My decision to read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson started with a lukewarm review. Michiko Kakutani’s notice for The New York Times includes one-liners like this one: “it’s clear as the story progresses that Mr. Larsson has no idea how to create a credible villain.” Oddly, the review ends with Michiko looking forward to the author’s next book. If you can get a mixed review from Kakutani, that’s close enough. She hates fiction. I’m convinced.
What sealed the deal is that the book is set in Sweden and is written by a Swedish author. Since I’m a regular reader and fan of a select group of Swedish lit blogs (more on them in a minute), I couldn’t wait to read one of their authors. It’s book geekdom on an international scale.
Girl begins with Michael Blomkvist, a financial investigative reporter, on trial for libeling a captain of industry. Blomkvist chooses not to defend himself of the charges, even though it is clear that the plaintiff is clearly a criminal dirt bag. We learn that Michael enjoyed early success by accidentally solving the case of a string of bank robberies, which earned him the nickname Kalle Blomkvist. Blomkvist hates the nickname, but the joke is not explained to American readers. As it turns out, Kalle Blomkvist is a the hero of a famous book series about a teenage detective by the author of Pippi Longstockings, Astrid Lindgren.
In between the early chapters on Michael, we are introduced to a scrawny, tattooed girl, Lisbeth Salander, who finds herself in the unlikely employ of a high end corporate security firm. Lisbeth is emotionally scarred, anti-social, possibly afflicted with an eating disorder, and rejects authority every chance she gets. Oh, and she’s a ward of the State. Her computing hacking savvy and investigative skills earn Lisbeth a steady paycheck, even if she unnerves everyone she meets. (Michiko envisions Lisbeth being played by Angelina Jolie – wrong!)
Before Michael reports to prison, he is summoned to the north of Sweden to meet with an aging tycoon who is the patriarch of a family owned Swedish multi-national industrial concern. The tycoon offers Michael an intriguing proposition and possible road to redemption. All he needs to do is solve a 40 year old family mystery that has become an obsession for the old man and write a history of the family.
Eventually, Michael and Lisbeth cross paths and must join forces to solve the mystery. (That revelation can not be misconstrued as a spoiler – it is self-evident.) They are an unlikely couple, the urbane reporter and the prickly sociopath. Naturally they have undeniable chemistry together (even Michiko thinks so).
From what I gather, Larsson turned in three completed novels to his publisher before his untimely death shortly thereafter. The novels were all bestsellers, and each features Michael and Lisbeth. Like Michiko, I am looking forward to the next one (due in August of 2009). I enjoyed the novel very much, and I was fascinated by the Swedish backdrop. I’m ready to fly there and check it out first hand. Much of the action takes place in the winter time as Michael researches the case in the north of Sweden. Given the frosty clime, this would be a good book to have in your to be read stack for the cold nights ahead.
OK. Back to my Swedish lit blogging pals. I first discovered these wonderful blogs because they had the good taste to link to our site. Intrigued, I’ve been checking them out ever since. I don’t understand Swedish, but Google translator can get you close enough. Check out these excellent Swedish lit blogs:
Swedes, let us know what you think of the Larsson books.
Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow (a coeditor of Boing Boing), is the book that I would have thought a lot of people would have written in the post-9/11 world. The book tells the story of Marcus, a/k/a w1n5t0n, a/k/a M1k3y, a computer-geeky teenager in San Francisco who is with his friends in the wrong place at the wrong time when a terrorist attack hits their city. The Department of Homeland Security moves in and takes over the town, and Marcus and his friends are detained as suspected terrorists.
While it’s difficult to tell actual fact from (Marcus’s) perception in the book, some of the events that take place in the book make it feel like martial law has been imposed on San Francisco, and that DHS has been given carte blanche to do whatever it wishes to restore order in the city (including some pretty nasty stuff to Marcus and his friends). As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Marcus feels the need to take a principled stand in the battle between the protection of civil liberties and an over-reaching Federal government. While Marcus’s parents aren’t aware of everything that’s happened to Marcus or the things he’s doing to correct the situation, his father’s response upon learning that Marcus has been suspended from school for arguing with a teacher sums up the tension that exists:
Look, son . . . You’re going to have to learn to live with the fact that we live in a different world today. You have every right to speak your mind of course, but you have to be prepared for the consequences of doing so. You have to face the fact that there are people who are hurting, who aren’t going to want to argue the finer points of Constitutional law when their lives are at stake. We’re in a lifeboat now, and once you’re in the lifeboat, no one wants to hear about how mean the captain is being.
Marcus uses his knowledge of computers and networking to build an underground resistance movement using a network of XBoxes that can’t be traced like the normal Internet. Doctorow clearly knows a thing or two about a thing or two, but in his acknowledgments he also makes clear that he got some help from some experts that allowed him to talk about this stuff the way he did. And I was absolutely fascinated at the way Doctorow was able to tell the story so credibly from the vantage point of a teenager, yet was able to discuss technical stuff so matter-of-factly without losing character.
As Marcus undertakes his quest, he meets more people and learns more things about what the government is doing. It’s downright scary to think that some of this stuff could actually happen, but the story is so believably told that you get caught up in it and can’t help but wonder what Big Brother is up to.
While the researchers didn’t comment specifically on the implications for human ass perception, it’s impossible not to speculate; after all, chimps share 98 percent of their genome with humans.
Be sure to read the groundbreaking Emory Yerkes National Primate Research Center’s Chimp Butt study.
This month’s issue of Oxford American examines life in New Orleans three years after Hurricane Katrina. The issue features authors from the Gulf Coast telling their stories of post-Katrina life. Many thanks to reader Beth for checking to make sure that I had seen it. (I hadn’t!) It is now firmly in my mitts, and it is excellent. Pick it up already.
Changes are afoot at The Believer. I meant to comment last month that Nick Hornby announced that his “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” column in that issue would be his last. I’m genuinely sad to see him go. Hornby’s columns were always the first thing I read when each new issue arrived in my mailbox. The columns were so good that they have been collected in stand alone volumes (the third is coming out in December). Yet, they were no more than the equivalent of a once a month blog post (just really good monthly blog posts). In Hornby’s final colum he says:
…you, dear reader, have helped me to choose more wisely than I might otherwise have done, and to read a little bit more vigorously.
That sentiment has the ring of truth. I’ve certainly found that committing to write about the books that I read has caused me to at least think for a moment about what I pick up – and to do more of it.
Hornby’s column is being replaced by the esteemed music critic Greil Marcus. Marcus is contibuting a monthly column called Real Life Rock Top 10. The thing about Marcus, and this may border on sacrileg for some, is that I often have no earthly idea what he’s talking about. My podnah Frank has tried to sell me on Marcus in the past, and he’s usually right about these things. I’ll stick with it and hope that the scales will fall away from my eyes.
And finally, BGB was listed among an all star line-up of lit blogs “whose opinion [the author] trusts.” We feel especially honored, because the gist of the article is that she doesn’t care for book recommendations. The article was written by Kerry from Pickle Me This (a blog whose opinion we trust) at the blog of Descant: A Journal of Arts and Letters. Thanks, Kerry!
I read Jonathan Ames’ hilarious Wake Up, Sir! a few years back, and I’ve been meaning to read more of his work ever since. Rave reviews have been poring in for Ames’ new graphic novel, The Alcoholic, so naturally I had to check it out.
The Alcoholic is about a young writer named Jonathan A. and his alcohol (and other) troubles. The drawings of Jonathan A. look exactly like Jonathan Ames, and many of the situations portrayed in the book are similar to events in Ames’ life. Still, it is an open question regarding how much of the book is autobiography and how much is fiction. For the sake of Ames, I hope a lot of the low pints of Jonathan A.’s life are fictional. You can check out a humourous excerpt that depicts the surreal story of how Jonathan A. met Monica Lewinski on the heels of meeting Bill Clinton in lower Manhattan following 9/11. That story is keeper either way.
According to an Amazon interview with the Jonathan Ames (author) and Dean Haspiel (artist), they were inspired to put the graphic novel together by the collaboration of notorious gadfly/poet Charles Bukowski and comic book legend R. Crumb back in the day. The partnership between Ames and Haspiel works very well in this book. Jonathan Ames is a wonderful story teller, and Dean Haspiel’s art work brings Ames’ words to life without overpowering the story. They are a good fit. Check this out if you are a fan of Jonathan Ames or excellent graphic novels.
Update: In a cool coincidence, Largehearted Boy has a Book Notes post today featuring Dean Haspiel.
This is the only voting advice that I’m going to offer this election season, and it has nothing to do with whether you should vote for this one or That One. Nope. If you live in Fulton County, there is a bond referendum on your ballot that will fund much needed improvements to the Atlanta-Fulton County Public Library System. The plan calls for eight new libraries, 2 expanded libraries, and renovation of 23 libraries, including a major expansion of the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History and significant funding towards a new Central Library downtown.
I just found out about it yesterday when a post card arrived in the mail. The library’s web site explains the situation and Director John Szabo’s closing thoughts pretty much sum up why you should support the referendum:
Thank you for your support of our libraries and for your commitment to literacy and lifelong learning through public library service.
My name is Tim, and I approve this message.
I picked up Lin Enger’s Undiscoverd Country because I loved his first book, Peace Like A River. Only that wasn’t him. That was his brother Leif. Once it was in my hand though, the jacket’s pitch talked me into cracking the cover. Undiscovered Country is a loose retelling of Hamlet set in the Scandinavia of the US, Minnesota. Coming from a Minnesota guy with a brother named Leif, it seemed like a good bet that evoking the gloom of wintry Denmark might be within his grasp.
Enger’s novel takes its name from Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy:
- But that the dread of something after death,
- The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
- No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
- And makes us rather bear those ills we have
- Than fly to others that we know not of?
Death enters the novel very early on. A teenager, Jesse, on a hunting trip with his father hears a shot in the woods and instinctively knows that something has gone horribly wrong. He finds his father dead in a deer stand apparently by his own hand. Jesse knows in his heart that his father would never kill himself, and when his dad shows up to tell him so after the fact – it only cements his conviction. The traveler returns!
Since we know that the novel is based on Hamlet, we know that the death of father can not be an accident, and we know who to suspect. You might also understand why Jesse doesn’t want to stay at home and keep an eye on his mom, who has become listless and distant. Drama!
I kid. Despite knowing the basic plot upfront, Enger tells an engaging story that is beautifully written. The landscape of rural Minnesota is an additional character in the story. I recommend picking this one up and having it on hand for the cold nights ahead. And pick up his brother’s book, too.
The new (to me) podcast Dinner Party Download from KPCC Southern California Public Radio aims to help sparkling hosts out of us all:
In every 15-minute episode you’ll learn a joke… Get the week’s major headlines… Bone up on some history… Drink in a cocktail recipe… Meet an artist of note… Savor an emerging food trend… And hear your new favorite song.
This week’s episode features an interview with authir Irvine Welsh.
We did it! Our fund raising project has been successfully completed — with 10 days left to go. Thanks, yall! Our goal was to raise $282 to help a class of local fifth graders buy novels to start a book club. The teacher’s goal in setting up the club is to have students “practice their reading, get some much needed social time, and cultivate a love of reading for pleasure- so that they can continue to be successful beyond fifth grade.” We’re glad that we able to help out.
Many thanks to our donors. Our gratitude goes out to:
- A donor
- Steven from Huntersville, NC
- A donor
- Patricia from San Antonio, TX
None of the donors has taken me up on my offer for free books in exchanged for their generosity. Please do. I’d love to extend our gratitude to you on a personal level (and clear off my desk).
In what I hope is a satirical essay (Unsafe at Any Read) in the New York Times, Lee Seigel warns of the dangers of literature on young minds:
I hope you are at least partly convinced by the power of my examples. Somehow, we’ve been sold a bill of goods about how literature empowers us. But the idea that great literature can improve our lives in any way is a con as old as culture itself… How long can we continue to allow the totally laissez-faire dissemination of literature? Not even a warning from the surgeon general or the attorney general, or some sort of general, on the back of every book?
This past weekend Atlanta’s best annual Halloween parade wove its mayhem through Little Five Points on a near perfect autumn afternoon. In addition to the usual bands of pirates, zombie hordes, Imperial Stormtroopers, and roller derby girls, there were a few partipants with a literary bent. The BGB Newsteam was there to get the scoop. And the candy.
This year’s Grand Marshall was former First Kid and children’s book illustrator, Amy Carter (with son Hugo and mystery guest).
There was even a car load of Madelines. Unfortunately, they were not in two straight lines. Poo poo.
There was also a group advertising the upcoming annual stage production of David Sedaris’s Santaland Diaries that did not make the highlight reel. Maybe this will be the year that I get around to checking that out.
Of course, the biggest news of the day was that Criminal Records, conveniently located on the parade route, continues to become even more awesome with each passing day. How do they do it? I had visited their new location on Euclid Avenue on Friday, and it was spectacular. But on the very next day, there was a newly hung sign perched above the entrance painted by an artist familiar to all in-town Atlantans, R. Land. Sweet.
As you may be aware, BGB is in the midst of a fundraising effort to help a class of local kids buy the books they need to start a book club. The class is in a school where the majority of the students live in poverty, but their teacher wants to provide them with the tools to learn the joys of reading for fun. Donations are made through the award-winning charity organization DonorsChoose.org. The month is slightly more than half over and we’ve reached slightly less than half of our goal – $140 given and $142 left to raise. If we’re going to pull this off, we need to pick up a little steam.
Ever notice how NPR begins their pledge drive by giving you mugs and calendars, but they end up offering to have David Broncaccio cover over to your house to make quesadillas? That’s where we are right now. I don’t have David Broncaccio, but I do have a small mountain of books that need to leave my house. So here’s the new offer on the table: donate to our fine cause (any amount) and I will mail you a book. After making a donation, send me your contact info, and a book is in the mail to you the next day. The kids get books, you get a mystery book, everyone wins. The offer is retroactive, so if you’ve already given, drop us a line.
The nominees for the titular award (2008) have been announced. Winners will be announced Nov. 19th.
- The Lazarus Project by Aleksandar Hemon
- Telex from Cuba by Rachel Kushner
- Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen
- Home by Marilynne Robinson
- The End by Salvatore Scibona
- The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals by Jane Meyer
- This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust
- The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family by Annette Gordon Reed
- Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives by Jim Sheeler
- The Suicide Index: Putting My Father’s Death in Order by Joan Wickersham
Omnivoracious has a complete list (including Poetry and Young People’s Literature) of the nominees and their current Amazon sale rank. The Big surprise in fiction seems to be The End. I may need to check out The Lazarus Project though, based solely on this snippet of the Amazon review: “the novel will remind readers of many great books before it–Ragtime, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Everything Is Illuminated…”
I’ve also been told that The Dark Side is very good by a trusted source.
One of the books that I’ve been talking up this year is Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody. The book is about the power of like-minded groups being able to come together as never before due to our new-fangled internets. My mind continues to be blown by the new and ever increasing ways that we have to share information (and waste time). A recent experience brought the whole thing into perspective. Here’s the true story of my “aha!” moment – and naturally it is music related.
Last week, I was in Seattle for work. I checked the concert listings before leaving and saw that Sigur Rós, an enigmatic band from Iceland that I like, was playing the day that I arrived. Through dumb luck and a few clicks of the mouse, I stumbled across a ridiculously good ticket at the last minute. The show ended up being one of the best concerts that I have ever seen.
Back at the hotel, I posted the few pictures that I took on Facebook and then uploaded the only video that I shot to YouTube. Then I talked incessantly about the show to anyone who would listen (and a few that pretended to) for days. I was that guy. Later I went hunting around to see what other people might have posted. I found the set list (as well as complete recordings of other concerts) on the band’s web site. Using the set list, I dug up the entire concert (minus one song) on YouTube.
The videos vary in quality and location. Some end before the song does. Sometimes you can hear the person filming singing along. But I was able to cobble together an almost complete record of the show for free. I’m still keeping an eye on the message boards for a good audio recording. Maybe this is just the way things are now, but I hadn’t yet seen this kind of amateur coverage of a concert before. Mind blown.
Here are the links so you can play the home game:
Vid spilum endalaust – OK. I cheated on this one – from Berkeley two nights earlier
Inni mer syngur vitleysingur
Vidrar vel til loftarasa
Saeglopur + Part 2 from a different camera
Gobbledigook – I’m pretty sure that I can see myself in this one…
There are a stack of pictures on Flickr for a narrow search term (band + venue). I really liked this picture of the crowd. Ready to have your mind blown all over again? I found this picture of me taking this picture — remember that I was there by myself. I know, right? And their picture is better than mine.
The “relationship memoir” is perhaps the least likely genre to make it into my reading list. No way. No how. And then Linda Robertson’s What Rhymes with Bastard was pressed into my hands by my local indie bookseller with the promise that it was an unusual and interesting read.
Robertson’s story begins in London where the author grew up as a bit of a book nerdy wall flower. She falls in love with an odd guy who is institutionalized briefly after a series of “incidents.” She then does what any of would do in that situation. She marries the guy and moves to San Francisco to make it big. In something. Naturally, the couple arrives the minute that the tech bubble bursts and jobs are not forthcoming.
Once in San Francisco, her husband decides that acceptable married-guy behavior should include losing the couple’s meager earnings to unscrupulous drug dealers and deciding that he should really start having frequent sex with other people. Robertson remains with the titular Bastard – for a time
Along the way, Robertson’s descriptions of her parents relationship sheds some light on why she stuck with her husband for as long as she did. Eventually Robertson finds her way out of the mess, forms an accordion based cabaret band, and becomes Miss Accordion San Francisco 2004. Check out the MySpace page of Robertson’s band (Cotton Candy, Best Smutty Cabaret Act 2005) where you can check out songs such as “No Butts” – the origin of which is detailed in the book.
What Rhymes With Bastard is a crazy ride. Maybe all relationship memoirs tell unhinged tales by definition. I imagine a shelf full of books about “that one time that I broke up with this girl…” would not be very interesting. It was definitely “unusual and interesting.”
Things I might have posted about if I were around this past week:
Check out Salon’s latest “Must Read” – The Wettest County on Earth by Matt Bondurant
The Telegraph acknowledges the uphill battle of recommending Neal Stephenson’s Anathem:
There is a strong case for thinking this book utterly tiresome. Please, don’t. You’ll miss quite a lot if you do. Reading it will, however, involve developing an interest in the history and content of all of geometry, physics, mathematics, philosophy and quantum mechanics, each of them expressed in a new language, and set in an imagined society: without being willing to grapple with those things, you won’t get far.
The Guardian gives Rivka Galchen’s Atmospheric Disturbances a thumbs up
French dude wins the Nobel prize for literature. The Academy describes him as “author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization” – whatever that means.
And, please, please, please…consider making a donation to our DonorsChoose.org project to help put books in the hands of deserving children. $100 has been raised so far – we have $182 left to raise. Thanks!
What Was Lost, by Catherine O’Flynn, is another one of those books that I mysteriously found on my bookshelves while I was looking for something new to read. It’s got a nice cover, it’s not too thick, and the blurb on the back mentions a girl who works in a record store — sign me up! Not to mention that it won the Costa First Novel Award.
The book starts with the story of Kate Meaney, a young English girl who fancies herself a detective and keeps a notebook of her observations around her neighborhood. She mysteriously vanishes sometime around 1984, and the book skips ahead to 2003 and picks up with two seemingly unrelated characters, Lisa (who works at the record shop in Green Oaks mall) and Kurt (who works security at Green Oaks mall). My linear-thinking brain stumbled a little bit with this disconnected transition, but O’Flynn’s writing style is so easy, I was able to keep going and pick up where she did.
The book goes on to delve deeper into Lisa’s and Kurt’s current goings-on, as well as their pasts, and how they both might in some way have a connection to Kate — the little girl who had vanished twenty years earlier. And other facts are weaved into the story that cast doubt on the guilt of Adrian, the shopkeeper’s son who was the last person seen with Kate, who fled into hiding when suspected of kidnapping her (or worse). Ultimately, the present-day characters in the book become amateur detectives (mirroring young Kate’s aspirations) in their efforts to solve the mystery.
Overall a pretty easy read, and a fairly satisfying one.