Monday, March 23, 2009

Spring Break Reading

I finished reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larrson on Saturday. It's not a perfect mystery/thriller, but I found it to be very engaging. I'm a slow reader, but if I had been able to just sit and read without interruptions, I could probably have read the book in just a few days, maybe even one or two. There were a few places where I thought the story dragged, but most of those places consisted of background information about the Vanger family or the Swedish financial markets/economy. The mystery involves the niece of an elderly Swedish industrialist, retired from heading his family's business. Harriet Vanger went missing when she was sixteen, and her uncle Henrik convinces a convicted libelist to make one last ditch effort to find out what happened to her before Henrik dies. Eventually, the journalist Mikael Blomqvist hooks up (in more ways than one) with Lisbeth Salander, a hacker who had done a background check on him for Henrik Vanger. She ends up helping him solve the mystery and saving his life along the way.

In addition to being a mystery, this novel is also trying to make a statement about the number of women who are violently abused in Sweden. Each section of the book is introduced with a statistic about the subject. In the end, I'm not sure the novel does anything more than make the reader aware of how horribly women can and are abused in Sweden.

The novel was written before the author passed away in 2004, but Larsson seems to have predicted some of the current economic events that we have been witnessing for the last couple of years. Late in the novel, after a major financial player has been exposed as a fraud, Blomqvist discusses the Swedish economy, but he could be discussing the American economy or any other economy that is market driven:
"You have to distinguish between two things--the Swedish economy and the Swedish stock market. The Swedish economy is the sum of all the goods and services that are produced in this country every day. There are telephones from Ericsson, cars from Volvo, chickens from Scan, and shipments from Kiruna to Skovde. That's the Swedish economy, and it's just as strong or weak today as it was a week ago...The Swedish Exchange is something very different. There is no economy and no production of goods and services. There are only fantasies in which people from one hour to the next decide that this or that company is worth so many billions, more or less. It doesn't have a thing to do with reality or with the Swedish economy."
If only the latter didn't affect the former so much these days, we would all probably be much better off.

Something about this book made me think of the Sidney Sheldon books that I read, and thoroughly enjoyed, as a teenager and young adult. It's been too long for me to remember enough details to make a real comparison, but I recall that there was some kind of mystery/crime to be solved. If I remember correctly, though, the main female characters usually ended up happier than the Salander does in this novel. Still, I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone who likes crime novels.

More Spring Break Reading
  • On Sunday, I read Mary Oliver's introduction to The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne. (I like the Modern Library Classics editions.) I don't know if I read something about this book recently, but I have been wanting to read it ever since I finished War & Peace. Before I purchased the book and read the introduction, I had forgotten that one of my favorite Advanced Placement essays required an analysis of a passage from this novel. Maybe I will post about the passage when I get to it in the novel.
  • I started The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean yesterday and read a bit more early this morning. It's my book club's current selection, and I think it will be a quick read. So far, it's interesting, but I'm not completely hooked. The story is about a Russian emigre with Alzheimer's. She clearly remembers evacuating the art from the Hermitage in Leningrad during World War II, but she can't remember much present information from one moment to the next.
  • This morning, after I read more of The Madonnas of Leningrad, I read the introduction to George Eliot's Middlemarch, another Modern Library Classics edition. The introduction was written by A.S. Byatt. I have wanted to read Middlemarch for a long time, but I am such a slow reader that I often postpone starting such long books, 799 pages in this copy. However, after reading Byatt's introduction, I don't think I can put it off much longer.
  • Finally, this morning, I read "The Sisters," the first story in James Joyce's Dubliners, which I have never read. I have read the story "Araby" and maybe "The Dead" before, but I don't think I have read any of the other stories before today. I have a Vintage International edition, which doesn't have an introduction, so I just jumped right in to the first story.
  • This afternoon, UPS delivered my latest LibraryThing Early Reviewers book, Easter Parade by Richard Yates, which brings to three the number of books that I have from this program waiting to be read and reviewed. I still need to read Etta by Gerald Kolpan, which just came out today, and Rocket Man by William Elliot Hazelgrove.
I had actually thought that April would be my read and review month, but now, I'm all excited about reading some classics and Valerie and I are moving to a new apartment in a few weeks. Oh well, I'm sure I will figure something out. Now, I'm going to read for a while before I go to bed.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Sunday Morning Reader Reading

I am enjoying this Sunday morning, sitting on the patio (which I will probably not have much longer but that's a story for another post), getting caught up on my Google Reader reading. In a post from March 2 (I really am behind on my Reader reading), Malinda Lo wrote about Daily Routines, a blog that she recently discovered. According to it's tagline, the blog is about "How writers, artists, and other interesting people organize their days." I haven't read through much of the blog yet, but Lo's post included a her favorite description, which is from Toni Morrison, my favorite author:
“Recently I was talking to a writer who described something she did whenever she moved to her writing table. I don’t remember exactly what the gesture was–there is something on her desk that she touches before she hits the computer keyboard–but we began to talk about little rituals that one goes through before beginning to write. I, at first, thought I didn’t have a ritual, but then I remembered that I always get up and make a cup of coffee and watch the light come. And she said, Well, that’s a ritual. And I realized that for me this ritual comprises my preparation to enter a space I can only call nonsecular… Writers all devise ways to approach that place where they expect to make the contact, where they become the conduit, or where they engage in this mysterious process. For me, light is the signal in the transaction. It’s not being in the light, it’s being there before it arrives. It enables me, in some sense."
Beautifully said! Morrison never ceases to impress me. I just had to share that very quickly. Now, back to my Reader reading.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Quick Early Morning Post

I finished War & Peace on Sunday, and I have things to say about it but no time now. I will probably post something later this week or this weekend. Yesterday, I finished my book club's current selection, Towelhead, but I will wait to post about it until after our meeting on Sunday. I'm really curious to see how other members reacted to this book. At work yesterday, I started reading a YA book called Boy Minus Girl. I actually checked this on out at the public library to see if it's appropriate for junior high students.

Last night, I started The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but I was tired and didn't read very much, the prologue and part of the first chapter. Valerie will be out of town Thursday and Friday, so I will probably do a bunch of reading then. I will read unless I get sucked into watching Olberman and Maddow and/or playing mindless computer games, which I have a tendency to do sometimes even when she is here.

Now, it's time to go to work.