Mockingjay Release Day with the Obsessed Fans

The book industry may be collapsing, but every so often, it snaps back to life with the release of a novel that has thousands of people lining up at bookstores at midnight to be the first ones to read it. And nine times out of ten, these fans are wearing costumes. The latest literary phenomenon is Suzanne Collins’s Mockingjay, the third and final installment in The Hunger Games trilogy, the best-selling YA series about a postapocalyptic North America in which teenagers are sent to an elaborate outdoor arena to fight each other to the death on national television. Late Monday night, salivating New York acolytes gravitated to two places: Around 500 flocked to Books of Wonder, where Collins herself would be reading and signing books (the owner supported her in her early days). Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, a smaller, more adult crowd gathered at the bookshop Word for cocktails. Both places found readers decked out in hunting bows (the heroine, Katniss, is a skilled archer) and “Team Gale” and “Team Peeta” T-shirts (for the two rivals for Katniss’ affections, because every good YA craze needs Teams). Vulture attended both parties to meet the fans and find out just why they were so hungry for Mockingjay.

Came from: Hempstead, New York Venue: Books of Wonder What’s your costume? Katniss. My name is Kat and my friends say I look like her. This is her dad’s leather jacket that he wore before getting blown up in the mining accident. It’s actually my dad’s leather jacket. And it’s got a nice big rip in the back. Where did you get the bow? My friend’s dad made it. It works. We didn’t bring the arrows because we thought that might look a little threatening. Team Gale or Team Peeta? Gale. Peeta was sort of forced on her and it’s more Stockholm Syndrome than anything else. She’s forced to love him. It’s not a great way to start a relationship.
Came from: Monroe, New York Occupation: English teacher Venue: Books of Wonder Nice wig. I am Effie Trinket, she is the District 12 escort. And I’m here escorting children. Effie’s always changing her hair color, so I went with pink. She’s always racing around making sure her kids are where they need to be on time, so I have my little pocket watch. What did people on the train think of your outfit? There was one guy who was really laughing at my pink wig. He was kind of balding! I said, “I’d rather have a pink wig than be bald.” How many times have you read the books? I’ve read The Hunger Games four times and I’ve read Catching Fire five times, three of which were in the last month. I tried to read other things, but I was so excited about the third book coming out I just couldn’t.
Came from: Monroe, New York Venue: Books of Wonder Who are you? I’m Rue at the interview, and when she’s dead and Katniss puts flowers in her hair. [Editor’s note: Rue is a 12 year-old young girl who becomes Katniss’s ally in the arena, but is murdered, and Katniss adorns her body with flowers as an act of both mourning and defiance.] I loved Rue and thought she was so sweet, and I felt so bad about her going away that I wanted to bring her back. You made the wings yourself? I took my sister’s original fairy wings and went to Michael’s and bought leaves, butterflies — anything that seemed like the forest in the arena.
Came from: Columbia University Occupation: Graduate student Venue: Word Feisty costume. Thanks! The back of the shirt says, “Cuz I’m a Free Bitch, Baby” Team Peeta or Team Gale? If I had to pick, I’d say I’m on Gale’s side, but really I’m all about Katniss focusing on herself in this book. That girl needs some time to recuperate, and some serious therapy. A love triangle is the least of her worries right now.
Came from: Monroe, New York Occupation: Student Venue: Books of Wonder Who are you dressed as? I’m Katniss from the second chariot ride in Catching Fire, when her outfit shimmers like it’s on fire. I had more glitter but it fell off because we had to sit on the train and there were a lot of people bumping into us in the city. Why did you pick Katniss? I could have dressed up like her sister Prim, since I’m Prim’s age, but she’s blonde and she seems more the type to wear girly dresses. And I hate dresses and being girly. What’s special skill could you use in the Hunger Games arena? I could outsmart the others. I’m not fast at running. But I could set a trap. What do you hope The Hunger Games movie will be like? We were talking about Gary Oldman as Haymitch [drunk mentor to Katniss and Peeta], like that time in Friends when he plays the drunk guy. He’d be amazing at it.
Came from: Monroe, New York Occupation: Student Venue: Books of Wonder We just met your girlfriend Danielle, who is dressed in a pink wig. Were you embarrassed on the train? No, I’m used to it. I’ve been dating her for six years. We went to a Harry Potter convention in Toronto. That was way more chaotic. She dressed up funny. I just drank and hung out. Are you trying to be any character? They say I’m Haymitch. I’ve got a flask, but they wouldn’t let me fill it up. Do you like the books? Yeah, I got into them. But I liked reading about the games more than all that love-story crap. Mostly I like history books. This just gave me a reason to talk to Danielle about stuff she likes. She started watching baseball for me, so I figured I could read a book for her. Predictions? As long as I don’t see a spaceship, I’m good. I was so worried Catching Fire would end with aliens.
Occupation: Specialty baker for CakeHero Venue: Word You make cakes for a living. Does that mean you’re rooting for Peeta, the baker’s son? Absolutely. But I’m totally scared for him, though, because the Capitol have him and he’s always been a risk-taker if he thinks it helps Katniss. Are his baking skills up to par? It sounds like it — he’s clearly skilled with frosting and all and that’s important. How would you design a Hunger Games cake? I think I’d go with a clock-face design, like how the Quarter Quell was set up in Catching Fire. [Editor’s note: The arena was shaped like a clock.] It’d be so much fun to design all the different monsters in each section.
Occupation: Literary assistant at Fine Print Literary Management Venue: Books of Wonder Why aren’t you in costume? Because I did have to work for part of the day. But I got here at 3:30. When we heard on Twitter that the line was forming, my friends were like, “Meredith, go!” And then I got here and no one was here. So I was first in line. What did you do to bide your time? I read Catching Fire. For the first time. I’m 40 pages from the end. I kept that strictly on the down low. I would have been shredded if anyone found out that the first person in line was not a superfan. How do you feel these books rank against the Twilight series? The Twilight books are just YA porn. Those focus on the romance. This, the romance is happening in the context of struggle for life. So it makes you really focus more on who these guys are. Can they really provide for themselves and provide for Katniss and be men? Edward and what-the-hell-his-name-is are so whatever.
Occupation: Literary agent at Fine Print Literary Management Venue: Books of Wonder You came after Meredith, but you’re actually holding the No. 001 card. Meredith was in the line for Buy Your Book Now and I was in the preorder line, so I got No. 1. What’s the craziest thing you’ve done for love of The Hunger Games? Last year at Book Expo they were giving out advanced reader copies of Catching Fire and I was living in Philadelphia at the time, and I got up at 6:15 in the morning, got on the train, ran to the Javits Center, got in line for tickets, and the woman in line in front of me was the last person to get a ticket. I complained about it all day until someone gave me one. I read it that night, so I’ve been waiting fifteen months for this book. Predictions? I’m actually secretly hoping that Katniss’s father, who was thought to be dead, is actually alive and living in District 13 somewhere. What’s the plan once you get your book? Our boss said that we could come in tomorrow after, like, two o’clock. She knows it’s a big deal.
Occupation: Both in marketing Venue: Word You read the books for a book club. What did the group have to say? R: There were actually mixed reactions. There are a lot of hard-core sci-fi fans and they weren’t too happy with the romance aspect of the books. I think they just wanted more fights and hovercrafts. C: We had one friend who was really annoyed with the ending of Catching Fire; she didn’t think Katniss had been true to herself. And she didn’t like the whole “Peeta or Gale” issue. So how do you both square up on that all-important issue? C: I’m reserving judgment and being very diplomatic … really I’m just afraid one of them is going to die. Also I don’t really think it’s the point. There’s so much more to be revealed than just which guy she ends up picking. R: However, I’m still Team Peeta. What are you going to do when you get your books? C: I’m not even going to talk to Rosa in the cab on our way home. I’ll just be reading.
Occupation: Children’s book editor Venue: Word You have an arrow sticking through your head. This is the costume I wear into the arena before the Games even start. My stylist thought this made me look more vulnerable. Mockingjay has been embargoed. Has it been a particularly tough wait? So tough — I’ve had to join a read-along blog this past month, and we read a chapter a day of the first and second books over again in the run-up to the release. It definitely helped get me back into the Panem spirit. It helped with the trivia tonight also. Predictions? I think Gale is going to sacrifice himself for Peeta. Gale is going to realize how important Peeta is to Katniss, and the whole revolution. And I think he’ll know that’s bigger than him. Gale’s a rebel; he’ll do what has to be done. Any dream casting choices for the movie? Paul Giamatti would make a perfect Haymitch.
Occupation: Medical sales rep and graduate student Venue: Books of Wonder Tell me about the costume. Katniss is a badass, so I wanted to look like I go hunting a lot. She always braids her hair, so I braided mine; I started braiding my hair a lot more after I read The Hunger Games. Also, I brought an orange backpack because in the first Hunger Games, she grabbed an orange backpack that ended up saving her life. It had a sleeping bag and a canteen and glasses to see at night. But it’s bright orange, so she had to disguise it with mud. What did you think of Suzanne Collins’s reading? She reads Katniss with an Appalachian accent, which isn’t in the books on tape, and that was surprising. The accent made her more rugged and more Plain Jane. Her aloofness and her attitude made more sense.
Came from: New Milford, New Jersey Venue: Books of Wonder Okay, hands down the best costume. During an interview, Katniss wears a wedding dress and it catches on fire and makes her look like she’s turned into a mockingjay. I’ve been working on it since June-ish, hand-stitching tulle and feather boas. At first I didn’t even know there was a party to go to. I just knew I had to make the dress. Then I found out about this and was so thrilled I had somewhere to go in this. How do you feel about Twilight? We just came back from a Twilight convention. I dressed up three days in costume. Twilight, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games — I think all the fandoms can work together. There doesn’t need to be all the animosity. Did you think about actually setting your dress on fire? I vaguely considered it with sparklers, and then I thought that was a bad, bad idea. Are you okay with your dress getting destroyed? Yeah, I have pictures of it. I mean, what else am I going to do with it? This is the last book.
Occupation: Owner of New York City Children’s Book Fairs (Ellen) Venue: Books of Wonder Your shirts say Team Gale and Team Peeta. Are you a house divided? Ellen: I’m Team Peeta all the way. He’s good with his words and he’s loyal. He knows what she’s been through. Lee: I’m Team Gale because he is the stalwart boy from home. Also, I think something bad is going to be revealed about Peeta in this book. How do you convince parents to buy the book for their kids? Lee: I don’t. I don’t think it’s necessarily right for all ages. I have a 10-year-old son and he read the first one and absolutely loved it, and then he sort of petered out during the second one. It was less killing and more politics, and he didn’t like that. But there’s been dying in children’s books forever and children like that. I mean, Hansel and Gretel — you can’t get more macabre than that. Who should play Katniss in the movie? Lee: I would always go for the unknown, but it’s probably going to be Dakota Fanning or some shit. Ellen: I don’t think she should be blonde. I just don’t want a perfect person playing her. Lee: She isn’t necessarily supposed to be perfect-looking, which is why when they transform her, she looks so beautiful, because it’s unexpected.
Occupation: Music buyer Venue: Word Why the Gale shirt? Gale is the right choice for Katniss, he’s always been. Peeta tries to baby her and she really doesn’t need that. She’s perfectly capable of getting by on her own. I mean, she’s leading a revolution. Who would you like to see playing Gale in the film of The Hunger Games? He’s probably too old now, but I’d love to see James Franco as Gale. You know, like Freaks and Geeks era James Franco. No Taylor Lautner? No, never! He’s too buff and muscled. Gale should be rugged and sinewy from all that hunting and gathering.
Came from: Florida Occupation: Children’s poet and editor of Forbes Life Venue: Books of Wonder You seem like an unlikely Hunger Games devotee. I’ve been reading young adult books for a while, being somewhat in the market myself. I find it’s a great way to better understanding what the world is about, seeing it through their eyes. What do you like about this series? It’s not just vampires again. Kids killing each other? And it’s sanctioned by the state? That’s pretty wild. Why come to a midnight party? Peter [the owner] is a friend. And I wanted to see the excitement of all these kids about to dive into as soon as they get their copies. They’re going to be up all night reading, texting, and Twittering each other. What does the Forbes family think about you liking these books? I think if I gave them to the grandchildren, their parents might be upset if they knew the content. But we’re a family that believes in reading.
Came from: Toronto Venue: Books of Wonder You came from Toronto? Two days ago. This is my favorite bookstore in the world. Why do you like the Hunger Games? Harry Potter is a good series, but it kind of became a marketing engine. And Twilight, you read the whole series and then suddenly you get to the last page and you realize it’s terrible. It’s funny because when I was reading them I thought I liked them. The Hunger Games starts good and stays good. Why didn’t you dress up? I don’t really buy merchandise. And I didn’t really have any time because I brought 50 billion books to New York, including Catching Fire, which I finished in about two days. What character do you relate to most? Probably Haymitch. There’s something complex about him. It’s like everyone else is all prepared for everything and he’s wasted. And when everyone else is out of it, he’s the one who’s involved and taking care of things.
Occupation: Pharmaceutical manufacturer, private book collector Venue: Books of Wonder Why did you come to this party? I’m a book collector. Mostly first editions, modern books. Someone recommended the first book and I couldn’t put it down. It’s a collector’s item? The first edition of The Hunger Games is very, highly collectible. On AbeBooks I’ve seen it for as high as $1,000. Presumably it was a small first run because the publisher had no idea of how great a following she was going to get. She’s stamping the books instead of signing them, because her hand is injured. As a collector, is that disappointing? I suppose so, but I feel more bad for her that she hurt her hand. How many copies of this book did you buy? Four. I’m going to give it to my kids, the ones who are 15 and 16. The younger ones are 10 and 8, and I think the subject matter is too much. What’s your special skill? I’d probably be ill-equipped for the Games. It would take a lot of prayer, I guess.
Mockingjay Release Day with the Obsessed Fans