself from the prison commissary. Piper actually felt that she developed a circle of friends in prison.

The women imprisoned with Piper included a woman whom Piper calls Yoga Janet, who was calm and centered and who taught yoga classes for the other prisoners, as well as a Catholic nun named Sister Ardeth Platte, who was in prison for civil disobedience to protest the United States' military build-up.


Piper looks squarely at the social implications of the war on drugs, which took off in earnest in the 1980s, when mandatory minimum prison sentences were put in place. This mandatory sentencing means that judges are not allowed to use their discretion in sentencing but must impose at least the mandatory minimum sentence.

As a result, record numbers of people are now imprisoned with long sentences due to tangential involvement with drug-related activity. Piper encountered a woman in her seventies from the Dominican Republic serving a four-year sentence for passing on drug-related telephone messages for a male relative. Some of the women in prison with Piper were doing sentences of five, ten, fifteen, or twenty years for non-violent offenses. If these women had children (and many did), those children were growing up without their mothers.

Piper also says that what made her realize the full implications of the harm she had done with her drug-related activity was to see the results of drug addiction in the ravaged lives of her fellow inmates. Piper realized that, in transporting drug money across international borders, she had been supporting drug addiction - and in prison she was confronted with the human cost of such drug addiction. The money she had transported came from the sale of drugs that ultimately went to addicts, who suffered greatly from their addiction and caused their families great suffering.

Piper believes, therefore, that the most effective deterrent to crime is to have the criminal confront the human consequences of his or her criminal activity. (This won't work with a sociopath, of course, but it will work with many criminals who simply haven't considered the harm they have done to others by their criminal actions.) Piper sees restorative justice as the way to go - having a criminal confront the suffering caused by his or her crimes and then make restitution.

Piper also saw the huge need for programs to prepare prisoners for the outside world before releasing them. Prison life, Piper says, teaches people how to survive in prison but does nothing to prepare them to live on the outside, where a whole different skill set is necessary. Piper saw the deep anxiety in fellow prisoners with a release date coming up. Some women had nowhere to go and no one to go to. These women were preparing to check in at the nearest homeless shelter. It is very hard to see how these women could be expected to find work and become contributing members of society when all they could hope for upon release was to get into a homeless shelter.


Piper Kerman is a woman of strong determination who was able to go beyond survival in prison by learning to enjoy small pleasures, by giving and receiving support with her fellow prisoners, by closely observing and analyzing the interactions of prison, and of course by receiving the love and support of her family and friends and by having the means to hire a top-notch attorney. Piper is very aware that her upbringing and social class gave her privileges that many other prisoners lacked. For example, Piper had no worries about post-prison employment. A friend had created a position for her in his company that she could move into immediately upon release; the position also came with full health insurance benefits.

Piper's memoir reminds us of the plight of women prisoners, especially those serving long sentences for non-violent offenses. Piper highlights the harm done by separating women from their children and tearing families apart and the uselessness of long mandatory prison sentences for tangential drug-related offenses.

Three Books about Wolves

I have recently read three fascinating books about wolves, their interactions among themselves, and the ways their lives intersect with those of humans. This post will give an overview of the three books, all of which I highly recommend, and will discuss some of the intriguing information about wolves that these books impart.


LONE WOLF by Jodi Picoult (2012)

This is a novel in which the family of the main character, Luke Warren, faces the difficult decision of whether or not to remove life support after Luke emerges from a vehicle accident with brain injuries that the doctors believe to be irreversible and that are expected to keep Luke in a perpetual coma. Luke's relationship with his family (his ex-wife, his 20-something son, and his 17-year-old daughter) is complicated by the fact that Luke seems more comfortable with wolves than with his human family. Luke spends much of his time with a wolf pack in captivity, and at one point he left his family for two years to live with wolves in the Canadian wilderness, where he succeeded in being adopted into a wild wolf pack. The novel provides much fascinating information about wolves and draws upon the experience of Shaun Ellis, a real-life man who does live and has lived with wolves.

THE MAN WHO LIVES WITH WOLVES by Shaun Ellis with Penny Junor (2009)

This nonfiction book recounts the experience of Shaun Ellis of England, who does live and has lived with wolves. Shaun spent two years in the Rocky Mountains of Idaho with no human contact so that he could study wolves on their own terms. He was eventually adopted by a wolf pack as a subordinate member within the pack's ranking system. During this time, Shaun lived, played, ate, slept, and interacted with the other members of the pack. This means that he ate raw meat (supplemented with berries and nuts) and used howls, growls, and other wolf sounds and gestures to communicate. Shaun now sees himself as a man between two worlds, the wolf world and the human world. His life task is to bridge those worlds. Shaun works with wolf packs in captivity in England, teaching them the skills needed to survive in the wild so that these captive wolves and their descendants may retain those skills should they ever be released into the wild. Shaun also works with the captive wolves as ambassadors to teach humans about wolves.

NEVER CRY WOLF by Farley Mowat (1963)

This nonfiction book recounts the experience of Farley Mowat of Canada, who was employed by the Canadian government to study wolves in the Canadian Arctic. The purpose of the study was to verify that wolves were killing large numbers of caribou, so as to justify eradicating the wolves. What Farley actually learned was that humans were the ones killing the caribou in large numbers. Wolves killed very few caribou - only what they needed to eat. In fact, wolves strengthened the caribou herds by weeding out the weaker members. Farley learned to love and appreciate the wolves, but his report to the Canadian government was disbelieved and disregarded.



Wolves are highly intelligent. Their sounds and gestures communicate very specific information. Farley Mowat learns that a pack member who has gone out alone may howl to communicate to the pack that he or she is fine but is planning to stay out longer than expected. The howl may even indicate when the pack can expect the wolf to return. Farley also observes that a wolf may howl to communicate the arrival of caribou or of Inuit people, and that this information will be sent over distances by wolves hearing and passing on this howl. The howl for approaching caribou, by the way, is different from the howl for approaching Inuit.

Jodi Picoult's main character explains that the alpha wolf will single out a specific prey animal for hunting and will indicate this to the hunters with tail gestures. The alpha, knowing of a strong rival wolf pack nearby, may even instruct the hunters to terrorize the prey animal so that the meat will be full of adrenaline. When the wolves consume this meat and then urinate around their territory, members of the nearby rival wolf pack will smell the strength in the urine and will hold that wolf pack in greater respect.

Shaun Ellis tells us that the alpha directs the wolves as to what they are to eat to produce needed characteristics. Besides the above example of a terrorized prey animal that produces strong urine in the wolves, the alpha may direct her hunters to kill a nursing calf because the alpha knows that the pack needs the milk contents of the calf's stomach to make the members more mellow after an aggressive mating season. The alpha may even direct her pack to a putrid prey corpse because the pack has contracted worms and the putrid meat will chase the worms out of the wolves' bodies.

Shaun Ellis has observed that wolves regulate their reproduction according to what is needed. If a female becomes pregnant and then determines that conditions are not good for a litter of new pups, she will absorb the pup fetuses back into her body. A female wolf can also delay her reproductive cycle until conditions are right. Shaun wanted to prevent one of his captive female wolves from becoming pregnant, and gave her some contraceptives during the mating season. This female wolf simply held back her reproductive cycle until the contraceptive had worked its way out of her body, went into delayed heat, mated, and became pregnant.


Shaun Ellis has learned that wolves are very pragmatic. They do what works for the survival of the pack. They are not sentimental and don't have emotions as we do. They will feed and nurse an ill alpha wolf, knowing that this wolf is necessary for the survival of the pack, but they will send an ill wolf of lesser rank off to die, knowing that this wolf's illness jeopardizes the pack's survival.

Shaun also explains that wolves also don't give up. They are survival oriented. When faced with an obstacle, they work to overcome or get around it. When danger or hardship arises, wolves adjust their behavior.


Through his friends among the Nez Percé in Idaho, Shaun Ellis learns that Native Americans consider wolves as brothers and sisters. Native Americans do not fear wolves. They see the wolf as a respected fellow predator and an important teacher.

On the other hand, all three authors have observed that many North Americans fear the wolf. These North Americans incorrectly believe that the wolf is a vicious killer, destroying large numbers of prey animals, including farmers' livestock, and ready to attack any human who ventures near. The wolf appears as the villain in fairy tales, such as Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs. The three authors express or imply the thought that these ideas about wolves are shadow projections. North Americans have behaved destructively but are often unwilling to accept and integrate this self-knowledge; therefore, these North Americans project their own destructive characteristics onto the wolf. In their minds, the wolf is the destroyer, the wolf is to be feared, the wolf must be eradicated. What these North Americans deny in themselves, they project onto the wolf.

All three authors recognize that Native Americans understand that we need the wolf. The wolf's presence sharpens everyone else. Other animals are more alert, more fit, more protective of their young. The wolf keeps everyone on their toes, improves everyone's parenting skills, heightens everyone's awareness, increases everyone's fitness. The wolf weeds out the weaker animals. Farley Mowat explains that, in the Arctic, the wolf eliminates weaker caribou and raises the quality of the herd. The Inuit know that the wolf's presence is responsible for the Inuit's finding better quality caribou for their own needs.


These are the lessons I take from my reading about wolves.
  • Take responsibility for oneself. Look squarely at a given situation (whether or not it is ideal), decide the best course of action, and take that action. Wolves do this to survive in the wild. As humans, we can set goals beyond survival.
  • Be awake and aware. See and appreciate what or who is actually there, not one's own projection.
  • Be more pack oriented. Certainly, humans are not wolves and don't operate exactly like a wolf pack. Yet I believe that the wolf pack holds a lesson for our overly individualistic society. In the United States, we are extreme in our individualism. We would do well to give more attention to the common good. I include myself in this.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Lilly's Cafe for Vietnamese Food

I have discovered a wonderful new Vietnamese cafe--Lilly's Cafe at 1813 Magazine Street in New Orleans. I've eaten there just once so far, but I plan to return!

I had Lilly's spring roll--a very delicious roll containing shrimp, pork, avocado, strawberries, lettuce, mint, and vermicelli--served with a dipping sauce. This was truly the very best spring roll or summer roll or egg roll or any kind of roll that I've ever tasted!

I also had pho, the one with meatballs. The meatballs themselves were a bit chewy for my taste, but I think that's the way they're supposed to be. The broth was wonderful--very warming and comforting. Next time, I think I'll go with the vegetarian broth.

I hope to have many more meals at Lilly's!

Healing in MOCKINGJAY by Suzanne Colllins


MOCKINGJAY is the third and final book in Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games Trilogy.


After the Quarter Quell, Katniss finds herself in District 13 with her mother, Prim, Gail, Haymitch, and Finnick. Peeta, Johanna, and Enobaria have been captured by the Capitol, but eventually District 13 is able to rescue Peeta and Johanna.

It quickly becomes apparent that Peeta has been hijacked by the Capitol, meaning that his memories of Katniss have been altered and entwined with fear. When Peeta is reunited with Katniss in District 13, he shocks everyone by springing at Katniss and attempting to strangle her. Peeta is treated by the medical team in District 13 and eventually reaches a point where he can begin to separate his real memories from the memories altered by the Capitol.

The rebel districts succeed in overthrowing the Capitol, but not without great loss of life on both sides. Prim and Finnick are among the dead. Alma Coin, the President of District 13, becomes President of Panem, but Katniss kills her because Coin's way of staying in power is too similar to that of the cold and calculating President Snow, who was President of Panem for decades.

Katniss finally returns to District 12, where she marries Peeta. Katniss and Peeta eventually have two children in the new and more gentle world that has emerged from the overthrow of the Capitol.


When one has been out of touch with reality, it is helpful to ask a trusted person for help. Peeta does this as he tries to sort out which of his memories are real and which have been hijacked. He states what his memory is telling him, and then asks, "Real or not real?" The trusted person's answer helps him reconnect with reality.

Peeta's reconnection with reality reminds me that there are different ways to frame what happens to us. The way we frame what happens to us creates our reality. People we trust can suggest different frames. For example, two frames through which illness has been viewed are (1) that illness is a punishment from God and (2) that illness comes from natural physical causes, such as germs or aged-related degeneration.


Healing of trauma is possible, but it isn't always complete. Perhaps it is never complete. But life can go on and can bring joy.

Katniss and Peeta marry and have two children. Twenty years after the defeat of the Capitol and the end of the Hunger Games, Peeta still sometimes has flashbacks, and Katniss still sometimes has nightmares. But Peeta and Katniss also take joy in each other, in their children, in their friends, in their memory book, and in nature. They know that the flashbacks and nightmares won't ever completely go away. But that's okay.

On some days, Katniss says that "it feels impossible to  take pleasure in anything because I'm afraid it could be taken away" (page 390). When Katniss feels this way, she says, "I make a list in my head of every act of goodness I've seen someone do" (page 390).

A catalog of goodness, a catalog of gratitude--this is a wonderful healing idea. I think Katniss is saying: I will anchor myself in the reality of goodness as this temporary wave of despair washes over me.


Here are the ways that Katniss and Peeta find healing:

  • Asking trusted people for reality checks
  • Mentally cataloguing goodness and gratitude
  • Recognizing feelings of despair, including flashbacks and nightmares, as the temporary waves that they are--waves of despair in an ocean of goodness
  • Anchoring in the reality of goodness when a temporary wave of despair arises
  • Taking delight in each other, their children, their friends
  • Keeping the memory book of the beloved dead: Prim, Katniss' father, Peeta's father, Cinna, Finnick, Boggs, and so many others
  • Spending time outdoors in nature

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Thoughts on Shakespeare's CORIOLANUS

This spring I read Shakespeare's CORIOLANUS, discussed it in the Chautauqua New Orleans Shakespeare class taught by the knowledgeable and engaging Ted Cotton (Professor Emeritus of English at Loyola University New Orleans), watched the 1984 BBC film of the play, and just last week saw the very recent Ralph Fiennes film CORIOLANUS at Chalmette Cinema. Ralph Fiennes directs and stars in CORIOLANUS, set in a World War II version of Rome.

This post will give a brief overview of Shakespeare's CORIOLANUS, praise Vanessa Redgrave's role as Coriolanus' mother in the Ralph Fiennes film, and discuss some of my thoughts about the play.


CORIOLANUS is the story of a Roman military officer, Caius Martius, who receives the additional name of honor, Coriolanus, as a result of his amazing nearly single-handed victory over the Volscian city of Corioli. He thus becomes Caius Martius Coriolanus. Coriolanus is a very one-sided individual: he has extraordinary war skills but no political or people skills. As a result of his military victory in Corioli, Coriolanus is called by the Roman Senate to be consul, but he berates the common people, whose voices he also needs for election as consul, and his inability to connect with the common men and women ultimately leads to a sentence of exile from Rome.

Upon leaving Rome, shouting out to the multitude of Romans, "I banish you!" (Act III, Scene 3, Line 124) and "There is a world elsewhere" (Act III, Scene 3, Line 136), Coriolanus makes his way to the Volscian city of Antium, where he allies himself with his former arch-enemy, the Volscian military commander Tullus Aufidius, against Rome. The plea of Coriolanus' mother, Volumnia, moves Coriolanus to convince Aufidius to spare Rome, but Aufidius then kills Coriolanus as a traitor.


In the Ralph Fiennes film, Vanessa Redgrave plays Volumnia, the mother of Coriolanus. Vanessa Redgrave is superb in this role. She conveys Volumnia's devotion to Rome, her deep pride in her son and his military prowess, her sorrowful dignity as her son so unnecessarily undoes himself with his anger against the common people, and her utter willingness to humble herself before her son and beg that he spare Rome. The lengthy but powerful scene where Vanessa Redgrave as Volumnia pleads for Rome before Coriolanus is extraordinary.


In this section, I will write about thoughts that have struck me in reading, discussing, and seeing CORIOLANUS. I will focus on the fact that the main characters in the play glorify war. Shakespeare himself, however, does not glorify war. I would say that Shakespeare shows the consequences of warrior glorification run amok.

RIGIDITY. Coriolanus is extraordinarily one-sided. He seems to have one set of emotions: variations on anger. He displays hate for his arch-enemy Tullus Aufidius, focused destructive intent against the Vocsians, contempt for the common people, scorn for his mother's urging of moderation, rage at accusations of traitor, coldness against the pleas of his closest friends for Rome to be spared. He seems incapable of accessing any variations of fear, sadness, or happiness. He also seems incapable of entertaining any point of view other than his own.

This rigidity undoes Coriolanus. To me, this is a principal insight to be gained from the play: rigidity leads to down-fall, in one way or another. For Coriolanus, it led to exile and then to death. I have seen rigidity lead to bitterness on the part of sons and daughters toward their parents. I have also seen rigidity lead to a narrowing of life's possibilities, to an inability to experience the fullness and richness of life.

Yes, there are times when one has to stand firm in doing what one believes to be right. But this can be done while also showing understanding of other points of view.

GLORIFICATION OF WAR RUN AMOK: Here are some ways that we see the glorification of war in CORIOLANUS.

  • Volumnia rejoices in her son's military exploits, whether he returns alive or dead, as long as he performs valiantly. (Act I, Scene 3, Lines 21-25)
  • Volumnia is pround to see her grandson, the young son of Coriolanus, scorn his studies and favor the sword and drum. (Act I, Scene 3, Lines 55-66)
  • The number of Coriolanus' battle wounds, twenty-seven, excites Volumnia. (Act II, Scene 1, Lines 142-152).
To me, this is glorification of war run amok. This is abject worship of Mars to the exclusion of all other deities or archetypes. This is the shadow side of the warrior: to glorify killing, to scorn the exploits of the mind, to rejoice in battle wounds.

Unfortunately, our planet, generally, has been in the grip of this Mars obsession for several millennia.

EROTICISM OF WAR. For the person obsessed with war, even the erotic becomes war-drenched. Here is what Tullus Aufidius says when his arch-enemy Caius Martius comes to join his side: "Know thou first, / I loved the maid I married; never man / Sighed truer breath. But that I see thee here, / Thou noble thing, more dances my rapt heart / Than when I first my wedded mistress saw / Bestride my threshold" (Act IV, Scene 5, Lines 117-122).

Unfortunately, it seems that war and killing, especially in hand-to-hand combat, can be exhilarating. It can produce a real high.

OVERALL. Of course, there are other themes in Shakespeare's CORIOLANUS besides the ones I have mentioned here, but these are the ones that stand out to me.
  • The dangers of rigidity
  • The consequences of an obsession with war

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Courage in CATCHING FIRE by Suzanne Collins


Courage is a prominent theme in CATCHING FIRE by Suzanne Collins. Here are some of the ways that we see courage in this second book of the Hunger Games Trilogy.


What does one choose when one's individual good and the common good are in conflict? An extremely individualistic culture like that of the United States would say to choose one's own good, but a more community-oriented culture would say to choose the common good.

Choosing the common good springs from the idea that no one is free unless everyone is free, and no one is safe unless everyone is safe. By safe, I mean safe from violence, such as harassment, attack, and robbery. The decision to keep oneself safe produces anxiety -- one must be always on alert to safeguard one's well-being. The decision to work for the safety of all produces more peace -- one is not alone but benefits from the support of others. 

In CATCHING FIRE, Katniss and the other tributes make decisions based on the common good.
  • DECISION TO STAY. Katniss is faced with the decision to run away from District 12 and save herself and her loved ones OR to stay and be part of the revolution against the Capitol. She chooses to stay.
  • PLEDGE TO DIE. Tributes from other districts, specifically Districts 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, and 11, have pledged to die in the arena if necessary to save Katniss, the symbol and igniting spark of the revolution. To save Katniss, Peeta must be saved, too. The elderly Mags of District 4 voluntarily walks to her death in the poisonous fog so that Katniss, Peeta, and Finnick can save themselves without having to carry her. The woman morphling addict from District 6 throws herself in front of Peeta to absorb the vicious monkey's deadly attack, saving Peeta but dying herself. These tributes are willing to die to support the districts' revolution and the common good it will bring.
As a caveat, I will add that choosing the common good can be overdone. Women have traditionally been subject to this with the idea that a woman's entire life must be sacrificed in servitude to her family. This is quite different from standing one's ground as a contributing member of society in situations when doing so calls for sacrifice.

Courage is most vibrant in the face of terror. Katniss' courage involves acting bravely while feeling terror, particularly when faced with the poisonous fog. The terror is there, but Katniss does not act on it. She feels the terror but chooses courage. Here is how Katniss' feelings and decision are described:

 A terrible impulse to flee, to abandon Peeta and save myself, shoots through me. It would be so simple, to run full out, perhaps to even climb a tree above the fog line, which seems to top out at about forty feet. I remember how I did just this when the muttations appeared in the last Games. Took off and only thought of Peeta when I'd reached the Cornucopia. But this time, I trap my terror, push it down, and stay by his side. (pages 298-299)


Haymitch was the victor of the second Quarter Quell (the fiftieth Hunger Games), in which there were twice as many tributes as usual. Katniss and Peeta, in preparation for the third Quarter Quell, watch videos of previous Hunger Games, including the one with Haymitch.

Haymitch forms an alliance with a girl tribute from District 12 named Maysilee Donner. When Maysilee is fatally injured by attacking birds, Haymitch stays with her and comforts her as she dies.

It takes courage to show compassion in the arena. It is so important to be thinking every moment of one's own safety. After all, there will be only one victor -- everyone else must die. How could it possibly help Haymitch to spend time comforting a dying tribute? Yet Haymitch chooses kindness and courage. He stays to ease Maysilee's passage out of this world.

OVERALL THOUGHT: Carefully consider the common good.

Overview of CATCHING FIRE by Suzanne Collins


CATCHING FIRE is the second book in Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games Trilogy. CATCHING FIRE focuses on the third Quarter Quell, an especially intense version of the Hunger Games that occurs every twenty-five years. The seventy-fifth annual Hunger Games is thus the third Quarter Quell.

CATCHING FIRE opens with Katniss and Peeta, victors of the seventy-fourth Hunger Games, going on their victory tour. Half-way between each Hunger Games, the previous year's victor is required to participate in a victory tour, visiting each district and the Capitol. This keeps the Hunger Games in the forefront of the districts' minds and forces the districts to celebrate the victor of the Games in which their own children were killed. The victory tour of Katniss and Peeta reveals that several of the districts are on the verge of rebelling against the Capitol.

Most of CATCHING FIRE is devoted to the seventy-fifth Hunger Games, or the third Quarter Quell. In the first Quarter Quell (the twenty-fifth Hunger Games), the districts were required to vote on the boy and girl tribute rather than have them chosen by lot. In the second Quarter Quell (the fiftieth Hunger games), each district was required to send twice as many tributes, so that there were two boy and two girl tributes from each of the twelve districts. This was the year that Katniss and Peeta's mentor, Haymitch Abernathy, became victor.

For the third Quarter Quell, the tributes are reaped, not from the pool of all 12- to 18-year-old boys and girls in each district, but from the pool of existing victors in each district. In District 12, Katniss is the only living female tribute, and Peeta and Haymitch are the only living male tributes. Katniss inevitably becomes the female tribute from District 12, and when Haymitch's name is drawn in the Reaping, Peeta volunteers to take his place. So Katniss and Peeta are forced to participate in the Hunger Games two years in a row.

The arena for the seventy-fifth annual Hunger Games is perfectly round. Upon being raised into the arena, the tributes find themselves standing on metal plates surrounded by water. They must swim to an island in the middle of the arena.

It becomes apparent that the arena is a clock. A different horror is triggered, hour by hour, in each succeeding wedge of the clock, beginning with an electric storm at midnight and at noon. Other hours trigger a poisonous fog, attacks by vicious monkeys, jabberjays screaming torturously in the voices of the tributes' loved ones, a bloody wave, clicking insects, and some sort of beast that tears its prey to pieces.

Katniss and Peeta form an alliance with Beetee of District 3, Finnick Odair of District 4, and Johanna Mason of District 7. Two other members of the alliance, Wiress of District 3 and Mags of District 4, are killed. Unexpectedly, a hovercraft appears on Day 3 and rescues Katniss, Beetee, and Finnick. Peeta and Johanna are captured by the Capitol, along with the one other surviving tribute, Enobaria of District 2.

Upon being rescued, Katniss, Beetee, and Finnick are taken to District 13, which really does exist, after all. Katniss learns that District 12 has been destroyed by the Capitol. Those who survived from District 12, including Gale, are now living in District 13.

Crawfish Boil

Yesterday was my brother Danny's wonderful annual Crawfish Boil! Danny and the other sponsors of the Crawfish Boil spend months every year planning for this event. Besides the great food and people, there is a line-up of musical performances throughout the evening. It's like being at your own private, up-close jazz fest.

This year's Crawfish Boil, the 21st annual one, was dedicated to New Orleans musician Coco Robicheaux, who died within the past year. Beautiful flower displays and an altar were set up in memory of Coco.

The fantastic food included lots of well-seasoned crawfish (of course!) with corn and potatoes and artichokes and onions, delicious pulled pork and beef brisket, fish tacos, and chocolate-dipped strawberries.

Music performances included Michael Cain & the Parishioners, the Brian Stoltz Trio, Billy Iuzo & Jimmy Carpenter, and a burlesque show with Moxie & Cherry.

The whole evening was a wonderful and memorable event. I'm already looking forward to next year's Crawfish Boil!